Some rising stars who could be looking at seeing a few more zeroes on their bank accounts next season..
Every year, guys in the lower tiers of European basketball fight it out all season long in the hope of getting the call — Welcome to EuroLeague. Switching up long bus journeys to far flung locations and occasionally empty arenas for airport flights to European capitals to do battle in some of the Continent’s most impressive facilities against guys like De Colo, Llull, Kill Bill…
One of the hottest names in EuroLeague this year has been Kevin Pangos of Žalgiris Kaunas. The MVP candidate is only in his third pro campaign — having made the jump to Europe’s elite after a strong EuroCup/ACB Rookie year at Gran Canaria. Nemanja Nedović was a Top-5 bucket getter in EuroLeague last year after helping to propel Unicaja Malaga back into Europe’s premier basketball competition. Jonah Bolden is exceeding expectations as a do-it-all forward for Maccabi Tel Aviv, having made the jump from the ABA League last year.
So here’s a quick look at some of the guys we could be watching in Europe’s elite competition in 2018/19..
(Age has been taken into consideration here, so despite some impressive performances — big love to Chris Kramer & Kyle Kuric who have been ballin’ out for the 30ish club and definitely deserve an EL look — I’ve kept it mainly to the young guns.)
Xabi Lopez-Arostegui (SG, Divina Seguros Joventut Badalona) (honourable mention)
Hold on to your seats kids – hot take.
Joventut Badalona are still producing quality young players.
This season has seen the emergence of Xabi Lopez — a few years removed from a series of impressive performances in the L’Hospitalet NGT tournament. A high energy defender who is also capable of knocking down open looks from beyond the arc, shooting 35% from 3 in his maiden ACB season. He stands out as the next player to join Europe’s elite from what has been Europe’s most productive youth-system to date and yours truly is very comfortable giving him a player comparison of ex-Baskonia stud Sergi Vidal (also his current Joventut teammate).
Offering tremendous size as an off-guard or even as a small forward, he crashes the boards well and uses his size to shoot (48% on 2pt FGs) or pass over the top of defenders. Although only averaging around 1 APG this year, he has shown enough passing chops so far to safely bet on this number rising as he becomes accustomed to the speed of professional game.
Worth noting — he does require some seasoning. But, especially with Los Verdinegres’ well documented financial issues, do not be remotely shocked to see his name being linked with some of European elite this summer as they try to snap him up early to prevent a bidding war for the budding Spanish star.
Nigel Williams-Goss (PG, Partizan NIS Belgrade)
I was really high on NWG coming out of college, and his season with Partizan Belgrade has not disappointed. Second in both points per game & assists (17.0 & 6.7) in this season’s EuroCup, and with similar stats in ABA play, Williams-Goss has been one of few bright spots on a disappointing Partizan side. And recently, NWG showed off his EuroLeague potential in the Serbian Cup, dropping 23 points and 7 dimes on his way to a W and MVP award against notoriously difficult EuroLeague side Crvena Zvezda.
Although his experience in Europe has been limited, Williams-Goss has played his way into a EuroLeague rotation next season — especially if he can maintain his mix of efficient shooting and distributing until the end of the season. I wouldn’t say he is ready to be the lead guard for a side with playoff ambitions just yet, but he isn’t far away given his extremely well-rounded skill set.
Although he has another year on his Partizan contract, expect an early call from a EuroLeague GM — Williams-Goss could be one of the top targets of the offseason for a lot of sides.
Marcus Eriksson (SF, Herbalife Gran Canaria)
Well, who knew Marcus Eriksson could shoot… In truth, everyone – but it’s nice to actually see it in motion.
After escaping from the shadows at FC Barcelona this summer, Eriksson has immediately adapted to his role as ‘Chief Bucket-Getter’ for a strong Gran Canaria team, averaging over 15 points per game. Eriksson was once considered an NBA prospect and it isn’t hard to see why — he passes the eye test for a wing and has one of the purest strokes this side of the Atlantic. He’s putting it to practice by shooting almost 55% from deep in EuroCup play (not a typo, he’s a damn assassin).
