With first VTB League weekend results are in, it`s time to look at players who are worth your attention in one of the best European domestic competitions. While the likes of Sergio Rodriguez, Nando de Colo and Alexey Shved are automatically fall into must see TV category, we concentrate on more “under the radar” guys.
Thomas Robinson, Khimki
Thomas made his debut for Khimki on Monday and played modest role in 104-64 win over Latvian champion VEF with 6 points and 3 rebounds on board. It will take time for Kansas star to adjust not only to Russia`s harsh climate, but also to physical European basketball. Jayhawk shouldn`t be here in a first place, but series of lost opportunities led to a departure of what once was considered a solid NBA role player at least.
In eyes of many GM`s, who passed on him in masses this summer, he is not anymore. And you can`t say it is a surprise, considering that 6 franchises to this date were not impressed by his set of skills, including those, which were not involved in the crime of tanking. Strong physical core and ability to compete above the rim is what he always had and what will keep him relevant no matter what. In just 13.4 minutes per game Robinson was able to grab 4.8 rebounds, which transforms to career 12.9 per 36 minutes. With classical center position officially dying out all over the basketball globe, Thomas will have no problem dealing with any European big.
His choice to bypass China is also an important issue. If you want to keep your form, you go to China. If you want to play competitive basketball and improve, you fly to the old European world. T-Rob wants to compete with the best, and we all know that the best outside of the NBA is Euroleague basketball, bar none. VTB League will be also not so pleasant walk in the park with CSKA, Zenit, Lokomotiv and UNICS. So, it is just too early to write off former Kansas star from basketball horizon, before he will make his case in Russia.
Nicolas Laprovittola, Zenit
Argentine can`t compete with Robinson in terms of star power of his name. Frankly, T-Rob is one of the most flashy American rookies, if we talk about the whole continent. But Nico already has much more international experience than Kansas forward. And he tested NBA waters, too. Not so successfully, but in Gregg Popovich` world you can`t have too many chances anyway. Nico hasn`t seen enough of daylight behind backs of Tony Parker and Patty Mills, averaging only 9.7 minutes with 3.3 points and 1.6 assists per game.
In January he was already wearing Baskonia uniform, but faced another strong fellow rival in Shane Larkin. The story in the land of Basques was pretty much the same. With recent unimpressive runs Laprovittola took a little step back and signed with Eurocup side this summer, even though Zenit is still very competitive European team by any measure.
Club from Saint Petersburg went through almost complete reconstruction of the roster with saying goodbye to a lot of leaders. One of them was notorious Serbian passer Stefan Markovic, who decided to upgrade to Euroleague level with Khimki. With this move Zenit had no choice, but to find rock-solid point guard with good knowledge of Euro basketball. Argentine came right in time and there is no doubt he will be dishing all over the place. After bad day in Kazan, where the whole squad let head coach Vasiliy Karasev down, Nico bounced back versus Parma with 15 points and 6 assists. There will be much more to come.
Justin Robinson, Avtodor
And now down to a real rookie. Justin Robinson is an absolute dark horse to an average European fan. 5’8″, flashy, Nate Robinson, Isaiah Thomas (you name them) kind a guy, spent 4 years playing for small Monmouth University. Hawks were far from national American recognition, but Robinson found a way to build his own strong resume. Two Conference Player of the year awards and two AP Honorable Mention All-American lists say it all.
Robinson was even more impressive in 2017 Las Vegas NBA Summer League, where he averaged 12.6 points and 3.2 assists for Miami Heat. Although the NBA is far more welcome to “under 6 feet” guys these days, there was no place for guard in Erik Spoelstra`s squad. Later, Justin landed a deal with Avtodor Saratov, a very American-friendly Russian club, where point guard will have a lot of playing time and opportunities to prove his high-octane scoring ability.
Joe Ragland, Lokomotiv
At the age of 27, Wichita State product is probably out of any NBA conversation, but in Europe his name is pretty familiar to a general public. Joe is probably mostly famous for his stretch with Olimpia Milano in 2014-15 season. But he had even bigger success with less luxurious clubs, providing double-digit scoring literally in every place. Last year`s performance for Avellino and the spot in Top 10 scorers list of Italian Serie A with 17.7 PPG provided him a chance to come back to a top league.
At the end of the day it was VTB and Lokomotiv with a need to fill a point guard spot after a departure of Taylor Rochestie. Ragland, paired with another high-profile backcourt newcomer Trevor Lacey, will be responsible not only for scoring, but for the whole dynamic of the team with multiple attacking options. Loko is far from its glorious days with roster full of stars, but the new pack with Ragland in front is intriguing, to say the least.
Trent Lockett, UNICS
Keith Langford is gone. That was the main story in Kazan after lackluster season without Euroleague playoffs and the spot in top European competition this season. It was clear from the start, that replacement of one of the greatest European scoring machines in recent history was mission impossible. UNICS front office took a short route, signing a bunch of quality players, including Trent Lockett.
Marquette graduate has been knocking on the NBA door for a long time, but every time settled for less in Europe. There is no breakout year on his resume, but he is solid scorer from every angle and proved it both with Trento and Real Betis. Plus he had himself a nice showing in recent Las Vegas games with Atlanta, averaging 7.7 points per game. Stephane Lasme and Melvin Ejim are enough to match best bigs in VTB League, but in case of any trouble Trent will always be there, too.