Not all of the best NCAA or International players always make it to the NBA, and it's not always the best players that see themselves being drafted. Sometimes certain prospects slip through the cracks (for various reasons, mostly justifiable ones) and it's only natural to continue to watch them carry on their careers in Europe and evaluate their progress to see if they have improved on the weaknesses that kept them out of the league in the first place. This helps estimate whether or not they are ready for a first or second shot. With the recent influx of high school players and extremely raw Europeans on to almost every NBA roster, more and more potential NBA players are being pushed aside right from the get go because of a relative lack of upside, and solid NBA veterans are losing their spot on NBA rosters to make way for potential laden players who are being stockpiled for the future. The new rules regarding the NBDL is only going to make things worse most likely. It isn't out of sight, out of mind for this group of outcasted players as far as NBA scouts are concerned, as there are too many good examples of players who were brought into the NBA after a year or a couple of years of seasoning in Europe to ignore them. Some great examples being: Brad Miller, PJ Brown, Stephen Jackson, Darrell Armstrong, Udonis Haslem, Carlos Arroyo, Bruce Bowen, Anthony Mason, Chris Anderson, Mike James and others.
This type of scouting is becoming more and more important then ever now. The following players have caught our eyes over the past year and could be considered NBA prospects this summer. None of them are going to be stars right off the bat, though. If they were, they most likely wouldn't be in Europe in the first place, so please take what is said here in relative terms and assume that unless noted these players would be brought in to serve as excellent role players off the bench.
Update from last year:
Last year we singled out 7 players to make up our list of the top overseas free agents on the market. Three of them, Andres Nocioni, Maurice Evans and David Bluthenthal, made the league. Nocioni is looked at as a steal for the Bulls and played a nice role in Chicago's return to the NBA playoffs.
Evans came over on a non guaranteed contract and is now fielding multi-year guaranteed contract offers as a free agent. Bluthenthal (who we labeled as a very borderline candidate) got a partial guarantee from the Sacramento Kings before being cut at the December 15th deadline and returning to Europe. The only player we "missed" last year from this crop of free agents was Ibrahim Kutluay, as 6-5 sharpshooter that impressed the Sonics enough in the pre-Olympic matchups with Team USA to land a two year guaranteed contract. Kutluay was not an NBA prospect in our eyes and eventually got bought out of his contract after the Sonics caught on to that themselves. He only ended up playing 12 minutes all season, but was rewarded handsomely for his time in the States.
Out of the 4 remaining players we wrote about last year, all make a return to this year's top overseas free agent list. Sarunas Jasikevicius looks to be a lock to sign with one NBA team or another. Two others, Fabricio Oberto and Arvydas Macijuaskas are also considered excellent candidates and have been mentioned in free agent discussions in the States. The last one, Anthony Parker, might be the best NBA prospect of the bunch. Unfortunately for the NBA, though, teams whiffed badly on him and he decided to sign an extension with Maccabi Tel Aviv with no NBA buyout, which is strictly their loss.
6-4, 200 pounds, PG, Maccabi Tel Aviv (Lithuania), age: 29
Written by Jonathan Givony
Jasikevicius is very familiar with American basketball. He moved to the U.S. as a teenager and attended Solanco High School in Quarryville, Pennsylvania. After that he played in the NCAA for four years at the University of Maryland under Gary Williams ("He's a rock star in Europe") mostly as a shooting guard. He went undrafted despite NBA director of scouting Marty Blake saying that he has can't miss potential and that "There ain't no way he's not going to play in the NBA". It looks like Marty's prediction might finally come true this summer.
That was early on in his collegiate career, though. The Jasikevicius you will see today is a completely different player. There is no doubt anymore that he is a pure playmaker.
The Sydney Olympics in 2000 is when he really started to come into his own as a player, because as usual for him, the bigger the stage, the more he steps up to the challenge. He averaged 14 points and 5 assists in the tournament. In the quarterfinals he led Lithuania to a huge upset win over heavy favorites Yugoslavia with 18 points. The next game was against the Dream Team Americans, and as many fans remember today, the Lithuanians came very close to knocking them off. Jasikevicius almost single-handedly kept them in the game with his playmaking and timely scoring. He ended the game with 27 points and five three pointers. Two missed free throws at the end by Ramunas Siskauskas did them in eventually, though, and the game ended 85-83 in favor of the Americans. Lithuania finished the tournament with the Bronze, another outstanding accomplishment for a tiny country with a HUGE basketball tradition.
