JOSE MANUEL CALDERON, 6-3, PG, Tau Vitoria, Spain, 1981 (14.5 ppg [5/9 FG, 5/14 3P], 3.5 rpg, 0.5 apg, 1 topg, 1 spg)
by Luis Fernández
This Spanish point guard is one of the most obvious over-22 NBA prospects left in Europe. Still only 23 years old, he has the physical tools to be able to translate his game to the NBA. He shares with his American counterparts a more slashing-oriented style, although his distributing skills and decision making are in constant progression.
In Tau Vitoria he's usually the third option after Scola and Macijauskas. It's not just a way to rank the players, but also a reality as besides some other important duties, he's usually the guy in charge of thawing his team's offense when those two aren't delivering points. He took over that role in the Final Four with limited success, but his inclusion on this list is also the result of his play over the entire season in the ACB league (where Tau Vitoria sits on top of the table), the Euroleague and the way he's played for the Spanish national team.
Against CSKA Moscow, he had a bad day behind the arc, hitting only 2 of his 7 attempts (most of them wide open). Calderón is not a shooter, but he usually makes those open jumpers, so he had to rely on his slashing skills for most of his offensive production. He is a quick and strong player, really hard to stop in transition whenever he decides to attack the basket. But, he's not a crazy player, and even if he loves to speed up the pace of the game, he's rather thoughtful when it comes to choosing the moments he decides to do so. He was rather well defended by CSKA's perimeter, but still managed to get some layups and draw a number of personal fouls to finish with 13 points. On defense, as it happened to his teammates as well, he couldn't contain the extremely quick J.R.Holden, even if he's usually a good defender thanks to his quickness and strength. Neither did he shine particularly bright while passing the ball, with just one assist to speak of.
That assist remained solitary over the entire weekend, as he couldn't add any more in the Final against Maccabi. Calderón is definitely not a brilliant distributor, even if he has shown that he can move the ball with good decision making skills. He was more successful attacking the rim, and improved his scoring mark to 16 points in this game. On the way, he left some glimpses of his great skills, like a slashing movement towards the basket that he finished right in the face of Nikola Vujcic, not allowing the Croatian to block him thanks to his athleticism, strength and hang time. Those skills allow him to give a hand chasing rebounds, and he grabbed 4 for Tau (3 in the semifinal). Still, Jasikevicius outplayed him, but this can't be a huge reason for criticism, as he does that to everyone in Europe.
Last year there was interest shown in free agency from the Milwaukee Bucks, with a contract eventually being offered that was turned down. Will there be more this summer?
ARVYDAS MACIJAUSKAS, 6-4, SG, Tau Vitoria, Lithuania, 1980 (18 ppg [6/9 FG, 2/10 3P, 18/20 FT], 2.5 rpg, 2 apg, 2.5 spg, 4 topg)
by Luis Fernández
Day and night for Arvydas Macijauskas in this Final Four, lights and shadows. The Lithuanian guard had enjoyed a great Euroleague season, indeed earning himself a spot on the All-Euroleague team. What was already a world-class shooter, has turned into a much more complete player. His defense, passing and decision making have dramatically improved, and he is much less of a liability on the court whenever he isn't hitting jumpers.
He received recognition by earning All-Euroleague First Team honors, and he didn't disappoint in the semifinal against CSKA. With Luis Scola benched with foul trouble for too many minutes, he was for a big part of his team's win as the main scoring reference for TAU, succeeding in his duty with 23 points. Perhaps the key basket of the game came from him: with TAU inbounding the ball with just one second on the shot clock, Arvydas knocked down an amazing three pointer from the corner to put Tau 9 points ahead with 3 minutes left. He was also pretty active, reliable on the defensive end, finding his teammates whenever he wasn't able to finish himself, adding to his scoring production 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. He was the MVP of that game.
Nevertheless, the final brought out some of the same old Macijauskas. Blame it on the great Maccabi defense. With their box and one or matchup zone, they always had one guy following him everywhere on the court (it was Tal Burstein for the most part of the game) with the rest of the team ready to help whenever it was necessary, even sacrificing easy shots from other Tau players, just to try and avoid any shot attempt from him, even at the cost of a personal foul. As a result Arvydas could barely shoot at all and finished with just 13 points and only one field goal made. His frustration led him to overhandle the ball a bit and try to find better positions that ultimately made him commit 5 turnovers. That was precisely one of his problems last season that seemed to have been solved this year. He even uncharacteristically missed two free throws in this game, after only missing 8 of 105 all season long in the Euroleague.
He left a sweet taste here, regardless. That semifinal game is to be remembered and he has proved to be a better player than he was last year. Regarding a possible NBA outlook, we're still talking about a shooting specialist to come off the bench, but who has fixed some of his weaknesses up to a certain degree, and that could be useful for a team in need of perimeter firepower.
