The 2019 EuroLeague playoffs begin Tuesday, April 16, with the game between CSKA Moscow and Baskonia in Russia.
This is just one of the quarterfinal matches where there are players that may potentially attract NBA interest during the offseason or the further future.
For fans that are looking to spice up their NBA playoffs meal with a bit of a EuroLeague seasoning, these are five players that could be of interest to NBA teams. Some of the choices are not-so-obvious (i.e. prospects, stashed players) since they are players that have been flying under the radar. This may change soon.
Will Clyburn (CSKA Moscow)
2018-2019 EuroLeague stats: 13.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.4 turnovers, 18.0 PIR in 26:56 minutes over 29 games.
NBA rights: None/Undrafted in 2013
When you ask most EuroLeague aficionados who the real CSKA stars were this season, they won’t go for big-shots Nando De Colo or Sergio Rodriguez. Instead, they’ll note guys like Cory Higgins and Will Clyburn. I covered Higgins’ progress in this piece, so it’s high time we talk about Clyburn.
He has built a more than legitimate candidacy for All-EuroLeague First Team during his second season with CSKA. If his team goes to the Final Four—and they are the heavy favorites to do so against the feisty but definitely not-as-strong Baskonia—then he will most likely be granted the honor, no questions asked.
CSKA has never lost a home game in the playoffs since 2008. They have homecourt advantage again this season. So do the math.
Clyburn has been the third-best scorer (13.7 ppg. on 51.03 percent True Shooting), top rebounder (7.7 rpg.) and numero uno in evaluation (18.0 PIR) for CSKA. The latter is quite impressive since we are talking about a team with so many people who stuff the stat sheet in a variety of ways.
This speaks volumes for his consistency. Clyburn has often ascended above all other CSKA contributors numbers-wise because of his overall usefulness. (Hence being third among CSKA players in overall +/- with 125.)
He’s also fairly difficult to guard, and that’s why he earns 4.7 fouls per game.
Clyburn is a beast in transition, striding the court like a stallion as perhaps the best slashing forward in Europe the last couple of seasons. He boosts his length and overall athleticism with a dynamic first step that can dismantle defenses, along with guard-like handles that allow him to slice through opponents. He carries enough mid-air balance to finish seemingly impossible plays at the rim, even in front of players.
While Clyburn shot 38.6 in EuroLeague on 3-pointers last season, his numbers dropped to 29.7 percent this year. Thus, his capacity for being an NBA “3-and-D” option lacks a truly reliable shot for the “3” part. Still, he’s an athlete of NBA standards who has learned to combine his physical skills with working on a demanding offensive system like the one of CSKA.
Kostas Sloukas (Fenerbahce)
2018-2019 EuroLeague stats: 12.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.9 turnovers, 15.5 PIR in 26:55 minutes over 27 games.
NBA rights: None/Undrafted in 2012
You might remember Kostas Sloukas’ name from the piece about the NBA potentials that Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey possibly scouted while in Istanbul during his trip to Europe. Sloukas is entering the playoffs vs. Zalgiris Kaunas. There, he’ll be able to showcase some of the skills that have led his team to the best record in the regular season of the competition.
Fenerbahce is considered perhaps the best-coached team in EuroLeague, and they are definitely the most potent squad in “5 vs 5” offenses. Look no further from the fact that Fener has the fifth-best offense in EuroLeague (84.3 ppg.), despite running by far the fewer possessions per game (76.8). It’s a brilliantly well-oiled engine, fueled by Sloukas.
He’s 29 and a pick n’ roll virtuoso that has mastered the crafts of both scoring and facilitating. He’s been generating buckets (12 ppg.) and dimes (4.7 apg.) to initiate offense. There’s little room for error on a team like Fener under a perfectionist like Zeljko Obradovic, and Sloukas has been the Serbian coach’s mind on the floor.
NBA fans should keep an eye on Sloukas’ near-complete playmaking package, especially the flair in which he delivers the ball and orchestrates the offense to create opportunities out of thin air. Or how he reads his game and finds the open man. And there’s the scoring, where Sloukas excels from all ranges (60.9 percent on 2-pointers, 46 percent on 3-pointers) and lightning-fast execution.
Sloukas’ name hasn’t ever really been in any NBA conversation, for reasons that had to do with his subpar athleticism. But he has worked on his body over the years with pretty visible results, and he’s in his best shape ever.
Luca Vildoza (Baskonia)
2018-2019 EuroLeague stats: 9.7 points, 2.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 1.7 turnovers, 10.4 PIR in 22:32 minutes over 30 games.
NBA rights: None/Undrafted in 2017
It’s still early, but Luca Vildoza has already shown signs that he can be the successor of Pablo Prigioni as the next Baskonia guard who makes the leap to the NBA. Perhaps this Argentinian guy might not wait until he’s 35 to play in the NBA?
Vildoza is a different kind of player than Prigioni. Whereas the latter was a pass-first guard and a pure playmaker, Vildoza’s strengths bring him closer to the “combo guard” archetype. He’s also far more electric, sometimes even frenzied in the way he operates.
In fact, Vildoza is one of the most fun to watch players in EuroLeague right now, especially with the ball in his hands. He’s as crafty as he is unpredictable, maximizing his ability to provide the offense as a scorer and a passer.
