Euroleague Basketball
Photo: Euroleague Basketball

Although he did not sneak up on anybody, there is no ignoring the fact that FC Barcelona Lassa swingman Alex Abrines has definitely arrived this season. That fact was confirmed by Turkish Airlines Euroleague head coaches, who voted Abrines as the Euroleague Rising Star Trophy winner for the 2015-16 season. The Rising Star Trophy recognizes the best Euroleague player who was under age 22 on July 1 of the summer before the season started. Despite undergoing surgery for acute appendicitis in February and missing a month of the Top 16, Abrines stood out this season as Barcelona’s sixth man. He tied for the team lead with 40 three-pointers made and was third in both scoring (9.3 ppg.) and performance index rating (8.8 per game), even though he was just sixth in minutes played. His often electric appearances at big moments gave a veteran team his youthful energy and impressed Euroleague head coaches enough that they voted him the best young player in the competition.

Abrines edged Anadolu Efes Istanbul forward Dario Saric in one of the closest Rising Star votes in recent years. Saric finished second for the second straight season. He was followed by Efes teammate Cedi Osman, Real Madrid guard Luka Doncic, Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade swingman Marko Guduric and Olympiacos Piraeus forward Ioannis Papapetrou in the voting. The Rising Star Trophy is one of several end-of-season honors awarded by Euroleague Basketball. Earlier in the week, CSKA Moscow guard Nando De Colo was confirmed as the recipient of the 2015-16 Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy and CSKA big man Kyle Hines was named this season’s Best Defender Trophy winner. The All-Euroleague honorees will be announced later this week. The identity of the 2015-16 Euroleague MVP will be revealed at the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Awards Ceremony on Thursday, May 12 during the Final Four in Berlin. The Alexander Gomelskiy Coach of the Year Trophy and the Euroleague Club Executive of the Year are post-season awards.

From the time Abrines arrived to Barcelona in 2012 as a teenager, coaches, teammates, opponents and fans have watched closely as he blossomed as a player. The expectations were always high, since Abrines came from Unicaja Malaga in a trade for the Euroleague’s all-time leader in blocked shots, Fran Vazquez. In each season, Abrines provided glimpses of his talent with a handful of standout performances, but injuries sometimes slowed him and opportunities could be scarce with the likes of scoring king Juan Carlos Navarro, Pete Mickeal, Brad Oleson, Boki Nachbar and Kostas Papanikolaou ahead of him in the rotation. This season, however, Abrines took advantage of his playing time and carved out an important role off the bench.

Abrines paced Barcelona with 16 points on 4-of-5 three-point shooting in a road win at Stelmet Zielona Gora in Round 7 of the regular season. The following week he poured in 21 points in Athens against Panathinaikos. Abrines twice made 4 of 5 triples in the Top 16, against Final Four qualifiers CSKA Moscow and Laboral Kutxa Vitoria Gasteiz. In between those games, he was sidelined for a month due to his appendix surgery, but hardly skipped a beat when he returned. Come the playoffs, Abrines almost singlehandedly won Game 3 for Barcelona against Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar with a career-high 25 points on 6-of-10 three-point shooting. Although Barcelona fell to Lokomotiv in a grueling five-game series, it was not without a supreme effort from Abrines. He led the team with 12 threes in the series, his 11.8 points per game in the playoffs were second for Barcelona, behind only Navarro, and he tied for third on the squad with 3.4 rebounds. With such important contributions as a 22-year-old, there is little doubt that stardom awaits in the coming years for Abrines.

This marks the second time a Barcelona player has been named Euroleague Rising Star; Ricky Rubio captured the trophy in 2010. Erazem Lorbek won the inaugural Euroleague Rising Star Trophy in 2005 with Climamio Bologna. He was followed by Andrea Bargnani of Benetton Treviso in 2006; Rudy Fernandez, now with Real Madrid, in 2007 for DKV Joventut; Danilo Gallinari of Armani Jeans Milano in 2008; and Novica Velickovic of Partizan Belgrade in 2009. Nikola Mirotic claimed back-to-back Rising Star trophies in 2011 and 2012 with Madrid; Papanikolaou took the 2013 award with Olympiacos and Bogdan Bogdanovic was named Rising Star in each of the two previous seasons, once with Partizan and once with Fenerbahce Istanbul.