Euroleague MVP Race
Guards completely dominate so far.
by Erildas Budraitis / @Erildas
Since legendary Lithuanian Arvydas Sabonis retired from basketball after the ’03-04 season, Euroleague MVP Rankings haven’t been kind toward big men. The MVPs of the last six years — Anthony Parker, Theo Papaloukas, Ramunas Siskauskas, Juan Carlos Navarro, Milos Teodosic – play either PG, SG or SF.
The ’10-11 season probably won’t be an exception, as four smalls lead SLAMonline’s Euroleague MVP Race. Guards rule the league, as big men still need to wait for their chance.
Partizan Belgrade’s James Gist is the only Euroleague rookie on our list, while the rest are well-known to European basketball fans.
1. Dimitris Diamantidis — Panathinaikos Athens (6-2)
12.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.3 assists in 32 minutes
The five-time Euroleague Best Defender has been the biggest nightmare for opponents in the Euroleague so far. After Vassilis Spanoulis left Panathinaikos, somebody had to step up and lead the Greens to the Final four. And that man was Diamantidis.
The 30-year-old guard, who leads the Euroleague in assists (5.3 per game), helped Panathinaikos win six of eight games and become Group D leaders. Panathinaikos’ previous game against Union Olimpija showed how Diamantidis has everything that an MVP needs. Diamantidis scored 13 points in the last 75 seconds of the forth quarter to lift Panathinaikos to overtime, where the Greens ultimately grabbed the win.
2. Bo McCalebb — Montepaschi Siena (7-1)
14.1 points (43 percent 3FG), 2.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.5 steals in 25 minutes
The former University of New Orleans star had an extremely difficult task – to replace Terrell McIntyre and prove himself as a top-class Euroleague player. This season, McCalebb has been able to dismiss his biggest weakness – Montepachi’s guard is finally consistent.
Despite a reduction in minutes, the 25-year-old guard has slightly improved all his scoring numbers – points from 13.4 to 14.1; 2FG percentage from 53 to 58; 3FG percentage from 23 to 43; and FT percentage from 76 to 93. McCalebb is probably the main reason why Montepaschi is ahead of Regal Barcelona and Fenerbahce Ulker in Group C with 7 wins and only 1 loss.
3. Chuck Eidson — Maccabi Tel Aviv (7-1)
11.8 points (41 percent 3FG), 4.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 3.4 steals in 30 minutes
The most versatile Euroleague player right now, Chuck Eidson helped Maccabi Tel Aviv become the first team in Group A to qualify for the Top 16. This lefty forward can do everything – score points, pass the ball, grab rebounds or destroy opponents’ offenses.
It was a big challenge for Maccabi head coach David Blatt to put this club on winning road and Eidson made this task a lot easier. Maccabi already won seven games in a row and counting. If Tel Aviv continue to play this kind of basketball, Eidson, who leads the Euroleague in steals, will be a true candidate to move up in our MVP candidates list.
4. Roko Ukic — Fenerbahce Ulker (6-2)
14.8 points (54 percent 3FG), 3 rebounds, 3.4 assists in 27 minutes
The former guard with the Raptors and Bucks has finally got his chance to be a starting PG. Ukic is averaging 14.8 points (sixth best in the league) and shooting 3FG at an impressive 53 percent clip (third best in the league).
Nevertheless, Ukic has earned training staff’s respect very quickly not because of the points he scores, but his ability to be a true coach on the court. Last but not least, Ukic has been very consistent this season – there wasn’t a single game in which he’s finished with fewer than 10 index ranking points.
5. Joel Freeland — Unicaja Malaga (5-3)
14.1 points (68 percent 2FG), 6.9 rebounds in 25 minutes
The 30th overall draft pick of the 2006 NBA Draft, Joel Freeland has became a true leader of Unicaja Malaga team. Still just 23 years old, Freeland is a leading scorer and rebounder on the team which won its last two crucial matches against Real and Olympiakos. Now, Unicaja has a chance to end its regular season in first place of Group B.
