Four weeks of the Euroleague season are in the books -- basically the equivalent of the NBA season rounding Christmas and heading towards another year, or perhaps, in more relevant terms, Roger Mason Jr. rounding Adam Silver and heading towards another direct message.
It's a shame that Jonas Valančiūnas*, the 5th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, plays for a team competing in the second tier European club competition, the EuroCup, this year. Valančiūnas played in the top level Euroleague as an 18-year-old a year ago; while he struggled with defense and fouls, he also shot 80 percent from the floor and led the Euroleague in total rebounding percentage at a Loveian 23 percent clip.
But Lithuania's ability to spawn fantastically diverse big men hasn't failed us in the past -- Arvydas Sabonis, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Darius "Dongaila" Songaila all say "labas" -- nor is it about to do so in the near future. Donatas Motiejūnas*, the 20th selection in the '11 draft, plays for the Polish side Asseco in this year's edition of the Euroleague, and while his skillset is considerably different from Valančiūnas', he's fascinating in his own way.
Motiejūnas was stuck with the dreaded "Andrea Bargnani clone" label approximately 12 seconds after impressive performances in Italy made him a 2010 draft candidate. It's unfortunately a comparison he won't be able to shake immediately; even though he handles far better on the perimeter, his shot form is more dynamic and less flat-footed, and he has better court vision, he's still ultimately a perimeter big. That's a field, of course, in which you're either Dirk Nowitzki or you're not.
Motiejūnas, to his credit, appears as if he'll be a highly entertaining player to follow. There was the post-draft interview where he jokingly (one presumes) issued a sort of half-threat to Dwight Howard, and, as Bill Simmons explained on draft day, there's his eagle chest tattoo, in existence because "I really like the attitudes of eagles. They never give up. When they grab a fish or something else, they never let it go. It doesn't matter. In a book, they write they find a skeleton of [an] eagle and there is no fish. It means that the fish beat him and killed him, but he didn't let go." And then there's the fact that he grew up playing for the Arvydas Sabonis School youth team. Perhaps any meaningful link between the Sabonis school and the 7'3 Larry Bird himself is an imagined one on my part, but it's pause-worthy (not the Dwight Howard kind) nonetheless.
On Wednesday, Motiejūnas played a fairly physical game against Russian side Unics, leading the game in rebounds (offensive and defensive) and fouls drawn. D-Mo essentially turned in a solid performance in spite of his perimeter game, shooting just 1 for 5 from three. That's a welcome sign because even if his long-term upside is irrevocably dependent on his perimeter abilities, it'll be the rest of his game that keeps him on court to achieve that potential.
With the team groupings keeping most of the elite teams from facing each other until January, it feels rash to make too many broad proclamations at this stage.
But two things appear abundantly clear at this point: KK Zagreb, who lost 89-47 to Moscow last week and are now in possession of a -106 point differential four weeks into the season, are really quite terrible, and FC Barcelona, who played their "closest" game of the season in a 17-point blowout of Siena on Thursday, are really quite good.
And much like the football Barcelona, the basketball team appears to be built very much on balance. Against Siena, Barcelona used 11 different players (heh, 11) for double-digit minutes (the game wasn't a genuine blowout until the fourth quarter). Seven different players had at least seven points, this a week after the team achieved similarly balanced play in their demolition of Unics. Also Juan Carlos Navarro is their Messi!
The Eurofile will be watching Barcelona closely next week, eager to slip in any further forced basketball/football comparisons it can wrap its snood around.
THE NBA, ABROAD
Boston's Nenad Krstic (Moscow) scored 13 points on 10 shots, including some clutch free throws in his team's overtime victory over Panathinaikos.
Utah's Andrei Kirilenko (Moscow) scored just nine points in 38 minutes in the same game.
Dallas' Rudy Fernandez (Madrid) attempted eight threes en route to scoring 13 points, while his Madrid teammate, Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka, collected four fouls in a mere 12 minutes.
Madrid consequently lost to Acie Law's Partizan. Law scored 14 points on 16 shots.
Minnesota's Nikola Pekovic (Partizan) led all scorers in this game with 20 points.
Denver's Danilo Gallinari (Armani Jeans) didn't start, but scored 17 points on just eight shots off the bench.
Washington's Kevin Seraphin (Caja Laboral) scored 12 points, but his teammate, Golden State's Reggie Williams, struggled with six points on seven shots and three turnovers off the bench.
Portland's Nicolas Batum (Nancy) received weekly MVP honors for his 21 points on nine shots in his team's win against Caja Laboral.
Oklahoma City's Thabo Sefalosha (Fenerbahce) missed all his shots from inside the arc and finished with four points, but a team-high four assists.
New Jersey's Sasha Vujacic (Anadolu Efes) launched 13 threes, missing 9 of them, as his team lost to Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Milwaukee's Ersan Ilyasova, Vujacic's teammate, scored 9 points and also had 6 rebounds.
On the flip side, New Jersey's Jordan Farmar continued his terrific start to the season, scoring 18 points on 10 shots, along with 6 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals for Maccabi.
And finally, Denver's Ty Lawson (Kaunas) scored 8 points on 2 field goal attempts in a substitute appearance, and his teammate, Nobody's Sonny Weems scored 22 points to lead all scorers in the game.