Euroleague 2015-2016 has come to a close, and what a magnificent competition it was. CSKA Moscow knocked off Fenerbahce by a score of 101-96 in overtime to claim their seventh Euroleague title this weekend, capping off one of the more exciting years of international competition we’ve had in recent memory. To get from 24 teams to one champion, we saw a wild, memorable path. CSKA only lost 5 games the entire way, with a +9.3 point differential. Crvena Zvezda rallied from losing team captain Luka Mitrovic on the first weekend to make the final eight despite totally rebuilding their frontcourt in the regular season. Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar and Barcelona went to war in the final eight, playing a memorable five-game battle to determine the last Final Four spot. Historical giants Maccabi Tel Aviv and Real Madrid struggled throughout the Final Four, while Lokomotiv Kuban made their first ever Final Four, and Laboral Kutxa made their first Final Four appearance in a decade.
Much of the excitement of this season in Euroleague was the depth of talent that made its way through the ranks of Europe’s top clubs. It seemed like you could take your pick of a type of player, and there were at least five guys who you could get excited about. Want to watch lifelong European veterans at the height of their powers? You could catch Georgis Printezis at Olympiacos or Ioannis Bourosis at Laboral Kutxa. Want to check in on former NBA players? Gustavo Ayon, Ekpe Udoh, and Anthony Randolph all played major roles for their squads. Interested in 2016 NBA Draft prospects? Had plenty of those, from Dragan Bender at Maccabi to Paul Zipser at Bayern Munich.
The depth of talent in Euroleague this year means that we could have a higher number of players coming to the NBA from overseas next year. In addition to draft picks like Bender and Zipser, several of Euroleague’s top players are guys who have NBA aspirations. The list of Euroleague players who could be deserving of NBA looks a long one, but here are five guys who could definitely be on NBA radars this coming summer.
Nando De Colo, PG — CSKA Moscow
Of course we have to start with the Euroleague MVP. De Colo has the fortune of being a seasoned veteran of the highest levels of both European and NBA competition, as he adds this Euroleague title to his 2011 Eurocup title with Valencia and his 2013 NBA Finals appearance as a member of the San Antonio Spurs. De Colo joined CSKA Moscow last season after being waived by the Toronto Raptors, and was an All-Euroleague 2nd team member on last year’s squad, posting 14.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game as CSKA finished in third place. This year, he exploded to post the best stat line of the competition: 19.4 points per game on 52.6 percent shooting, 46 percent shooting from three, 90.8 percent from the line, 3.6 rebounds per game, and 5.0 assists per game. De Colo was able to take over games with both his scoring (5 25-point games) and his distributing (10 assists in a Game 1 win over Crvena Zvezda in the playoff round), and he was perhaps the single most unstoppable force in the competition when he got going.
De Colo is likely going to get NBA looks this summer, with the Denver Nuggets already linked to him. If he does make a return, it will be on the back of the developments he’s made since heading back overseas. De Colo’s shooting was never very consistent in the NBA (36.3 percent from 3), but he’s improved that with CSKA. Even though he will have to adjust back to the NBA three-point line, this is something that he should be comfortably asked to do in the NBA. De Colo also has really matured as a point guard, and that could be even more important. One of the knocks on him in his first campaign was that he was rather reckless, especially when tasked with running an offense. De Colo had a turnover rate of 23.7 percent as a member of the 12-13 Spurs, and he’s really improved his decision-making out of the pick-and-roll and on the break, allowing him to post a career-high assist total. He still isn’t the strongest defensive player, but he does still have some residual Spurs wiring, and if he can be a more controlled player, he’ll make a nice piece in an NBA rotation as a secondary ball-handler.
Milos Teodosic, PG — CSKA Moscow
Teodosic was a major beneficiary of De Colo’s improvement as a passer, and he is a player who has long been on cursory NBA radars due to his play for the Serbian national team. While he’s the oldest player of this group at 29, he’s coming off an All-Euroleague 1st team appearance and a career high for points per game (16.1), and has gained attention for his outside shooting (42.8 percent this year). A streaky shooter historically, Teodosic has steadily improved over the last three seasons as his volume has also increased. This year, with De Colo taking on more of the lead guard responsibilities, Teodosic shot 6.2 threes per game, and got more chances on spot-up looks, which will likely be where he does his offensive damage in the NBA.