In his first season after that at Barcelona in 2000-2001, Jasikevicius averaged 14 points and 6 assists per game in the Euroleague, and helped Barcelona win the ACB (Spanish league) championship, averaging 16 points a game in the playoffs. He was invited to the Spanish All-star game and also helped his team win the Spanish King's Cup, the Copa del Rey. The next two years after that we saw Jasikevicius do a lot of the same, many wins, points and assists. He helped Barcelona win the Copa del Rey once again in 2002, and led his team to the ACB Semi-finals.
2003 was probably his most successful year to date as a basketball player. Barcelona won the King's cup once again in February, the all-important Euroleague in May and the ACB finals in June (Jasikevicius was named the MVP of the playoffs). Jasikevicius was once again invited to lead Lithuania at the national team level, this time in Sweden for the European Championship (other participants: Tony Parker, Nowitzki, Kirilenko, Okur, Gasol and many more).
Jasikevicius did not disappoint of course on a stage like this, helping his team win the gold for the first time in 64 years, and was again named the MVP of the tournament after averaging 14 points and a tournament high 8.2 assists per game. Jasikevicius was already under contract at that point with Maccabi Tel Aviv (a trend you will notice throughout this article with this team) for the following season, with no escape clause for the NBA, much to the dismay of the San Antonio Spurs. This is the point in which his reputation amongst NBA executives started to take off, although it would take another two years and countless more trophies before they were completely sold.
Jasikevicius continued to sweep up titles left and right in 2004, including another Euroleague title (scoring 18 points in the final game) another Israeli championship and another Israeli Cup. Despite being called one of the top overseas free agents on the market by DraftExpress in July, there wasn't substantial enough interest from the NBA for him to get up and leave his place as the premier point guard in European basketball.
I personally handed Miami Heat president Pat Riley the article and scouting report we published last year at the Orlando Summer league (about a week before the Heat traded for Shaq) along with an encouragement to sign the talented PG. "Who?" was the only response I got. Miami Heat coach Stan Van Gundy quickly said that he knows Jasikevicius and gladly took the article and scouting report, but the Heat opted to sign Damon Jones instead. You can take it to the bank that Saras wouldn't have choked in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals the way Damon Jones did, but that's water under the bridge for Heat fans like me unfortunately. This year they have a chance to fix that mistake (although for a much higher price now), and apparently they are one of the many teams interested.
Later on that summer, Jasikevicius came in to the Olympics in Athens once again looking to show the world that he is the top player in the world outside of the NBA. In a head to head matchup with Stephon Marbury and the US National Team early on in the qualifying rounds, Jasikevicius scored 28 points and helped his team to the victory over the Americans. What made that performance so incredible, though, was the way he played down the stretch, like a man possessed. He showed his clutch play time after time by scoring 12 points (including three back to back to back three pointers) during a two minute span in the last three minutes of the game versus the team full of NBA allstars.
Jasikevicius had his revenge, and wasted no time in letting the NBA know what they had missed out on: "I was a free agent in Europe, and it never came - any offers. They talked about they were interested, but there weren't even any minimum offers," Jasikevicius said. "So I think I'm just not a player for the NBA, because these guys know what they're doing...If 30 teams think a player cannot play, I cannot play."
When asked what he thinks NBA teams think of him, he answered: "That I'm a slow, fat white guy. The international scouts come to see me, but they don't have much pull."
Larry Brown was asked about Jasikevicius after the loss and had this to say: "I think he's a great international ballplayer. But a lot of things he can do internationally, he couldn't do in our league. I'm a fan of international ball, but there are a lot of guys who do well in their environments that would struggle in our league."
