Credit: AFP, Reuters, USA Today Sports-Scanpix
Credit AFP, Reuters, USA Today Sports-Scanpix

NBA Regular Season is already unfolding, and the newest storylines have been started to unravel with full speed. How about the European players?

Nikola Vucevic

Nikola  Vucevic
Nikola  Vucevic
MIN: 34.1
PTS: 15.14 (44.35%)
REB: 10.86
As: 4.43
ST: 1.57
BL: 1
TO: 1.71
GM: 7

BasketNews brought remarkable weekly highlights from the NBA, with a special focus on the European exports overseas. 

European coaches love Jazz 

One of the most salient European stories of the past week in the NBA is not a player story but an overall team story.

Utah Jazz is perhaps one of the most European flavored franchises in the NBA nowadays because not only Rudy Gobert and Bogdan Bogdanovic are important members of this team, but also the coaching staff has a lot of Europe affiliated figures.

Coach Quinn Snyder’s assistant involves Fenerbahce’s ex-assistant coach Erdem Can and Spanish coach Sergi Oliva. Currently, the Jazz made an almost perfect start to the season, winning four games before finally succumbing to an on-form Chicago Bulls.

It is very early into the season, but they have the most efficient offense third-best defense currently.

It would be misleading to claim that either Gobert or Bogdanovic have standout efforts for the past week, but that’s just what Utah Jazz is: A balanced team that everyone knows their role and play accordingly.

Gobert’s numbers were more impressive: 23 pts 16 rebounds vs. Denver and 14 its 12 rebounds vs. Houston and 17 pts 19 rebounds, 3 blocks against Bulls.

But as last night’s loss against Bulls suggests, Jazz’s strong beginning is promising, but they are also yet to be tested more thoroughly.  

Rubio’s and Schroder’s New Adventures 

Ricky Rubio’s offensive exploits have been pleasantly surprising in the Summer Olympics, and the Spaniard keeps exhibiting his recent improvement in this department. However, he admitted feeling tired after all those trades.   

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis  Antetokounmpo
Team: Milwaukee Bucks
Position: PF, SF
Age: 26
Height: 211 cm
Weight: 98 kg
Birth place: Athens, Greece

As a cultured veteran to facilitate this young team that includes Cedi Osman and Lauri Markkanen from European circles, Rubio showed that he could carry his team to win early in the season.

To compensate for his late turnovers that caused Cleveland to lose against Charlotte Hornets, Rubio carried the Cavaliers to get their first win against Atlanta Hawks in the clutch minutes.

Starting the game instead of injured Darius Garland, Rubio made 23 points, where 8 of them came in the 4th quarter and decisive moments. Moreover, the Spaniard also accompanied Darius Garland and Collin Sexton to lift the Cavs to get three wins in a row; that series included serious title contenders, including Denver and LA Clippers.

Cleveland fought well against the Lakers until the 4th quarter double-digit scoring from Rubio (18 pts vs. Lakers) showed that his minutes designed for backing Sexton and Garland up might not be limited at all.   

Capitalizing on Jaylen Brown’s and Al Horford’s injuries, Dennis Schroder made himself welcomed by the Celtics fans by fulfilling his assignments in the starting five with good offensive exploits against Charlotte Hornets and Houston Rockets (18 pts 5 assists against Rockets and 23 pts 8 assists against Charlotte).

Those two wins came at the right time as the Celtics started the season with 2-2. Once both Horford and Brown came back from injury, Schroder turned back to bench against Washington, but soon after, he took control of the offenses to produce 22 points and 6 assists with 4/6 3-point shooting.

His defensive value has already been well documented, and after this week, Schroder’s case with the starting five, perhaps at the expense of Marcus Smart, is going to discuss more thoroughly.

But certainly, some familiar friends from last season’s Lakers campaign still haunt him at times, as Montrezl Harrell did during the Wizards’ double-overtime win last night. 

The Injury Scare for Jokic

It looked like reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic is going to continue where he left off. Despite not being enough for a win against the Cavaliers, Jokic recorded the third double-double of the season with 24 points and 19 rebounds.

This flashy start was cut short against Utah Jazz, where he reached 24 points already in the first half but had to leave the game due to a knee injury sustained after his one-on-one contest with Gobert.

Fortunately, the injury was not serious as it was scared by not only the Nuggets fans, but almost every NBA fan and Jokic returned in the next game, against Dallas to lead for a blowout win 106-75 and flirting with his first triple-double of the season with 11 points, 16 rebounds and 8 assists.

That was followed by a dominant display against Timberwolves last night, with 26 points 19 rebounds, and 7 assists. MVP is doing his MVP things already in the season and currently appears as a machine of efficiency, as the leader of the RAPTOR index with overall classification

Doncic’s start, Kidd’s 15 player rotation

The season started well for Luka Doncic as well, as Dallas Mavericks went for three consecutive wins last week against Toronto Raptors, Houston Rockets, and San Antonio Spurs.

Doncic had +20 points games and looked comfortable in the first trials of the brand-new Jason Kidd era. However, Denver’s Aaron Gordon looked unfazed with Slovenian magic as his superb defense kept Doncic at 16 points, shooting 5/18 from the field.

As a sidenote, Doncic’s season behind the arc did not start very well with some bad shooting figures like 2/10 against Raptors and 1/6 against Houston. His lack of accuracy in the three-point shooting was occasionally brought on the table, although he never fell below 33% in the first three seasons. He is currently on 26% from 3 FG.

