Ever since the NBA game began to grew globally and become the mammoth it is today --and Europeans traveled to the United States in the 1980s and 90s to play professional basketball, it’s been an accepted form of asset management for an NBA team to draft a European player or a player based in Europe and watch their development from across the Atlantic.
Some of these "Euro-stash" players became Drazens and Arvydases and carried their legendary status from the old continent to the new one. At the same time, it just didn’t work out for some. These days, we fondly remember the ones that shined upon us with their greatness --and use the likes of Frederic Weis as material for joke. He was after all, a Euro-stash pick (and a lottery one at that).
For Nets fans, it's particularly important. As the Nets have traded their picks, they've seen Euro-Stash as a possible substitute. They currently own the rights to two young players, one of whom has great prospects ... if he decides to come over; the other a bit star-crossed.
Here are our Top 10 Euro-stash picks over the last five years who I believe have the worst chances of ending up as the butt of jokes in the NBA:
1. Nikola Mirotic, 1991, Real Madrid, 6'10", PF, Spain, ACB Stats, Euroleague Stats, Chicago Bulls
An all-around scoring machine with an efficiency borderline ridiculous, Real Madrid’s Montenegrin-born power forward Nikola Mirotic has developed into something special right before our eyes. Mirotic can do anything you can expect from a player his size on offense. The 6'10" Madrid player can post up and showcase his arsenal of nifty moves on the block, space the floor by the virtue of his deep range and sweet stroke or attack off the dribble when he sees the opportunity in a hard closeout by a defender.
He is still a work in progress defensively and on the glass, but the fact that he’s nowhere near being a liability on that end while playing starter’s minutes for the best team in Europe is encouraging. What is even more encouraging is that he’s shown his willingness to work on his game and his ability to improve consistently.
At this stage of his career, comparing him to Dirk Nowitzki sounds a bit excessive, even though he probably is the European player with the best shot at reaching that Dirk-type level since Nowitzki himself.
2. Bojan Bogdanovic, 1989, Fenerbahce Ulker, 6'8", SF, Croatia, TBL Stats, Euroleague Stats, Brooklyn Nets
Another Euroleague starter who has proven himself at the highest level in the world outside the NBA, Bogdanovic is currently playing at a level closer to his potential than Mirotic, due to both his age and athletic limitations, although this is meant to be more of a compliment to Mirotic than it’s a knock on Bogdanovic.
Bogdanovic joined Euroleague regulars Fenerbahce Ulker in 2011 and hasn’t looked back since, despite the shaky status of the club caused by never-ending series of changes in the front office and the coaching staff. Once only a spot-up shooter with little else, the Croatian forward’s arsenal now involves an array of off the dribble moves in addition to his finest weapon, low post scoring, specifically on the left block. He’s turned into a so dangerous threat on the block that his outside shooting, what is generally considered his strongest weapon, is now only his second best option.
Bogdanovic took off to a flying start to his 2013-14 campaign in October, averaging more than 18 points over the first ten games of the Euroleague season. Things haven’t been as rosy since the Euroleague moved onto its Top 16 stage at the ten-game mark, leaving the underachieving teams out of the league. As the competition got tougher, Bogdanovic has struggled with his outside shot (3/26 3FG% through the last seven games), but the long term data suggests that it’s just a small blip in the career of an otherwise great shooter. Fener’s struggles have a part in it as well, considering the Istanbul based team went 8-2 in the first ten games and 4-4 since, winning Friday with Bogdanovic scoring only nine points. Still, Bogdanovic's mini-slump doesn't seem to bother anyone, either in the Nets front office or in Europe.
Will be come over? Fenerbahce is growing confident that he'll stay and note that he hired Alex Raskovic (Fener coach Zeljko Obradovic's agent). Paul Pierce's situation with the Nets going into next season could have a say in his situation though. He doesn't want to sit.
3. Kostas Papanikolaou, 1990, FC Barcelona, 6'8", SF, Greece, ACB Stats, Euroleague Stats, Houston Rockets
A lockdown defender with solid size for his position, a two-time back-to-back Euroleague champion at the age 23, a deadly corner three specialist and a chase-down block collector. Sign me up already. In an era where finding cheap complementary pieces that fit the modern game is the name of the game, Greek small forward Kostas Papanikolaou answers to all of those needs, even the most demanding ones.