If he hadn't done so already, 2005 cemented Jasikevicius' place as one of the greatest guards in European basketball history. He once again led his team to a Euroleague title, his third straight if you are keeping score at home, matching the great Toni Kukoc as the only player to accomplished that in European basketball. He was named the MVP of the Euroleague Final Four after scoring 22 points in the final game, many of which came in the fourth quarter when he took his team on his back. In the semi-finals, Jasikevicius scored 13 points to go along with 8 assists. He was also named to the All-Euroleague first team for his play throughout the season. On the domestic front, Maccabi Tel Aviv won the Israel league championship and cup (17 points, 10 assists in the final) once again. Saras was named the MVP of the Israeli league as well for good measure.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
As mentioned already, Jasikevicius is the #1 point guard in Europe. He has great height at 6-4 which allows him to see over his opponents and make fantastic passes both in transition and half court situations thanks to his excellent court vision and knack for improvising.
He knows how to run a team and thrives when doing so, especially in clutch situations under immense pressure, which is why he should be considered by every NBA playoff team looking for a PG this summer. One of the places in which Saras appears to have improved is in the passing department, averaging 5.3 assists this season in all the competitions he played in, up from 4.8 last year. We should remind you that European basketball doesn't hand out assists nearly as easily as the NBA does, not to mention that the game is 40 minutes long over there as opposed to 48 in the NBA. He also isn't Maccabi Tel Aviv's only ball-handler, sharing the duty at times with Anthony Parker and Tal Burstein and getting time at the 2 guard position occasionally as well.
Saras controls the tempo of the game wonderfully, knowing when to push the ball down the opposition's throat and when to pull back and regroup for a high percentage shot. He is a world class shooter, averaging 45% from 3 point range in the Euroleague last season, and 40% this year. He also shot 57% in the Israeli league from 3 point range last year and 53% this season. From the free throw line he shot a remarkable 96% in the Euroleague (70/73) last year, missing only once from the line in the last 13 games (50/51 or 98%) and 94% this season.
The best part of his game is definitely his demeanor on the court. He is a natural leader that plays with great passion for the game and fierce competitiveness. He loves taking big shots and as you can see by his list of accomplishments he usually succeeds when doing so.
His main weakness is his defense which is not up to par with the rest of his game and is considered weak even for European standards, although he plays on a very offensive minded team. He is not the type of player that a coach can call plays for from the sidelines, but that's not really a concern considering his usually excellent decision making. Sometimes he will get ahead of himself, though, which would explain his 3+ turnover average last season. He's also no spring chicken at age 29, although he is clearly still at the peak of his career.
Athletically he isn't extremely quick or explosive, which might relegate him to a role as an outstanding backup that can play both the 1 and the 2 spots should he go to a team that is really competing, as Jasikevicius has indicated that he is interested in. Should he go to two teams that he really makes sense for, the Celtics or Heat, he would almost certainly be their starter. Both teams have guards that can defend either the 1 or the 2, which means that Jasikevicius' weaknesses as a defender can be masked easier.
Why sign him?
He should be considered one of the top point guards on the free agent market along with Antonio Daniels, Marko Jaric and possibly Earl Watson.
He has no buyout issues and his salary demands should probably be in the same ballpark area of the other top PG's, somewhere between half to all (probably closer to all) of the MLE for three years or so depending on the team that is offering. Keep in mind that this is a guy that can basically go to any team in Europe right now and ask for a blank check in return for him signing there. Three straight Euroleague titles on your resume go a long way when you are talking to a team that is looking for a player to put them over the top.
According to sources, there are already multiple offers on the table from both NBA playoff and lottery teams right now, with more expected to come once things clear up a bit in free agency.
"I know that my time is now," Jasikevicius said. "I'm very happy with what I've done, but the NBA has always been my dream."
6-3, 200, SG, Leche Río Breogan (USA), Age: 26
Written by Luis Fernández
Bell took his goods straight to Europe two months later on that year in 2002 as a pretty complete guard to help Benetton Treviso on both ends of the court. While he did his job perfectly then, new teams brought new demands and forced him into becoming a voracious scorer to the point of being the scoring leader in the two best domestic leagues in Europe (Italy and Spain) the last couple of seasons. All in all, he has followed the trend of undersized but talented shooting guards who came to Europe to earn a living such as Alphonso Ford (RIP), Marcus Brown and Louis Bullock, to name some of the most successful stories.
