Credit: USA TODAY Sports - Scanpix | BasketNews illustration
Credit USA TODAY Sports - Scanpix | BasketNews illustration

Heading into the new year, the NBA season found itself in yet another misty forest with a staggering number of Covid-19 related setbacks. But so far, things are not looking bad for Euro-NBA players as we witnessed many good efforts from many of them.

Kristaps Porzingis

Kristaps  Porzingis
Team: Dallas Mavericks
Position: PF, C
Age: 26
Height: 221 cm
Weight: 109 kg
Birth place: Liepaja, Latvia

In the battle of The Turkish deserts, the rookie Rockets center Alperen Sengun recorded a new career-high 19 points and 5 magnificent assists, but it was a blowout win for Cedi Osman's Cavaliers.

Regardless of the results, Sengun keeps solidifying his place as a major hope for the Rockets franchise.

On the other hand, Osman is extending his instrumental role for JB Bickerstaff while the Cavaliers extended their winning series to six, with 3 more wins last week against the Heat, Rockets, and the Bucks.  

Cedi scored the 23 against the defending champions, and this was his fourth 20+ game of the season. But he is not the sole Euro-Cavs member that thrives lately. Check our weekly report.

Regarding the MVP candidates, Giannis went into Covid protocol, Doncic's ailing ankle injuries kept him out of the court, but Nikola Jokic kept reviving Denver Nuggets' injury-plagued and underwhelming season.

 

However, his solo performance of 28 points, 17 assists 9 assists show was cut short by an ejection in the Wizards game.

Porzingis' challenge to keep Doncic-less Dallas afloat 

As Dallas was in the tail end for the 5 games in 7 days series this week, it was the perfect time for Kristaps Porzingis to take the initiative to replenish the Dallas Mavericks' weakening batteries.

He had to pass into the front seat to finish those three consecutive away game series in a better fashion, and he did it… To some extent. 

In the earlier game of the week, Porzingis simply canceled Hornets with 24 points and 13 rebounds to build a comfortable 25-point halftime lead as the opponent never found a chance to fight back.

Lauri Markkanen

Lauri  Markkanen
Lauri  Markkanen
MIN: 30.19
PTS: 13.68 (47.08%)
REB: 5.05
As: 1.32
ST: 0.82
BL: 0.45
TO: 0.82
GM: 22

A total of 5 blocks against Miles Bridges and PJ Washington (twice for both) and Gordon Hayward were demonstrative and tune-setting.

Against Thunder, his offensive role and efficiency were not on a prime level, but his +13 plus/minus contribution brought some other perspective under spotlights: The rebounding combos.  

When put into a 2-man lineup perspective, the big combination with Dwight Powell-Porzingis cleared 83% of the defensive boards. In fact, this pair is the 3rd best rebounding duo of NBA among those played at least 200 minutes together with 81.8%.

The Latvian big put down another double-double display, this time against the shorthanded Lakers with 23 points, despite an unconvincing shooting record of 8/23 from the field and 1/7 from 3-point range.

The lack of accuracy was compensated by frequent foul drawing and visits to the charity stripe.  In addition to that, Porzingis also grabbed 12 boards and made 2 blocks against Westbrook. 

All in all, the guy was not labeled as a unicorn for a reason.

Seemingly enjoying those moments where Lakers had to go small and play without Anthony Davis, he exploited the opportunity window and compiled a balanced mixture between attacking the switch defense, rising up high in those non-proportional post-ups against smaller players like Avery Bradley and Kent Bazemore, and used mobility against Lebron James with aggressive rim runs and popping behind the arc after screens. 

But there is the elephant in the room: Despite scoring 9 points in the 4th quarter, he did not seem to be in sight during overtime where the Lakers stole the game with an Austin Reeves buzzer-beater.

Weirdly enough, that is not so rare in Porzingis' game patterns. Against the Hornets, 22 of his 24 points were recorded in the first half. During the entire week, 15 of his 21 shots were made before the last quarter.

The issue has a history and remains to be addressed for both coach Jason Kidd and Porzingis himself. Unfortunately, It may take some time to deal with the situation as Porzingis was out due to an injury against the Timberwolves last night.

Isaiah Hartenstein as a potential game-changer?

Isaiah Hartenstein's inclusion in the Euro-NBA review was long due. The 2.13 German center is certainly not the most skillful scorer, far from it. 

But yet, his overall contributions, including those strange-looking but yet, effective floaters in the offense, could not be neglected regarding the Clippers' quest for a top 4 finish in the Western Conference.

 

After successive defeats in the past weeks, the Clippers recuperated by winning four games in their last six. They succumbed to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander buzzer-beater on Saturday evening, though.

