It may only be a 12-game sample size, but that hasn’t stopped certain players from raising themselves above the competition and standing out. As Euroleague releases the second part of its Mid-Season GM Survey, we thought it as good a time as any to give our picks for the All-Euroleague First Team. As the days get lighter, and the pressure ramps up towards the playoffs and Final Four, who knows what would change? But for now, I’ll take these five:
Guard - Malcolm Delaney - Lokomotiv Kuban
18.1 PPG | 5.5 APG | 21.4 PIR
I already wrote about how he’s anchoring a team with maturity and a killer instinct in my big recap, and then his first Top 16 game was so good I had to take a closer look. He just took home back-to-back Weekly MVPs, and it doesn’t look like the step-up to the next phase has slowed him down. So with that in mind, I’ll leave it there. Guards like this who can score in any situation, but also facilitate are rare in Europe these days, and he’s one of the best. The next question is whether he might take a downgrade in status (and probably money) for a shot at that NBA dream.
Guard - Nando De Colo - CSKA Moscow
19.1 PPG | 5.2 APG | 22.7 PIR
In the UK, Nando’s is an inexplicably popular chain of family restaurants serving spicy chicken. Its place in the cultural zeitgeist has been known to confuse Americans. In Moscow, it’s an upscale apartment where the CSKA players gather to eat pizza and watch Youtube videos of their host getting buckets and dropping dimes. Maybe. He suffered an ankle sprain recently and is questionable for Top 16 Round Three versus Barcelona, but hopefully it’s nothing serious.
Forward - Mindaugas Kuzminskas - Unicaja Malaga
13.2 PPG | 66.7 2FG% | 13.7 PIR
The Kuz has taken a huge step forward this season, refining his game to a point at which you have to wonder how much longer he’ll be on these shores. But it looks like he’ll have to move to a team in a warm weather state, say Miami or the Lakers, no way he’s leaving this behind:
Thriving in a Unicaja offense which rewards ball movement and aggressive cuts, he’s putting up a career high 13 points per game and shooting 66.7% from inside the arc. He’s always been a terror from the weakside at both ends, but has improved his handle and on-ball game no end in the last year or so. Small forward is probably the weakest position in Euroleague this season though, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can maintain this form through the Top 16. This is mainly a Regular Season choice, although the body of work over the past year and half means it’s certainly no flash in the pan.
If it’s not the NBA next season don’t bet against CSKA - he’ll have to change the Christmas day tweet game, but I’m sure he won’t be lonely whatever happens. (h/t to @FMCervantez for the tweet)
Forward - Maik Zirbes - Crvena Zvezda
15.8 PPG | 6.6 RPG | 18.4 PIR
I’m cheating here, by playing two centres, but I just can’t leave ZURBZ off this team. Every time Crvena Zvezda needed him, Maik Zirbes pretty much killed a guy. But although his game might seem simplistically based on power, there’s a lot more to it than that. He understands angles and timing and has an instinctive nose for the ball when it caroms off the offensive glass. It does help that he’s built like a WWE wrestler though.
Centre - Ioannis Bourousis - Laboral Kutxa Baskonia
13.8 PPG | 9.2 RPG | 22.2 PIR
The resurgence of probably the most enigmatic European player of the last 15 years has been remarked upon in glowing terms already this season, albeit mainly by me. There’s something irresistible about the way he has rebuilt his reputation after falling off the end of the bench in Madrid. He’s a cult hero, he’s the deadbeat who cleaned up his act, he’s a con-artist suckering someone into another big contract? I don’t believe the latter, but then again I also picked CSKA to win the title this season. Again.
The Big Dog with the softest eyes has clobbered most statistical categories this season. PIR? Second behind Delaney (per 40 minutes he’s #1). Assists by a centre? Only 0.1 per game behind Ante Tomic. Rebounds per game? That’ll be him on top. Numbers aren’t everything - Gustavo Ayon is fourth in PIR but his defensive shortcomings were nearly fatal for Madrid. But Baskonia has the second-stingiest defensive rating in the competition, and Bourousis has been a big part of that.
Try to move him out of the post. You can’t. Give him the ball at the elbow and he’s been Marc Gasol. These awards are strictly for Euroleague but the fact that he’s won ACB MVP for December doesn’t hurt. His season thus far has been a triumph of both production and aesthetics. He’s in shape, he gives a shit and he’s confident, which was probably the key to everything all along.
Second Team and Near Misses
These picks were so tough, there’s arguably an equally good second team waiting in the wings. Kudos also to Olympiacos for racking up a 10-2 record without any names on the list. By the end of the season some of these dudes might be First Teamers, but right now, they have to settle for second step on the podium:
G - Milos Teodosic - should I have picked a three-guard lineup just to get him in the First Team? Probably.
G - Sergio Rodriguez - Madrid isn’t a Final Four team right now. They wouldn’t have been a Top 16 team without the bearded wizard.
F - Luigi Datome - His numbers aren’t as stellar as some, but on a deep squad, he fits in seamlessly and will only get more important.
F - Quincy Miller - It seems odd for a playoff outsider to have two guys on these teams? Maybe, but Miller got dropped into a sink or swim situation and made like Michael Phelps.
C - Jan Vesely - Lost out on first team honours to Zirbes by a baw hair (ask your Scottish friends).
Apologies to: Nicolo Melli (lost out to Miller by a nanometer), Mateusz Ponitka, Ante Tomic, Thomas Huertel, Alexey Shved.