Perhaps that has something to do with the team’s overall rhythm as Kristaps Porzingis, who had to sit out the Dallas game because his back strains hit only 4/16 in his 3 games. Dallas could only make 27.1% from open shots (7th worst in the league). 

One exception could be Maxi Kleber, who gave a comprehensible contribution to this department almost entire week. With 45% shooting from 3FG, including 4/8 against San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets 3/4, the German big man is currently on a career-high 45%.

Boban Marjanovic and Frank Ntilikina are trying to adapt themselves to the new team environment and Jason Kidd’s 15-player rotation policy, which is a very recent coaching invention in the NBA.  

Giannis and Thanasis 

How about the Greek Freak(s)? Well, Milwaukee Bucks did not have the best start that they were wishing for, but last seasons’ glorious memories would suggest that having 3-3 W/L is not a big concern at this point.

Giannis Antetokounmpo did well enough to fill the scorecards with 21-30-40 and 28 points games against Spurs, Pacers, and Minnesota and Spurs (last night’s rematch), respectively, and currently reached 27.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 6.0 assists averages.

Perhaps best was said by Anthony Edwards, who led Minnesota to come over the Bucks, but that tweet sums it all. Giannis played that Minnesota game with 148 points per 100 shots, which is an intensely elite figure, considering he’s also playing with a 38% usage rate, one of the highest of the league.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo, on the other hand, extends his playing time (14.5 minutes, 9.1 compared to last year) and makes his presence felt with some energy booing stints with steals and rebounds. Believe it or not, Thanasis Antetokounmpo is currently in the top place for defensive contribution on the defensive boxscore RAPTOR index and second in the overall RAPTOR index.

For those who wonder, a second-round pick of the 2021 draft, Sandro Mamukelashvili, also played some minutes against Spurs and Pacers this past week. 

The first dance with Vucevic? 

One of the most intriguing season beginnings came from the Chicago Bulls, which makes all of us feel nostalgic but, at the same time, excited. They bolstered a 2-0 start with wins against the Raptors and Detroit and last night, Utah Jazz.

As their sole defeat came against the Knicks and already picked up some serious attention with 5-1. One of the main instigators of this hype was Nikola Vucevic, the birthday boy during the past week (24th October).

His main contribution is more visible on the defensive aspects of things, but lately, his mid-range game and faciliatory role with picked up as well. The highlight game was the one against Detroit, where he dominated the boards with 15 points, 19 rebounds, and 3 blocks, whereas recording a double-double with 16 pts, 12 rebounds against unbeaten Utah Jazz signaled a great week for him. 

With on/off measures, his presence on the court makes a +18.8 efficiency differential which translates into +25 wins in an 82 game NBA season. Obviously, these are inflated figures that stem from the small numbers of games played so far and would dim down soon, but still, that is a start. 

Valanciunas, Sabonis, Wagner: Good Stars for the Losing Causes  

Jonas Valanciunas could be one of the few bright spots of the season start for New Orleans Pelicans, as their sole win came against Minnesota in a back-to-back schedule and they lost three games out of four this week.

But the Lithuanian appears to be productive so far with his new team, recording double-doubles for all these games. His 24 points 13 rebounds against Sacramento, where he shot 10/14 from the field, and his 27 points 14 rebounds’ performance against New York Knicks in successive games was not enough as the Pelicans could not stop RJ Barrett from having his career night.

Valanciunas currently sits in the top 6 regarding the rebounding percentage all over the league. His offensive boxing out average is at the top of the league (1,9 per game), which explains the presence of New Orleans Pelicans sitting at the top 6 in the most offensive rebounding % list.

Despite that, his finishing efficiency after getting that offensive rebound himself still needs to be improved; only 104 per 100 possessions from putbacks with %52 FG success is ameliorable. 

In this respect, Domantas Sabonis shares the same fate with his fellow Lithuanian Valanciunas, where individual efforts did not end up with the win. The tough schedule of Pacers against Raptors (twice) alongside Brooklyn and Milwaukee as well as the injury problems where Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, and TJ Warren’s absence did not let Pacers have any sort of momentum.

Sabonis’ had one of his most silent nights against the Raptors in midweek where he could take only 4 FGs against a suffocating defense (made 3 of them). His personal contribution, however, improved towards the end of the week, culminated in last nights’ 22 points 14 rebounds double-double against the re-match Raptors.

But his 2/16 3FG rate in his last 5 games along the week, which includes a rushed decision at the end of the last seconds of last nights’ game, also undermines all his positive contributions. 

It took not much time for rookie German Franz Wagner to get started to provide some solid figures with Orlando Magic.

Obviously, the presence of his older brother Moritz Wagner at the team and his apartment helps the no.8 pick to adapt more smoothly, he was much better than Mo Wagner the entire week.

During the four games in the last five days, playing 32.2 mins on average, he remained at 12.5 points, 10/25 three-point shooting (40%). Last night against Detroit Pistons, he was the leading scorer of this team with 19 points and 3/6 three-point shooting to no avail.

Magic remains with a single win, which against the Knicks during midweek. Still, Wagner does not remain shy to try some audacious dunks to prove his presence.

Utah Jazz - BOJAN Bogdanovic, not Bogdan.
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