Hartenstein's impact was heavily felt against the Suns with the drags in the transitions, sealing moves to clear the rim zone, containing the paint with the drop-in defense and hand-off actions to create a shot for his guard. 

The last season's finalists, who had 3 losses until that Clippers game, could not figure out how to crack the code in the offense despite being a top-10 offensive team.

As an effective rim protector, a former Zalgiris player is a top 10 member in defensive efficiency per NBA advanced stats and makes a 7.7 points difference per 100 possessions per Cleaning the Glass. His block rate is a career-best 4.1 % (the share of opponents blocked by the player).

Aside from his defensive effort, Hartenstein gives significant support in the offensive boards, and if we consider that Clippers comes in the bottom 10 regarding this category, the context of these contributions is even more significant. 

Regarding second-chance points, the Clippers are above mediocrity, where 14 putbacks that Hartenstein gave to prove his worth. 

Not but least: his distributive skills, especially from the elbow. Hartenstein's 7 assists against the Suns were career-best-equaling performance.

His overall RAPTOR value index is +7.4, well above Paul George and the best in his team. Hard to believe such an effective contributor changed 4 teams in the past 4 seasons.

It looks like Hartenstein will have his best season, but could that be a game-changer for the Clippers when it comes to playoffs?

Finnish Cog in the Newly Built Cavs Machine: Lauri Markkanen 

As we mentioned in the brief introduction, Cleveland Cavaliers keep leaving their opponents wrong-footed by winning 'very' regularly to climb up to 4th place in the Eastern division. Moreover, their Euro-origin players deliver impressive outputs in different parts of the season. 

While Rubio's scoring explosions are hibernated currently, Cedi Osman and the Finnish forward Lauri Markkanen stepped up.

Usually taking the corners zones as his living habitat, Markkanen does not have a big role in the offense. Yet, his self-awareness of the situation and ego-free attitude helps the team offense to maintain stability.

His +4.7 plus-minus is the 3rd best for the Cavs, while the same figures are +12.8 for the last 10 games. Positive attitude, positive contribution, literally.

Currently, Cleveland is the second-best defense in the league in terms of efficiency, but Lauri Markkanen's presence on the court helps the team offense in particular with some good floor spacing, off-screen driving, and shooting ability. 

All those small details that remain in the shade, his presence on the court culminates in a big difference with an estimated +8.7 in offense, the second-best figure after Lamar Stevens. Perhaps more intriguing, he provides that contribution without touching the ball at all. 

With a usage rate of 19%, Markkanen is a member of the Top 5 list among those who play at least 30 mins per game and have a lower 20% usage percentage in Net Rating list with Rudy Gobert, Draymond Green, Mikal Bridges, and Royce O'Neale. 

Last but not least, Markkanen's sprinting and good positioning in the transitions became a big plus for the Cavaliers. His share of shots in transition rose from 7% to 15% this season compared to the last season where he was playing for the Bulls.

Markkanen is not merely a fast runner but also a good finisher with 1.3 points for each possession. 

Evan Fournier is shifting into another gear 

The New York Knicks are struggling nowadays as they had their 5th loss in the last 6 days on Saturday night against the Celtics. Evan Fournier started the week by complying with the overall subpar performances of the team but finished the week strongly. 

Teaming up with Immanuel Quickley, he became the main protagonist in that sole win against the Rockets with 23 points and 3 assists. 

 

In the next game, against the Celtics, he was even better. With the French guard's leadership, the Knicks came back from 20 points behind to lead at the beginning of the 4th.

Despite all, his 4th-time career-high equaling 32 points was not enough to steer the Knicks into consecutive wins.

Yes, those 2 turnovers in the last quarter were costly, but perhaps that has something to do with Fournier's shapeshifting role this season.

His overall usage rate is below 20%, way lower than his Orlando Magic days. Despite that, he found an enhanced role in using the ball in the Rockets and Celtics, over 25% usage appearances.

In the last 10 games, he is more of a pick and roll ball handler rather than catch and shooter type off guard, where he produced 1.38 per possession. We should notice that it's an elite rate of PnR efficiency because the same figure for Trae Young and Luka Doncic is 1.08 and 1.12 for Steph Curry this season.

Against the Celtics and Rockets, Fournier played six pick and rolls as a ball-handler on average and produced 10 points for each.

At this point, such a step-up effort is crucial because the Knicks, despite being one of the most frequent pick-n-roll playing teams in the NBA, are shooting 37% from the field in the last five games. The Frenchman answered when the duty called. 

In both games, Fournier came back from his shooting slump with a total of 7/16 from three-point range and 21/36 from the field. Considering the fact that he was below 30% for both departments, that is a huge and timely recovery.

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2022-01-10
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