Philadelphia 76ers fans are currently busy watching their team bouncing back in the playoffs, taking a 2-1 lead over the Brooklyn Nets following a stunning Game 1 loss.
Though the Sixers seemed to gain control of the series and show that they are indeed the favorite, this doesn’t mean certain issues regarding the team’s depth have just disappeared.
Perhaps longtime Sixers stash Vasilije Micic might be a player who can provide that necessary reinforcement in the team’s backcourt rotation as a boost of qualitative scoring/playmaking off the bench. He has certainly been making a strong case as an NBA-caliber player this season.
Micic, 25, has been having a breakthrough campaign in EuroLeague throughout 2018-2019. Since the earlier months of the season, the Serbian guard displayed a massive improvement in all aspects of his game as he stepped up from being a role player with Zalgiris Kaunas to the main floor manager of ambitious Turkish team Anadolu Efes.
Micic’s regular season numbers (12.0 ppg., 5.5 apg., 2.2 rpg., 1.0 spg. in 27:30 over 30 games) have likely granted him a spot on the All-EuroLeague team. But it’s his latest performance during Game 1 of the best-of-five playoff series against Barcelona that showed that he can also be a bona fide leader of a contender.
Micic was the star of Game 1 during the EuroLeague quarterfinals by notching a career-high 30 PIR after scoring 21 points (3-4 on 2-pointers, 4-5 on 3-pointers, and 3 of 4 free throws), dishing out seven assists and grabbing three rebounds in Efes’ 75 – 68 win over Barcelona. He won MVP of the Round as well.
Granted, Micic had already won monthly MVP back in November. But that was during the regular season, and the games were nowhere near the ruthlessly demanding standards and savage competitiveness of the EuroLeague playoffs.
Last season, he was instrumental in helping Lithuanian side Zalgiris Kaunas outplay Greek powerhouse Olympiacos Piraeus 31. With his help, Zalgiris made the Final Four for the first time since their championship run of 1999.
Yet, Game 1 of this season’s playoffs against Barcelona was a completely different scenario and a special kind of challenge for Micic. This time, the Serbian guard was the one to lead the troops into battle. He had to be a true general on the court.
What’s more, Micic’s display arrived against a particularly stout opponent since Barcelona finished the regular season as the second-best defensive team in EuroLeague. Blaugrana head coach Svetislav Pesic is also well-versed on Micic’s strengths and weaknesses, as he coached him in Bayern Munich during 2014-15 and briefly again in 2015-16 as well. (They are both Serbians, too.)
Nonetheless, Micic had a game that fully illustrated how capable he is of inflicting equal amounts of damage, making buckets for himself or setting up his teammates with opportunities to score.
During the first 22 minutes of the match, Micic put on a shooting spectacle with four triples from every kind of range and all corners:
This happened both as the creator and as a spot shooter:
… or coming off the screen:
Micic had feen far from reliable prior to 2018-2019: He had a EuroLeague career average of 33 percent coming into this season.
However, he’s been making 3-pointers at a 38.5 percent clip in this campaign. It’s a stat that it could’ve been better if it wasn’t stained by a 3-for-19 slump in March. Yet, it still remains a quite solid number, given the fact he’s not just shooting the ball wide open or at a spot position. No, he has been effectively hitting all kinds of attempts, as seen above.
Micic also has the “size and speed” package to impose his will on the drive. Check how he beats much faster Kevin Pangos to gain the advantage, then overcomes the help defense by two (!) Barcelona players—former NBAers Chris Singleton and Victor Claver:
Apart from utilizing his physical assets as a 6’6″ point guard, Micic makes the most out of his smarts to get what he wants. Like this “and one” play in a critical moment of the match against 6’10” Pierre Oriola:
Micic can be a gunner, but the most powerful ace up his sleeve remains his playmaking. He’s got a combination of superb court vision, passing savvy and a knack for finding the open man no matter where the latter is on the court.
Here, Micic steals the ball from Thomas Heurtel, quickly sees teammate Adrien Moermann on the other end and delivers the accurate full court dime:
Micic is always keenly aware of his teammates’ exact positions on the floor and where they might be in the next second according to the play. Here, the Serbian guard makes the drive attempt, forces the help defense and, when he finds a roadblock by opponents, kicks the ball out to James Anderson with a difficult pull pass:
While Micic has been humble enough to recognize that he has much to improve in terms of NBA-ready athleticism, he knows that his time to actually test himself in the league may have come.
“Honestly, I’m closer to the NBA than ever before,” Micic told 15min.lt reporter Donatas Urbonas.
In the meantime, Efes has been reported by Eurohoops’ Nikos Varlas to be working with Micic on an extension deal that will greatly increase the player’s salary. This deal might make Micic a much richer man, but will it be worth more than materializing his NBA dream?
While Micic had told me that he hasn’t been in much contact with the Sixers during the past, it makes sense that previously uninterested Philadelphia may make a move to acquire him this summer given his breakout season and their own depth issues.
Micic could be a solid backup option to Ben Simmons as a creative scoring/passing guard but also a player who can complement him on the floor. That’s especially if the former retains close to 40 percent on his 3-point percentages, which would cover for the Australian star’s nonexistent threat from afar.
Micic has NBA size and an understanding of the learning process. His EuroLeague exploits have proven he deserves a shot.
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.