David Pick | Nr. 48

Premiere auf Europas größter Bühne | David Pick über die neuen Stars in EuroLeague und EuroCup. 

TRUE STORY: Earlier this month when the editors suggested an idea for the BIG MAGAZINE BLOG edition, I was excited. The task was to highlight some names of the newcomers to the Euroleague and EuroCup that are expected to have an immediate impact on their teams - outside of the usual suspects in Nikola Mirotic, Shane Larkin and Cory Higgins. "Three players from each competition," was the idea. I thought to myself, "this is going to be a piece of cake. I'll find three names and highlight them." Hell, was I mistaken. I got so excited about the new arrivals and made a "short list" that within seconds turned into a supermarket list. Before I knew it, there were 31 names. THIRTY ONE. I definitely took the advice with the "3", I just added a "1" next to it. LOL.

I chose to focus this blog on actual "rookies" in each of the competitions and try to evaluate how they'll do in their new homes. There are multiple players that will have an impact, but aren't newcomers, such as Mario Hezonja in Russia, or Austin Hollins in Belgrade and Mike James in Monaco - BIG impact, but not "newcomers". For example, Nigel Williams-Goss is a solid guard, who averaged 9PPG on 37% shooting from beyond the arc with Olympiacos, but I don't think he's high level Euroleague material. My feelings are that he doesn't impact the game on both ends of the court, or play with a mental edge and toughness to challenge his teammates to believe in him as their closer, which is what they need after Luka Doncic and Facu Campazzo.

Here's a short version of my list of Euroleague "rookies" I had to trim down to just a handful: Matthew Costello, Conner Frankamp, Shabazz Napier, Emmanuel Mudiay, Marco Spissu, Keenan Evans, Kameron Taylor, Kostas Antetokounmpo, Jerian Grant, Devon Hall, Troy Daniels, Nicolo Melli.

It's worth mentioning, and not to take away from the many great coaches that recruit overseas rookies - but it doesn't work for everyone, and it won't guarantee success. Usually, the recipe for success is hidden within the chemistry of the group but also the experience of the core players, and how savvy they are with European basketball, and one's intelligence.

I'll share some examples: Remember when Fenerbahce signed Anthony Bennett and moved on  to win the Euroleague title? Not only did he not play in the Final Four, he didn't even suit up. Ron Baker came to CSKA straight from the NBA, but couldn't adapt to Europe and retired not long ago. These quick examples are the reason you won't see experiments with teams such as Barcelona, CSKA and Anadolu Efes. The risk of not adapting overseas and/or the struggles of adjusting to a tough-minded Euro coach, or not playing the role/minutes someone thinks he deserves can be detrimental - such deals are easier to manage on smaller clubs and lower level teams because it's easier to replace a bad seed. But when the stakes are higher and money is greater, it becomes too risky. Also, the experience and knowledge of players such as Nando De Colo, Kostas Sloukas, Sergio Rodriguez, Kyle Hines, and Milos Teodosic in the crucial moments to make the right play, whether it be shoot or pass or rebound, coaches would trust their vets over the rookies.

Shabazz Napier and Conner Frankamp

Zenit St Petersburg strengthened its backcourt by signing not 1, but 2 Euroleague rookies in Shabazz Napier and Conner Frankamp. The 1st is a former NBA player, while the 2nd is a journeyman in Europe and TBT tournament legend. The Zenit-NBA-STAR connection failed miserably in the past with Brandon Jennings, so hopefully this isn’t a repeat of that.

In the VTB tournament against UNICS Kazan, Napier was amazing and seemed to have made some impressive adjustments to Europe. After many NBA stints with Miami, Orlando, Portland and Brooklyn, Minnesota and Washington - he sat out last season. This is his coming out party and he’s entering his prime at 30 years of age. It should be thrilling.

Frankamps played in Bulgaria, Rethymno, Spain but never in a European competition, so the jump from ACB’s Murcia to the Euroleague is BIG. Between Baron and Frankamp, Zenit might have the best backcourt shooting combination, but neither are PGs that create for their teammates. The impact of Frankamp and Napier will dictate how far Zenit goes this season.

Emmanuel Mudiay

Mudiay isn't the 1st PG to land in Kaunas straight from the NBA. Remember the other guy? Ty Lawson, during the 2011 NBA lockout. That didn't go so well for Zalgiris. Mudiay is an educated gamble for Zalgiris, a normally modest budget club that doesn't easily throw money at players. Zalgiris hasn't had the best pre seasons losing most of its games, somewhat for the reasons we mentioned - 

lack of experience, European adjustments … Mudiay (1.96 meters, 25 years old) sat out all of last season, so he’s also rusty and out of shape, but he must be their star if Zalgiris wish to contend for the playoffs. Over 300 career NBA games for Utah, Denver and New York, averaged 11.0 points and 3.8 assists.