Raised as a role player throughout his youth career, Papanikolaou never questioned his status as the sidekick on Olympiacos in 2012, when he was teamed up with the 3-time Euroleague Final Four MVP Vassilis Spanoulis. Led by Spanoulis in the driving seat and fueled by Papanikolaou in the engine room, Olympiacos went on to win the Euroleague title in Istanbul and "K-Pap" was the de-facto MVP of the Euroleague Final Four, outplaying former NBA All-Star Andrei Kirilenko. Piraeus side repeated their success in 2013, on the back of another solid partnership from their clockwork duo.
After winning two titles with Olympiacos, Papanikolaou left Greece for Spain, where he teamed up with Juan Carlos Navarro in Barcelona this time, to repeat the same routine again. His contract has an NBA buy-out clause for this summer and it’s already in the rumor mill that Houston will try to activate that clause and bring him on board. Papanikolaou would be an immediate upgrade over both Omri Casspi and Francisco Garcia. Hiding in the corner to punish the help defense while the star shooting guard is working the pick-and-roll is not a concept he is a stranger to.
Papanikolauo was originally drafted by the Knicks, sent to Portlnd in the Raymond Felton trade, then to Houston in the Thomas Robinson deal.
4. Joffrey Lauvergne, 1991, Partizan Belgrade, 6'11", PF-C, France, ABA Stats, Euroleague Stats, Denver Nuggets
A fighter by nature, French big man Joffrey Lauvergne is the type of player every coach would want on the roster, as opposed to what his name suggests. Coming out of the same production line called INSEP (National Institute for Sports and Physical Education, based in Paris) which was also the home to French NBA players such as Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Ronny Turiaf earlier in their careers, Lauvergne is now a key contributor for the Serbian Euroleague team Partizan Belgrade. For a team that has always prioritized youth progression over expensive imports, playing more than 30 minutes a night for the legendary Serbian coach Dusko Vujosevic has certainly helped his game over the past two years.
At 6'11", Lauvergne is not a finished product on either ends of the floor. What makes him intriguing as a prospect is the fitting combination of size, athleticism and good hands. Already an able finisher around the rim and a good free throw shooter, Lauvergne’s shown solid promise of being a good floor spacer. Having shot 4 of 9 from beyond the arc in his last seven Euroleague games, Lauvergne is not a threat from outside yet, but you can’t leave him open as well. Add to that he is one of the best young rebounders in the continent and you have a 22-year old with a nice future ahead of him.
5. Sergio Llull, 1987, Real Madrid, 6'3", PG, Spain, ACB Stats, Euroleague Stats, Houston Rockets
Co-managing the point guard position on what is currently the best team in Europe, the amount of criticism Sergio Llull has to take every single week is second to only Russell Westbrook in the basketball world. And that is very appropriate, because in a way, Llull could be considered as the Spanish Westbrook (Let Llull be Llull). With questionable decision-making skills and a streaky jumper, what makes Llull indispensable is his explosiveness. He’s evolved to adopt a more subtle approach as he grew up on the court and turned into what I’d like to call an impact player, but that doesn’t guarantee that he won’t leave you scratching your head in the most crucial moment of a game.
With all that being said, Llull is special in his own way —just like Westbrook— as he simply makes things happen on the floor. Real Madrid proved that it could work for a contending team with a Llull-type player on the floor, as did the Thunder over the past couple years. Madrid are off to a 16-1 start in the Euroleague and Llull’s part in their success can’t be overlooked.
6. Nemanja Bjelica, 1988, Fenerbahce Ulker, 6'10", PF, Serbia, TBL Stats, Euroleague Stats, Minnesota Timberwolves
Throughout his career, Bojan Bogdanovic’s Fenerbahce teammate Nemanja Bjelica has been a pleasure both to the mind and eyes. A point guard trapped in a power forward’s body, Bjelica is not your ordinary 6'10" big. From launching full court outlet passes to running a pick and roll, Bjelica is a matchup nightmare by default for any team on defense. When in his groove, Bjelica has a range that could be compared to Mirza Teletovic, but in the meantime that’s also the main concern with him. That groove isn’t always there and the switch is just off at times. Awareness and concentration issues on both ends of the floor have kept him from being a dominant factor for his teams as he fades into the background fairly easily.
As one of his team’s prized acquisitions last summer alongside the likes of Linas Kleiza, Bjelica is having a good season for Fenerbahce Ulker and coped with the expectations very well. Capable of passes like this in the open court, it would be a joy to see him running the fastbreak in the NBA sometime soon.
