If there was a headline in this Euroleague Final Four, it was the superb Papaloukas vs. Diamantidis matchup, featuring arguably the best two players in Europe who happen to be countrymen and play the same position on the court. For DraftExpress, it was obviously very important to follow the performance of Tiago Splitter, the only short-term first-round prospect on the floor.
CSKA, 1977, 6-7, PG
Right after the semifinal win over Tau Vitoria, CSKA coach Ettore Messina showed his concern about Papaloukas taking too much responsibility for this event in his homeland (he joked about Theo organizing travel, tickets, practice, the hotel ), but it was what actually happened in the final, as a huge amount of his teams offensive load went through his hands, either with points directly scored by him, creating spaces for his teammates with his aggressive playing style or passing the ball to an open man.
Papaloukas is a difficult player to contest. Hes tall and quite strong for a guard, enjoying very good ball-handling skills to protect the ball despite his size, and displays decent quickness. Theo can drive and dribble in traffic, even with contact, which helps him overpower his match-ups. He perfectly uses his size to post up his defender, even beating guys as tall as him (like Siskauskas in the final). And then, its a matter of his great ability to finish near the basket (partially thanks to his size), magnificent court vision and an impressive mind to take decisions. The guy always knows when to push the ball and run (either because of a certain play situation or what the game demands), when to stop and play a more drawn out sequence, and when to resolve with a pick and roll play or an individual effort.
Actually were talking about a master of the pick and roll, a playmaker that perfectly feeds the teammate setting the pick and rolling towards the basket, often with high passes where he takes advantage of his size. If the defense doesnt stay honest, he will either go all the way to the basket to score himself or shoot the ball off the dribble. Here we find his main weakness in terms of offensive game though: hes not much of a shooter, although he will punish you if hes left wide open. His passing game is not only about two-on-two situations, but he finds his teammates on the weak side extremely easily, hes very dangerous distributing the ball from the low post (especially because he usually attracts defensive helps), and generally speaking, if theres any defensive mistake, chances are he will make pay by sending the ball instantaneously to the appropriate place. Its also interesting to note how he often passes while in the air, a high risk proposition, but he rarely turns the ball over, as his mind offers him quick solutions.
Theo helps in the rebounding department, usually igniting the fastbreak (also if he receives a quick outlet pass) to look for easy baskets. Hes an unspectacular, but solid defender; lets say he fills the bill. Obviously hes not the quickest guy around when it comes to moving laterally, which would hurt him in the NBA matching-up against point guards. Neither is he very athletic for a wing. But there arent many guys around with his combination of character and skills. In a world increasingly starving for true playmakers, hes the answer. Will the NBA feel the same way? Well find out this summer.
Panathinaikos, 1980, 6-5, PG
Thats right, Diamantidis led Panathinaikos all the way to the Euroleague title and collected the Final Four MVP award that distinguished him as the best player in the event. It was a well-deserved reward. He did a splendid job on the offensive end, but particularly (and as usual) was a monster on defense. Dimitrios doesnt greatly stand out for his quickness or general athleticism, but he manages to get everywhere on court. Hes so smart, tough, sacrificed, that his great wingspan on his 6-5 body becomes a nightmare for his rivals. Hes truly a stopper for his match-ups, but still has time to realize multiple defensive rotations, take charges, contest shots, even block them, scoping out the passing lanes and recover his match-up on time to keep him under control. You can bet he still would be an excellent defender at the NBA level.
For people buying into the defensive-specialist stereotype, the things Diamantidis can do on the offensive end might come as a surprise, but were dealing with a very smart point guard, effective distributing the ball, who enjoys nice ability to drive and dish and who is developing a very consistent perimeter stroke.
Like Papaloukas, Diamantidis uses his superior size and strength to drive towards the basket and unbalance the rivals defense, also displaying very solid ball-handling skills and footwork. Indeed he was quite aggressive in the final, successfully trying to make things happen with his slashing moves. Hes a nice passer, seeing the floor over his rivals and finding his teammates even on the weak side. He can shoot off the dribble, with three-point range, and hes increasing the quickness of his release. He shows an excellent basketball IQ, even if hes not so dominant controlling the game (and its tempo) as his countryman. Indeed, Dimitrios is a low-profile type of player, never searching for the spotlight, but who ends up shining due to his incredible work ethic on court and developed ability to play the game.
Diamantidis has often expressed that he has no interest in the NBA. Whether thats completely true or not, the only certainty in our eyes is that hes a hell of a player that could do a terrific job for many NBA franchises. Particularly, there are countless teams featuring highly effective scoring guards, where he would perfectly fit as a glue guy to dramatically improve the teams defense while making good decisions with the ball in his hands and knocking down open shots on the offensive end.