Maceo Baston, 6-10, PF, Maccabi Tel Aviv, USA, 1976 (16 ppg, 14/18 FG, 6 rpg, 3.5 spg, 1.5 bpg)
Over the past few seasons, Baston has developed into one of the most efficient post players in Europe. There is probably no other player at this position that can make use of his team's Point Guard like Baston. He is a high percentage player, who knows his role and embraces it. He dominates the post with a large amount of rebounds and dunks every single game, usually of the spectacular type. His footspeed is outstanding and its not rare at all for him to be the first player down the floor, which makes him an outstanding transition player. 16 points, 6 rebounds and 3,5 steals per game in this tournament demonstrates exactly what he meant to his team in Moscow. On the defensive end he is very aggressive, blocking shots, going after every ball and using his quickness to anticipate and come up with many steals. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that he was the best post player at this Final Four, considering his impact on both ends of the floor.
Baston is a one of a kind player in Europe because of his incredible athleticism and the way he plays the game on both ends of the court. His 7 steals in 52 minutes of action here should tell you all you need to do about his quickness, anticipation skills and tenacity. 14/18 from the field should tell you more than enough about his efficiency and how good he is at the very specific role Maccabi assigns him every game. His teammates Jasikevicius and Parker know that they can just throw up a lob in the general direction of the rim and Baston will go up and get it, usually finishing strong with a thunderous alley-oop that has made him a fan favorite in Tel Aviv over the past two seasons. He had a number of these over the past weekend.
Unlike many big men in Europe, Baston does not have infinite range on his jumper or outstanding ball-handling skills. This is not something Maccabi needs him to do, though, as everyone else on their team can shoot and handle like no other. Therefore, Baston can restrict his powerful play to the post while using his tremendous foot work to post up players and finish strong, or run the floor like a deer and be the one who finishes the play in the most emphatic fashion.
In the past, Baston was the type of player whose points came strictly off offensive rebounds, alley-oops, or at most, catching the ball in the post, turning around and dunking. Surprisingly enough, though, he has begun to diversify his offense over the past two seasons with Maccabi, becoming a player that can score in other ways beyond just using his incredible athletic ability.
Besides showing nice footwork and a decent post up game, he started taking more mid-range shots this past season in Tel Aviv and he actually hits them at a decent clip. As noted, though, this is not his role for Maccabi so he does not force the issue here. But if you give him the open 14-16 footer, he will usually knock it down, which is downright incredible for those who remember the type of player he was coming out of Michigan, or even while playing for the Raptors two years ago. No one is going to confuse him with Tim Duncan in terms of his skill-level, but it's impossible to ignore the leap in ability he has made over the past few years, showing that you CAN teach a old dog new tricks, and that upside isn't restricted to players under the age of 25. On top of that, he is a team player who displays a wonderful attitude both on and off the court. Defensively, he does a good job blocking shots, coming up with steals and helping on rotations, but could stand to improve his man to man defense and staying out of foul trouble.
Regarding the NBA, Baston is an unrestricted free agent and will be free to sign with the team of his choice this upcoming summer. He has made it very clear that he enjoys playing for Maccabi, but it might be hard to turn down an attractive offer from the NBA an return to his home country. Rumor has it that there are already some offers on the table from NBA teams, and not of the summer league or non-guaranteed contract variety. With his size, athleticism, work ethic and the way he approaches the game, there is certainly a spot for him on someone's roster as an off the bench role player who changes the game for a few minutes at a time with the energy he brings to the floor. He'll be a fan favorite for sure.
Nikola Vujcic, 6-11, PF/C, Maccabi Tel Aviv, 1978, Croatia (2 games 12 ppg, 4.5rpg, 4.5apg FG 66%)
by Kristian Hohnjec
Vujcic was having problems with his back leading up to this past weekend, and if it wasn't the Final Four then he probably wouldn't have even tried to play. Despite the injury, he put up two very solid performances and helped Maccabi win the title. In the semi-final game against Panathinaikos, he posted 11 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists, while in the Finals his contribution was better with 13 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists.
The All-Euroleague 1st team member showed once again that he is probably the most fundamentally sound big man in Europe. He shined with his remarkable court vision and passing skills at the center position. In the first half of the Final game he played some kind of point center and was feeding his teammates repeatedly, mostly Nestoras Kommatos and Maceo Baston from the high post. You won't find many better passing PF's or C's in the NBA, in this department he is very similar to Vlade Divac. Vujcic is really a great guy to be paired with on offense, he is one of the reasons why the extremely athletic, but offensively raw power forward Maceo Baston has so many options opened up for him in the post. Another area where Vujcic really excels at is on the pick and roll, with him and Jasikevicius or Parker usually running this play to perfection.
