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European Prospects for the Toronto Raptors - Part I

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Basketball is a sport that is played in the whole world. Especially in Europe, the competition is very high, and there are teams that can be compared to few NBA ones. Since the European “expansion” of NBA, when NBA teams were playing preseason games against European ones, NBA witnessed the strength of European teams, and the losses by few of them. Teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, even our team, the Toronto Raptors suffered friendly losses from Eurolague teams, eg. In 16/10/2005 Macabi Tel Aviv beat the Raptors 105-103, Barcelona beat the 76ers in 2006 104-99, beat also the Los Angeles Lakers in 2010 with 92-89, CSKA beat the Clippers with 94-75 in 2007, and the Cavaliers in 2010.

The Toronto Raptors were considered as a Euro-friendly team for many years. Many players from across the Atlantic Ocean, Europeans or not, wore the Toronto Raptors jersey since their inaugural season. Names as Jorge Garbajosa, Anthony Parker, Rasho Nesterovic, Linas Kleiza (even if he was an American-raised basketball player), Jose Calderon, and Andrea Bargnani played important -or not- roles for this franchise. Even now, Jonas Valanciunas and Nando de Colo are Euro-Raptors, and especially JV is one of the best and more hyped ones.

So, the “hunting” for the best talent, “travels” today to Europe, where we will talk about players who could help our team.

Before talking about European prospects, we must familiarise with the contract / free agency situation in Europe. Most players sign one-year contracts, just to have the flexibility to choose their next employer or ask for more money. Teams can acquire players if they pay their current teams a price. Contracts can be broken more easily than in North America. Europe’s financial condition, with many teams hit by the recession, doesn’t help teams to offer multi-year contracts to players. If there are players who have multi-year contracts, they usually put an NBA-clause in order to have the opportunity to leave their current teams and try their abilities to the best league in the world.

Let start with the backcourt players who shine in Europe and could be available this summer.

Vassilis Spanoulis, 31, 6’4” PG/SG: One of the best players in Europe. 3-times Euroleague (Europe’s NBA) Champion and Euroleague Final Four MVP (2009, 2012, 2013), 2013 Euroleague MVP, 2-times Euroleague first team (2012, 2013), 4-times Euroleague second team (2006, 2009, 2011, 2014). Career stats: 13.6 ppg, 4 apg, 2.1 rpg, 1 spg, 80.2 FT%, 44.4 FG%, 34 3P%. A true leader, clutch player, who his tenure at NBA (2006-2007 with the Houston Rockets, even if he barely played) made him much better player. Even if he’s not a free agent, because he signed a 3-year contract last season, rumors in Europe say that he’s thinking of breaking his contract with 2012-2013 back-to-back Euroleague Champions Olympiacos. So, if these rumors are true, I believe that the Raptors should have an eye on him, even if it will be very difficult to attract him, mostly because he’s a high-earner in Europe(2,4m Euros per year).

Oliver Lafayette, 30, 6’2” PG: Helped his team, Valencia Basket, to win the Eurocup (2nd tier European Championship after Euroleague). His stats may not be as shiny as Spanoulis ones (8.9 ppg, 4,2 apg, 1,7 rpg, 1.4 spg, 97.2 FT%, 43.1 FG%, 37.7 3P%), but he was the main reason of Valencia’s success. Small but intelligent, he’s one of the hot names in Europe these days. He is currently a free agent.

Malcolm Delaney, 25, 6’3” PG: He was the cornerstone of a successful Euroleague season with his team, Bayern Munich. Bayern Munich, a European basketball “Cinderella” managed to play for the Euroleague’s Top-16 tournament for the first time. He earned the MVP award of this season’s German National Championship, and he’s fighting with his team for the National title, first since 1955. His 2014 Euroleague stats are: 13.9 ppg, 4.5 apg, 3.4rpg (reminds you of Kyle Lowry?), 1 spg, 84.7 FT%, 42.2 FG%, 38.5 3P%. He will be a free agent when the season ends.

Bobby Brown, 29, 6.4” PG/SG: A known figure for NBA, played for Sacramento, Minnesota, New Orleans and L.A. Clippers for two seasons (2008-09, and 2009-10), left North America for Europe in 2010. Even if he struggled at the beginning, he had his break-out season with the Italian team Montepaschi Siena in 2012-2013 season. He earned the Euroleague’s best scorer (aka “Alphonso Ford”) award for that season, and since then, he’s considered one of the best scorers every played for Euroleague. Last year he went to China. On December 27, 2013, he scored 74 points in a 137-135 overtime victory over the Sichuan Blue Whales. He would score the second-highest amount of points in the Chinese Basketball Association’s history, being one point shy from breaking the record that’s still held by Quincy Douby. His 2012-2013 Euroleague stats were 18.8 ppg, 5.3 apg, 1.7 rpg, 0.5 spg, 89 FG%, 41.1 FG%, 34.4 3P%. He’s more a SG than a PG, so he can contribute mostly in scoring, which is his best part. I believe that Masai Ujiri must try to call him at least for the summer league matches, if he will not offer him a direct contract.

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