As a soccer fan, I’ve often postulated with friends as to how good a united Yugoslavian national soccer team would be. Top 10 easy, top 5 very likely. The strong Serbian backline, coupled with a creative Croat midfield, led by a quirky combination of a Bosnian and Montenegrin working up top. The same personality and cultural differences that drove them apart some 30 years ago have produced a sort of specialized archetype from each nation, and individually their talent is unquestionable, together the cohesion could have been legendary.
But much like their footballing counterpart, How good would a united Yugoslavian basketball team be, what would it look like, could they play 5 Centers? I’m not even sure if the region even produces players smaller than 6’7, outside of Slovenia, which not only won the the 2017 Eurobasket title, but also gave us one of the greatest balkan dramas, (clearly Dragic is getting the last laugh.) While the playing styles between the NBA players in the now divided countries are much harder to define than soccer, drawing on their similarities is almost equally as easy. Tall, skilled and work at their own pace. Which is great when filling out a front-court, less effective for a starting five, but let’s take a stab at it.
PG: Goran Dragić (Slovenia / Heat) – The only clear option at the position, veteran presence and proven volume scorer and distributor. The only issue with Dragic on a team with this sort of make-up is how ball dominant he tends to be. With the likes of Jokic and Nurkic on the floor he may be forced to concede from time to time.
SG: Luka Dončić (Slovenia / Real Madrid) – The second part of the back-court which led Slovenia to Eurobasket success this summer. Eligible for the NBA draft next year, the 18 year old Doncic, currently with Real Madrid is almost certain to be a top five pick next June. An elite shooter, and adept passer the 6’7 guard may be the most highly touted potential product to ever come out of Europe, even if that’s due to a lack of foresight in regards to Giannis Antetokounmpo.
PF / SF: Dario Šarić (Croatia / 76ers) – “The Homie” as he is affectionately known in Philly, Saric is to many, the REAL 2017 Rookie of the Year. The 6’10 Swingman is more effective from the 4 with his ability blow past lumbering big men, and bully the smaller forwards who try to man him. He is just getting his feet wet in the NBA game, but his arsenal is complete, especially on the offensive end. His pace, and shot selection just need a little bit of fine tuning. The only thing keeping this 22 year old from becoming a solid NBA mainstay is the potential log-jam in Philadelphia. Saric has seen limited minutes and offensive usage early in his 2017-18 NBA campaign.
C: Nikola Vučević (Montenegro / Magic) – Nothing he does is going to “wow” you, initially. But check out his box score 30 minutes later and the realization sets in that Vucivec is just THAT efficient. Literally as soon as I wrote that he dropped 41 and 12, which is in fact, “wow” worthy. He has basically been the only consistent entity in the Magic organization since being acquired by Orlando in 2012 from Philadelphia. Which says a lot about the state of the Magic, but also speaks to Vuc, and his talent.
C / PF: Nikola Jokić (Serbia / Nuggets) – Jokic didn’t go entirely under the radar headed into 2016, but no one predicted the level of success he saw last season. The Serbian center’s vision from the top of the key and the high block is second to none. Oh, and he can shoot from behind the arc and rebounds at an elite level. He is just 22, but you’d be hard pressed to believe that watching his control over the game.
C: Jusuf Nurkić (Bosnia/ Trail Blazers) – With a loaded Center position, and no true power forward, save for the player I’ve slotted in at small forward, in Saric; the C and PF positions for a hypothetical Yugoslavia would be quite interesting. Nurkic alongside Jokic has been attempted and failed in Denver, but his talent and potential are unquestioned. The best interior defender of the bunch, but also more questions about his offense and on court demeanor make him a front-court wild card. His brief stint in Portland initially filled fans with promise at the end of the 2017 season, adding a much needed low post presence. But questions about his offensive maturity, and injury concerns has plagued his early 17-18 campaign
SF: Bojan Bogdanović (Croatia / Pacers) – The upstart, and Paul George-less Pacers have been an early season darling, and Bogdanovic’s ability to score efficiently is great reason. The 6’8 forward has nearly been shooting 50% from the field and would be a perfect shift leader off the bench for this hypothetical squad.
G / F: Bogdan Bogdanović (Serbia / Kings) – Picked in the first round in 2014 by the Suns the young Serbian has finally debuted with the Kings. Like Doncic, he looks like he could develop into a great perimeter shooter and has the ability to get his teammates involved. At 6’6 he is an ideal wing player with great ability to slash and kick, or get all the way to the rim. It’s hard to tell if the successes he saw in Europe will translate to the vastly more talented and athletic NBA. His size, skill-set, and place on a thin Sacramento roster suggest he will continue to be given the opportunity to progress.
G / F: Mario Hezonja (Croatia / Magic) – Speaking of opportunity, Something the 22 year old Magic forward hasn’t really been afforded. His shooting hasn’t been what Orlando has hoped, but the sample size is so small it’s hard to know just what Hezonja possess.
PF: Anthony Randolph (Slovenia / Real Madrid) – Yes, that is the same Anthony Randolph. Out of the NBA since 2014 he has made his name in Europe and was recently named to the Spanish League All Second team, and another cog in the Slovenian national team’s title run. This falls squarely under the category of, “Don’t ask questions.” Randolph, born in Germany always had that Euro-basket blood running through him anyhow.
PG: Miloš Teodosić (Serbia / Clippers) -The new Clipper may fresh off the IR after dealing with a plantar fascia injury. But the 30 year old in the twilight of his career has dropped some of the most impressive dimes the world has ever seen. The guard certainly plays at his own pace, but his ability to shoot from deep and find teammates in a bevy of ways is unquestioned.
C / F: Dragan Bender (Croatia / Suns) – His summer league performances were less than impressive, in fact nothing that Bender has done in the NBA has been particularly noteworthy. The fact remains the 7’1 Suns big man still has many scouts and front office members clamoring to take one of the Suns many young assets off of their hands. At 19, in a league where most big men don’t hit their stride until their mid-twenties, Bender just MAY be worth the wait.