Top 10 Euroleague Players to Watch in ’10-11
Don‘t forget to keep an eye on Ricky and his fellas.
by Erildas Budraitis / @Erildas
The summer is coming to an end and most Euroleague teams are about to start the first stage of the new season – training camp.
The upcoming ’10-11 season should be just as exciting as last year. While players are getting in shape, SLAMonline selected and ranked the 10 Euroleague players who should be the most interesting for the Americans to follow.
The most interesting players includes some well-known names such as Ricky Rubio, Juan Carlos Navarro and Trajan Langdon, as well as others, like Jonas Valanciunas and Tibor Pleiss, that are just beginning to rise into the hoops head’s conscious.
1. Ricky Rubio — Regal FC Barcelona (PG)
1st Round, 5th overall, 2009 NBA Draft
Probably Europe’s biggest young basketball star, Ricky Rubio is getting ready to play in the NBA. The chances are high that this will be Ricky’s final season in Europe, so we can expect this kid to show all his skills.
Last season’s Euroleague champion and Rising Star Award winner, Rubio didn’t produce impressive statistical numbers, but played solid and creative basketball. He regularly competed with Europe’s best players and his great passes were a mainstay on the Euroleague Top 10 videos. Of course, it’s too early to say for sure, but if Rubio continues improving as he has in last few years, Jonny Flynn should be scared for his starting PG position in Minnesota.
2. Jonas Valanciunas — Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius (C)
Projected Top-5 pick, 2011 NBA Draft
After dominating in Euro U18 Jonas Valanciunas is awaiting his next challenge — playing in the Euroleague. And he won’t have time to warm up — according to Lietuvos rytas’ GM, Valanciunas will be the team’s starting center.
It is clear the Lithuanian is an enormous talent who could be the next Arvydas Sabonis (the best Lithuanian basketball player of all time), but it’s still a question how he will look at Europe’s top level and how he will play against Europe’s top bigs.
Still, Valanciunas has accomplished everything he could at his age (Euro U16 and U18 champion, MVP award winner) so it’s a great time to challenge himself in Euroleague.
3. Jan Vesely — Partizan Belgrade (SF)
Projected Top-5 pick, 2011 NBA Draft
Jan Vesely, the hope of Czech Republic, will enter his third and possibly last year in Euroleague. The forward decided to skip the 2010 NBA Draft and, along with other European talents, participate in next year’s Draft. This season should be special for him.
The only bad thing for Vesely is the departure of Partizan’s head coach Dusko Vujosevic. Vujosevic was one of the reasons why the Czech stayed in Belgrade for the ’10-11 season.
All in all, after this season all speculations will come to an end – it will be clear if it was good or bad decision to not enter this summer’s Draft. NBA scouts expect Vesely will be picked in the top 5 in 2011, but a good season could raise Vesely’s stock to top 3.
4. Milos Teodosic — Olympiakos Piraeus (PG)
Euroleague MVP (’09-10)
Milos Teodosic is just 23 years old, but he’s already the Euroleague MVP. It looks like the sky is the limit for him and this season he could prove it. He’s probably an NBA-level player right now, and it’s just a matter of time before he plays in the NBA. Of course, it depends if he really wants to do that.
But at this moment, Teodosic still needs to demonstrate what he can without two scoring machines. After Linas Kleiza and Josh Childress left the team, Teodosic must step up and become a true leader. Will he be able to do that?
5. Juan Carlos Navarro — Regal FC Barcelona (SG)
Memphis Grizzlies (’07-08)
Euroleague All-Decade team member, Juan Carlos Navarro is stepping into the new season as a champion. “La Bomba” should be well known to Americans – he already proved his nickname in the NBA, back in ’07-08 when he drained 8-9 three-pointers against the Hornets.
The ex-Grizzie is also doing his thing in Europe — last season Navarro was named Euroleague Final Four MVP. This year, after ex-MVP Linas Kleiza left to join the Toronto Raptors, Juan Carlos Navarro should be one of the candidates to grab the Euroleague MVP award. Navarro is a true European basketball superstar, so what more you can expect from him?
6. Nemanja Bjelica — Caja Laboral Vitoria (SF)
2nd Round, 35th overall, 2010 NBA Draft
Nemanja Bjelica’s name was mentioned well over 100 times in the European media this summer — he was about to play for Benetton Treviso or Olympiakos Piraeus, but he eventually picked Caja Laboral Vitoria. The biggest question: Will he be more than a role player next season on Dusko Ivanovic’s team?
One of the best young European players, Bjelica already proved he can be the beast in national competitions. Nevertheless, I can’t wait to see how this 6-10 guy, who can play four positions, will fare in the Euroleague.
Caja Laboral should be a Group A leader, so it will be easy to keep an eye on him. Despite Bjelica’s five-year contract, a great season in Vitoria could open the door to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
7. Victor Claver — Pamesa Valencia (SF)
1st Round, 22nd overall, 2009 NBA Draft
The Eurocup Rising Star 2010 helped his team to win the Eurocup tournament and get a place in the Euroleague. Of course, there’s a question of how Claver will fare in Europe’s top league.
The Spaniard has big potential but still needs to gain more experience. But, overall, it looks like Claver is improving his game step-by-step, and he could be wearing a Trail Blazers jersey in ’11-12. You never know.
8. Sofoklis Schortsanitis — Maccabi Tel Aviv (C)
2nd Round, 34th overall, 2003 NBA Draft
After an unsuccessful last season with Olympiakos and a disappointing performance in this year’s NBA summer league, Sofoklis Schortsanitis has his last chance in Tel Aviv. Next season he has much to prove for NBA and European hoops fans.
There is no doubt that “Baby Shaq” could be a great Euroleague player, but it’s still a big question as to whether he can he play in the NBA. In last few years he didn’t improve his game as much as expected and this year could be crucial for him. It’s now or never, Sofo.
9. Trajan Langdon — CSKA Moscow (SG)
Duke University (1994-1999)
The ex-Duke Blue Devil is now 34 years old, but last season he showed he still is one of the best players in Europe. Langdon helped his team make its fifth-straight appearance in the Euroleage Final Four, and it will be interesting if this guy can lead the team to the Final Four once again.
Despite Langdon’s age, ’09-10 season was probably one of his best — the guard averaged 15 points. But there’s a question how long this guy can play at the top of his game. One thing is clear: the Euroleague All-Decade team member has the winning mentality, so it’ll be no surprise if this shooter continues to shine.
10. Tibor Pleiss — Brose Baskets Bamberg (C)
2nd Round, 31st overall, 2010 NBA Draft
I actually didn’t expect Tibor Pleiss to be selected with such a high pick, but the Nets believed this guy can play. The Oklahoma City Thunder, who bought rights to Pleiss, must believe this too. So this season could answer what type of player Pleiss has the potential to become.
Last season, Pleiss started in 10 of 12 Eurocup games (Europe’s second strongest league), and he had plenty of chances to showcase his skills. But when Pleiss faced higher level players, his numbers plummet.
This season the German will debut in the top league — Euroleague. In group stage, Pleiss will meet bigs like D’Or Fisher, Ioannis Bourousis and Rasho Nesterovic, so we will see if he was really worth the 31st pick. But, at the moment, he’s still “The Query” from Germany.