Mike James deeply cares about AS Monaco's suspension, but he has yet to figure out how he will fit into the team.

Credit: D.Lukšta
Credit D.Lukšta

Basketball people were left wondering, "What's wrong with Mike James?" as one of the top scorers in the EuroLeague returned to the court after a suspension.

Player of the Game
Ignas  Brazdeikis
Ignas Brazdeikis
Points 22
Accuracy 9-18
Rebounds 5
Assists 0

Unfortunately for James and his team, the game didn't go as planned, with AS Monaco falling to Zalgiris in Kaunas, 70-79. James had his second-lowest scoring game of the season, finishing with just 6 points on 3 of 9 shooting - a far cry from his average of 16.8 points before the trip to Kaunas.

But it wasn't just the numbers that had people concerned.

James wasn't the same ball-dominant, fierce ISO scorer everyone was accustomed to. He seemed to be a little quieter than usual.

When asked about his return to the pack, James responded with honesty.

"I haven't figured it out. I don't know," he told BasketNews. "I'm just trying to contribute in ways and give something positive."

Coming off a nine-day suspension is already weird.

Coming off something that made your teammates upset is difficult.

And coming off a stretch when your team won all seven games without you is mentally challenging.

James tried to analyze the suspension and compared it to his previous one while playing for CSKA.

"It's different than when I was suspended in CSKA," he said.

"Honestly, when I was suspended in CSKA, I really didn't care. I was going through so much off the court that I didn't really care about basketball at that time. It didn't bother me at all, it didn't change anything for me."

"I didn't look at it twice. I was just at home. I didn't care, as I was just worried more about my family and what was going on back home. And I think this situation is a little bit different. Just because I do care," he admitted.

Chima Moneke

Chima  Moneke
Team: AS Monaco
Position: PF
Age: 27
Height: 198 cm
Weight: 101 kg
Birth place: Abuja, Nigeria

"But I still haven't figured it out. I kind of in between what I'm supposed to be doing. So it's tough to try to switch whatever is going on or how our people want you to be or the way to be," Mike James explained. "I try to figure out late in the season when games matter, especially when I put so much pressure on myself to be good. Everybody expects me to be what I'm proven I am. So I'm just trying to figure out where that medium is, where I can help the team, and can I even help the team."

"Honestly, I don't know at this point," he acknowledged. "I'm just trying to be positive. Trying to figure it out."

How the rest of the team accepted him back after everything they had to go through?

"I don't know, you got to ask them. It seems normal, I guess. But you got to ask them," James responded.

"It's a shock, obviously. It's a shock for a team," Monaco's starting center Donatas Motiejunas recalled on the URBONUS podcast.

"One day, you take him out, and the other, you bring him back. It's a shock for a style that we play and everything. To expect that we're going to click right away and start playing the same level of basketball that we played before is a little bit naive. It will take time again for us to rethink and reset as players," he admitted.

"You can see that he's trying to also adapt to the team. We all were playing his type of basketball. And now he's trying to adapt to the game we played without him. Which is, I think, where the problem is a little bit," Motiejunas said. "He's a different type of player when he plays ISO and tries to play for a team. Then he's not aggressive, he's not as much used. I think it's not really why the coach was pushing to sign Mike from the beginning."

"When they took him out, we adjusted quickly to play as a team and moved the ball more. He saw how we played, and now he comes back, he wants to be a part of it to add it up. But then the whole group has to adapt and change. It's a process," Motiejunas concluded.

"My biggest takeaway is the human aspect of it, a mental side of it," Chima Moneke brought it up on the URBONUS podcast.

"Being the top scorer and potentially first or second team all-Euroleague, and then the suspension happens. We win every game, and he has to come back. So he's questioning himself. I feel bad for him," Moneke explained.

"Off the court, people saying terrible stuff and blaming him unfairly, and I don't like it. He's coming to the game and doesn't want to be the reason for us not winning games. Because we won every game without him. Yes, he's overpassing, and I've told him that. I told him not to blame himself because it's a difficult situation for any human being to go through, being the most important player on the team, being out for two weeks, and just overthinking everything," the former Sacramento Kings forward concluded.

It's been a tough couple of games for Monaco since James returned to the team, losing both in the French league and the EuroLeague.

However, his Motiejunas points out that it's essential to keep in mind that James wasn't allowed to practice with the team and didn't have a game rhythm.

"It's really difficult to gain confidence and rhythm, and he's trying to adjust to the team that we're playing differently without him," Motiejunas explains.

Figuring out how to incorporate James back into the team is a process that will take time.

"Honestly, this is more the coach's job than anyone else to do these things," Motiejunas concludes.

Some may have had high expectations for James' return. But the anticipations may have been too high and unrealistic.

First, Mike James faced one of the best EuroLeague perimeter defenders Arnas Butkevicius, who also contained him to two points in Monaco. Both of James' lowest-scoring games this year were against Zalgiris.

But James didn't look like somebody who was disinterested or having something less because Americans play differently.

Yes, we were used to seeing him more ball dominant and aggressive offensively. But the sequence in the fourth quarter was worth mentioning.

Zalgiris identified Mike James as the weak link in Monaco's defense, pushing their best ISO player Ignas Brazdeikis to attack him 1-on-1. But in two consecutive possessions, Brazdeikis couldn't break MJ's defense and was forced to take contested shots. He missed them both.

Mike James didn't let up after the missed shot and managed to wrestle the ball away from Brazdeikis, forcing a jump ball. In a move that looked effortless, he sprang into action and won the jump ball for his team.

With the playoffs scheduled to begin on April 25th, Mike and Monaco have nearly four weeks to figure things out.

"It's a difficult situation, especially for someone like me. I hold myself to a high standard in basketball and things in general. I'm just not playing as I used to or how I've been accustomed to playing. I'm trying to figure out what it looks like for me going forward," Mike James said to BasketNews. "I'm not saying that's a bad thing or a good thing. But I'm just exploring that. Especially being so late in the season when games matter and people expect me to perform. Not knowing where it goes to, where that comes from, or stuff like that, I'm trying to stay positive and figure out that."

While Mike James has always been in the spotlight, this suspension adds even more pressure to his shoulders as he carries on in this EuroLeague campaign.

"I'm always going to have that label anyway," James smiled. "I just kind of have a short leash with everything, especially when I come to the place and stuff where normal people wouldn't blink an eye. But if I do it, it's looked at a little bit differently. It's always like, "oh, he's doing this, or it's like that." Whether I earned that because it's true or whether it got exaggerated over time, it is how it is. I've been able to live with that."

URBONUS podcast:

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Zalgiris Kaunas
AS Monaco
Field goals

Best players

Ignas  Brazdeikis
22 PTS
9/18 FG
0/0 FT
Donatas  Motiejūnas
13 PTS
4/8 FG
4/6 FT
Zalgiris Kaunas
Few players
AS Monaco
Few players
Arnas  Butkevičius
5 As
1 TO
27 MIN
Jordan  Loyd
5 As
1 TO
32 MIN
Ignas  Brazdeikis
17 EFF
38% 2P%
80% 3P%
Jordan  Loyd
26 EFF
75% 2P%
0% 3P%