European Hoops Wrap-Up: A big week for Europe’s former NBA players

Feb 24, 2016; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes forward Josh Scott (40) reacts to a basket and a foul in the second half against the Arizona Wildcats at the Coors Events Center. The Buffaloes defeated the Wildcats 75-72. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 24, 2016; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes forward Josh Scott (40) reacts to a basket and a foul in the second half against the Arizona Wildcats at the Coors Events Center. The Buffaloes defeated the Wildcats 75-72. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

This weekly recap focuses a lot on players who might be NBA prospects in Euroleague, Eurocup, and the FIBA Champions League.  Many young players are making waves throughout the three continental competitions, and there are many more talents who are either draft-and-stashes or making a stop overseas before trying to break into the NBA D-League or summer league. But there are just as many players who have played out their NBA strings, and are settling into productive careers in Europe.

This week, it was those players who had the biggest performances. This week was Europe’s version of a Taylor Swift song, as several players made the statement to the NBA: I’m doing just fine without you.

Prospect of the Week: Josh Scott, C, MZT Skopje Aerodrom

MZT Skopje Aerodrom was blown out by Herbalife Gran Canaria on Wednesday, 98-75. This was no surprise, as Gran Canaria is the odds on favorite to win the competition, and Skopje is struggling to stay afloat in the group as a middling Adriatic League team. However, this game did offer a surprise from the small Macedonian club, as rookie center Josh Scott had his best game of the competition, with 22 points, 12 rebounds, two assists and two blocks. The former Colorado Buffalo shot 9-of-12 from the field, and showcased why he has potential to work his way into the NBA.

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Skopje fed Scott early and often, allowing him to attack the rim in pick-and-roll looks against Gran Canaria’s smaller back line. Scott also pulled down six offensive rebounds, scoring seven points and dishing one assist off of those chances. At 6-foot-11, 245 pounds, Scott had a significant size advantage over Eulis Baez and the rest of Gran Canaria’s forwards, and was able to use his length and strong lower body to carve out space inside. Scott’s been a strong rebounder since his college days, and he’s taken that to an entirely new level in Europe, posting an insane 19.8 percent offensive rebound rate in Adriatic and Eurocup play.

The major improvement in Scott’s game appears to be aggression. Scott wasn’t consistent at asserting himself at the college level, and he somewhat faded into the background of the Nuggets’ summer league team, despite playing well in his limited minutes. Through 12 games with Aerodrom, however, he’s appeared to take a step towards being a more vital offensive option. Scott’s done a nice job of finishing more through contact this year, and he’s very angsty on the glass, throwing his body around more on box-outs and physically imposing himself well on smaller opponents. Those improvements will help make his game more enticing, and the hope is that his string of strong Eurocup performances (He’s averaging 16 points and 9 rebounds per game) has been a good enough audition to earn a real NBA look.

CSKA Moscow – Real Madrid was just as good as anticipated

The best matchup of the year in Euroleague was CSKA Moscow hosting Real Madrid on Friday. CSKA was the Euroleague’s last undefeated team, and Real Madrid was emerging as the best of the crop of 4-1 teams below them. It was also a matchup of Sergio Llull vs. Milos Teodosic, and CSKA’s army of athletic wings facing off with Madrid’s deep frontcourt.

Real Madrid jumped out to an early lead, but CSKA’s bench helped them roar back to a 49-38 halftime lead. But Madrid didn’t go down without a fight, hanging around until they had a chance to tie on an errant Andres Nocioni three with 23 seconds left. Madrid found several ways to attack CSKA, and though they didn’t win, they found a blueprint for how to attack the defending champs, doing better than anyone has to this point.

Defensively, Real Madrid did a very nice job of pressuring Teodosic and Nando De Colo to force 10 turnovers between the two. Teodosic in particular struggled, with six turnovers and a 1-7 mark from outside. Real varied their pick-and-roll coverage, alternating between hard switches and icing, but always applying pressure, which made things challenging for the CSKA guards:

Offensively, CSKA relied on their mobile bigs to set the table, operating a variety of pick-and-roll looks and crashing the offensive glass to get up big on CSKA early. Naturally, CSKA would adjust — running more to limit the pressure Real could apply, and hounding Sergio Llull and Luka Doncic off screens to prevent them from getting the ball. But Madrid was able to use their combination of pressure and size to keep Moscow on their heels. Keep this in mind when CSKA goes to Darussafaka next week, a potential trap game for CSKA thanks to the Turkish team’s combination of athletic wings and bruising bigs.

Jack Cooley is a legitimate European forward

Jack Cooley has been somewhat of a running meme in summer league and training camps over the last few years. The Notre Dame power forward has gotten several chances at NBA play, spending time with the Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Rockets, Jazz, and Bulls in summer league, and even spending a 16-game stint with the Jazz in 2014-2015. Cooley looks about as far from your typical NBA player as you can get, with an immaculate trim to his crew cut and massive thighs and shoulders that could help him pass for an MLB designated hitter or an offensive tackle rather than an NBA big man. He also came into this past summer league looking somewhat out of shape, and has historically been one of LVSL’s most foul-prone big men, which is saying something.

In between, Cooley has spent three stints in Europe, first with Trabzonspor in 2013-2014, then with Malaga last year and now with MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg. In these stints, he’s proven that he fits right into the European game. On Tuesday against Proximus Spirou in the Basketball Champions League, Cooley went nuts, posting 31 points on 13-of-14 shooting and seven rebounds in MHP’s blowout of the Belgian champs. Cooley dominated in the paint, scoring on post-ups, dump-offs, and pick-and-rolls with equal effectiveness.

