EUROPEANS IN THE NBA
The NBA play-offs are over for the Washington Wizards of Marcin Gortat and the Brooklyn Nets of Mirza Teletovic, but both European players have emerged heavily strengthened from this post-season.
On Friday, less than 48 hours after the Nets succumbed in Game 5 of the Eastern conference semi-finals, an opinion poll on the official website of the Brooklyn franchise was asking the team's fans who would they vote as the team MVP for the season.
The poll was offering only three options: sharp-shooter Joe Johnson, who is the most likely winner, veteran Paul Pierce, and alongside them a player whose name most fans in Brooklyn cannot even pronounce properly - Teletovic.
|Mirza Teletovic played well in the NBA play-offs|
For the Bosnia and Herzegovina star, a player who spent most of his rookie season on the bench last year, to even be included in this conversation, is already a major feat in itself.
Teletovic was the unknown quantity on a roster laden with past or future All-Stars, including two former NBA champions in Pierce and Kevin Garnett, as fellow European team-mate Andrei Kirilenko had a long NBA career and is well-respected on the other side of the Atlantic.
Under new Nets head coach Jason Kidd however Teletovic was increasingly allowed this season to come off the bench and do what he does best, namely playing as a stretch-4 who helps his offence spread the floor out and once he receives the ball he can drill the shot from whatever distance, even if contested.
Every European fan knows that the Bosnian forward would never even blink when presented with the opportunity to shoot from long range and it was exactly this courageous, perhaps not entirely orthodox approach of his that quickly evolved into a valid offensive plan for the Nets.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Teletovic was Brooklyn's secret weapon in the only clash they prevailed over Miami in their play-off series as he went 4-of-7 from beyond the arc and finished with 12 points and six rebounds to help them rally in the third quarter and clinch a 104-90 victory at home in Game 3.
Teletovic, who had averaged 3.5 points and 1.8 rebounds in his rookie year, more than doubled his minutes on the floor during the 2013/14 regular season and his stat lines soared to 8.6 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.
In 12 games in the play-offs (Brooklyn first eliminated Toronto before meeting Miami) the Bosnian forward averaged 8.3 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, effectively maintaining the same level of contribution.
In the other Eastern conference semi-final series, the Wizards managed to take the Pacers to a sixth game on the year of their return to the play-offs after a long drought, largely because Gortat came up with an anthological exhibition in Game 5.
The 'Polish Machine' collected a double-double of 31 points and 16 rebounds, on an amazing 86% shooting from the floor, to propel Washington to a 102-79 rout of Indiana.
|Marcin Gortat was important for his team in the NBA play-offs|
In doing so, Gortat registered the first 30/15 display by a Washington player in a play-off game since the legendary Moses Malone in 1987 (when the franchise was still named the Bullets) and with the highest-ever field goal percentage in league history for a player with these stat lines.
With the Pacers slowly recovering the conference-leading form they had shown earlier in the season the Wizards did not manage to prolong the series any further and bowed out of the play-offs after the sixth game, but the Polish big man must be very content with his season.
Gortat was on the Orlando Magic side that reached the NBA finals (against the LA Lakers) in 2009, in just his second year in the league, so this year's play-off run with Washington is not a reason for satisfaction in itself.
None the less, the Polish big man had spent the last three years on a Phoenix Suns side that did not even make the post-season and when he joined the Wizards in the summer the primary aim was to prove he can be the man in the middle on a play-off team.
First, he averaged 13.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game in the regular season, second only to his career-high 2011/12 stat lines in Phoenix, to help Washington clinch a play-off spot in the East with ease.
In the play-offs, Gortat averaged a near double-double of 13 points and 9.9 boards and also contributed 1.5 assists and 1.4 blocks per game, as the Wizards first knocked out the Chicago Bulls in the first round and then made life difficult for Indiana.
One more thing that Gortat and Teletovic have in common is that, before the start of this NBA season, they both arrived in Slovenia last September with high hopes to help their nation reach far at EuroBasket 2013, but both suffered a painful first-round exit.
Both Poland and Bosnia and Herzegovina can hope that their respective star will arrive this summer with renewed determination after this brilliant showing in the NBA play-offs and lead their team-mates to a successful EuroBasket 2015 qualifying campaign.
Gortat's Poland will face Germany, Austria and Luxembourg in Group C while Teletovic's Bosnia and Herzegovina are pitted in Group A against Iceland and Great Britain.
The EuroBasket 2015 2nd Qualifying Round tips off on 10th August.