The BCL Underrated Allstars
MIES (Switzerland) - What do all of the following have in common? Eighties music, Demolition Man, Ricky Rubio, Michael Laudrup, and the fresh side of the pillow. They are all criminally underrated. There is always a Pippen for every Jordan, a Bebeto for every Romario. Even in terms of the Basketball Champions League, for every Kevin Punter with 26 points in a Final, there is still a Tony Taylor who only has 4 points but also 5 assists and ends the game with a +/- of 19.
Tony Taylor, still underrated.
So, who are the underrated Allstars in the BCL? The guys that make their team tick without drawing the limelight. Well, before we try and pick our own Underrated All-Star Five, we need to agree to some ground rules. First, we aren’t looking at anyone that has already had a shout in Igor Curkovic’s MVP Race. Those guys are already getting enough press. We also aren’t looking at anyone playing less than 10 minutes per game. This isn’t to say that a player getting fewer minutes can’t be outperforming their role and possibly underrated. It’s more to say that playing under 10 minutes more likely means the player is underrated by their coach and less so by their fans or the media. And, Finally, we are only interested in players that are still in the Play-Ins or Round of 16.
Markel Starks, Point Guard, Igokea m:tel
Full disclosure, there was more than one candidate for the BCL’s most underrated at Igokea. James Robinson is putting together a very tidy and efficient season in limited minutes and DeShawn Stephens is pretty close to averaging a double-double but Markel Starks has quietly put together a legitimate MVP season without anyone really noticing.
Starks boasts season averages of 12.7 points and 6.6 assists, whilst also shooting 40 percent from deep. He’s also responsible for a whopping 43.8 percent of Igokea’s assists when he’s on the floor. If we take a quick look at the video, two areas of Stark’s game have really stood out in this Igokea team; his burst off the dribble and ability to stop on a dime makes him a lethal pull up jump shooter, and his ability to find the roll man in the pick-and-roll. Starks can find a pass over the defense or under it, even through the smallest of windows. When you have a team like Igokea that has so many inside threats, a player like Starks really is the key to the whole offense working as well as it can.
Dani Perez, Point Guard, Baxi Manresa
Dani Perez may not just be the most underrated passer in the BCL, he might be the most underrated passer in Europe. If you were to just look at his stats for the season you could be forgiven for overlooking Perez’ contribution to this rampaging Manresa team. 4.8 points, 4 assists, and 33.3 percent shooting overall in 18.3 minutes hardly tells the story of a player that is masterminding one of the hottest teams in Europe. But if you have overlooked what he does for this team it’s because you haven’t really looked.
First of all, Manresa are as good as they are because of all the spacing and movement in that Pedro Martinez 5-Out offense. With an assist percentage of 72.3, they are now the top team left in the league for scoring from assists, and Perez is responsible for 37 percent of those assists when he is on the floor. It’s not just the assists either, it’s the reading of the game, the vision, and the creativity. The last clip in the video below is possibly the most telling when it comes to evaluating Perez’ contribution to this Manresa offense. What you see is possibly Manresa’s most used option in their 5-Out early/flow offense. Perez starts bringing the ball up, reverses it to the trailer then receives a flare screen. He reads the switch and pops out to play wing pick-and-roll. The defense forces the ball out of his hands because they know how important he is. Then, he fills the space at the top of the key to get the ball back and finally delivers the killer pass. Throughout the offense, Manresa are a blur of movement and cutting but none of that works without someone to deliver the final blow.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Small Forward, Besiktas Icrypex
I’m still not quite sure how I’m writing a section on an established NBA veteran and very much a player that could still contribute to a competitive NBA roster but also underrated in the BCL… but here we are. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson absolutely is all of those things and he absolutely is flying under the radar for his contribution when he’s on the floor for Besiktas Icrypex. 12.1 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks on 50% shooting in 20 minutes is a very, very solid boxscore for a player still adjusting to their first season on another continent. Maybe they aren’t the type of numbers that would jump off the page in the NBA but in Europe, where the game has fewer possessions and a much wider distribution of playing time amongst the roster, these numbers are nothing to be sniffed at - especially as Besiktas are having one of their best seasons in the BCL.
If we dig a little deeper we also see that a Block Percentage of 7.4 percent has him as the third-ranked shot-blocker in the league despite playing mostly as a power forward and a Defensive Rebound Percentage of 26.9% also has him ranked in the top ten on the defensive boards. This last stat is also vital to Besiktas’ ability to get out on the break in transition. Whilst we are on the topic of transition, you won’t find many players in Europe that can keep up with Hollis-Jefferson when he’s really running the floor. Many teams have already been on the wrong end of a Hollis-Jefferson run and dunk and many more will be by the end of the season.
Nicola Akele, Power Forward, Nutribullet Treviso
Did somebody say career-year? Nicola Akele’s shooting splits of 52.9 percent overall, 50 percent from three, and 100 percent from the line are powering his best season in a top European league. If we included his numbers from the Qualifiers they would be even more impressive. Akele’s route to this point was far from orthodox. He started as a young pro with Umana Reyer Venezia and then made the lesser trodden path of going to Rhode Island to play in the NCAA. After a mixed stint on the other side of the pond, Akele found himself back in Italy but playing in the Italian second tier with Roseto Sharks. Now in his third season back in the top flight and playing his first season on the continent in the BCL, Akele is finding his niche.
For sure, DeWayne Russell, Henry Sims, and Tomas Dimsa are the stars of this Nutribullet Treviso team. Even youngster Giordano Bortolani has had more of the limelight due to his chase for the Best Young Player award but Akele does so many things well and he does them quietly and efficiently. If he’s needed to play as a traditional power forward he can set good screens and roll or patrol the short-corners for dunks. If he’s playing the stretch-four role he reads the defense to lift when he needs to lift or cuts when he needs to cut and if the defense is closing out to his shot, he can put it on the floor and either hit the pull up or get to the rim. Treviso aren’t likely to use him as a go-to-guy when they need a score anytime soon but in the same breath, his efficiency within his role is a huge reason behind them rampaging through the qualifiers and into a 1-0 lead in the Play-Ins. Akele is clearly a player on an upward trajectory and one to watch.
Gavin Ware, Centre, JDA Dijon
Gavin Ware is in his second stint with JDA Dijon and whilst the likes of David Holston will rightfully draw the lion’s share of media attention, somebody also has to set those screens that Holston uses to work his magic and if you dig a little deeper, it’s clear to see why Dijon were so keen to bring Ware back again. Coaches often talk about role players playing like the star in their role. Well, Gavin ware typifies that statement perfectly. In fact, he’s starred in his role so perfectly that it has enabled him to become a star outright. In the box score, Ware is averaging 13 points and 6.6 rebounds in 20.9 minutes.
To lift the bonnet, we need to dip our toes into the slightly murky waters of Player Efficiency Rating (PER). PER calculates a player’s efficiency on a per minute basis. PER can sometimes favor offensive players and non-starters but given that Ware is a starter and also contributes heavily on the glass, the fact that he ranks joint-second in the league for PER at 30.3 is possibly even more impressive. Ware is a great screener and has that old skool style, high release jump shot that is so difficult to defend. But what he does best is smash the offensive glass. He pulls down 17.4 percent of dijon’s misses when he’s on the floor and is joint-best in the league at converting those into putbacks at 1.7 points per play (per Synergy). As you can see in the clips below, Ware really is a monster on the glass.