When it comes to buckets, Vildoza definitely trusts his jump shot, especially from the key and at a range. He has shot 52 out of 128 3-pointers and 44 of 96 2-pointers. He has a high release and excellent mechanics, can create his own shots plenty and has no hesitation to fire the triple from deep, even under pressure or when the clock is ticking down.
He actually has a knack for hitting tough shots of all kinds. It’s a part of a general confidence that engulfs his game, something one can’t help but admire.
When he wants to drive to the basket, Vildoza uses a couple of mean handles to dispose of his opponents. His finishing moves close to the rim are kinda unorthodox, and he needs some work in order to leash his instinct when needed.
But Vildoza often displays flashes of brilliance when it comes to passing. This season, he had to undertake leadership duties with Baskonia as a playmaker in light of the injury of starting point guard Jayson Granger. Vildoza saw his minutes increased in the second half of the regular season, and he delivered by helping his team reach the playoffs.
CSKA is the grand favorite in the series vs. Baskonia. However, the latter will put up a major fight. They are hosting the Final Four, after all, and Vildoza knows what it will mean to the fans and the city to actually have its team playing in the tournament.
Facu Campazzo (Real Madrid)
2018-2019 EuroLeague stats: 8.2 points, 2.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 2.1 turnovers, 11.2 PIR in 23:05 minutes over 29 games.
NBA rights: None/Undrafted in 2012
I remember telling a colleague following the regular season game between Olympiacos and Real Madrid that the only reason why Facu Campazzo isn’t in the NBA yet is “a couple of inches.” The Argentinian guard had finished the match with a career-high 13 assists to go with his 14 points.
What 28-year-old Campazzo lacks in height at 5′ 11″, he carries it twice as much in grit. Or, “Cojones”, if you will.
And toughness. He’s got tons of that and will make it abundantly obvious to his opponent on both ends of the floor.
This season, Campazzo got “upgraded” from being Luka Doncic’s sidekick to now sometimes single-handedly carrying the conductor’s baton for Real Madrid. He’s been executing his playmaking duties quite efficiently, being the top passer for a team where many people can drop a dime. Campazzo has been the mastermind and the one who lights the fire, though.
Campazzo’s ability to be equally substantial and dazzling stand out. He can dispatch his opponent with “road-runner” quickness and dribbling wizardry, then thread the needle for assists with surgical precision and showtime material. His passes are a thing of beauty.
He also delivers highlights when it comes to scoring. It sometimes becomes necessary for him to do so since, despite his height, he loves penetrating to the basket and is thus “forced” to hit tough finishers, floaters, layups or midrange jumpers that look impressible. He has the ability to pull off all sorts of tricky attempts, and that’s another reason it’s so challenging to defend him.
Campazzo may be one of the shortest players in EuroLeague, but woe to the opponent who might think that he’s easy to post up. His lateral movement and on-ball defense make him a torturer for any player, but it’s the way he sturdily holds his ground on the post—like a wall of bricks—that is truly remarkable. Campazzo is simply tough any way you look at him. Tough to guard, tough to attack. Coach Rick Pitino knows it, and it will be interesting to see if his famous “deflections” will disturb this game in the series vs. Panathinaikos.
This combination of superb physical strength and extraordinary speed on his moves, along with his thinking, sensational passing skills and vision, is a kit that shouldn’t go unnoticed by NBA teams.
Adam Hanga (Barcelona)
2018-2019 EuroLeague stats: 8.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 10.7 turnovers, 10.3 PIR in 20:38 minutes over 22 games.
NBA rights: San Antonio Spurs
Adam Hanga is returning to the EuroLeague playoffs since his 2017 trip with Baskonia. This season, he helped Barcelona reach the playoffs after a two-year absence by providing an all-around, two-way impact.
Hanga is Barcelona’s stronger defensive muscle; He’s a defensive “jack of all trades” who can lock down a player, recover to help teammates, cover all kinds of gaps, fix mistakes and basically be an all-around nuisance for the opposing side.
It’s this charisma for defense—plus his athleticism, motor and ampleness of energy—that Barcelona will greatly need vs. Anadolu Efes, a team that scores 85.4 ppg. and had dropped 92 on the Blaugrana in a regular season loss. These are also the characteristics that attracted the San Antonio Spurs when they selected Hanga with the 59th overall pick in 2011.
The thing is, Hanga is 30 years old. While he’s been troubled by injuries, his physical skills remain impressive even as the clock is ticking. The Spurs invited him to come over and then changed their minds back in 2016, something that Hanga didn’t really appreciate. If San Antonio has changed its mind about Hanga, they will now have to pay $1.5M to Barcelona to release him.
But it still might be worth it.
Photos courtesy of EuroLeague.net/Stats: EuroLeague.net, Overbasket.com
When the Greek national team won the EuroBasket 1987, its accomplishment gave birth to a “basketball renaissance” in the country that also bred a generation of young people who simply couldn’t help but feel a special connection with the sport. One of those kids was yours truly, and this relationship went from “devouring” every piece of basketball information provided by magazines and anxiously waiting for NBA coverage on television, to experiencing hoops from a journalist’s point of view. Now the action for me happens on all things European basketball, especially EuroLeague. Yes, that’s where Luka Doncic was bouncing a ball, apparently behind closed doors, before coming to the NBA.