Teodosic’s biggest limiting factor has been his defense, where historically he has been a player with the more “traditional” matador defense that gets associated with elite European perimeter players. He doesn’t have elite quickness, and his frame (6’5″, 196 pounds) probably precludes him from defending much beyond backup point guards and smaller shooting guards successfully. However, there was a noticeable increase in his intensity on that end this year, and he posted his best steal numbers (1.3 per 36 minutes) since 2010. If he can replicate this year’s level of play on the defensive end, that should be enough to get him some NBA time, given his ability as a microwave scoring combo guard on offense. The Brooklyn Nets appear to be his biggest suitor, and while they may have a tough time negotiating a buyout for Teodosic’s contract, he would be a great fit on a team that ran through point guards like Spinal Tap drummers in 2015-2016.
Quincy Miller, PF — Crvena Zvezda
Miller was the most impactful midseason signing in Europe this season, by a significant margin. The 6-9 former Baylor Bear was waived in training camp by the Nets, and signed with Crvena Zvezda in Week 3 of the Euroleague regular season. After two weeks of integration, his impact was immediately palpable. Miller averaged 19.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game over the final six weeks of the regular season, helping a Red Star squad that started 1-3 win four of six to advance to the Round of 16, and then stay afloat through that to advance to the Playoff without their team captain. Miller was massive for that run, averaging 14.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per contest through the competition and earning All-Euroleague 2nd team honors.
Miller was demonstratively better in the European game than he had been in the NBA, where he was often forced into major small forward minutes and struggled to defend quicker perimeter players. At Red Star, Miller was nearly a full-time power forward, and seemed much more comfortable here, running and finishing pick-and-rolls and showing a solid ability to guard bigger frontcourt players. Miller’s shooting also improved, as he shot 32.7 percent from three for the competition, and he has potential for continued development there. If he continues to get stronger and develop his game underneath the basket, Miller could become a full-time four at the NBA level, thanks to his athleticism and strong upper body. He’s also still 23-years old, so the potential for even further development exists. NBA teams looking to fill out their roster with a younger, more athletic forward might want to look into grabbing Miller, although he reportedly has more interest in Europe at this point.
Mike James, PG — Laboral Kutxa
This isn’t your grandfather’s Mike James. He’s a guard from Lamar who jumped from Italy to Croatia to Greece to Spain, and was a major contributor for Laboral Kutxa’s surprise Final Four finish. James played primarily as a sixth man this season, and he was an impressive scorer in the Round of 16 and the playoff vs. Panathinaikos. James averaged 21.2 minutes per game, which was the sixth highest total on the team, but he finished third on the team in scoring at 10.0 points per game. He averaged 16.9 points per 36 minutes, and was able to fill it up from midrange and from beyond the three-point line. James was inconsistent at times finishing inside and shooting off the dribble, but he’s a good catch-and-shoot option with a smooth release, and his ability to create shots for himself and others is something that’s always intrigued NBA teams about him.
James’s size is a concern, because there aren’t a ton of 6’1″ score-first shooting guards in the league anymore. However, James has excellent athleticism, and that helps him be a threat in transition and in getting to the foul line (5.3 FTAs per 36 minutes). He’s also a decent pick-and-roll defender, chasing around screens well and displaying decent positioning, and he’s a surprisingly good rebounder for his size (4.0 rebounds per 36 for his European career). Those are things he will definitely need to continue if he comes to the NBA, but his scoring ability and athleticism are good enough that he could jump on an NBA roster and be a threat as a bench-lineup scorer.
Malcolm Delaney, PG — Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar
Delaney, like James, is a player who has taken the winding path around Europe since going overseas from Virginia Tech. Delaney’s path rolled from France to Ukraine to Germany to Russia, and he’s settled in as the go-to scoring guard for Lokomotiv. Delaney basically operated as the European version of Kyrie Irving or Damian Lillard this season – He was Europe’s best pick-and-roll guard, a guy who could weave his way inside with masterful ball-handling or pull up from 30 feet off the bounce. Delaney averaged 16.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game, and had what was one of the best individual performances of the competition, a 31-point, 8-assist explosion in a Round of 16 win over Cedevita. He shot percentages of 45/40/85, and his chemistry with Anthony Randolph in the pick-and-roll was incredible.
Delaney isn’t the best defender, but he’s proven this year that he is more than capable of handling point guard duties at an NBA level. I’ve already touched on my love of Delaney before, but even more so than De Colo, he’s proven to be a consistent all-around threat offensively. Delaney has long been an NBA hopeful, and it appears that he’s going to get his shot this summer, as the 26-year old has reported interest from the Houston Rockets and the Nets. If he does, he should be able to slide in as a backup point guard who can take some scoring load, similar to guys like Sean Kilpatrick have had success with at the top level.