Euroleague playoffs kick off tomorrow. For Clippers fans, there are two players of primary interest. The first, 6-11 small forward Jan Vesely, projects as a lottery pick. The Clippers own the NBA rights to the second, Sofo Schortsanitis. Big Sofo has been playing some of the best basketball of his career in recent months.
Both Jonathan Givony of Draft Express and Chad Ford of ESPN.com have Vesely as the No. 11 pick in the upcoming draft. The 19-year-old small forward has been starting for Partizan Belgrade, who opens its Euroleague quarterfinal series against Maccabi Tel Aviv tomorrow. The first thing that jumps off the screen when you watch film of Vesely is his uncanny ability to find open space on the floor working off the ball. He moves incessantly in the half court off screens and on cuts to spots on the floor where his teammates can find him for an open look. Vesely is shooting 56.4 percent from 2-point range and 47.6 percent from beyond the arc in 16 games of Euroleague play. You rarely spot Vesely taking a bad shot which, given his youth, is pretty remarkable. In a few months, the young Czech has gone from an energy guy who thrives in transition and whose length and athleticism made him a defensive specialist to a versatile player with a rapidly emerging skill set. Never known for his handle, Vesely has improved both his dribble game and his perimeter stroke. Despite his stature, Vesely doesn’t work much down low, except when freed up on a baseline screen. You’ll rarely see him with his back to the basket. Many insiders believe Vesely could contribute immediately as an NBA rotation player at either forward spot. Givony reports that Vesely’s current contract carries a significant buyout, which means he could conceivably get drafted by an NBA team, but remain in Belgrade.
We’ve been hearing about Sofo for so long, it’s incredible he’s only 24 years old. The dominant theme of his pro career — and a primary barometer of his success — has been his conditioning. Right now, Sofo looks terrific. He’s still a robust dude who will never be described as agile even when he’s in great shape, but his mobility is far better than anything we’ve seen of late. Ball in Europe wrote up this report last week:
Look out, upcoming Olympiacos opponents: Big Sofo is just starting to heat up. After a marginal season in Euroleague play up in the early going (BiE is blaming it on that H1N1 the big man contracted in the autumn), Sofoklis Schortsanitis turned in his peak Euroleague performance of 2009-10 a week and a half ago, going for 19 points in just 18 minutes of playing time (read: “time spent dominating the paint”) against helpless Baskonia.
This weekend, the Red chased up his humdrum 2-of-6 showing in the BC Khimki game by taking the ESAKE All-Star Game MVP award with statistics insane even for such an exhibition: Would you believe 42 points of 19-of-21 shooting, including 3-of-5 on threes and a perfect 16-of-16 from within the arc?
I took the opportunity to watch Sofo in that game against Baskonia, and he absolutely brutalized defenders on the block. When delivered the ball down low, Sofo sealed his defender away from the baseline to give himself plenty of space for an easy layup. On one possession, Sofo did just that but encountered defenders filling from the weak side. How did Sofo respond? He switched hands and kissed the ball off the glass. The Clippers will have only five players under contract at the end of the season. Although three of those are bigs (Chris Kaman, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan), the Clips will still need additional bodies for their frontcourt rotation. Could 2010-11 be the season we finally see Sofo in Clippers’ gear?