Will do a series of these Making The Jump articles with the focus on players moving up in level. And with an extra focus on rookie, D-League, or NBA players making their first foray into Europe. The first edition will focus on the Euroleague’s new blood.
Jason Thompson: Shandong Golden Stars to Fenerbahce
After canvassing the CBA last season for a few weeks, Simon and I both came back thinking the same center was the best option for Euroleague, Jason Thompson. So when Fenerbahce signed him, it was exciting to know he was making the jump.
Udoh’s replacement fits a similar profile to the Final Four MVP. Thompson is a long, strong offensive rebounding missile. The motor has always been there. And this isn’t some undersized center, Thompson is 6’11” and takes up a lot of space. He can play in pick and roll or Obradovic surely will be creative using him on cuts, high-low packages, and getting him putback chances in those daunted 2-big lineups. From his CBA minutes Thompson flashes a little bit of a face-up game and did show a respectable handle for a 5. Like Udoh he’s not really a post-up player, a post-up usually just turns into a face-up opportunity closer to the basket. Obradovic may even eliminate these. Doesn’t have a smooth scoring game, variety of push shots or power finishes, it’s not elegant. But after years of being basically a glorified garbage man in the NBA, he was never really looked at to create his own shot. Run the floor hard, hammer the glass, and cover space on defense.
The question as always with a player who’s made a fair amount of coin in the NBA, what’s his motivation level at? NBA feedback was lukewarm during the season on Thompson. Fenerbahce has got a gruelingly long schedule with Obradovic practices and lots of travel. But this isn’t some former NBA bench warmer, Thompson played legit minutes and a fairly big role for years, he’s a pro. And with brother Ryan already playing for years in Europe I’m sure he’s well versed on how things run over here. Udoh is impossible to replace but Thompson, in this market, is as close as Fenerbahce was going to get.
Phil Pressey: Santa Cruz Warriors to FC Barcelona
Finally Pressey makes the jump to Europe and with a market sapped of quality playmakers, he’s one of the best available options. Pressey is a grinder, works on defense and gets his teammates involved on offense. He’s been loved in most places he’s been including Boston and various D-League stops in Idaho and Santa Cruz. He’s an in-control playmaker who plays at a good pace and handles the ball a lot. Pressey can really pass, even to a fault as he can force action. But he’s got wheels and loves to attack. He’s an on-ball, point of attack defender. Even though he’s small he gets up into the opposing point guard. Has always been a ball thief.
Pressey couldn’t stay in the NBA because of how bad the shooting numbers were. 34% from the field and 25% from 3 is not a recipe for staying on a roster. But he’s definitely made strides with his shooting in the D-League. Where development can actually happen. But still the outside shooting is not consistent. And remember D-League percentages can be somewhat misleading, these are easier shots with not a lot of closeout pressure or defensive physicality.
The only way this move likely makes sense is if Tyrese Rice leaves, two guards at this size usually doesn’t work. And similar to what Euroleague coaches do to Rice they’ll do to Pressey. While Pressey is a much better on-ball defender, coaches will put him in help or switch situations where his lack of size can be a problem. But overall Pressey is a solid pick, just finding lineups to play him in could be tough, does he fit with Heurtel, Navarro, or Kopoenen? This is a player who Danny Ainge has referred to as having ‘magic’ and Barcelona is a team this season that could use some.
Josh Adams: Avtodor Saratov to Anadolou Efes
Probably the most surprising Euroleague signing of the summer. In Las Vegas I heard Perasovic wanted ‘a player with no limits’. So Adams is a ‘no limits’ player and a more sturdy but ‘limited’ veteran pick was not in the cards. And to start, if you’re going to trust any coach with a player like this, it has to be Persavoic after that magical Baskonia season with Mike James and Darius Adams.
Adams had a strange rookie season and it was no fault of his own. After signing one of the biggest rookie contracts in Europe with Avtodor, he got into a vicious car crash in the summer that held him out for half of the season and there were even questions if he’d return at all. By the time Adams returned in mid-January (didn’t get rolling till February) Avtodor was already on their way out of the FIBA BCL and middling in the VTB League. But Adams showed those same crazy athletic flashes he had at Wyoming.
I lived on the west coast during Adams’ college years and frequently saw him play. Was even in Vegas when he and Larry Nance Jr. went on a tear at the Mountain West conference tournament to get Wyoming to the NCAA tournament. Adams’ athleticism is breathtaking truly and his leaping ability at his size is NBA dunk contest worthy. Adams also has a super swagger and highlight ability to his game, there will definitely be some plays of the week from him. But last year was basically a wash, Adams is a pseudo-rookie, and this is a giant step. Will he have the ability to run the offense, make consistent reads, and be able to uncork his athleticism at the proper times? Of course Perasovic will give him freedom and could bring him along slowly but Adams has the steepest learning curve in the Euroleague.