7. Tibor Pleiss, 1989, Laboral Kutxa, 7'1", Germany, ACB Stats, Euroleague Stats, Oklahoma City Thunder
Laboral Kutxa’s giant German center is an incredibly rare talent on the offensive end and plays with a maturity you wouldn’t expect from a player his age. Having the best season of his young career on a bad team, he spent the majority of the 2013-14 season racking up the stat sheet. Soon to be teammates with —and possibly backed up by— Lamar Odom, Pleiss scored at least 14 points in five of his last seven Euroleague games while averaging only 20 minutes a game and he continues to build upon this upwards trend.
In a world where Miroslav Raduljica plays in the NBA, you might ask the question that why Pleiss already isn’t in the NBA, where 7-footers are treated well and generously. At 7-foot-1, Pleiss’ weakness is that his feet are extremely slow, which could be a recipe for disaster in the 2010s NBA where teams run pick and rolls to death. However, if Raduljica made it, everyone can make it, which is the line of motivation most of the European players have these days. Pleiss was orginally drafted with the Nets' second round pick in 2010 and then packaged with the rights for Jordan Crawford for Damion James.
8. Alex Abrines, 1993, FC Barcelona, 6'5", Spain, ACB Stats, Euroleague Stats, Oklahoma City Thunder
Playing the back-up guard/wing role in Barcelona to Kostas Papanikolaou and Juan Carlos Navarro, Oklahoma City Thunder’s 2013 second-round pick Alex Abrines is a talented young player who is waiting for his chance to break out, at least for now. He’s shown flashes of brilliance over the past two years playing for Barcelona, but his consistency is a question we have never gotten the answer to due to lack of a prominent role within the squad.
The idea of the player Abrines could become in time, however, stands out among many other prospects in Europe and that is what makes him special as well as what made a European powerhouse like Barcelona invest heavily in him. Abrines is athletic, can put the ball on the floor and knock down the jumper and has that distinctive scorer’s instinct you would only see in a certain number of players. Whether he realizes that potential and makes it happen at the Euroleague and NBA level, we will have to wait and see.
9. Tomas Satoransky, 1991, Cajasol Sevilla, 6'7", Czech Republic, ACB Stats, Washington Wizards
Unlike most of the players aforementioned in this list, Czech point guard Tomas Satoransky is no Euroleague regular. He plays for the Spanish ACB team Cajasol Sevilla, posting up solid numbers for a club that is fighting for a playoff spot in domestic competition. On the other hand, amongst national leagues, competition level of the ACB is only second to the one of the NBA these days and Satoransky’s done fairly well against some top talent in that level.
Satoransky might be only 22 but that doesn’t keep him from leading his team on the court, using his exceptional size and floor vision. At 6-foot-7 Satoransky sees the floor above everyone else, even though his lack of lateral quickness could be the biggest obstacle standing between him and point guard minutes in the NBA. Improvement he’s shown over the past three years on his outside shooting (36% this season) is encouraging that he could adapt to playing other positions if needed as his versatility makes it possible.
10. Bojan Dubljevic, 1991, Valencia, 6'10", PF-C, Montenegro, ACB Stats, Eurocup Stats, Minnesota Timberwolves
A four-five hybrid with range and solid moves down low, Bojan Dubljevic is an interesting prospect that could fill several needs. Having been used exclusively at the five since he moved to Valencia two years ago, Dubljevic had two impressive seasons, but his future in the NBA as a full-time center is questionable due to the lack of size—a sure thing to cause him trouble finishing among the trees. Dubljevic is more of a grind-it-out type player rather than an above the rim finisher and how well that translates to NBA is a mystery. Despite his flaws, his combination of skills and efficiency in scoring is likely to get him an NBA contract in the near future.
Ilkan Karaman, 1990, Fenerbahce Ulker, 6'9", PF, Turkey, Brooklyn Nets
Another Brooklyn Nets pick and Bojan Bogdanovic’s teammate from Fenerbahce Ulker, Karaman hasn’t been having it easy lately. A very raw player with decent athleticism for the NBA level, Karaman’s young career is a story of ups and downs. Having had a double knee surgery in August, Karaman is still rehabbing to get back on the court. Once he does, there is no guarantee that he’ll be a part of coach Zeljko Obradovic’s deep rotation. Karaman needs to figure out his place in Turkey before he could consider a move overseas to the Nets.