Let’s take a look at some of the performances by two (plus one) Draft-and-stash EuroLeague players in this round’s action and one lap before the end of the competition’s regular season.
While two of them suffered a defeat that could bring their team’s campaign to an end, the other helped prevent his squad from falling victim to one major upset.
Nikola Milutinov’s Dominance Can’t Overcome Fatigue
San Antonio Spurs stashed center has been one of the top EuroLeague big guys this season and arguably one of the elite players outside the NBA overall. It’s not an exaggeration to say he has carried Olympiacos plenty, being the team’s top scorer (11.5 ppg. on 68.05 percent true shooting) and rebounder (8.0 per game).
Spurs personnel, including GM R.C. Buford, have been scouting him thoroughly with frequent visits to Piraeus, Greece over the years. It’s expected that he will leave for San Antonio this summer.
Milutinov had been the most prominent focal point in the Reds offense and he was called to once again assume that role in a key match vs. Zalgiris Kaunas. Perhaps he’d even have to go beyond that, considering that guards Vassilis Spanoulis and Janis Strelnieks were out. With a win in this game plus another next week vs. Turkish team Darussafaka Tekfen, Olympiacos would mathematically clinch a playoffs spot.
Instead, Zalgiris escaped Piraeus with a victory to keep its own postseason hopes alive.
In light of Spanoulis’ and Strelnieks’ absence (i.e. Olympiacos basically lacking its top offensive backcourt assets), David Blatt inevitably had to shift his attack stratagems on trying to “feed” Milutinov, either with high-low combinations via forward Giorgos Printezis or pick n’ roll action. (Printezis is another stashed Spurs player and a EuroLeague great, but someone who’s far from getting to the league by now at 34 years of age and with an injury-struck body.)
Milutinov began in a commanding fashion on both ends. Apart from finishing plays with ease, he played smart and mostly effective defense on shorter and more agile Zalgiris center Brandon Davies who has given him trouble in previous matchups. He quickly read the mismatches on every Zalgiris’ switch, multiplied his scoring opportunities by dominating the glass on offense (five boards), as well as on defense.
There’s no shortage of moves for Milutinov to send the ball through the hoop and the 25-year-old player once again showed plenty.
Milutinov was a major threat, be it with a hook shot, floater, a jump shot or simply bullying his opponent to get directly under the basket. He was constantly moving to cooperate with a guard on a playing a high, or side pick n’ roll. Zalgiris players were forced to foul Milutinov nine times and send him to the line where he scored six out of nine attempts. He added 6 of 8 2-pointers for 18 points to go with his 12 rebounds.
Together with former NBA guard Briante Weber (game-high 26 points)—whose heroics were praised by Blatt after the game—Milutinov was the only redeeming quality of Olympiacos.
On the other end, former Iowa forward Aaron White got the job done for Zalgiris with 14 points.
Down the stretch Milutinov looked empty of stamina and (eventually) lacking in concentration. Basically, we saw a repeat of what has happened numerous time during the second leg of the EuroLeague regular season. Olympiacos has suffered through a 2 – 8 record during the last ten games. Milutinov has found himself being basically the only reliable “5” option that Blatt can trust for a long time.
The original plan was for former Hokie Zach LeDay to share minutes with Milutinov, but the more the season progressed the more obvious it became that the latter’s natural position is the “4”. Thus, Milutinov carries a huge workload that extends on both ends and finds himself handling more duties than he should have.
It’s difficult for a guy his size to retain the same levels of intensity and vigor for more than 30 minutes like he did vs. Zalgiris. Particularly in EuroLeague, where defenses are tough as nails. And especially against Zalgiris, who plays a highly physical brand of basketball.
Utah Jazz stashed guard Nigel Williams-Goss displayed some solid decision-making in the second half for Olympiacos with his passing (game-high five assists in 28:05 minutes) but he was overall lackluster and didn’t meet expectations. He was unable to hit consistently, finishing with 3 of 8 from the field and was rather one-dimensional on offense, where he depended too much on mid-range jumpers or floaters.
Games like this one vs. Zalgiris should’ve been a golden opportunity for Williams-Goss to step up in light of the Reds’ aforementioned absences, but the former Gonzaga guard failed to make the most out of it.
ADAM HANGA prevents an upset for Barcelona
In Spain, another Spurs stashed asset was one of the top players on the court. Barcelona swingman Adam Hanga looked like one of the few Blaugrana players that didn’t underestimate second-to-last-place Buducnost before getting the 95 – 83 win.
The Montenegrin team was without 2019 Draft prospect Goga Bitadze due to resting reasons. (Buducnost is already eliminated from playoffs contention and has a do-or-die game on Sunday for the ABA League semifinals) The hosts possibly thought their opponents would be easy prey. Still, coach Jasmin Repesa’s players were far more competitive than Barcelona expected. They evaporated a double-digit deficit in the first half and were up 52-46 two minutes into the third quarter.
It was essential for Barcelona to win this one, mathematically locking the fifth spot and matchup with Anadolu Efes—theoretically the least “terrifying” opponent of the playoffs’ top four.
You can understand that Hanga’s season-high 18 points (3 of 4 2-pointers, 2 of 4 3-pointers, six for six from the line), four rebounds, four assists, two steals and plethoric two-way output came in timely fashion for Barcelona. Among other things, the Hungarian player also dropped six points in a row to put his team up 57-54 and snatch his opponents’ momentum.
Hanga mostly scored with floaters from mid-range (including a seriously tough “and one”), using his swiftness to rush to the basket in off-the-ball situations. His motor and defense are definitely NBA-caliber.
It remains to be seen if the Spurs will put them to use.
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.