Because we can’t all be Luka Dončić…
The offseason. Where we all crave the glamour. The gossip mill. The names. Always the names…
This year, we got our Re-Chacho-ssance. We had Hanga & Heurtel, Wanamaker & Melli – household names to the Eurohoops faithful changing up their postcodes for pastures new, even if it was drawn out to the point of not giving a damn any more…yes Mr. Hanga, we are looking at you.
Then come the Americans. Will their game translate? Can they play in a system? Can they handle the culture shock?
The three fun questions we ask – because we all have a favourite disastrous signing from across the pond (Wassup, Bargnani).
This year, Thomas Robinson will be handling a Russian winter between battling under the boards. Norris Cole, taking a spin in a time machine back to his Cleveland State days, will be the man running the show for a *hopefully* resurgent Maccabi side in need of a leader. And Jason Thompson will bring…. well, nobody knows, but he played in the NBA for a fucking age, so that must count for something.
But, every year, a select few under-the-radar signings have an impact you can’t see coming. Turning a bubble team into a playoff side. Giving a playoff side the edge that transforms them into a contender. So, I’ve picked my 4 breakout ‘where’d he come from’ players, that come May will be making the jump to household EuroLeague names.
Alberto Abalde (SG/SF), Valencia Basket
Ok, confession: huge fan of the former Joventut youngster. And have long proclaimed Barcelona missed a beat by not snaring him across town years ago. But the former NGT MVP has finally stepped-up to the biggest stage and, after a slow start, is showing he can hang at a higher level. Abalde passes the eye-test for a EuroLeague wing with textbook size, a strong frame, and above-average athleticism. A more than capable post defender and rebounder with experience aplenty having played in nearly 100 ACB games before his 22nd Birthday. Although a limited distributer, that isn’t the skill Valencia need from Abalde. And I doubt it’s even a role they want for him. His selling point is scoring ability. Capable of getting high percentage looks (shot over 50% on 2 pointers last season in ACB play) as well as spotting up from deep, Abalde is the type of role player that has Valencia in the running for a trip to Belgrade in May.
Aaron White (PF), Žalgiris Kaunas
Much was made of Davies and Bost coming over from Monaco, but it was White’s move from Zenit that caught my eye. A well-built above the rim athlete, White has a soft touch around the hoop to compensate for his slight size disadvantage. However, his shooting stroke makes him a mismatch against bigger opponents. Close out on him too hard, he has the athletic ability to turn and slash to the open rim. Give him enough room, he’s more than happy to swish away from beyond the arc (Shooting splits of 49/38/66 in VTB 16/17). Coming in behind Davies & Jankunas – or even offering some stretch-5 potential in ultra-small lineups – White offers Šaras, in what (probably) is his last season in Kaunas, the legitimate depth to potentially sneak into one of the last playoff slots if all the pieces fall together.
Nikola Radičević (PG), Crvena Zvezda
Radičević is under the radar by default. Much more was made about bringing in Antić, Rochestie and resident rim wrecker Mathias Lessort. And rightly so, those guys can flat out hoop. But for me, Radičević epitomizes playing Zvezda in Belgrade. Is it pretty? Normally, no. But does it have the potential to be loud, in-your-face, make you earn every inch basketball. At 1.94m he possesses great size for a guard, and enough lateral quickness to be a pesky defender at this level, and now he has a platform to show it if he stays engaged on the dirty end of the floor. Radičević is limited offensively – his jumper is a non-starter from deep, but he should be able to show off his size and passing chops against smaller guards in the post, while showing the flashes of slashing ability we seen in Sevilla are the norm rather than the outliers. Consistency from Radičević in the backup PG slot could make or break Crvena Zvezda as much as their home form.
Stefan Marković (PG/SG), Khimki
Ok, first things first. Marković isn’t a young gun looking to break out, he’s been around the block. Yes, he has been around a few times. And yes, his jumper is about as reliable as a chocolate teapot. But he’s also maybe the perfect backup guard to assist Shved in his latest offensive charge on Europe’s elite. An accomplished passer, he allows Shved a break from handling the ball whilst using his size advantage (1.98m) to see over the top of the defense, allowing for lob passes a plenty to Messrs. Honeycutt and Robinson, or indeed swinging the ball back behind the line for good three-point looks for Shved and the rest of his merry men. And, although not always a threat from deep, Marković has enough speed and craftiness to go hunting inside the painted area, and convert looks at a high clip. This is what Coach Bartzokas needs from Marković: a secondary creator to spell Shved, and someone to pile in enough (efficient) offense* to push them to home advantage in the playoffs, and a step closer to the promised land.
* You honestly think a Shved team will play defense? Thought so.
Text edited by: Nick Flynt