Panathianikos, 1978, 6-6, SG/SF
Like many of his teammates, he looked very aggressive against CSKA; particularly when Diamantidis was on the bench due to foul trouble. In those moments he took over his teams offensive lead attacking the basket to finish himself, drawing personal fouls or dishing the ball, ending the game with 20 points and 5 assists. Siskauskas is a solid passer that has greatly helped solidify his teams offense this season in Panathinaikos. Ramunas is also an excellent shooter; although he was very erratic in the Final Four (a combined 2/9 from behind the arc), he credits 47.1% throughout the entire Euroleague season, well-reflecting his accuracy and honoring the Lithuanians shooting reputation. Anyway, hes an unselfish guy, very team-oriented, with a high basketball IQ, the kind of player every coach loves having on his roster.
Siskauskas barely slows down on defense, where hes a reliable guy. Standing somewhere between 6-6 and 6-7 (hes clearly 6-7 on shoes at least), he uses his athleticism well to keep up with his match-up. Perhaps hes not the strongest guy around, but still hes fairly tough. All in all, Siskauskas would probably make a nice complimentary wing player in the NBA; a player who helps ease the offensive flow, nets his open shots and contributes on the defensive end. He has a clear and very manageable $500,000 buyout as far as the NBA is concerned, but its not clear if any team will be able to compete with his salary in Greece, which is rumored to exceed over 1.5 million Euros per season.
CSKA, 1979, 6-9, PF
The 6-9 Slovenian is a typical modern power forward that rolls out to the three-point line whenever the point guard commands both bigs to offer him picks (while Savrasenko, Van Den Spiegel and even Andersen, when both share the floor, roll inside in this setting). He enjoys a very reliable three-point stroke, particularly in spot-up fashion from the top of the key, which greatly helps his team to open the floor and allows the playmaker and the other big man to easily perform a classic pick-and-roll to finish under the basket.
Still, despite enjoying this nice jumper, Smodis never passes up on an opportunity to score in the low post. Hes a very tough guy who loves to bang and use his body to gain space and release his jump-hooks. He can also put the ball on the floor, but hes not the most prolific guy around trying to attack his opponent from the perimeter. On defense, Smodis delivers that same toughness, good positioning and quick moves for a big guy.
NBA-wise, hes not the most intriguing guy, as hes undersized and not particularly athletic. But his versatile skill set, basketball IQ and toughness playing the game would surely help him make a living in the American league if he so desired.
The Draft Prospects
Tau Vitoria, 1985, 6-11, PF/C
Tiago was an integral part of the offensive collapse that Tau suffered in the semifinal against Panathinaikos. His game didnt flow within his teams offense, just as so happened with all his teammates. Still, he was one of the most aggressive players for Tau, trying to attack the basket from the low post, which ultimately cost him getting into foul trouble after committing some offensive fouls, and therefore being benched. Theres a clear negative read here, as Splitter keeps making mistakes in big games which hurt his team. He needs to wise up a little and start looking like the veteran he somehow already is. Anyway, he had 7 points that included a tip-in, an open dunk and a nice pick-and-roll finish.
The game for the third place was a completely different story. With a lot less intensity, it was easier for both teams (Tau and Unicaja) to score points. Tiago did a very nice job finishing around the basket with both hands and a variety of layups. Unfortunately, he didnt show any one-on-one game in the low post, as the only time he went for the individual play, he was fouled before he could start his post move.
What he showed plenty of in both games was aggressiveness attacking the offensive board for the rebound. He came away with a combined 9 captures, 14 if we count both glasses. Hes becoming a much better offensive rebounder than defensive, as he has troubles boxing out and keeping his opponents under control, while the more dynamic effort that the offensive rebounds require, probably suits him better (hes not very explosive from a stand-still position). On defense, he looked solid but unspectacular.
Considering that Splitter has still no buyout for this summer, that he will have a one-million escape clause in the 2008 summer and his current draft stock (out of the top-10), chances are he will have to spend another season in Vitoria to finally leave for the NBA after the next campaign. Tau would require a very big buyout this summer to free Splitter (lets remember he has a Spanish passport, so hes very valuable to fill the required Spanish-player quota in the ACB league), which looks hard to gather with the two-year guaranteed first-round contracts. Thats why his final position in the draft will highly rely on how high the teams that are willing to wait a year for him are picking.
CSKA, 1986, 6-7, PG/SG/SF
Tau Vitoria, 1985, 6-9, PF