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PART ONE: Players in the Euroleague Who Belong in the NBA

PART ONE: Players in the Euroleague Who Belong in the NBA

Bogdan Bogdanovic, Nemanja Bjelica, Daniel Theis, Dario Saric, Cedi Osman, Tomas Satoransky, Milos Teodosic, Boban Marjanovic, Omri Casspi, Alex Abrines, Joe Ingles, Davis Bertans, Nikola Mirotic and next year's lottery pick, Luka Doncic.

All of these players have two things in common. The first commonality between them is that they are all very useful NBA players (besides Doncic, who will be during his first season next year), and the second is that all of these guys have lots of experience in the Euroleague. 

With NBA teams expanding their global scouting, a lot of big off season moves can come from a nearly untapped source of value - the EuroLeague. 

There was a huge list of players to choose from that, for the purpose of this exploration, was narrowed down to the six (three per article) most interesting players -- both to think about now, and who could be the most interesting to look back on in a few years.  

Player One: (PF-C) 6"10 227 pounds - Jonah Bolden - Maccabi Tel Aviv

Potential Role: Athletic, Defensive Stretch Four

Ceiling NBA Comparisons: Draymond Green or Al Horford

 

Where to begin with Jonah Bolden?

You might be wondering why he is on this list as he is eighth on his team in points per game, and he doesn't stuff the stat sheet in any particularly noteworthy way. However, it is the stuff that the 22 year old does that is not recorded on stat sheets that really make him who he is.

The 76ers drafted the athletic big man in the second round of 2017 and immediately stashed him overseas. Since then he has shown incredible defensive potential, including the ability to switch on to guards on the perimeter and bother shooters with his length.

In just 22 minutes per game this season in the EuroLeague, Bolden was nearly a one steal, one block a night player (1.2 SPG, 0.95 BPG). No player averaged one steal and one block in the league this year. Bolden also ranks 14th in the league in rebounds per 36 minutes (9.3), and no player above him attempts more than one three pointer per game. Bolden attempts more than four.

Rebounding instincts combined with floor spacing is an extremely valuable mixture for big men in the NBA -- it's what makes a player like Draymond Green so special. 

But if you need further proof of  his defensive impact, take a look at his defensive rating. Bolden's 107 defensive rating is 8 points better than the next best player on his Maccabi team -- a team that includes former Miami Heat guard Norris Cole, who was known for his defensive ability in the NBA.

On the other end of the floor, Bolden is also an excellent passer for a big.

He is capable of getting a rebound and pushing the pace of play in transition as a point forward. While he doesn't average a lot of assists (2.9 per 36), that is more a product of the Maccabi system running through former NBA guards in Pierre Jackson and Norris Cole as opposed to him being a traditional big, who can't pass or make quick decisions. 

The 6"10 Australian is an instinctually great passer, and although at times he tries to do a little too much with his passes, his ability is absolutely there and he is unselfish by nature. Check out this video! 

While his 7 points per game, 51% free throws, and 32% threes are concerning, there is still a lot of time for Bolden to develop his offensive game, and if he can do that, his ceiling is extremely high in the NBA as a great two way playing stretch big. 

Keep in mind that Joe Ingles only averaged 6 points per game during his last season in the Euroleague with similar minutes, so sometimes offensive stats can be misleading in a league as systematic as the Euroleague is. 

Bolden's ability to play perimeter D, stretch the floor, rebound, and pass makes him a project that the 76ers should continue to invest time into, and if they are in a position where Bolden can't find minutes, another NBA organization should look to trade for him.

Player Two: (SF-PF) 6"8 230 pounds - Anthony Gill - Khimki Moscow

Potential Role: Athletic, Efficient three and D player

NBA Ceiling Comparison - Trevor Ariza or Mike Scott

Anthony Gill is a really interesting case study. He serves as a floor spacer for a mediocre Khimki team that features former Knick guard, Alexey Shved. 

Shved must be really enjoying life because he has a 35% usage on his team and oftentimes does whatever he wants out there. Shved is a rare isolation, shoot first guard in a league that features a lot more ball movement and balance, and way less top-heavy offense. 

