The Brooklyn Nets’ interest in CSKA Moscow point guard Milos Teodosic is one of the most transparent news items in the Sean Marks era. Additionally, Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders revealed earlier this week that the team has interest in Fenerbahce big Jan Vesely.
Vesely and Teodosic are two of Europe’s brightest stars, with vastly different skillsets. Teodosic has won multiple MVP awards, along with winning a EuroLeague championship and silver medal for Serbia last year. Over the last five years, he’s gotten votes from NBA GM’s when asked who’s the best player outside the NBA.
Vesely has been a revelation since returning to Europe in 2014, a key cog in Fenerbahce’s EuroLeague 2016-2017 championship squad.
The two were effective against European competition, and could be ready to bring their games stateside. But of course, while Vesely and Teodosic possess impressive skills, some key deficiencies exist in their games. For Teodosic, his defense, age and athleticism have come under fire. For Jan Vesely, shooting has been a major blemish for his entire career.
Like any free agent —or draft prospect— those flaws are evident and real, likely to deter some NBA interest. But their production and tangible skills should not be discounted. Let’s take a look at the skills of these two potential Nets targets.
Milos Teodosic is uptempo personified. His play on the offensive end is dazzling, stunning defenders with pinpoint passes and solid shooting. Teodosic uses every crevice and angle to create. His passes often leave his own teammates spellbound, leading to dropped passes and ricochets. His assist percentage of 42.3% in EuroLeague competition was outstanding – that efficiency would rank him fifth in the NBA. Different leagues, of course. But Teodosic is a player that makes life easy for his teammates.
Just search his name on YouTube and dozens of videos displaying Teodosic’s brilliance show up. Here’s one of them, showing the Serbian guard’s top 20 plays of the 2016-2017 season, set to the theme from the film “Man of Steel.”
Teodosic led the EuroLeague with 6.8 assists per game in 2016-2017 ... and note this: scorekeepers in Europe have different standards for assists than those in the NBA. They’re a lot stingier. He also shot effectively, at 38.1% from three in EuroLeague competition while converting free throws at 89.7%. He may have turned the ball over 3.0 times per game, but some giveaways may stem from the pure angularity of his passes. His solid play helped solidify CSKA Moscow as one of the best teams in Europe, finishing third in EuroLeague competition this year.
On the offensive end, Teodosic is an open-floor dream. For a team that relies on ball movement, spacing and attacking like the Nets, Teodosic fits. Ideally, his presence would help the Nets rise from their ranking as the third-worst offense in the NBA. Whether as a starter or reserve, Teodosic – if he adjusts to the NBA comfortably – would bring excitement and flair to Kenny Atkinson’s offense.
Teodosic’s defense lags far behind his offensive wizardry. His defense has been described as “lazy,” “lackadaisical” and “lots of room for improvement.” That’s a lot of L’s. Even as a reserve, Teodosic struggled, with a defensive rating of 113.3 – worst on CSKA Moscow. As an NBA player, his defensive deficiencies would be magnified with athletes at every position. Rather than guarding the Shane Larkin’s and Nate Wolters’ of the world, Teodosic could face speedy reserves like Patty Mills and Ish Smith. Even in two guard sets with Jeremy Lin or Spencer Dinwiddie, Teodosic could still struggle in containing opponents at the 2 spot.
Teodosic turned 30 in March. European hoops expert David Pick reported that Teodosic would likely seek a 3-year, $25-30 million contract if he decides to make an NBA jump. For a player already deficient on D, a declining Teodosic could pose a big risk for the Nets.
Of course, Brooklyn has obviously put a lot of their off-season hope on bringing Teodosic to the U.S., scouting him multiple times, once with no fewer than five top execs in the stands. Can all that wizardry overcome his age (and NBA inexperience)?
After flaming out of the NBA after three seasons, Jan Vesely rose to prominence with Fenerbahce in 2014. (Fun fact: This year’s Fenerbahce squad had more former top 10 draft picks than the Brooklyn Nets.) Former Wizards head coach Randy Wittman developed Vesely as a swingman after receiving comparisons to Andrei Kirilenko pre-draft. But Vesely found his success as the European Tyson Chandler, not AK-47 – a limited, but effective center.
Along with his above-the-rim athleticism and length, there’s some nuance to Vesely’s game – a bigger story than any statistic. Vesely rebounds aggressively, averaging over two offensive rebounds per game in less than 25 minutes in 2015 and 2016. On every Fenerbahce miss, Vesely always seemed to get a hand on the ball. He screens effectively, an underrated aspect of any team’s offense. His screens helped perimeter players Kostas Sloukas, Bobby Dixon and future Sacramento King Bogdan Bogdanovic create separation from defenders.
His timing as a roll man is solid, leading to many alley-oop finishes. Vesely is also a super smart passer out of the paint – finding shooters or cutters around him. The Nets’ free-flowing offense, ideally, should have players that can find the open man, regardless of position. On offense, Vesely always seems to be at the right place at the right time. It’s instinct.
Vesely’s mobility meshes well with today’s NBA, and he could buoy second units with energy and defense. He covers a lot of ground with long strides and long arms – which foreshadows solid rim protection. Vesely may not have blocked a lot of shots (0.56 this season), with opposing offenses frequently trying to space out Fenerbahce’s supersized squad. As an NBA guy, he could find success as a versatile defensive center.
Vesely also plays with fire and intensity, especially in big games. Check out his reactions to baskets at 0:36 and 0:47.
The knock on Vesely has always been shooting. He has zero semblance of an outside shot, but is active enough to draw defenders on the perimeter. He has also struggled his entire career from the free throw line – although he did shoot 71% in the Turkish league in 2016-2017. At the end of his NBA run in 2014, Vesely’s resistance to free throw shooting cast such a cloud that it shattered his overall confidence.
While his confidence has seemingly improved since returning to Europe —and the Nets belief in pushing confidence, he still struggles from the charity stripe. That reached a head with a 1-of-10 line in last year’s EuroLeague final (in which Milos Teodosic and CSKA Moscow, ironically, beat Fenerbahce for the Championship.)
Regardless, Vesely may not fit in the Nets’ 4-out offensive configuration, even as he enters the prime of his career at age 27. While he does bring a wide array of modern NBA skills, basketball know-how and intensity to the table, his lack of perimeter touch may leave many doubtful of his role.
Then again he has his moments, like these in 2016-2017
As with any other roster decision, there are tradeoffs. The flaws of Jan Vesely’s and Milos Teodosic’s games are well established. But what they lack in shooting and defense, they make up for in IQ and effort. A lot of basketball evaluation grills players for what they can’t do, often ignoring the various skills they do provide. For many fans, that could be the case for Vesely and Teodosic.
If they decide to make the NBA jump, the two could make considerably less than NBA players providing similar production – and considerably more than in Europe. That’s another aspect the Nets’ FO and they may consider. Several backup centers received contracts totaling over $12 million a year last summer. Vesely could probably be signed for three-years, $24 million. The same could be said for Teodosic. It today’s NBA, that’s the new “reasonable.”
This summer may be the offseason that dictates the Nets’ foreseeable future. The team’s interest in European players is well known, but so is their interest in restricted free agents, overlooked players and high character veterans. And don’t overlook the internation connections of Sean Marks (played in Poland and FIBA competitions), Trajan Langdon (played in Russia) and Kenny Atkinson (played all over the continent.)
Jan Vesely and Milos Teodosic are two of presumably dozens of players the Nets have scouted domestically and internationally. While the two may not sign with Brooklyn, it’s important for Sean Marks to realize at what point do the positives outweigh the negatives – or vice versa – for every decision.