Although it’s his first season getting real minutes at this level, expect a EuroLeague team to come calling this summer for this sweet-shooting Swedish wing, given his efficient shooting splits. His ability to get hot in a hurry — a skill so potent that it almost negates his limited playmaking — cannot be understated, as he will constantly draw defenders out to the perimeter, creating more space for teams to operate inside. I left open, expect to see a few angry words being spat out by opposing coaches.
The 24-year-old could be a main target for Spanish sides Baskonia and Valencia this summer as they attempt to strengthen their scoring depth ahead of the 2018/19 season.
Scottie Wilbekin (PG, Darüşşafaka Istanbul)
Scottie Wilbekin is a EuroLeague-level guard. This isn’t a secret. The American has over fifty EuroLeague appearances under his belt already, and it’s just a matter of time till he’s back in the top club competition on the continent. A steady guard who is more than capable of balancing calling his own number and getting his teammates involved. Particularly impressive this year has been the control with which Wilbekin has played — apart from two games — in EuroCup play he has had 2 turnovers or less whilst being his team’s offensive focal point and hustling hard on the other end, generating almost 2 steals per game.
Especially with his Turkish passport now official, Wilbekin could be a name to watch this offseason for teams on the lookout for an upgrade in the backcourt who has proven himself to be a good leader at the highest levels of Eurohoops.
Amedeo Della Valle (PG/SG, Grissin Bon Reggio Emila)
The young combo-guard from Italy has been lighting up the scoreboard this year for Reggio on his way to averaging a EuroCup leading 18.6 PPG – only having 3 outings all year where he has dropped less than 15, and seven in which he’s went off for over 20 points.
Although listed as a combo guard (and he has shown some development with his passing game), his ticket to The Big Time™ lies in his scoring ability. An aggressive driver, Valle Della has shown a willingness to attack the rim or get to the line, where he has shot 81%. Although his three-point shot can let him down at times, he can get hot in a hurry and has already went off for 4+ triples on multiple occasions this season.
Teams looking for a ready-made bench scorer that still has plenty of upside — AVD is only 24 years old — should be looking this way, especially if he can carry the scoring load for Reggio against a strong Zenit side in the Top-16.
Howard Sant-Roos (SG/SF Darüşşafaka Istanbul)
Anticipate a lot of new faces for Darüşşafaka next year.
Plucked from relative Eurohoops obscurity, Sant-Roos has impressed at a higher level for one of the “2nd Tier” powerhouse sides. After leading the Basketball Champions League in steals last term, the Cuban star has carried this defence first attitude into EuroCup play, averaging over 2 steals per game to lead the competition, even getting a season high 7 steals against Cedevita to go with his 6pts/5 rebs/8 assists).
Although Sant-Roos had struggled with his 2pt shooting earlier in the year, he has improved as the season has gone on — shooting almost 64% on two’s in Top 16 play.
With a smooth stroke from deep and some impressive passing from a wing, he reminds me a lot of Adam Hanga — but with a more consistent three-point stroke. Expect the high energy swingman to get a few looks this offseason for teams looking for a defensive monster who can be a key contributor on the other end of the floor.
Pierria Henry (PG/SG Tofas Bursa)
In the midst of a career year, Henry brought endless hustle for Tofas. A high energy player, he attacked relentlessly on both ends of the floor — averaging 2 steals per game, whilst shooting 65/43/80 splits. Often coming from the bench, Henry’s active hands wreaked havoc in the passing lanes to create fastbreak opportunities.
Although not the most athletic of guards, Henry has a high basketball IQ and navigates his way through the defence well, especially out of the pick-and-roll. His development as a three-point shooter makes him a strong candidate to step up. Having went 2-8 in his first EuroCup go-around in 14/15, this year Henry went 9/21.
If teams buy into his development from deep (also shooting around 33% in Turkish League play), expect him to be on the radar of the EuroLeague sides looking to add some energy and defence to their bench units.