After his season in Treviso, Charlie a transition year in Virtus Bologna before moving on to another Italian team in Mabo Livorno for the 2003/04 campaign. Livorno was a pretty weak squad and Bell had to assume a huge offensive role. He managed to average 25.5 points, with 3.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.4 steals and a logical amount of 3.6 turnovers given his enormous share of the ball. Last summer, he moved to Spain, to Leche Río Breogán, definitely not a contender, but at least a candidate for the playoffs in the ACB League. It was a upgrade team-wise for Bell and he fared very well, improving his scoring to 27 points per game, with 3.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.7 steals and lowering his turnovers to 2.3. What's most important for Bell is the fact that his percentages improved from 42.2% (37.2% in three pointers) the year before to 47.5% from the field and 44.5% from behind the arc. More points on a better team with much better accuracy and significantly less turnovers, can you ask for anything more?
In the end, Breogán couldn't make the playoffs. Bell had some physical problems early into the season that made him struggle and seriously affected the team to the point of being in risk of being relegated to the 2nd division at one point of the year. However, a 9-2 run where Charlie averaged an awesome 32 points per game brought the calm back to the team, allowing them to finish the season in the middle part of the table.
At this point of his career, Charlie Bell is a great scorer. The scary part is that he seems to be improving day by day. He's an athletic player who is rather quick with the ball in his hands. It can't really be any other way considering the playing level he displays despite being only 6-3. He's not a pure shooter, as you can tell watching him release the ball (his mechanics aren't bad, but lack a certain refinement), but his jumper now enjoys excellent accuracy after working on it considerably. We have to consider that last season's 47.5% comes mostly from jumpers, and rarely comfortable static ones considering that he is usually being hounded. He enjoys great range, out to the NBA three-point line. The key part of his current game is his ability to create his own shot. Showing excellent handles and nice footwork, Bell finds a way to score almost at will in Europe. It's really hard for a defender to keep up with his first step, particularly when he changes gears or direction.
Bell has been focused on his offensive game mostly the last couple of years, but he's an able defender. Charlie has nice lateral quickness and he's a tough guy. He's a rather smart player that knows where he can be more useful. All in all, he would likely be able to adapt his game to the role his team asked him to play.
It remains to be seen how well he will fare in the NBA at only 6-3. He's clearly undersized for a shooting guard and everything will be more difficult for him on both ends of the floor, playing against more athletic defenders that won't let him release his shot that easily, as well as facing bigger guys that will chase any lay-up attempt (he's not especially creative in this area). He'll also have to battle on defense against players who are a couple of inches taller than him. He could play some point guard, but he's an off-guard all the way (although he won't be the first nor the last scoring guard playing the point), as his court vision is not particularly remarkable and he doesn't show some of the natural instincts of a playmaker. He's not the type of player that tries to freeze out his teammates, but many times he overhandles the ball and delivers some wild shots. Again, we have to take into account his role being the main offensive weapon on all the teams he has played for lately.
Why Sign Him?:
Charlie Bell probably deserves the risk of investing money in an undersized shooting guard. He has become a very good player in Europe and he's only 26 years old. If he manages to adapt his game to the NBA, he could be a steal for a team by providing a very nice offensive spark off the bench from day one. Besides, he's not under contract in Europe so there are no buyouts to deal with, meaning he would come cheap.
The thing is, it's not usual to see undersized shooting guards come back to the NBA once they've become successful in Europe. NBA teams are reluctant to give them good enough money compared with what they can make overseas, especially guaranteed money, fearing that they won't be nearly as effective playing in a more demanding competition physically. Super tweeners like Bell who can score from anywhere on the court and guard whomever they please usually enjoy star status in the Old Continent meaning many lucrative offers to choose from for a lot more than the NBA will be willing to offer.
Nevertheless, according to his agent Mark Bartelstein, Charlie Bell will be in the NBA next year. Bartelstein informed DraftExpress.com that they have come to an understanding with an NBA team that Bell will be signed when it is allowed to be announced on July 22nd. According to Bartelstein, who did not want to name the NBA team Bell will sign for, the contract is two years long and is fully guaranteed. Bell came over from Spain during the Chicago pre-draft camp and held a private session with other Priority Sports clients for interested NBA teams. Afterwards he worked out for a couple of NBA teams privately and since then a deal has been struck to keep the undrafted free agent in the league for at least two seasons. Bell will not be participating in summer league.
