While player trades are common in the NBA, they are not in European basketball. But what could happen this season if EuroLeague clubs were allowed to make trades?
Anadolu Efes Istanbul is facing an injury crisis that has the strongest impact on their frontcourt: starting power forward Derek Willis is out, just like starting center Ante Žižić. But even when the American and Croatian return, the Turkish powerhouse will likely face the issue of protecting their paint.
Head coach Erdem Can’s team is one of the worst defensive outfits in the EuroLeague, especially under the basket, as Efes allows opponents to convert a league-leading 58.9 percent of their two-point field goal attempts. Also, the two-time EuroLeague winners struggle at rebounding, both offensively and defensively.
But there’s a trade that could significantly improve their paint defense: Efes should send point guard Darius Thompson and Žižić to Olympiacos in exchange for center Moustapha Fall.
Last season, Thompson was one of the best offensive orchestrators in the league, averaging 12.6 points per night. And the American wasn’t just someone who wreaked havoc on opposing defenses; he was a capable defender himself.
Many big clubs tried to lure the 28-year-old guard away from Baskonia, and Olympiacos was one of them. Eventually Thompson signed a lucrative deal with Efes, where he hasn’t been able to showcase his game like he did at Baskonia.
Of course, there are different reasons for that. Being one of the poorer EuroLeague teams in terms of budget, Baskonia can’t afford a stacked roster where two or three equally good players occupy each position. No, Thompson was brought in to be the main guy, and he duly delivered.
The story is very different at Efes. Shane Larkin, another American guard, is the team’s most crucial piece and the player through whom the offense runs. Larkin isn’t just a great scorer with one of the fastest first steps in the league; he can also be a very good playmaker.
As Larkin plays a lot of minutes, it’s clear that Thompson doesn’t have the usage rate he had with Baskonia, which has led to him not feeling as confident as he did with the Spanish team. Also, Thompson has to play more off-ball, where players like Rodrigue Beaubois and Elijah Bryant can also excel and limit Thompson’s minutes.
But Thompson’s lackluster season so far doesn’t mean he’s useless because, just like Baskonia’s current star Chima Moneke said: not every system fits everybody, but it doesn’t make you a bad player.
Olympiacos Piraeus, just like Baskonia last year, plays a very team-based and fluid basketball that would be a much better fit for Thompson. After losing Kostas Sloukas to arch-rivals Panathinaikos in the summer, Olympiacos yearns for a creative guard because neither Nigel Williams-Goss nor Thomas Walkup fit the bill.
Again, Williams-Goss and Walkup aren’t bad players either; on the contrary, Walkup is one of the league’s best perimeter defenders, but he’s not a good shooter and isn’t a true point guard. He’s much better at playing alongside an offensive orchestrator, allowing him to put more emphasis on defense. Williams-Goss is the type of combo guard who can go off for 20 points but then be quiet in the next game.
And Fall… You don’t have to ask Sherlock Holmes for help to see why a 218 cm tall defensively solid center is a good option for Efes. Yet it’s also clear that Olympiacos would require another center to be part of the deal because losing Fall would leave Nikola Milutinov as the team’s only center. Žižić makes more sense for Olympiacos as he’s an offensive-minded big that would complement Milutinov well.
A Point Guard is Needed
Olimpia Milan is in desperate need of a point guard. As head coach Ettore Messina vividly pointed out, Kevin Pangos isn’t the right fit for his team’s direction, and the Canadian has been out of the team in recent weeks. Newly crowned world champion Maodo Lo is a good guard, but his game is oriented more towards driving to the basket than focusing on making others better.
In a EuroLeague world where trades are possible, Milan has some assets to offload. As critics and fans have wisely pointed out, Messina constructed a roster with seven power forwards. It’s a (slight) exaggeration, of course, but it proves a point.
For Milan, Nikola Mirotić and Shavon Shields are untouchable as they are core pieces of Messina’s team. In a trade scenario, that leaves them without a chance to land a top point guard like Lorenzo Brown or Nicolas Laprovittola.
Don’t fret, however, as there’s a really good option among the second tier of point guards: Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Tamir Blatt. In a team that boasts superstars Brown and Wade Baldwin IV, Blatt plays 20 minutes a night and dishes out five assists, ranking him second in Maccabi’s team. The Israeli is also a capable three-point shooter and likes to push the tempo – a good quality, considering Milan’s offense is sometimes awfully stagnant – although he’s quite prone to turnovers. But at this stage, Milan should take him in a heartbeat, and Maccabi could afford to lose him thanks to their guard rotation.
To sweeten the deal, Milan could send two players to Maccabi. The shooting threat Billy Baron, who is recovering from injury, and Ismael Kamagate. The latter is an exciting French prospect who excelled as one of the best centers in the EuroCup but doesn’t get EuroLeague minutes in Milan.
Baron would add a dimension to Maccabi’s offense that they don’t have. Also, he should be a really good fit with dominant ballhandlers like Brown and Baldwin, as his constant movement rotates defenses and creates space for everyone.
Why Don’t EuroLeague Teams Trade?
Traditionally, European basketball leagues have not relied on trade mechanisms as a means of team-building. The emphasis has been more on player development, academies, and recruiting rather than the trading of established players.
Additionally, player contracts in Europe differ from those in the NBA. If team X desires a certain player who is playing for another NBA team during the season, the interested party doesn’t have the option to simply buy him out of his contract. The team would need to try to reach a trade agreement, where they would lose more than just money in players and/or future draft picks.
In Europe, a scenario like this is possible, as many players have buyout clauses in their contracts. For example, just before the start of this season, Olympiacos signed Ignas Brazdeikis from Zalgiris Kaunas and paid the Lithuanian club 500,000 euros as a buyout fee. During the season, Olympiacos signed Naz Mitrou-Long from Zalgiris, but it was reported that there wasn’t a buyout, as Mitrou-Long and Zalgiris mutually decided to part ways.
Usually, however, in-season buyouts don’t occur between EuroLeague clubs, but EuroLeague teams do buy players from other European leagues. Like Partizan Belgrade bought out Bruno Caboclo’s deal with the Italian side Venezia in November.