|13 January 2012|
EUROPEANS IN THE NBA
|Andrea Bargnani is in the best form in his career with the Toronto Raptors|
Ricky Rubio, a three-time FIBA Europe Young Player of the Year (check the current voting here), has been such a hit as a rookie in the NBA with the Minnesota Timberwolves that at times, everyone else from the old continent is lost in his shadow in terms of media coverage.
Superstar Dirk Nowitzki of Germany is probably the one exception because he is already hitting game-winning shots, and making visits to the White House to be congratulated on last year's title triumph with the Dallas Mavericks.
Rubio has been coming off the bench and is averaging 10.2 points and 7.9 assists per game and after his 13-point, 12-assist game against Chicago this week, Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman admitted he was contemplating whether it was time to put the 21-year-old point guard into the starting line-up.
Other Europeans are having a major impact on the NBA, though, and one of them is Italy's Andrea Bargnani, a player who joined the league in 2006 who finally seems to be worthy of the number one overall pick Toronto used to select him.
The team results of Toronto are maddeningly inconsistent for Raptors fans, but Bargnani has turned his game up a notch and is averaging career highs in points (22.3), rebounds (6.5) and assists (1.9).
Defensively, though, is where Bargnani has made the biggest strides.
His coach, Dwane Casey, said: "Andrea for me, and I've been telling all my coaching friends around the league, is playing like an all-star on both ends of the floor.
"He's matured, he knows this is his team, he's one of the stars of our team . . . he's growing up."
Bargnani hurt his calf in this week's loss to the Sacramento Kings and had to leave the game.
Without their in-form center, the Raptors weren't able to beat the struggling Kings in Toronto's third game in as many nights.
"He's our best player for sure and it was tough seeing him go out," Toronto's EuroBasket 2011 champion of Spain, Jose Calderon said.
Toronto haven't had much to cheer about in recent seasons but the Italian's play is fuelling hopes of a turnaround.
"You're watching a guy grow up from a young player into a man and I think his confidence and his game is going to higher and higher," Casey said.
"I think he's getting the respect of the league now, I don't know if last year he had it but I think he's getting it.
"He still has a ways to go; believe me, he's not a finished product, but I've been around a lot of great players and he's getting close."
The Raptors were expected to know the severity of Bargnani's calf injury on Friday.
Bargnani's teammate, Lithuanian Linas Kleiza, out of action for 11 months after surgery to address a meniscal tear and chondral defect of his right knee in early February, played for the first time in the loss to Sacramento.
"For me personally, a year out, it feels good to be back," he said. "I've got a lot of people to thank and it's just the beginning. But it's a good first step."
Kleiza, who had 10 points and three rebounds, wasn't worried that he may have come back too soon.
"No concern at all," he said.
"We took it pretty slow (during the recovery) and since I came back for the last month or so, we've taken it pretty hard.
"The game is like easy practice for me compared to what I've been doing off the court."
The injury forced Kleiza, Lithuania's best player, to miss last year's EuroBasket.
Gallo And Belinelli
Italy's two other players in the NBA are getting a lot of minutes.
Danilo Gallinari seems to have benefitted by the decision to play for Olimpia Milano during the NBA Lockout and stay in game shape because with Denver, he is averaging a career-high 17.2 points while shooting a career-best 47% from the floor.
The 23-year-old is playing an average of 33.6 minutes per game.
Marco Belinelli's minutes have increased from an average of 24.5 last season to 32.1 this season with the New Orleans Hornets.
The 25-year-old is shooting 36.5% from the field and averaging 9.3 points.
From ‘not many people saw this coming' category, Ian Mahinmi of France has become a major factor off the bench for the Dallas Mavericks.
The 25-year-old, who is in his fourth NBA season, came into the campaign having averaged a career-best 8.7 minutes per contest last season with Dallas.
Now, Mahinmi is averaging 19.9 minutes and making the most of it, pouring in 8.3 points and grabbing five rebounds per game.
If Mahinmi continues to, it will be hard for France coach Vincent Collet to look past him when choosing his Olympic team for London.
Mahinmi represented France at the 2010 FIBA World Championship but did not compete for Les Bleus at last year's EuroBasket, where they won a silver medal.
Collet will have a lot of options in the low post, with Washington Wizards duo Ronny Turiaf and Kevin Seraphin also contending for spots in the national team along with Chicago's Joakim Noah and Lokomotiv Kuban's Ali Traore.
Vucevic Still Playing
There were some who feared Nikola Vucevic might not get much playing time for veteran coach Doug Collins in Philadelphia, but the 21-year-old Montenegro international remains a part of the Sixers' rotation in his rookie season.
After playing for Montenegro at the EuroBasket, where he averaged five points and 3.2 rebounds in 14 minutes per game, Vucevic has averaged 5.1 points and five rebounds in 13.4 minutes for the Sixers.
His fellow Montenegro, Nikola Pekovic, is not playing much at all for the Minnesota Timberwolves so far.
Pachulia Importance grows
Georgia's captain at the EuroBasket, Zaza Pachulia, has eight years of NBA experience under his belt and all of that will be needed in Atlanta following the pectoral injury suffered by his Atlanta teammate Al Horford this week.
Horford will have surgery and miss up to four months of action.
Pachulia, who turns 28 on February 10, has been playing 17.2 minutes per game, averaging 5.7 points and 5.1 rebounds.
In their first game without Horford, Pachulia grabbed 10 boards against the Charlotte Bobcats on Thursday night in a 111-81 Hawks victory.
Some Other Europeans
Poland's Marcin Gortat is the starting center of the Phoenix Suns and the 27-year-old is averaging 12.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.
Turkey's Hedo Turkoglu had 20 points, nine assists and four rebounds for Orlando in their 117-109 victory over Golden State on Thursday.
Slovenia's Goran Dragic has been getting a lot of playing time with Houston at point guard and is averaging 7.8 points, 3.6 assists and 0.5 steals.
Pau Gasol's production with the Los Angeles Lakers has been good. The FIBA Europe Player of the Year candidate (vote here) is averaging 16.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.7 blocks.