Building a Hypothetical Yugosalvian Team

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.

Yugo team

1990 Goodwill Games: Vlade Divac & Team Yugoslavia receiving their gold medals

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.

Starters:

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.

Bench:

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.

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Nurkic Game 1 Overreaction

There was a strange sighting Tuesday night in Salt Lake City. No, it wasn’t the Blazers allowing a deficit to balloon to insurmountable levels quicker than Raymond Felton’s post-season waste line. This was a positive injection of size, in the form of a 280 pound newcomer, Jusuf Nurkic.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz

Back to the basket, Back to the basket? Back…..to the… Basket? It sound’s weird, foreign even. This was the position Nurkic took up, albeit briefly in his role as back-up center Tuesday. The former Nugget is a bruiser whose nickname, “The Bosnian Beast” conjures up visions of old wives tales and popular Folklore. Or perhaps a reminiscent figure of the NBA’s past, a big man who is comfortable on the block.

Nurkic finished the night with 13 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals, and 1 block. He shot an aberrational 5-5 from the field with an equally uncommon 4 turnovers in his 21 minute stint. Despite his pedestrian totals (regardless of the CRAZY per 36 avgs that line would produce), his output was noticeable on both sides of the ball.

For the first time since crazy legs Kaman, Lillard and CJ distributed the ball to a teammate posted up with his back to the basket, and after showing early success the defense began to collapse. I’m not talking Shaq or Hakeem collapses here, but just enough to free up much needed space. On various occasions Nurkic spearheaded stellar ball movement, with his initial offerings, leading to multiple open looks. On one offensive set in particular CJ dropped the ball down low only to receive a beautifully weighted touch pass right back  for an open corner three. It’s the little things like his footwork, vision as a passer, and finishing around the rim that made his debut so promising.

On the defensive side of the ball his 6’11 wide frame proved far more difficult for the Jazz to traverse than his front-court counterparts in Meyers Leonard, and Ed Davis. His quick hands and sheer surface area led to 3 steals and a block, but more importantly it made the Jazz question running their offense through the paint.

He looked a bit clunky on pick & rolls, rolling the same direction as the guard on at least two occasions. At times on offense he looked a bit forced leading to his 4 turnovers. Defensively, while naturally reading the game well,  communication on switches and missed assignments led to a couple easy finishes for Gobert. All of that being said, Nurkic posted a plus / minus of +18 which was 13 better than Portland’s second best performer on the night, Pat Conhaughton. In fact those were the only two players who post a “plus” line.

Portland traded away an asset certain to leave them in the off-season, with no return on investment. Instead, they acquired a young, promising center on a rookie contract, coupled a first round pick in next years draft. As a Blazer fan I’m excited to see how Nurkic progresses, and purely as a follower of the NBA It’s hard to argue with that business logic. It’s cliche to say “the verdict is still out”,but it seems an obvious conclusion after just one game. If nothing else Nurkic has certainly given Blazer fans something to be excited about.

 

 

Hello Sports fans

I’m not a professional writer, nor have I been an amateur one of late. Sports fan from the great northwest, my allegiances are deeply tied to the state of Oregon. This blog / series of non-linear thoughts / amalgamation of nonsense, is intended to be an all encompassing basketball blog, but will surely be NBA saturated. I’m not here to portray myself as an unbiased party, or the guy who spends hours studying different variations of the 2-3 zone. But alas, basketball, cruelly the sport I excelled at least, is the one I find myself gravitating to most.

Let’s start with a list of things that make up some of my recent musings. This may or may not be a list of things I hold near and dear to my heart a day after publishing this.

  1. The 90’s wasn’t a better era for basketball, and the three point line isn’t ruining the game. Evolution happens, within ourselves, and the environment around us, sports aren’t an exception.
  2. I have NBA league pass, and Joel Embiid on two fantasy teams. You can consider me your resident west coast expert on all things 76ers. HOT TAKE: The starting PG is whoever isn’t injured.
  3. The Los Angeles Clippers are a clown franchise filled with clown players, driven to games in a clown car by their clown, coach Doc Rivers.
  4. Lebron James is really bad at lay-ups.
  5. Michael Redd was one smooth cat.
  6. The Chinese Basketball Association is an odd and beautiful place. Where Jimmer can average 40 a game, and Stephon Marbury can earn that coveted Permanent Resident status.
  7. College basketball feels like an entirely different product than the NBA, and outside of fan passion I don’t think thats a good thing.
  8. Hack a whoever should stay. AD, KAT, Cousins and the new wave of dynamic big men are the future. Let the game, and more importantly the players, adapt. If 10 years down the line every center is shooting above 65% from the line the sport will be better for it.
  9. To expand on that last point, Boogie Cousins is a bad man.
  10. NBA on TNT coverage of games in Oklahoma City is truly saddening. That place looks terrible, who could blame KD for wanting out of that dust bowl.
  11. The Boston Celtics local color commentator, Tommy Heinsohn is as bad as you’d expect.
  12. The NBA, as a brand is seeing it’s value skyrocket and has more marketing  opportunities than it’s American Sport counterparts. The influx of foreign players keeps growing, while the health issues surrounding football nearly ensures the best American athletes will prefer the court over the field.

I’m sure my next post will be about the Blazers blowing another 4th quarter lead, but until then..

Cheers,

-Michael