Cory Jefferson: Austin Spurs to Olimpia Milano
Coming out of Baylor Jefferson was a big, long athlete who was a dunk finisher and inside presence defensively. But in recent years Jefferson has stretched his game out and his mid-range and even 3-point shot look like semi-real threats. This stretch ability could end up being key to Jefferson’s success.
The problem has been trying to figure out Jefferson’s real role outside the D-League and how he translates. Jefferson still has that same size but not entirely the same bounce, he’s not a super rim protector by any means. But he moves well. And he’s better when he’s set up in a more finishing focused role, whether it’s dunks or open shots, than having to create scoring opportunities. He’s at a time in his career where his game needs more definition and if Milano can help him iron that out it’d be huge for both parties.
Anthony Gill: Yesilgiresun to Khimki Moscow
Gill was a stalwart for those really good Virginia teams with Malcolm Brogdan, Joe Harris, Justin Anderson… He was the super role player, showing off his versatility in UVA’s pack line defense, and carving out a role on offense. Gill truly is a combo big, could see a Augustine Rubit or James Augustine like future for him. But in the Euroleague I expect he’ll mainly be a 4, which is what he was at Summer League. He has a cool mid-range face-up game and was super duper efficient last season as we profiled in our end of season rookie rankings.
Going from a bad Turkish League team to the Euroleague is certainly a jump but Gill had good reps against those top Turkish EL clubs last year and has been through the ACC wars. And he was an old rookie, he’s already 24.5 years old. And old rookies have early success in Europe, like his elder counterparts Maodo Lo, Nic Moore, Trey Lewis, Adam Smith, and John Brown last season. Gill is tough, makes plays off the ball, and can grow into a defensive role. For the Euroleague he needs to be able to stretch out to 3 more consistently and have the foot speed to defend opposing power forwards. These are his career 3-point shooting numbers:
2011-12 South Carolina: 11-28
2013-14 Virginia: 0-0
2014-15 Virginia: 0-1
2015-16 Virginia: 2-2
2016-17 Yesilgiresun: 20-43
Pierre Jackson: Texas Legends/Dallas Mavericks to Maccabi Tel Aviv
One of the quickest guys with the ball in his hands in the world. Jackson is an absolute jet. He had a killer month last season with Cedevita (146 points in 7 ABA/EC games) but then bolted for some more D-League action and an eventual call-up with the Dallas Mavericks. But Jackson quickly got injured with the Mavs and opened up the door for the Yogi Ferrell emergence. Jackson has high level scoring ability, quickness obviously, and an ability to make plays off the dribble. Talent is not the issue. The issue is does a guy who’s always been so NBA focused want to stick around for 10 pressure filled months in Maccabi. He left Asvel after only a few weeks as a rookie (2013), had a brief stint with Fenerbahce later that same season where he came in February and left in April, and he had the one month layover with Cedevita last season.
Axel Toupane: Raptors 905/Milwaukee Bucks/NOLA Pelicans to Zalgiris Kaunas
Solid wing pickup for Zalgiris. Toupane has great size, at points during this season could see him playing 2-3-4 but his natural spot is in the small forward role. He’s really got a strong, sturdy frame with a 6-10 1/2 wingspan. Makes efficient plays, doesn’t hold on to the ball but attacks, shoots, or gives it up. Was a very good defender in the D-League and was a key contributor to a Raptors 905 team that won the D-League championship (Toupane was in the NBA for the D-League playoffs). He got just as good of a physical profile as the departed Royce O’Neal and it wouldn’t be surprising if Toupane ends up being just as good as what O’Neal could have been. He’ll also pickup nice experience this summer as France just called him to their Eurobasket squad after recent injuries.
Ray McCallum: Grand Rapids Drive/Charlotte Hornets to Unicaja Malaga
Early on with the Sacramento Kings McCallum looked like a long-term NBA player. But after being trade to the Spurs it really hasn’t worked out, which is strange for a Spurs experiment. McCallum is a big, powerful guard. When he gets moving downhill it’s damn tough for other guards to stick to him. He settled for a lot of pull-up jump shots in the D-League, didn’t always seem motivated there. But the physical talent is immense so if McCallum comes overseas with the proper attitude it can be a huge addition for Unicaja.