Cooley’s biggest issue against NBA competition was a struggle against length. Cooley is undersized to be a true four/five combo in the NBA, and he struggled when put on an island against a stretch four or when trying to grapple with a longer five. In Europe, though, Cooley is more on par in terms of wingspan and quickness, and he is better able to utilize his non-stop motor on both ends. Cooley is not unlike former Dallas Mavericks great Brian Cardinal, in that he is most effective when he can outwork and outmuscle his opponents, and he has a much easier time doing that against European competition. At 25-years-old, Cooley’s NBA career is probably over, but he can now set his sights on earning a Euroleague contract, which he certainly has the talent for.

Khimki Moscow is fully functional

Gran Canaria appears to be the early favorite in Eurocup, but this week solidified that their biggest challenger should be Khimki Moscow. The Russian squad has started the competition 3-1, despite missing Alexey Shved for the first two games. They’ve also retooled their roster on the fly, and this week, took a step closer to realizing their full potential, blasting Dominion Bilbao 91-72 in Bilbao.

This game was a nice look at what Khimki wants to be. They hit 12-27 from three, mostly behind the off-the-dribble stylings of Shved, who looked much more comfortable taking the reigns of the offense than Jacob Pullen has in his absence. Pullen was able to play more off the ball, and he and Sergei Monia each hit a trio of three-pointers. Markel Brown debuted with a strong six-point, three-assist effort, and the forward tandem of Marko Todorovic and Nobel Boungou-Colo smothered the interior of Bilbao’s offense. That forced Bilbao to look to the perimeter, where they shot 7-of-28 from beyond the arc.

Khimki has one of the deepest rosters in Eurocup. They have three athletic guards who can score in Shved, Pullen, and Brown, two imposing starting post players, and they are still waiting on integrating Jeremy Evans as an athletic stretch defender. This is a team that can match up well with most squads they’ll face at this level, and while outside scoring consistency is their one weakness, they can overcome that through feeding the post and attacking the basket. Halfway through the group stage, Khimki looks like they’ll only continue to get better, and they should be considered a major threat to get back to Euroleague in 2017-2018.

Chris Singleton outworks Maccabi

Chris Singleton flamed out pretty badly in his stint with the Washington Wizards. Selected 12 picks after the infamous Jan Vesely in 2011, the Florida State forward was slowly excised from the rotation as Washington improved during his three years with the club. However, he’s transformed into a very valuable Euroleague forward since coming to the Eastern Hemisphere in 2014. Last season he was instrumental in Lokomotiv Kuban’s Final Four run, and this year he’s settled in as a starter for Panathinaikos.

Singleton had his best game of the season on Thursday, helping Panathinaikos beat Maccabi Tel Aviv 83-75 in overtime. He was 7-of-10 from the field for 26 points, and added six rebounds, two assists and two blocks in the win. In particular, Singleton came up big in the overtime period by dominating poor D.J. Seeley, forcing a steal off a bad pass, and registering the game-sealing block of a Seeley lay-up attempt.

Singleton is a glue guy for the Greens. On defense, he takes tough assignments like Sonny Weems from Maccabi, and he defends the interior and on the perimeter fairly well. Offensively, he’s tasked with setting a lot of high screens, as he’s an effective option on a pop to the three-point arc or a dive into the paint. He also is an effective passer in terms of swinging the ball, and does a solid job of kicking off of those actions to Pana’s three-point shooters. The result is that Singleton gets a lot of his stats off of his teammate’s primary actions, and he isn’t asked to do a lot by himself. He excels in this role, but he still finds opportunities to show off a bit:

Singleton’s been so effective this season that he’s helped marginalize Ioannis Bourousis, one of the more interesting storylines of the season. He’s been one of the best effort guys in Euroleague this year, and he should continue to help keep Panathinaikos firmly in the playoff race. The player who once shared the floor with Nick Young, Jordan Crawford and Andray Blatche has become one of Europe’s best grinders, and he’s a fun player to follow.

Elsewhere Around the Continent

Five other big performances from former NBA hopefuls:

  • Former Wizards Summer Leaguer Khem Birch, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds in Olympiacos’s close loss to Galatasaray.
  • Former Celtic Chris Babb, who had a productive 13/7/5 performance in ratiopharm Ulm’s surprise win over Hapoel Jerusalem.
  • Kyle Fogg showed off his tutelage from a year with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, only hitting shots in the paint or from three in Malaga’s win over Zenit St. Petersburg.
  • Devyn Marble pitched in 13 points and five rebounds as Aris knocked off Banvit in Champions League action.
  • Finally, former Suns guard D.J. Strawberry showed his productive post-NBA career will continue, with 13/7/4 in Besiktas’s win over Zielona Gora

Lokomotiv Kuban made the continent’s biggest shake-up, firing new coach Fotsis Katsikaris after the team’s concerning 1-3 start in Eurocup play. They will replace him with former Alba Berlin coach Sasa Obradovic, who hopefully will inject some life into a listless roster that has been trying to survive on Taylor Rochestie and not a lot else.

The weekend’s most surprising result? Fenerbahce scoring just 52 points in a loss at Baskonia. This was an absolute domination by Baskonia, who had four players combine to score two less points than Fener did as a team. The runner-ups from last year are dealing with some injuries, but they still had four-fifths of their starting lineup available, and were completely shut down by an inconsistent defensive team. Now 4-2, Fenerbahce has some real problems to work through to stay on par with the elites of the competition.

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Unics Kazan’s Keith Langford continued his MVP-caliber run, logging a 23-point, five assist effort in Kazan’s win over Crvena Zvezda. That makes five straight 20+ point efforts for the former Kansas Jayhawk, and he’s now averaging 24/4/4 on 42/43/90 shooting. With Kazan in an easier part of their schedule, Langford could make a serious case for an All-Euroleague spot, and Kazan could sneak into the playoff discussion because of it.