According to our own sources in Spain, the team that Charlie Bell will sign with could very well end up being the Milwaukee Bucks. The contract is expected to be for the minimum. Bell would be considered entering his 2nd year in the NBA on the sliding scale, because of his previous experience with the Suns and Mavericks in 2002.
6-4, 214, Shooting Guard, TAU Vitoria (Ltihuania), Age: 25
Written by Luis Fernandez
Macijauskas made his debut in his domestic league at age 16 while playing for Neptunas Klaipeda. After three seasons, he was signed by Lietuvos Rytas, a powerhouse club in Lithuania. He spent four years there, winning two championships from the almighty Zalguiris Kaunas in 1999/00 and 2001/02 and earning MVP honors in 2001/02 and 2002/03. But international stardom came for him at the 2003 European Championships, when Macijauskas led his National team in scoring (15.8 per game) en route to wining the golden medal. More fame came along with his performances in the Euroleague with his new team, TAU Vitoria, where he has played for the last couple of seasons. In the 2003/04 campaign, he averaged 19.4 points in the top European competition (second overall total after leading the first stage with 21.50 ppg). This last season, even if his point average dropped to 17.8 (although he was the best scorer of the decisive Top-16 stage), he earned All-Euroleague Team honors. In the ACB League, he has averaged 16 points in the recently finished season, including the playoffs. Last summer, he dropped 24 points on the US Team in the Bronze medal game at the Olympic Games.
Macijauskas is a world-class shooter. He's right there with the best of them. Not only because of his reliability, but also because of the tremendous speed in which he gets his shot off. Any momentary lapse on the part of his defender and he fires. He can be dribbling in motion or coming off a screen, and in no time he balances himself to shoot. He can practically shoot the ball asleep from anywhere on court, shooting for volume as well as accuracy as he nailed 149 triples in 65 games this past season, good for 43%. His free-throw percentages are usually over 90%.
Arvydas is also a decent penetrator, finding ways to finish in traffic in spite of his height, as he shows a good stroke in any situation or distance. This season his decision making seems better, showing an improved passing ability. He has also learned when to dish off to a teammate while driving to the basket, and he's rather effective playing the pick and roll.
The main problem for Macijauskas is that he's a shooting guard trapped in the body of a point guard. Not only because of his size, but also because of his thin frame and poor athleticism for a shooting guard. His defense is not even average at the top levels of European. His attitude looks OK, but the results are not particularly good, even if he has significantly improved in the last season. He gets abused by stronger and faster match-ups.
On the offensive end, he's not always patient and occasionally makes bad decisions, especially when he's not getting good shooting position. Sometimes he insists on dribbling in front of his match up, trying to find room to penetrate or to shoot, and risks the possession of the ball excessively. Although as we said in the strengths section, the situations in which he forces his ball-handling are becoming rarer in his game. Still, he can barely create his own shoot due to his limited ball-handling and explosiveness.
Why sign him?
As you can see, Macijauskas is a very unique player, with some amazing weapons to play the game, but also with some very noticeable flaws. That's why his potential to play at the NBA level remains a mystery. The main problem is of course his defense. If he already suffers in Europe, what will happen in the NBA going up against faster, taller and stronger opponents? It's quite probable that if he does make it he becomes a one-dimensional situation type player in the NBA, because given his height and athleticism it won't be easy for him to score on anything more than jumpers.
Therefore, I don't think he has the proper tools to become a starter at the next level, but his wonderful stroke could make him a valuable off-the-bench player. He will need a coach that believes in him and knows how to take advantages of his great strengths while masking his weaknesses as much as possible.
His contract situation is worse than last year's, but still affordable. After not receiving a good enough NBA offer last year, he extended his contract with Tau Vitoria, also increasing the $200,000 buyout clause he had then. A likely raise in buyouts allowed to be paid by teams in the upcoming CBA should be close enough for the new and so far undisclosed amount. Besides, it seems that Arvydas is again fishing a contract this summer, so the opportunity is open for any NBA team willing to add a terrific long-range bomber to its roster.