Nicolo Melli, Devon Hall und Troy Daniels

1st, the returning child Nicolo Melli (2.05 meters, 30 years old) in Milan, not a Euroleague rookie, but a redeemed player after his NBA stints with the Dallas Mavericks and New Orleans Pelicans. Melli never won the Euroleague crown, so the pressure of doing so ASAP is mainly on his broad shoulders.

2nd, from Kyle Hines to Darius Miller to PJ Tucker to Brian Roberts to Maodo Lo to Daniel Theis and others, Bamberg has been a great farm club for players to make the next level. Such is the case for Euroleague newcomer Devon Hall (1.96 meters, 26 years old), whom I believe played last season for around $50,000 NET, and now scored a nice payday with Milano. 

Hall was superb in FIBA's BCL, but he must make the quick upgrade to taller defenders and quicker close-outs if he wants to have a long lasting relationship with Messina.

3rd, this raised some eyebrows. Like Napier and Mudiay, Troy Daniels (1.93 meters, 29 years old) is an NBA veteran, but he too did not play basketball last season. His last appearance was for the Lakers in the 2019-20 campaign when he averaged 4.2 points in 53 appearances. Daniels is a sniper, shooting 39.5% accuracy for his career in the NBA. His abilities to knock down shots will dictate how much PT (Playing Time) he will reward himself with.

EuroCup: Nico Mannion, Jordan McRae and Yam Madar

After changing formats, the EuroCup has attracted some superstar names with Sergio Scariolo returning to Europe; Zach LeDay and Kevin Punter leaving the Euroleague, BCL star Darius Thompson bolting to Lokomotiv Kuban and sharpshooter Keith Horsnby transferring from EWE Oldenburg to Boulogne Metropolitans 92 in France.The EuroCup might have never been so strong. Here are a few more names to monitor.

1. One of the decorated signings off the Euro offseason was US-Italian guard Nico Mannion to Virtus Bologna. The former Golden State Warriors guard who led Italy to the Olympics’ quarterfinals, is out indefinitely due to an intestinal infection that has caused his body to lose all his muscle and look more like a spaghetti noodle than a pro-athlete. Mannion Jr, whose father Pace Mannion, played for a decade in the Italian League and helped Cantu win the 1991 Korac Cup, averaged 4.1 points and 2.3 assists in 30 games for the GSW. Without him, Virtus is a super team. With him, they'd be unstoppable.

2. Like several players mentioned above, another athlete that has a lot of rust to brush off is Jordan McRae, with just seven games in China last season. I don't believe he thought he'd be in the EuroCup after signing with Baskonia in 2017, but just a few days into his $1M contract he McRae got injured. Fast forward to present, after playing for consecutive seasons with Washington and their G-League affiliate for a reported $77,250 and $1,645,357, he lands in France to make a splash in the EuroCup as their star recruit.

3.Yam Madar will be dazzling. The tough, hard-nosed Israeli star PG is a dancer with basketball. His work ethic is like no other, and his grit will determine his success. On a team full of former NBA and Euroleague players, the young Madar must hold his ground and prove he belongs. Playing for the greatest coach of all time will help him develop for the Boston Celtics in the future, signing a 1+1, $300,000 NET deal. Ratiopharm Ulm wanted to sign him, but couldn't pay Hapoel Tel Aviv $250,000 in buyout. Madar made some highlights in the preseason and had the entire country of Israel glued to their seats.

*BONUS: Two of the shortest imports in EuroCup are also very dynamic and exciting players. 1. Marcus Keene (1.80) is a TBT superstar and was the recent No.1 scorer of the VTB League, playing for Kalev is Estonia. He was impossible to guard, even for clubs like Lokomotiv Kuban and CSKA Moscow. He's lucky his new GM is Sani Becirovic. 2. Bursaspor made an interesting move promoting undersized Marlain Veal (1.75) to the EuroCup from 2nd division Israel last season, and 2nd division Turkey the season before. I watched Veal a lot in Israel, he is like Sonic the Hedgehog. He can run the length of the court with just two dribbles, he's a blur. He will struggle in the post defensively, but he is a pest on defense because of his quickness and active hands.


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