European player recruiting is a game of season averages, arguably a game of early-season averages. There is a recency bias in watching basketball, but statistically, who do you think is the talk of the league for most of the season: The point guard who averages 14 points and 6 assists in the first half of the season and 8 and 3 in the second, or the guy with 8 and 3 in the first and 14 and 6 in the second?
Just because it’s fun, here is a selection of ten players who outperformed their early-season per game averages, and no — that does not necessarily mean improved performance. Players had to play 10 games before and 10 games after the 1st of February for the same club to qualify. There’s a number of players who changed teams and improved; those were not in the group of players I looked at.
(There’s more, and there’s an equal number of players who dropped post-January, but I’m not going to mention them here.)
Kyle Kuric, Estudiantes, 24.7 years, Shooting Two-Guard
Kuric played college ball in Louisville and is an Estudiantes player since summer 2012. Kuric is finishing his 2013/14 campaign strong, averaging 17.1 points per game on an otherwordly 1.21 points per possession and 45.5 percent three point shooting on over six attempts per game since the beginning of February. He had shown late-season improvement in 2012-13 already, which was largely due to an increase in playing time.
Daniel Theis, ratiopharm Ulm, 22.1 years, Mobile Power Forward/Center
Not having started playing basketball until the age of 15 but adding to his game step by step ever since, Theis is improving at a frantic pace now. The athletic 4/5 was caught struggling for playing time in a deep frontcourt rotation of Keaton Nankivil, Ian Hummer/Greg Mangano (power forward), Matt Howard and Trent Plaisted (center) early in the season but more than came through as the season progressed. Theis not just scored the ball better post-January, but rebounding also jumped in increased minutes, plus a five game stretch of nearly three blocks per game in late February/early March. Points per possession increased from 0.919 (before February) to 1.018 (since) despite just 29.6 percent three point shooting in the second half of the season. Theis has an out clause in his contract, and a move to a BBL powerhouse this summer would not shock anyone.
Clint Capela, Chalon-sur-Saone, 20.0 years, Defensive/Finishing Center
Improvement in Capela’s per game averages is a lot about playing time, but the jump in minutes is significant in itself. Not every young (especially young, “defensive”) big can go 27 minutes per game through a period of three and a half months (I would argue Jusuf Nurkic can not at this point) as Capela has done since the beginning of February. Capela’s per minute production has not collapsed with increased playing time (PPP has slightly improved from 1.052 to 1.081), except for a significant drop in blocked shots: He’s only blocking half as many shots (Oct-Jan vs Feb-May) despite playing 8 1/2 more minutes a game. A little-explored but not unusual pattern, with foul trouble considerations likely playing their part.
J’Covan Brown, KAOD, 24.3 years, Scoring Point Guard
The young American scoring guard is posting 19.8 points per game and 1.127 points per possession since the beginning of February, which is top-notch for a high-usage shot creator. Brown averaged 20 points a game in his final season in Texas but had a difficult first A1 season in Rhetymno. Brown’s grind should literally pay off this summer.
Ramon Galloway, Fraport Skyliners, 23.3 years, Scoring/Playmaking Two-Guard
A difficult rookie season for Galloway, who was released by the club (citing “disciplinary reasons”) just as he was starting to produce as a rare shot creator on this homogenous but still young and limited Frankfurt team. Arriving from Igokea in November, Galloway had produced just 5.8 points per game (0.706 PPP) in 21 minutes per game in the BBL pre-February, but posted 13.2 points per game (0.928 PPP) in 28.2 minutes per game since, showing plenty of promise.
Thomas Heurtel, Laboral Kutxa, 25.1 years, Playmaking Point Guard
Heurtel, who hardly needs introduction, is pass-first playmaker by choice not by limitation and switched into scoring mode in the second part of the season as Walter Hodge was replaced by the passing-minded Guiseppe Poeta. Heurtel’s assist to field goal attempt ratio dropped from 0.87 (pre-February) to 0.62 (since) and his scoring increased by nearly five points per game despite just a 1.4 increase in minutes per game. He scored the ball on a very strong 1.058 PPP since the beginning of February, up from 0.875 in lower usage.
Erick Green, Montepaschi Siena, 23.0 years, Scoring Point/Two-Guard
Erick Green led the NCAA in scoring for most of the 2012-13 season while playing for Virginia Tech, but failed to average double figures as a rookie for Montepaschi Siena in the October-January period, averaging 9.2 points per game in 21.2 minutes per game in Serie A games (Euroleague games are excluded). He’s averaging an excellent 15.1 points in 25.8 minutes a game since the beginning of February, all on 1.177 PPP, teaming up with Marquez Haynes to fill the scoring void left by Daniel Hackett’s departure in what has been a turbulent season in Siena. A major plus for him has been his ability to produce points without turning the ball over, averaging just a little over one turnover a game in February-May.
Lukas Festr, USK Praha, 19.8 years, Point Guard
Teenage playmaker Lukas Festr, a long-time presence in Czech youth national teams, exploded in the second half of the season, logging large minutes at the expense of another young Czech, Michal Sotnar. Festr averaged 13.7 points per game since the beginning of February (including a late five-game span where he averaged nearly 20/7), while scoring on a solid 0.947 points per possessions. He also averaged 5.2 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game. USK are an all-Czech team coached by former Bamberg, Braunschweig, Gießen head coach Ken Scalabroni. They finished 13-29 in the NBL’s regular season. The level of play behind still unbeaten Nymburk (who rank 22nd in the Euroleague/Eurocup club ranking) is suspect, though.
O’Darien Bassett, Bourg-en-Bresse, 28.0 years, Scoring/Playmaking Point Guard
This might well be a random bulge in Bassett’s season, but the 28-year-old has been killing the Pro B in the second half of the season, leading Bourg-en-Bresse into the Pro B playoff semifinals, where they are leading Evreux 1-0 (Game 2 was in progress at the time of writing). He’s been averaging 18 points and 1.151 PPP (which is excellent in shot creator context) since the beginning of February, while dishing out 5 assists per game and keeping turnovers (2.2) fairly limited. Bassett averaged 11.8 points per game on 0.915 PPP in 26 games before February.
Kyryl Natyazhko, Azovmash, 23.5 years, Power Forward
Plenty of foreign players fled Ukraine in early 2014, creating a void that was left to be filled by home-grown talent. Natyazhko had an eye-catching Eurobasket 2013 performance which he failed to back up in the first half of the Ukranian Superleague season. His playing time jumped from 11.2 (before February) to 26.2 minutes per game (since). He scored 13.2 points per game since the beginning of February, though against weakened competition. This is more about increased playing time than improved performance, even if Natyazhko did push his possession efficiency from 0.855 points per possession (before February) to 0.986 (since).