6-10, 240, PF/C, Pamesa Valencia (Argentina), Age: 30
Written by Luis Fernandez
After five seasons with Atenas, a team from Córdoba in Argentina, becoming the best big man in his country and winning various individual and team titles, he tried making the NBA for the first time, but could not find a spot in the League. So in 1998 he started his European adventure with an initial stop in Greece to play for Olympiakos. After a so-so experience, TAU Vitoria from Spain signed him at the end the 1999 season. In Vitoria, playing for coach Ivanovic, he established himself as one of the best paint players outside the NBA and helped make TAU one of the most feared teams in Europe. A Euroleague final appearance and an ACB League title were his best achievements so far. For the last three seasons he has played for Pamesa Valencia, also in Spain, with a team full of stars that has underachieved given the expectations and huge investment, failing to qualify for this past season's Euroleague and even missing the Spanish playoffs. Oberto is not to blame, as he played quite a good season and delivered his usual effort and solid playing level, indeed getting an ACB League personal best with averages of 14.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
Oberto has been one of the leaders and the main post player of the wonderful generation of Argentinean players that placed their National Team among the elite teams of the world. At the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis he led his team with 5.6 rebounds and closely trailed Manu Ginobili in the scoring department with 13.3 points per game. Against the US he scored 11 points and grabbed 9 rebounds. The following year in the Tournament of the Americas, he put on a memorable offensive show against Tim Duncan, finishing the game with 17 points on 8/9 shooting from the field. He helped Argentina win the Olympic gold medal last summer in Greece, averaging 8.7 points, 4 rebounds and 1.7 assists in the tournament, while having 6 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in just 17 minutes (due foul trouble) in the Argentinean win over the US.
Fabricio Oberto is one of the best paint players outside of the NBA. He's a tough, skilled big man, with nice mobility, for whom the paint is his natural home where he feels comfortable and everything seems much easier for him. He displays a great post-up game, showing very nice footwork. He loves to spin and release a slight fade-away shot, which is very difficult to stop. He also can score using his mid-range jumper out to 14 feet on a regular basis. Quite a nice passer, Oberto usually finds the right man when double teamed. In transition, he runs the floor as a trailer pretty well. He plays hard on defense and never avoids physical contact. It's not easy to post him up at all. He is a good rebounder due to his positioning and hustle; and can also block some shots while showing very good timing. He's a player with character, who plays the game with passion, displaying great intensity like most of his countrymen, and who shows a very good understanding of the game.
Oberto isn't a physical freak. While he's pretty strong, his athleticism isn't top notch. His vertical leap is average for a power forward, as is his quickness. As a result, his rebounding and blocking production aren't outstanding and he may suffer while defending quicker, more versatile players outside of the paint. He can play as both a power forward and center in Europe, although he's a little slow for the four spot, and a little undersized (6-10) for the five.
The level of intensity that he brings on defense often earns him easy fouls, and he usually has to spend more time than desired on the bench. For a player with his ability to go to the line so often, his horrible free-throw shooting is one of his worst weaknesses. This last season, his percentages were well under 50%. It's really sad considering his decent mid-range stroke.
Why sign him?
With the lack of reliable big men in the NBA, it's surprising to see Oberto still playing in Europe. He would be a solid presence in the paint for any team, especially for teams that play a more team-oriented style of play. Forget about weak foreign dudes; Fabricio is tough as nails, ready to step into a NBA court and fight against anybody. With the lack of low post threats in the NBA, he could really be valuable. Just a handful of guys all around the NBA display his combination of low post skills, distribution abilities and toughness. He should try to improve his free-throw shooting, though.
At the age 30 he isn't getting any younger, and he has realized that it's now or never. Oberto escaped from his contract in Valencia and is now free to sign with any team, with the NBA being his primary target. Of course, he will demand a guaranteed seven-digit offer, probably for a few years at least, but he's totally worth it. The usual suspects from last year, the Bulls, Spurs and Kings are all rumored to be interested. The Sonics and Cavs could also jump in with offers according to sources. If he doesn't get anything done in the States, the most powerful European teams will be waiting him with the arms open.