Baskonia, who finished 9th in last season’s EuroLeague and 2nd in the domestic league, is undergoing changes this summer as several key players are leaving. While there have been additions in certain positions, there has been no announcement regarding the most crucial replacement – a new playmaker.
The current point guard Darius Thompson, brought from Lokomotiv Kuban in Krasnodar, Russia, had a fantastic debut season in the EuroLeague. The American was one of the best rookies in the top club competition in Europe, if not the best.
The 28-year-old playmaker shone in multiple aspects of the game. When needed, he provided sharpness. When needed, he shot from the perimeter and made three-pointers with an impressive 38.4% accuracy. When needed, he found open teammates, evidenced by an average of 6.7 assists per game. Moreover, Thompson was not a defensive liability, far from it!
Baskonia’s financial capabilities are limited
One of the first summer signings for Baskonia is Niccoló Mannion. The 22-year-old Italian, who had an unremarkable season with Virtus Bologna last year, will try to find new steam with the Spanish side. To be honest, it is highly unlikely that Mannion will be Baskonia’s starting point guard for the new season. Mannion is also participating in the NBA Summer League with the Milwaukee Bucks, so it is not excluded that Mannion will return overseas.
As for Thompson, he is most frequently linked with Olimpia Milano, Panathinaikos and Fenerbahçe Istanbul. There are likely more suitors, and considering Baskonia’s financial limitations, it is only a matter of time before the American’s departure will happen. According to the media, the Spanish club would earn €500,000 from his departure, which will undoubtedly be put to good use.
It is also clear that Thompson’s departure would leave a significant void that cannot be filled with an already established player. The reason again being money, or rather the lack thereof. It is unrealistic to expect that Baskonia could replace him with the likes of Olympiacos’ Kostas Sloukas, Anadolu Efes’ Shane Larkin, or any other A-class playmaker.
Therefore, we come to Baskonia’s aid and help them find a new starting point guard, whose partnership with the big-man Kotsar hopefully matches Thompson’s!
No shorties please
First of all, we shouldn’t consider short players. No, we’re not referring to Santa’s little helpers, but rather very short point guards, as Baskonia already has enough short players in the lineup. And as we saw with Markus Howard or Max Heidegger, opponents immediately target the height advantage.
So, let’s forget about T.J. Shorts (175 cm), who had an outstanding season with Bonn in Germany and was named the Most Valuable Player in both the Bundesliga and the Basketball Champions League. Let’s not consider the 178 cm tall Yago dos Santos either, whose season in Germany was also impressive, helping Ulm win the Bundesliga as they defeated Bonn in the finals.
One player who could be on Baskonia’s radar is Kevin Pangos. Yes, he is not a giant either, but 185 cm is much better than 175 cm or 178 cm. The Canadian-Slovenian playmaker wore the Milanese jersey, but according to speculations, he will not have a place in the club for the upcoming season.
In good form, Pangos is one of the best point guards in the EuroLeague. Let’s take the 2020-21 season, for example, when he represented Zenit St. Petersburg, where he averaged 13.5 points and 6.7 assists. Pangos is a smart player who does not make hasty decisions and composure is particularly important for Baskonia since the team plays a very fast-paced style of basketball with players whose shot selection and efficiency are not the best. Howard and Vanja Marinković are prime examples.
Baskonia has been linked with Jerian Grant as well. The 196 cm tall American, who was one of the leaders of Ankara Türk Telekom, a EuroCup finalist, averaged 14.9 points and 6.1 assists last season. He was also named the Most Valuable Player of the EuroCup.
Several parallels can be drawn between Grant and Thompson. Before joining Baskonia, Thompson also excelled in the EuroCup and such players are likely much cheaper than Pangos, who has already proven himself in the EuroLeague. Both Grant and Thompson are athletic players with good defensive capabilities for point guards. Thus, Grant would arguably be the best choice for Baskonia.
If Baskonia’s gaze is already on the EuroCup, they could also look towards J’Covan Brown. The player from Hapoel Tel Aviv had a statistically similar season to Grant, being slightly better than his compatriot in some areas and slightly worse in others. Brown, who is 190 cm tall, averaged 12.3 points and 6.7 assists in European competitions.
In any case, it is clear that selecting a new starting point guard is tremendously important for Baskonia because, as the basketball cliché goes, “The cornerstones of a team are a good point guard and a center.” The latter is already there with Maik-Kalev Kotsar; now it’s time to find the former!