Vujcic played well with his back to the basket, but sometimes had trouble finishing after contact. He usually takes his man off the dribble quite well, but in the Finals he had problems doing that because of the extremely athletic Tiago Splitter, who moves his feet very well. He was more successful against Splitter with his back to the basket game, by drawing fouls or kicking the ball out to the open teammate.
The fact that he didn't take even one single jumper during the tournament was surprising, because he is a very accurate shooter from mid-range and can even hit the 3 pointer. His most impressive basket was a nice dunk in traffic, which was somewhat unexpected since he is not considered much of a leaper. Vujcic played decent defense, but had trouble guarding the smaller and much quicker Luis Scola, who even overpowered him on some occasions. His intensity is good and it looks like he really wants to play good defense, but he just doesn't have the tools to do so. Vujcic is an average athlete with sub-par defensive footwork, so this along with his limited leaping ability limits his defensive potential. He is a good rebounder, but not great due to his average conditioning and athleticism.
Nikola would be a below average defender on the NBA level, especially in a man to man defense, but considering his offensive repertoire there are still many NBA teams who could live with that. Many have felt that Vujcic could certainly play in the League if he really wanted to, but this doesn't seem to be a huge priority for him. He appears to be very satisfied, if not delighted in Tel Aviv and right now has no reason to leave Israel. Vujcic has said on a few occasions that he is not going to NBA unless some team promises him substantial playing time. He already turned down an offer from the Toronto Raptors the summer before last.
Nikola is a superstar in Europe who earns a very good paycheck (rumored to be around 1.5 million dollars per year), so right now staying in Europe seems to make more sense for him then going in the NBA and probably warming someone's bench. It depends on the team, but I'm pretty sure that at his height Vujcic could contribute at the NBA level with his offensive skills. It is more a question of whether he will ever decide to test his skills against the toughest competition in the world.
Dimitris Diamantidis, 6-5, PG, Panathinaikos, 1980, Greece (2 games, 15.5 ppg [10/19 FG, 7/10 FT], 6.5 rpg, 4.5 apg, 3.5 spg, 1.0 bpg and 3.0 tpg in 38.5 mpg)
by Dimitris Ritsonis
Playing at his first major club competition, Diamantidis showed why he is considered one of the best all around PG's in Europe right now. In the semi-final game versus Maccabi, he was by far Panathinaikos' best player. Diamantidis tried to carry his team on his back on both ends of the floor, especially when Maccabi extended its early lead in the mid-2nd period.
The Greek PG, who saw his teammate Jaka Lakovic leave the court early with 3 quick fouls, realized his team's need for his slashing ability and made his way towards the Israeli basket many times in order to free up Panathinaikos' outstanding shooters Vlado Scepanovic, Ibo Kutluay and Frankiskos Alvertis.
Diamantidis also had no fear of taking the perimeter shot, showing the world just how much he has improved over the past year in this area. This used to be his biggest weakness for years. His shooting was there when his team needed him to carry the offensive load, as was his will for the win and his creativeness during the whole game.
His defense was passionate and he didn't let any of his opponents get by him, doing a fine job on both Jasikevicius and Parker when Panathinaikos didn't use a zone. His excellent timing on defense helped him make a superb block on Derrick Sharp on a three point attempt, while all his three steals could have led his team to fast breaks. His stats in that game: 16 points (5/7 FG, 2/4 3P, 4/6 FT), 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, one block, 3 turnovers.
In the 3rd-4th place game, Panathinaikos never got into the game in the 1st half and Diamantidis was no exception. However, in the second half, Mike Batiste and Diamantidis were the leaders of a memorable comeback that helped Panathinaikos cut the deficit and finally steal the game, after having trailed by as many as 22 points early in the 3rd quarter. Again, his patient game organization and some important steals were the reasons for some easy finishes by Batiste, while his passing was very accurate. There were moments that he needed to finish things himself, and again he responded better than anybody could expect. He had some slashing opportunities, but what was his best moment during that game was the steal in the last minute of the 2nd overtime and his basket plus the foul immediately afterwards.
He finished this game with 15 points (5/12 FG, 2/4 3P, 3/4 FT), 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, 3 turnovers and a block. Overall, he averaged 15.5 ppg (on 10/19 FG and 7/10 FTs), 6.5 rpg, 4.5 apg, 3.5 spg, 1.0 bpg and 3.0 tpg in 38.5 mpg. He tied for first in steals and finished second in Euroleague's index (efficiency) ratings for the Final Four, behind Maccabi's Maceo Baston. He led Panathinaikos in assists, steals and blocks and finished second in points and rebounds.