Because of Shved, Gill's numbers are not incredible, but they remain efficient -- much like his college days at Virginia where he averaged 13 points per game on just eight shots as a senior. 

However, perhaps the most interesting thing about Gill is the fact that he completely re-branded his game from being an undersized post player who seldom shot a three, to being an efficient three point floor spacer in the EuroLeague. 

Gill attempted only two three pointers in three entire seasons at Virginia, and was never asked to stretch out the floor. However, in Europe his role has completely changed, as Shved needs people to create space so he can penetrate to the basket and make the extra pass when needed. 

Gill went from being a complete post player to shooting an incredible 46% on threes, 64% effective field goals, and holding by far the highest offensive rating of anyone on his team. 

He did all this while continuing to show off his defensive prowess as a solid shut down two way hybrid forward, having the ability to guard on the perimeter and the post. 

Gill had a mediocre Defensive Win Shares rating of just 1.0, but his team was weak as a whole defensively, and he had the highest net rating on the team. In other words, his defensive shortcomings didn't change the fortunes of Khimki, however his offense made a huge difference, and was the reason he led his teams in Win Shares overall. 

Gill is also still only 24 years old, and the transition from playing the 4 to the 3 is a  massive one, so his defensive ability can still be improved. He has all the athletic ability in the world, and is known for finishing high above the rim in the Euroleague. 

Gill is definitely not a lock, but the reason he didn't get enough looks from NBA teams was because he hadn't displayed an ability to shoot three pointers. Now that he has established that part of the game, there is no reason why he should still be in the Euroleague. 

As we hear so often on national broadcasts: "You can never have too many shooters," and Gill is someone whose shooting is not the only aspect of his game. He can still post up, and he can put the ball on the floor. 

Look for a team to snag Gill up for cheap in the offseason. Here is a short video that can help put all these words and numbers into visual context. 

Player Three: (PG-SG) - 6"1 190 pounds - Mike James - Panathinaikos

Potential Role: Sixth man, instant offense and a second ball handler.

NBA Ceiling Comparisons: Jordan Clarkson and Reggie Jackson

Mike James came and went from the NBA in a flash and other than some hardcore Daily Fantasy players who reaped the benefits of knowing who this guy was, no one really got a chance to see what the journeyman could do.

During his brief tenure as point guard for the Suns and Pelicans he showed that he was an extremely talented individual, and one who showcased his ability every time he got a chance to play. 

The usually ball dominant guard has adapted since returning to the Euroleague to play alongside Nick Calathes, who was leading his team in assists and was putting Panathinaikos on his shoulders. 

He will play a lot of the game off ball, but he also runs the offense when Calathes is resting. 

The 27 year old Portland native sports a 29% usage rate, with a 118.3 Offensive rating, and a PER of over 21. He also has an incredible 3.2 AST/TO ratio, which shows his ability to not just be a scorer in the EuroLeague. 

While his three point efficiency has been bad, it is difficult to transition from the NBA game that has a different ball and different systems.

James has struggled making that transition back to Europe despite his high PER. He is only shooting 26% on threes between the two leagues this year, much below his last two seasons in the EuroLeague of 36%.

The real mystery of the Lamar graduate is that he was able to produce at a very high level in the NBA every time Suns coach Jay Triano called upon him when injuries arose, yet he was rarely given opportunities to play.

Throughout his ten starts, James averaged 13 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in 26 minutes of action, but the more telling stats come from when Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe -- the Suns two best other starters -- were off the court. 

In 302 minutes with those two off the court and James on it, the SUNS had a positive net rating (!!!!) and James had a 32% usage rate. This usage rate is only topped by Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Joel Embiid. 

This tells us that when he was given the chance to play he was not only able to produce at an extremely high level (22 points, 6.7 assists, 5 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 3 turnovers) per 36 minutes, but the worst team in the NBA was actually a net positive with him running the show. 

James has an elite scoring ability, and he showcased it often in the NBA. Here is some game footage against the 8-seed Timberwolves

 

That is all for part one of the Euroleague segment. Be sure to check out the next edition  where I discuss Nando De Colo, Nemanja Nedovic and Nick Calathes!  

 

Photo taken by James Lang of USA TODAY sports

 

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