August 8, 2020, 6:44 pm
Hello, Hoop Ballers, welcome back to our International Spotlight feature after a few months where the world turned upside down; I hope you and your loved ones are staying safe as better days are most definitely ahead of us!
In the middle of a global pandemic and amid the social justice issues that affected all of us, especially in the US, I really have to tip my hat to the NBA, such a tremendous organization, for its ability to come up with a safe and workable plan in order for all of us to enjoy basketball again. The bubble has already started and all signs point to a seamless and fun operation as long as the strict protocols are being enforced. Not much is happening on the fantasy front right now but the season’s re-opening is already giving us some much needed insight about potential under-the-radar players that have taken a leap in their game and could very well surpass their ADP next year (I see you Cam Johnson!).
For our column this week I’m going to give you a recap of what took place on the other side of the ocean as most leagues decided to skip the season while some came up with creative ideas and fun tournaments in order to crown a champion.
Giannis and the Bucks look poised to make it to the NBA Finals against LeBron James and the Lakers but after taking a look at the action in Europe, what was interesting to me was that most clear-cut favorites were eliminated and many underdogs were able to take advantage of the special circumstances created due to COVID-19 and claim the trophy. And yes, this year’s race might look to be a tight one between the Bucks, the Lakers and the Clippers but don’t rule out a dark horse like the Rockets or the reigning champs, the Raptors!
Draft season is also slowly approaching and there are some names that you should keep an eye on, especially if you are in dynasty leagues, with the 2020 class featuring a relatively big pool of European prospects who can’t wait to teach you how to pronounce their names.
The EuroLeague / EuroCup
The logistics of continuing a tournament that involves 18 teams in 10 different countries proved to be an extremely challenging obstacle, especially after the rapid spike of COVID-19 cases in Italy and Spain back in March. Not surprisingly, and having explored every possible option, the Executive Board of the EuroLeague decided on May 25th to cancel the 2019-20 season and the EuroCup, as well as the EuroLeague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament and the EuroLeague Academy.
The financial hit, as expected, has been unprecedented, with EuroLeague announcing that the overall revenue in Europe’s elite club basketball competition dropped 30 percent in the 2019-20 season, while revenue distributions for teams in the EuroLeague and second-tier EuroCup will be reduced by 14 percent compared to the preseason forecast. The basketball situation has absolutely been affected with Legendary basketball coach Zeljko Obradovic and Istanbul club Fenerbahçe parting ways; the coach decided to “take a timeout for one year” but with budget cuts and the operation of the entire league for next year still up in the air you can’t really blame him for choosing to retreat back to his native Serbia.
FIBA Basketball Champions League / Europe Cup
Similarly, FIBA’s Board of Directors, in order to protect the health and safety of players, coaches, officials and fans, announced the suspension of all FIBA competitions as well as all summer 2020 events, while creating a FIBA Europe Post-COVID-19 Roadmap that carefully assesses the current situation in Europe and prepares guidelines of how to bring basketball back on track. You can read up more on the Champions League here and on the Europe Cup here.
Spain’s Liga ACB
After initially suspending the season indefinitely, Liga ACB started to work on future scenarios to restart the league and on April 20th the ACB clubs agreed unanimously to prematurely end the regular season due to force majeure and to continue the league with a 12-team format with two groups and a Final Four to decide the winner, with all games played in a single stage. Valencia was selected to host the playoffs in the two last weeks of June in a mini tournament that had great success and gave basketball fans around the world the opportunity to watch some quality action.
Initially, eight teams would qualify for the playoffs, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the playoffs were expanded to 12 teams after the early ending of the regular season. The teams were divided into two groups of six, playing every team in their group once. The top two teams per group qualified for the semifinals, with Barcelona, Baskonia and Valencia securing a place in the top-four, while defending champion Real Madrid were eliminated in the group stage after a lukewarm 3-2 record. The Final Four, a single-elimination tournament, saw Barcelona facing Baskonia in a close game that ended being decided on the last shot and the Basks completing the upset!
Former Bull Nikola Mirotic won Spanish League MVP Honors for FC Barcelona after averaging 20.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.1 steals in 26.9 minutes per contest, but he reportedly has no interest in returning to the NBA.
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of a shocking elimination, Argentinian guard Facundo Campazzo who averaged 9.9 points, 7.1 assists and 2.3 rebounds in 24 minutes over 28 EuroLeague games, has received interest from multiple teams including the Wolves and the Mavs. Campazzo is a quick and crafty point guard who led Real to the Copa Del Rey trophy in Spain by posting 13.6 points, 10.3 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 steals in the tournament, earning the MVP award along the way. He lacks size but he could very well play in the majors due to his ability to push the tempo and drain the 3-point shot.
Israeli Premier Basketball League (Ligat HaAl)
The Israel Basketball League was suspended on March 13th 2020 but resumed behind closed doors on June 21st 2020 in a different format, with a best-of-three quarterfinal series and a Final Four that took place the last week of July. Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Maccabi Rishon LeZion to win its 54th Israeli league championship, but the story of the tournament was league MVP Deni Avdija, the youngest player to have even won the title in Israeli League history.
This looked like a stretch though, and while many NBA scouts seem enamored with the kid I have doubts about his impact at the next level since he really hasn’t been tested against bigger competition. Granted, on paper he is the definition of a modern wing with the ability to run, score and defend, but even though he has the size, he has problems creating separation against long, athletic opponents.
There have been some comparisons to Luka Doncic already but one thing that is clear is that Avdija is a complementary piece at this point and far, far away from becoming the playmaking forward and clutch scorer Luka has proven to be.
Germany’s Bundesliga (BBL)
In Germany, BBL league officials initially suspended the games, but on May 19th, the teams were given permission by the regional Bavarian government to conclude the season with a 10-team tournament in Munich’s Audi Dome in the first weekend of June. ALBA Berlin defeated MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg on a 163-139 aggregate score, lifting its ninth German League title and the first since 2008!
Rest of Europe
Italy’s Lega Basket Serie A was cancelled on April 7th without naming a champion and the same happened with VTB United League in Belarus, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Poland and Russia (cancelled on May 27th), France’s LNB (cancelled on March 29th), the Adriatic League with teams from Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia and North Macedonia (cancelled on May 27th) and the Turkish Basketball Super League.
The Greek Basketball League and Lithuania’s Lietuvos Krepšinio Lyga voted to end the leagues with the current regular season standings, crowning league leaders BC Zalgiris and Panathinaikos, respectively, as the winners of the trophy this season.
There are a few prospects that are expected to be drafted as high as in the first round of the NBA Draft – whenever that takes place – including Deni Avdija, Killian Hayes, Theo Maledon, Aleksej Pokusevski and Santi Aldama among others. Back in January, we posted an early Draft special for our premium subscribers.
With the NBA Draft and the offseason already having been pushed off to later this year, plenty of overseas players have been looking to secure a contract for next season instead of exploring the possibility of a return to the NBA. With the global pandemic still affecting so many lives and the economic impact of it still being examined, we can only remain humbly optimistic that basketball will simply continue to happen!