His game, although not your typical NBA style, is of an already complete European PG, despite this being his first season in the Euroleague. Maturity, splendid decision making and patience in making plays make him a player whose services will always be in demand, even when he isn't being helped by his teammates. If the big men of Panathinaikos were able to provide their team with some scoring versus Maccabi, then the Greens could have had more hopes for joining Tau in the Final Game.
Sarunas Jasikevicius, 6-4, PG, Maccabi Tel Aviv, 1976, Lithuania (17.5 ppg [6/14 FG, 4/7 3P] 6.5 apg, 3 rpg, 3 topg, 1.5 spg)
by Sadik Iliman
All this guy does is win. Sarunas Jasikevicius is one of the few players who have won this title three times now, more than Drazen Petrovic, but equal with Toni Kukoc. Looking at Jasikevicius, what do we see? The answer is easy: One of the best PG's and shooters in the world, with the type of fiery attitude that just refuses to lose. After all the compliments we've thrown his way over the past year and change, there really just isn't much left to say.
The Lithuanian played two tremendous games which secured him the MVP title. In the first game Saras controlled the game against Panathinaikos in a way which didn't seem dominant, but still made all the small things happen on the court to help his team secure the win. Once again he gave his fans something to go crazy about with two gorgeous back to back assists thanks to his superior court vision The final game was framed by Jasikevicius and his outstanding demonstration of leadership. Whenever Maccabi needed points, whenever his teammates and the fans needed something to get excited about, the answer came from who else? Jasikevicius. With back to back three pointers and assists he secured the win for his team. Throughout the game he kept making NBA caliber moves, displaying his dominance at this level and maybe going out on the highest note possible.
So, is there anything we didn't know about him that he showed here? No, we've seen this many times over the past five years, at every level he has played at. Jasikevicius didn't change and it is doubtful that he will anytime soon. He plays his game in a consistent way, usually finding different ways to lead his team in points, assists or whatever else is needed to secure the win. Without a shadow of a doubt, Jasikevicius is one of the best Point Guards the world has to offer.
And now another question which has been asked many times already: Is there any chance to see him in the NBA next year? That all depends on the NBA, because Jasikevicius appears to be more ready than ever. There will be many discussions going on this summer. Rumors say that the Cavaliers and Pacers would be interested. Others should be too. Jasikevicius always said that he likes to play for Maccabi, but would consider all offers after the season from both the NBA and Europe. He's made no secret at all this past year about his interest in securing an excellent job in the States. After all that he's accomplished in his career, nobody can claim that he's not good enough for the NBA anymore.
Anthony Parker, 6-6, SG, Maccabi Tel Aviv, 1975, USA (12.5 ppg, 7/19 FG, 4 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1 spg, 3.5 topg)
by Sadik Iliman
Probably the most complete player in Europe right now, Parker defines what it means to be a versatile player. As one of the most fluid, intelligent and athletic players Europe has ever seen (at least with that combination), stopping him one on one is a task that many Euroleague defenders have tried and failed at miserably. After already being named the Euroleague MVP for the regular season (leaving journalists absolutely no choice but to give him the award), all the focus of the Final Four seemed to be on him. As a result, Parker played a little weaker than most would have expected. But looking at both of his games, we easily can say that he was still an extremely important player for his team, especially with all the attention he garnered from opposing defenses. He scored "just" 25 points in both games but also averaged four rebounds and over four assists per game.
That's exactly what Parker is about as a player, the thing that separates the Euroleague superstar guards from their counterparts in the NBA, always striving to make everyone around them better. Parker tried to create many shots for himself when nothing was working in his team's offense, drawing an unbelievable amount of attention to himself. With his unbelievable combination of athleticism and smarts it's hard to stop Parker. There are many answers when asking about the best American player in Europe. But let's be objective: Anthony Parker holds this title in his hands, and its not even really close.
So what are the chances of seeing him in the NBA next year? Unfortunately for the NBA, zero apparently. NBA teams had a chance to sign him last summer, but no one stepped up to the plate with a contract worthy of the best player in Europe. The best offers he got according to his agent Henry Thomas were non-guaranteed deals and invites to come prove himself in summer league. That's truly an insult for such a fantastic player, especially when you consider the tens of millions of dollars in guaranteed contracts that are thrown at teenage Europeans every single year to come and warm an NBA bench. Parker is in his prime and could have given an NBA team as much or more than anyone coming out of Europe or the NCAA. Now its too late, though. Parker just recently signed a two year contract with Maccabi rumored to be worth about three million dollars. He doesn't seem to be sweating it even one bit, as him and his family are ecstatic living in Tel Aviv where they are treated like royalty. It's NBA teams who should be kicking themselves for dropping the ball. They let the next Manu Ginobili or Marquis Daniels slip right through their fingers...again.