For long time fans of the Nets, the name Drazen Petrovic brings back fond but also sad memories. Aside from his natural talent, the Croatian played with a sense of passion that made him an instant fan favorite. In his brief stint with the Nets, "Petro" (not that Petro) showed the NBA just how great he could have been had tragedy didn’t strike.
Fast-forward to the present day and the Nets organization once again has a player who at times over the past two seasons has sparked memories of Petrovic. No, I am not saying Mirza Teletovic is the second coming of Drazen, and yes I am fully aware that their physical attributes aren’t remotely the same. Petrovic was a 6’5", 195-pound guard whereas Teletovic is a 6’9", 235-pound stretch forward. And Petrovic is in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
If you look past those qualities, you will see two career paths that have a lot in common. Both achieved tremendous success while playing in Europe before arriving in America as older rookies. Petrovic entered the NBA as a 25 year-old. Teletovic was 27.
The first year was a struggle to say the least and playing time was hard to come by for both players. Petrovic found himself buried in Portland’s depth chart behind veterans Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter. Teletovic found himself on the bench as Kris Humphries and Reggie Evans played the bulk of the minutes. Frustration over their roles definitely dominated their emotional state.
Things didn’t improve in their second seasons as well. The Trailblazers added Danny Ainge, which further reduced Drazen’s minutes in Rick Adelman’s rotation. Mirza saw the Nets bolster their front-court depth when they acquired Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Andrei Kirilenko, and Mason Plumlee, which sent him further down the bench. If you were interested in watching both players, then you had better hoped for extensive garbage time.
With these transactions, both players vocally expressed their unhappiness with their respective situations — Petrovic demanded a trade and Teletovic took to Twitter to vent about his role when he tweeted "I hate when they lie to me" in his native language.
Eventually things would change for the better.
Once unleashed, both players showed what they were capable of doing when given the opportunity. Following the trade to New Jersey, Drazen was still in a reserve role behind Mookie Blalock and Reggie Theus, but was given adequate playing time. During those minutes he averaged just over 12 points. Not too shabby from a bench player. The following season saw Petrovic enter the starting lineup and an exponential increase in his production.
Teletovic obviously wasn’t traded from the Nets, however he did experience an uptick in playing time as last season progressed. With those minutes he was able to show why Brooklyn signed him away from Europe.
Although his cumulative statistics are hardly impressive, he did produce at an effective level evident by a scoring rate of 16 points per 36 minutes. Against Miami in the playoffs, that rate increased to 18 points per 36 minutes.
Now I know what you are thinking, the numbers don’t match up so this is an invalid comparison. Maybe Mirza isn’t as good as his idol but who’s to say that he doesn’t impact the game the same way?
Teletovic wasn’t traded to a new team and probably won’t start, but the Nets decision to let Paul Pierce walk gives Teletovic an opportunity he has craved. The Bosnian sharpshooter will now have every chance to show the Brooklyn organization, fans, and the rest of the NBA what all of the buzz was about when he was playing overseas.
Now entering his third season Teletovic seems primed to take the next step, just like Petrovic. If the other night in Boston was any indication of what’s in store (20 points in 23 minutes), the Nets will once again have a player who can single-handedly shoot them back into any game no matter how big the deficit is.
They may be a generation apart, but there is no denying a connection between the two.