European Hoops Wrap-Up: Milos Teodosic should be Euroleague MVP

Aug 21, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Serbia point guard Milos Teodosic (4) is geared by United States forward Carmelo Anthony (15) in the men's gold medal basketball game between Serbian and USA during the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 21, 2016; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Serbia point guard Milos Teodosic (4) is geared by United States forward Carmelo Anthony (15) in the men's gold medal basketball game between Serbian and USA during the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

Trends are starting to emerge in the three European basketball competitions. In Euroleague, we’re nearly a third of the way through the season, and playoff contenders and MVP candidates are beginning to step forward.

Over half of the Eurocup Round of 16 spots were clinched this week, and contenders are positioning themselves in the FIBA Champions League. This has been a season marked by injuries, elite point guard play, and the successes of former NBA hopefuls, and no one has been a better example of that than Milos Teodosic of CSKA Moscow, who owned the week with one of the best performances of the year.

The Euroleague MVP race is basically over

Early in the season, several players seemed to be making strong cases for Euroleague MVP. Sergio Llull has been powering a strong Real Madrid team. Keith Langford basically is Unics Kazan’s offense. Vassilis Spanoulis has shaken off the cobwebs and looked like the 2013 MVP at times. Reigning MVP Nando de Colo has been playing very well.

Read More: The New York Knicks European connection

But Friday all but put the exclamation point on the conversation for one player who’s been a cut above all of those others: 2010 MVP Milos Teodosic. Teodosic has averaged 17.3 points and 8.2 assists per game this year, and has posted back-to-back 25-point efforts, including Friday’s 34-point, 10-assist effort as CSKA dismantled Baskonia. Teodosic shot 11-of-16 from the field, 7-of-7 from the line, and hit five 3s in his best shooting effort of the year. Baskonia attempted to defend Teodosic with a combination of Adam Hanga and Shane Larkin, both NBA-level players. It didn’t matter.

The craziest part of this game is that Baskonia jumped out to an early lead and looked to be comfortably in control of this game early, and still nearly lost by 28 points. That’s how much of an impact Teodosic can have. CSKA has been without De Colo for the last two weeks, and it hasn’t mattered, because it’s just meant Teodosic gets more chances to run pick-and-rolls and display his dazzling passing and shooting ability. Teodosic also logged his 1000th Euroleague assist in this game, putting him third all-time on the Euroleague career assists board. About one-third of the way though the Euroleague season, Teodosic looks well set to become the first repeat MVP of Euroleague since Anthony Parker in 2004-2005.

Fuenlabrada’s youngsters are coming around

Montakit Fuenlabrada came up short against Khimki Moscow on Wednesday, losing 96-84. But while they couldn’t contain Alexey Shved (19 points and eight assists), the real story of the game was the continued development of their trio of youngsters. Fuenlabrada has handed the reigns to Swedish guard Ludde Hakanson, Latvian power forward Rolands Smits, and Senegalese center Moussa Diagne. All three are 22-and-under, with Hakanson as a potential NBA Draft pick in 2017. Fuenlabrada ran the offense through these three, and it helped Fuenlabrada stay afloat in a fast-paced game against a Khimki squad that’s been strong as of late.

Smits led the team with 21 points, hitting five 3s to get there. The 21-year old has legitimate stretch 4 capabilities at the Euro level, and is now shooting 55 percent from 3 on the season. At 6-foot-9 Smits presents mismatches against many Eurocup forwards, as he’s a capable shooter and willing and able to take opponents into the post.

Hakanson, meanwhile, followed up on a 19-point effort against Alba Berlin last week by leading the team with seven assists. With Shved and Pullen to deal with, Hakanson shifted his focus to facilitating for teammates and attempting, somewhat futily, to corral Khimki’s guards. Hakanson’s always been a gifted passer, and his off-the-dribble game is growing as he gets stronger as a finisher. He has a long way to go defensively, and needs to develop better offensive control, but he has legitimate potential to be a great passer on the European, and potentially NBA, level.

And then there’s Diagne, who had seven points and two blocks. He has developed into a highlight-reel shot blocker, anchoring Fuenlabrada’s defense. The 7-footer has a block rate of 4.4 percent, and while he struggled with post defense against Marko Todorovic, he did a decent job of patrolling the paint and altering shots, making things difficult for Pullen in the middle. While he went undrafted through his draft eligibility, there still may be a path to the NBA for him, where his 7-foot-5 wingspan and pick-and-roll diving could fit better than in the more post heavy European game.

With these three playing strong, Fuenlabrada should be able to survive a strong Group B to get to the Round of 16. Fuenlabrada’s been a bit of a surprise success so far, and the play of Smits, Hakanson, and Diagne could give them an extra boost in a more friendly group in the next round.

Tenerife edges Avellino in Champions League thriller

Tenerife and Avellino have cemented themselves as headliners in the FIBA Champions League. These are two of the most potent offenses in the competition, and they did not disappoint in a thrilling 76-75 win for the Spaniards. Both are now 4-2 in the group behind surprise leaders Juventus, and things are set up for a thrilling rematch in the second half of the round.

Tenerife jumped out to an early lead, pounding the rock to Greek center Georgios Bogris. With Kyrylo Fesenko still struggling, Avellino couldn’t handle Bogris’s touch around the rim, as he poured in 22 points on 11-of-15 shooting. But Avellino presented their own problems, with a late flurry of makes by Levi Randolph off of motion looks to get the game knotted up again. The run was kicked off by an incredible Randolph dunk, as the 24-year old Alabama product curled off a screen and made Tenerife pay for a slow Bogris rotation.

