Credit: USA Today Sports – Scanpix | BasketNews illustration
Credit USA Today Sports – Scanpix | BasketNews illustration

This week was not particularly flash for many Euro-NBA players, and injuries played a big factor behind that.

Giannis Antetokounmpo missed two games after a 40-point performance against the Hornets with the game-winning layup as an answer to LaMelo Ball's clutch three to tie the game.

Bogdan Bogdanovic is still trying to recover from the problem in the ankle. Luka Doncic's intervention was not enough for Dallas to lose four games out of their last five.

However, there are some other stories to tell, especially about Jonas 'the hair' Valanciunas, little Magic brother Franz, Rudy "No-go-bert," and some tiny updates about Nikola Jokic and his brothers, too.

Dirk Valanciunas Stole Pelicans' Hearts

Jonas Valanciunas has thrived since being traded to New Orleans Pelicans. That might be called the Zion effect, where Williamson's lack of playing time due to injury led the Lithuanian to get a bigger role.

"We need him," he says but also cannot help himself to put on a great show these days.

Last week, Valanciunas scored a career-high 39 points, 15 rebounds,3 assists, and 2 steals against the Clippers 32 minutes. He kept those threes pouring in turbo mode as he sent seven of them in a single half. An insane shooting fest.

His overall numbers are pretty impressive as currently, he found 46% accuracy behind the arc with 16% shooting frequency, both figures are career-high.

"Dirk Valanciunas," said his coach Willie Green, "that is what his teammates call him, and he wants him to shoot the ball as much as possible."

The rest of the week, he did not look as shiny as at the beginning but took part in back-to-backs against Dallas Mavericks and helped the Pelicans get one more win in the later matchup with 14 points-11 rebounds double-double, and 3 assists as a bonus. 

Valanciunas' overall efforts are reflected in his season stats as well. Currently, he sits in the Top20 of Player Impact Estimate list (PIE per NBA Advanced Stats) with 16.1 index points, where the list is headed by Nikola Jokic 24.5, Giannis Antetokounmpo 21.3, and Jimmy Butler 19.0.

However, Valanciunas' reached his own figure despite smaller degrees of shot-taking when on the court. Only Rudy Gobert, Montrezl Harrell, and Jarret Allen had a higher PIE with a usage rate lower than 25%.

Little Brother Wagner Plays Big

After being drafted in 2018 by the Lakers, It took some time for Moritz Wagner to finish a season with double-digit scoring averages in the NBA (Wizards 10.8 pts per game, 2018-2019). However, his little brother Franz has not much patience on that. 

Many people expected Franz Wagner to positively impact Orlando Magic as a role player and multi-positional defender but not as a scoring ace and a team leader in both ends of the court.

Wagner proved its value with 13.7 pts, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists per game since the beginning of the season, but it was a bit more special last week.

In 34.8 minutes on average, Wagner produced 17.8 points 5.5 rebounds, and 4.8 assists for Orlando Magic, with 5/13 three-point shooting and a clutch effort to bring a famous comeback against Denver Nuggets. 

The German helps the team in numerous ways as he's been deployed as an SF more than a PF. 

40% of his offensive actions are divided almost equally by those occasions where he is initiating the play as a pick and roll ball handler and finding a cozy corner for some catch&shoot action.

Against Philadelphia 76ers, his career-high 27 points came up mostly with layups after prudent driving following side hand-offs or off-ball screens.

Wagner also loves transitions with 1.23 per possession scoring and an effective screener as well. The Magic is rarely winning, but at least they have a promising young core with Franz Wagner, Cole Anthony, and Jalen Suggs

Rudy Gobert Elevates the Rhythm of the Jazz 

After a less than satisfactory November, Utah Jazz are back in successive wins with four more last week against Pelicans, Trail Blazers, Celtics, and Cavaliers.

Other than his regular defensive support as one of the best rim protectors in the world, the Jazz also needed Rudy Gobert in the offensive, and he the French center did not disappoint with two timely contributions lately. 

Against Portland, Gobert exploited the weakness of the opponents' painted area with 8 dunks (tied 2nd most of his entire NBA career in a single game) most of them were over Jusuf Nurkic, in particular.

He is currently leading the league with dunks and seeking to extend his all-time single-season NBA dunk record.

Against Portland, he also grabbed 15 rebounds to the 17th double-double of the season and had a career-high and NBA leading 14.6 rebounds per game, with a 33% defensive rebounding percentage, second-best in the league. 

In the next game, Gobert's improved ability to draw fouls played a big role helped Jazz to contain Celtics' attempts to take control.

Celtics committed 8 fouls on him, and he came to the charity stripe as frequently as 8 times with 8/10 FT shooting, breaking their opponent's rhythm in the process. His 6.1 drawing foul average is also career-high. 

Last night, Gobert's 5 blocks were decisive as he stopped Jarret Allen at times around the rim and rejected those Darius Garland layup attempts, which could have been potential game-winners.

The clutch dunk over Allen, followed by an offensive board, turned out to be the winning basket of the game.  

Jokic Continued from where he left 

After 11 days and 4 games-injury breaks, Nikola Jokic returned smoothly (with his brothers as well) to lift Denver Nuggets from 6 game losses and a slide in the Western standings, as if he was never gone.

With his team already shorthanded with the long-term injuries of DJ Dozier, Jamal Murray, and Micheal Porter Jr., not many things could be more valuable.

In the first half against the Heat, Jokic provided 14 points with 7/9 FG in the first half to build up a differential of 20.

In the second half, he focused on the service part by providing  5 of his total 7 just to make sure that the Heat never finds their way back into the game.

Next game against Orlando Magic, he had another 15 plus rebounding game, which was the 9th of the season.

However, his 0/5 three-point shooting and costly turnovers after traveling an offensive foul in the last possessions were not in the same line with Jokic's usual prowess in the clutch.

As a reaction, Jokic gave an offensive clinic against the Knicks while missing only one two-pointer the entire game. He played through 3 quarters, and the only 2FG miss was a contested putback near the rim, 8:30 left in the 1st quarter. 

The game was already slid in the garbage time when he was done before the final 12:00, reached 32 points and 11 rebounds double-double.

Jokic's presence makes nearly +30 difference (per on/off stats, cleaning the glass) per 100 possessions, and also, Nikola Jokic-Monte Morris-Will Barton-Aaron Gordon-Jeff Green is the second most effective lineup combination in offense in the entire league, with 131.4 points per possession.

This all picture clearly indicates the degree of Nuggets' dependability on Jokic's presence on the court and health. 

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