By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen
Here’s a look at three signing from the offseason that were pretty high profile but these players in new surroundings have yet to prove themselves. With the Top 16 now started, time is ticking to for these players but they still have a chance to have a big effect on their teams this season.
Tyrese Rice, G, Maccabi Tel Aviv
As an attacking offensive point guard, count me as one of the people excited to hear that Rice had landed in Maccabi. Coach David Blatt usually gives his guards freedom to attack one on one situations and handle the ball a lot, as long they hunker down on defense. While I was worried about possible defensive hiccups, I was excited to see Rice’s impact as another shot creator in Maccabi’s offense.
Coming off of high usage seasons with Lietuvos Rytas and then last year at Bayern Munich, Rice has had to adapt to a more reserve-type role this year in Tel Aviv. Playing more than 25 minutes once and below 5 twice in Euroleague play (17.0 MPG overall), Rice is Maccabi’s third guard behind Yogev Ohayon and Ricky Hickman. This is one of the first times in his career, college or pro, where he is not looked upon to be one of the main shot creators and has to flourish in more limited situation settings. So far the results have been mixed.
Rice needs to hit threes at a high rate, not turn the ball over, and harass other guards at the top of the key. A role similar to what Dontaye Draper is doing for Real Madrid. Rice is shooting 31.8% from three this year and his creativity has looked stifled. Normally very good at slashing from the point and creating shots, especially off the bounce, Rice still has the ability to provide a sparky offensive wrinkle for Maccabi off the bench. But yet to get fully comfy in Blatt’s system, he will need to have gained the coach’s trust sooner rather than later, as Blatt usually rides a tight core rotation for big minutes as the season enters it’s second half.
John Bryant, C, Bayern Munich
Bryant has had a Big Sofo (the out of shape version) like season for Bayern. Coming in off of back to back BBL MVP’s and leading Ulm to the German Semifinals, Bryant seemed like a logical addition for Bayern this offseason. He’s a load in the paint, can score easily around the hoop, and can be fairly unhelpful on the defensive end. Basically if he’s not fed the ball a fair amount on offense in his limited minutes (18 MPG this season), he isn’t a whole lot of use on the floor. When motivated to dominate the offensive glass and knock down trailer three’s, Bryant expands his abilities but those haven’t always been in the arsenal this season.
Not to go too off topic but this brings up an interesting topic, do good teams need offensive centers?
Yes on a bad to mid-level team, having a big man like Bryant who can finish a lot of plays and carry offenses stymied by uncreative or unable guards can work. But on a good team with a fair amount of offensive shot creators and playmakers, does your center need to be mainly or mostly defensive focused? Does his offensive ability matter much less?
Take a look at the past couple Final Four teams and Euroleague Champions (Yes, I know this is kind of cherry-picking):
2013: Olympiacos (Champion): Kyle Hines, Josh Powell, Giorgi Shermadini
Real Madrid: Mirza Begic, Marcus Slaughter
Barcelona: Nate Jawai, Ante Tomic
CSKA Moscow: Nenad Krstic, Sasha Kaun
2012: Olympiacos (Champion): Joey Dorsey, Kyle Hines
CSKA Moscow: Nenad Krstic, Sasha Kaun
Panathinakos: Aleks Maric, Mike Batiste
Barcelona: Fran Vazquez, Boni Ndong, Kosta Perovic
2011: Panathinaikos (Champion): Mike Batiste, Aleks Maric, Kostas Tsartsaris
Maccabi Electra: Richard Hendrix, Sofoklis Schortsanitis
Montepaschi Siena: Kystof Lavrinovic, Milovan Rakovic, Shaun Stonerook
Real Madrid: Ante Tomic, D’Or Fischer
Most teams’ anchor in the middle is defensive oriented. Olympiacos seemed to maybe have the perfect mix in 2012 (and maybe the perfect player in Hines) while other teams like Real and Barcelona went solely with defensive centers at times. And most teams at least had a defensive option to bring if a scoring center wasn’t putting up points.
With a guy like Bryant at this level, usually the best way to use him as is almost as you would a Jaycee Carroll or Marko Popovic, just at the center spot. Coming off the bench for somewhere between 15-25 minutes to provide scoring and keep constant pressure on the defense as someone who they need to focus on. Drawing fouls on other big men and keeping the offensive flow going from the first unit to the second unit.
So there is hope that Bryant, while he continues to get into game shape, can provide really solid stretches, kind of like how Sofo did during his in-shape All-Euroleague season (2011) with Maccabi a couple years back. And in that season Sofo could be spelled by defensive minded center Richard Hendrix. Bryant and Bayern with Deon Thompson and Yassin Idbihi also playing center, two other offensive minded guys, don’t really have that option.
As categorized by Rob Scott a couple weeks ago, Bayern has serious defensive problems. Munich is second to last in the league in block percentage and fourth to last in defensive rebounding percentage with a defensive rating of 108.2. So if Bayern has enough offensive weapons, they eventually might want to go with a more rim protecting option at the 5-spot. Whether to spell Bryant or to bring in a replacement for him.
Jeremy Pargo, G, CSKA Moscow
In his return to Europe it hasn’t exactly been giant dunks and potent defense like when Pargo starred for Maccabi a couple years back. He’s had a tough adjustment like some expected because CSKA is bloated with guards (especially ones who like to control the ball) and the team overall has yet to really click yet. When playing in Tel Aviv, Pargo was a terror going to the basket. With his strong frame for a guard and explosiveness off the bounce, few defenders could stay in front of him. And while he still has that same burst to a degree, his shooting has been so bad (22% from 3 and 34% on midrange FG’s) it hasn’t given him the proper space to be able to make good of that driving ability.
Playing alongside other ball dominant guards like Milos Teodosic and Aaron Jackson, while also throwing in scoring wings like Vitaly Fridzon, Vladimir Mivoc, and Sonny Weems into the equation, there doesn’t leave a ton of touches left for a guy like Pargo who likes to poke and drive his way around a defense. CSKA has had general spacing and shooting issues this year too, which doesn’t help open up driving room for Pargo either.
Many guards have struggled to play next to Teodosic, so this isn’t a new thing, and for the second year in a row with coach Ettore Messina, the CSKA roster doesn’t seem to be living up to it’s roster salaries. Pargo needs to mesh with Teodosic to be able to be that second guard on the court when games matter. He has to be able to knock down open 3’s with Teodosic handling the ball, Weems slashing, and Viktor Khryapa distributing beside him. Shooting and then defense are giant parts of the role needed for a guard when playing next to those players, who will almost certainly be in during clutch moments. Putting Teodosic off the ball more (which has been tried a fair amount) to function more as a shooter and allowing Pargo to handle and create more with the ball is an intriguing decision. But Milos is more established on this team and will have the rock when he wants it. But of the three guys on this list, Pargo probably has the most potential to turn things around because of his high level athletic ability and CSKA’s overall talent he has to work with.