With Randolph pouring in 24 points, and former Magic forward Adonis Thomas pitching in 23/5/4, Avellino was able to keep pressure on Tenerife and take a 64-59 4th quarter lead. But Tenerife was far from done, as Tim Abromaitis and Carl English brought the game back to 70-69. Avellino came back to take a 75-73 lead, but then Davin White was able to blow by Maarty Leunen, who allowed an And-1 shot to give Tenerife the win.

These are the second- and third-best teams in the group right now, but both are certainly threats to be around at the end of the competition. With Tenerife’s strong offense and Avellino’s overall athleticism, they’re threats to win no matter who or where they play. Tenerife took the edge this time, but this should be a pivotal matchup as the tournament progresses.

Antone Diot and Slava Kravtsov establish Valencia’s contendership

Hapoel Jerusalem beat Valencia in Week 2 of Eurocup play, as Amar’e Stoudemire and Curtis Jerrells helped Jerusalem outrebound the Spaniards and limit them to just nine total assists in an 81-77 win. After that game, it looked like Jerusalem would be the favorite in Group D.

Since then, Valencia’s been on fire. They’ve won four straight, with three double-digit wins and an 86-84 avenging against Jerusalem on Wednesday. And in that game, they figured out some natural solutions to the disadvantages they had against the Israeli side the first time around. Valencia’s strengths are their size and dribble-penetration, and Jerusalem’s frontcourt athleticism and backcourt depth allowed them to attack spots where Valencia is weak. This time, Valencia went to a smaller roster, and the result was a more attacking defense and faster pace that gave them the edge.

Valencia went to a starting frontcourt of Will Thomas and former Phoenix Sun Slava Kravtsov, and ran their offense through French national team member Antoine Diot. With Diot as a nominal point guard, Valencia could abuse Jerusalem on the wings with mismatches, and Diot and Kravtsov capitalized. Diot hit four 3s and finished with 21 points and six assists, while Kravtsov had 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. Defensively, Valencia was able to generate nine steals, and limited Jerrells to 10 points with Diot, a stronger defender than regular point guard Rafa Martinez, applying pressure at the top.

Valencia was able to pick up a crucial win in the group, and did so without two of their best players in Martinez and Bojan Dubljevic. This win all but guarantees that they’ll win the group and get a favorable draw for the next round.

Colton Iverson helps push Maccabi past Olympiacos

Maccabi Tel Aviv surprised Olympiacos on Thursday, knocking off the Greeks 80-73 in Piraeus. While the biggest reason for that win was outside shooting (Olympiacos was 6-of-33), former Boston Celtics stash prospect Colton Iverson was key in helping Maccabi pull away in the second quarter. Iverson was a perfect 6-of-6 from the field, posting 14 points and eight rebounds in 19 minutes against Olympiacos’s deep frontcourt.

Iverson’s been a big reason for Maccabi’s rebound to relevance in Euroleague this season. After a season as a primary scorer for Pinar Karsiyaka, Iverson’s taken to being a complimentary piece this year, and seems to be playing more effectively. With D.J. Seeley, Andrew Goudelock, and Sonny Weems around to share the load, Iverson’s been able to operate with more space out of the post, and it’s helped him shoot 69.1 percent from the field this year. Iverson is a commanding one-on-one post scorer, as he uses his lower body strength to establish position, then creates a swath of space and connects with his strong baseline spin move:

Iverson is one of Europe’s burgeoning post scorers, but he also is a strong pick-and-roll player, and has done a solid job of creating space as a dive man alongside Goudelock. He’s also taken a bigger emphasis as a defensive rebounder with Maccabi, and he pulled down his season high with seven defensive boards, capitalizing when Olympiacos went small with just Birch in the middle, and gathering several of those Olympiacos misses.

Iverson’s route to the NBA might be shrinking, as the Celtics renounced his draft rights this summer, and at 27 his lack of defensive toughness has probably scared teams away. But he’s carving out a niche in Europe, and should continue to help Maccabi Tel Aviv fight for a playoff spot.

Elsewhere on the Continent

Qualified for the next round in Eurocup: Gran Canaria, Cedevita, Lietkabelis, Bayern Munich, Zenit St. Petersburg, Unicaja Malaga, UCAM Murcia, Valencia, and ratiopharm Ulm. Only Buducnost has been eliminated, and not a single Group B team is safe with three weeks to play.

Cedi Osman hit another three 3-point attempts in Efes’s blowout win over Red Star. That puts him at 53.1 percent from 3 in Euroleague play, and 50 percent overall. Whether Osman’s early hot streak is sustainable continues to be answered week after week, and Cavs fans should be very, very excited that the team’s best asset is continuing to look like a bona fide NBA rotation player.

Ante Zizic (15 points, four blocks) was much better than Frank Ntilikina (six points, two assists) in the matchup between two of Europe’s best NBA prospects. Cibona edged Strasbourg 93-88, staying afloat in the group and making things very interesting in the fight for advancement.

The play of the week came from Cedevita, where 2017 draft prospect Marko Arapovic showed off his incredible body control.

Galatasaray upset Barcelona, 78-64. Galatasaray is now 2-0 since (unjustly) suspending Russ Smith, which is a surprise, but they had what’s perhaps the easiest defensive plan in Euroleague right now: Making Tyrese Rice go one-on-five. Barca’s injury-riddled offense continues to struggle with only Rice and Joey Dorsey as threats, and a team that should have been a playoff lock now sits in 12th place.