We are officially within a week from the 2012 Euroleague Final Four, with this year’s edition taking place in Istanbul. We will be blessed with the best of European basketball at its finest. We can argue the three best teams made it the biggest stage. That combined to Olympiacos’ somewhat Cinderella story should make for one great ride. The event even attracts some NBA fans who are curious to see how this other side of basketball is like. So here is a guide of the 2012 Final Four for NBA fans.
CSKA Moscow has been the best team in the league all year. The Russian powerhouse was the one of continent’s most dominant forces in the 2000’s, posting eight-straight Final Four appearances and winning a couple of titles with now Brooklyn Nets’ owner Mikhail Prokhorov running the club and now Los Angeles Lakers’ assistant Ettore Messina coaching the team. Last year they failed to advance from the initial group stages, officially signaling the end of that cycle. They retooled in the offseason, acquiring former Net, Thunder and Celtic, Nenad Krstic and former Jazz Andrei Kirilenko among others, and have now returned to relevancy.
Kirilenko has had an amazing season in Europe. He was already named the defensive player of the year and should be named the league’s MVP in the next week or so. He has displayed all his skills as a complete all-around player who can impact the game in so many different ways. Defensively, he is the ace that provides flexibility within their scheme and offensively he is a breakdown explorer and bail-out safety net. Kirilenko can cut, spot-up, handle, pass, screen, post-up and crash the offensive glass. So instead of defining one specific thing for him to do, head-coach Jonas Kazlauskas is smart enough to let him to some of everything. And the result of it has been Kirilenko posting one of the most remarkable seasons efficiency-wise (the record-breaking stuff cooled off as the cohesiveness of the team came together and also he dealt with a concussion in early December) in league-history, as he has averaged 1.17 points-per-possession on 66.3% true-shooting and posted a 15% assist-rate on just 20% usage.
Krstic has also gone through a similar European revival. A simple rotation big in the NBA, Krstic is a true impact player in the Euroleague. He would in fact be among MVP contenders on a normal year when Kirilenko wasn’t around. He is averaging 1.23 points-per-possession on 68.2% true-shooting and a low 10% turnover-rate considering his 23.7% usage. Krstic is an important part of CSKA Moscow’s offense, the league’s highest scoring this season and don’t be shocked when he has a big game Friday against a strength challenged Panathinaikos’ frontcourt.
Sasha Kaun is another CSKA player that should draw some sort of attention from NBA fans. The Cleveland Cavalier draftee and former Kansas Jayhawk was closer to the league once upon a time but after undergoing knee surgery last season, he is now further away. It’s doubtful the Cavs or any other team will ever have enough interest to make a push for him.
And a player some fans may be familiar with is Milos Teodosic. There are always rumors about a team or two looking into the Serbian point-guard and wondering whether or not it would make sense taking a flyer on him. Teodosic is extremely mercurial and up until this year, there were doubts about his ability to play simply point-guard in order to fit in with more gifted offensive players. He has answered those questions, running the CSKA’s pick-and-roll heavy offense as well as you could ask him to, although his turnover issues are still there (21.6% turnover-rate). So all those teams who may be interested in Milos rumors are closer to actually being true this summer.
CSKA Moscow faces the defending champions Panathinaikos Athens in one of the semifinals. PAO is another European powerhouse whose dictionary definition has the word victory attached to it. Head-coach Zeljko Obradovic has coached the Greens for 13 years now and this is the ninth Final Four he has led his team to over the period, tabbing five championships on the way.
Nick Calathes is the only true NBA prospect on the team and his rights are held by the Dallas Mavericks. After a great Final Four last year, exploding in the semifinal game against Montepaschi Siena, in which he was a key part for them to win that title, many believed Calathes was actually closer to the NBA than expected, already wondering how a Rodrigue Beaubois – Nick Calathes backcourt would look like. But Calathes has failed to take that next step forward on his development, returning to being an inconsistent non-impact player. The hope is perhaps he is just that type of baller that gears up for big moments. I guess we will see if that’s the case next weekend.
Former Xavier star Romain Sato could probably hang his own in the league as one of those perimeter players who bring good defense and solid three-point shooting but I doubt any teams regard him as somebody they should be interested in. And I think the ship has sailed on Mike Batiste, who played for the Memphis Grizzlies. In Europe he is a household name. Don’t think there are many teams knocking on his door either.
Someone you should be aware of is Dimitris Diamantidis. No, there is no chance the 32 year-old would just go ahead and have a cup of coffee in the Association just to see what is like on the other side of the glass, Juan Carlos Navarro style. But you should know that Diamantidis is a sure thing Hall of Famer, three-time Euroleague winner, two-time league MVP and six-time defensive player of the year. So when he is doing awesome things like locking down his man with historic on-ball defense and running pick-and-rolls to perfection, don’t pull a Mike Krzyzewski and say; “hey, 13 (THIRTEEN!!!) is a nice player.”