The 6-10 forward is the highest ranked big man so far, but a fifth-place finish is not the limit for him. Unicaja leader had at least 17 index ranking points in each of his last six games — staying consistent could move Freeland higher in our rankings.
6. Vassilis Spanoulis — Olympiakos Piraeus (5-3)
14.8 points (43 percent 3FG), 4.9 assists in 29 minutes
The member of Greek national team, Vassilis Spanoulis surprised Europe with his decision to move from Panathinaikos Athens to its biggest rivals, Olympiakos Piraeus. But it looks like Spanoulis, a former Houston Rocket, feels comfortable there. Teaming up with last year’s Euroleague MVP Milos Teodosic, Spanoulis may help bring Olympiakos back to the Final four.
Spanoulis is not only one of the best scorers in the league but he also knows how to move the ball – he’s third in the league in assists (4.9). His turnovers are preventing him from moving up into the top 5, however – Spanoulis is committing a league-high 3.9 TOs per game.
7. James Gist — Partizan Belgrade (4-4)
13.3 points (62 percent 3FG), 6.8 rebounds in 30 minutes
After Dusko Vujosevic, Bo McCalebb and Aleks Maric left Partizan Belgrade, many people expected dark days for this Serbian team. But then came James Gist, a big reason why Partizan has won four of its eight games and ranks third in Group A.
Despite the three-point line being moved back this season, Gist, a 6-9 forward, is shooting sensationally well from long distance – 62 percent (best in the league). It’s Gist’s first season in the Euroleague and as he’s finally been bumped into the starting five, so it wouldn’t be a big surprise if this guy’s stats continue to rise.
8. Igor Rakocevic — Efes Pilsen Istanbul (4-4)
15.6 points (43 percent 3FG), 2.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists in 30 minutes
Efes Pilsen Istanbul leader Igor Rakocevic is a true Euroleague veteran and one of the best scorers in the league. But the last two losses against Union Olimpija Ljubljana and Power Electronics Valencia have complicated Efes Pilsen’s situation in Euroleague and also Rakocevic’s position in MVP rankings.
Rakocevic scored 10 points against Union Olimpija and then posted only 7 points (2-12 FG) against Power Electronics. Despite two bad games, Rakocevic remains third in Euroleague scoring rankings, and Efes Pilsen still has good chances to make it to the Top 16.
9. Ksystof Lavrinovic — Montepaschi Siena (7-1)
14 points (61 percent 2FG), 5.5 rebounds in 23 minutes
If there was a Euroleague Sixth Man of the Year award, no doubt that this one would go to Montepaschi Siena forward Ksystof Lavrinovic. The 31-year-old big man is probably the dream of every coach because of the strength he brings off the bench.
Lavrinovic is averaging 14 points in only 23 minutes, which is 0.6 points per minute (third in the league). More intriguingly, Montepaschi’s forward is shooting 61 percent from close range notced at least 11 points in all eight games. Having two candidates to win Euroleague MVP award, Montepaschi should be a no-brainer to make it to the Final Four, right?
10. Ioannis Bourousis — Olympiakos Piraeus (5-3)
10.1 points (57 percent 2FG), 7.5 rebounds, 1.3 blocks in 18 minutes
Despite a lot of up and downs this season, Olympiakos Piraeus’ center still looks truly amazing – 10.1 points and 7.5 rebounds in only 18 minutes. Bourousis led the ‘08-09 Euroleague in rebounding and he has a chances to repeat that success this year… and he’s playing less time than he did back then.
If Bourousis gets more minutes, improves his free-throw percentage and avoids getting fouls like he did in last game against Unicaja, there’s no doubt that he’d be ranked higher in our MVP list.
Honorable Mentions: Mike Batiste, Panathinaikos; Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Maccabi; Darius Washington, Lottomatica; Milos Teodosic, Olympiakos; Keith Langford, Khimki; Pete Mickeal, Regal Barcelona; Stanko Barac, Caja Laboral; Mirza Begic, Zalgiris.