The NBA issued its annual GM survey on Tuesday, and the results, for the most part, were what you’d expect: The majority of the league’s decision-makers believe the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will meet in the Finals for the third straight season, the Warriors will retake the throne, LeBron James is good at basketball, Stephen Curry can shoot, Kawhi Leonard plays solid defense, etc.
The most interesting answer — outside of some GM tabbing Kevin Durant for “most likely to have a breakout season,” as if it’s possible for a 28-year-old former MVP to catch us by surprise — was that a majority of GMs (53.6 percent) dubbed Milos Teodosic as the best international player not in the NBA.
For those who didn’t watch basketball at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where Teodosic scored 18 points on nine shots and added six assists in a near pool-play upset of Team USA, he is a 6-foot-5, 192-pound Serbian point guard who’s a freaking magician with the orb in his hands.
But his contribution to his home country’s silver-medal finish was far from surprising for anybody who has been paying attention to international basketball for the past decade. Teodosic led Serbia to FIBA Europe gold medals at the Under-16, Under-18 and Under-20 levels in 2003, 2005 and 2007, respectively, capturing MVP honors at the final stage before joining the senior national team. Since then, he’s also steered Serbia to silver medals at the 2009 EuroBasket and 2014 FIBA World Cup.
Professionally, Teodosic has played for two of the most high-profile teams in the EuroLeague for the past decade. In the third of four seasons with Greek-based Olympiacos, he swept EuroLeague MVP and FIBA Europe Player of the Year honors in 2009-10. This past season, his fifth with CSKA Moscow, he averaged 21.6 points, 7.6 assists and 3.6 rebounds per 36 minutes on his way to the EuroLeague title.
So, in a league that’s seen not one, but two general managers trade first-round picks for Jiri Welsch, why in Darko Milicic’s name hasn’t an NBA team given Teodosic an opportunity to run point for them?
The answer isn’t so simple. Considered a defensive liability who hadn’t yet found the shooting stroke that’s since helped him shoot 40 percent from 3-point range in three EuroLeague campaigns, Teodosic went un-drafted when he became eligible in 2009. From a detailed DraftExpress profile a year earlier:
“If everything goes as expected, Teodosic is bound to become a European star. NBA-wise, he fills the bill for the skilled and unathletic Euro guard who struggles to make a transition to a physically very demanding league. Somebody might be interested in him in the second round, but that’s not even a given.”
The Memphis Grizzlies offered Teodosic a two-year, $5 million deal three years ago, right around the time he torched fellow European wunderkind Ricky Rubio and the Minnesota Timberwolves for 26 points, nine assists and five rebounds in CSKA Moscow’ss 108-106 victory in the 2013 NBA preseason.
Instead, Teodosic re-upped with CSKA Moscow for three years and an estimated $7 million in June 2014. That eliminated the NBA as an option until after his 30th birthday in 2017. And based on a blog he wrote for Eurohoops.net in September, he sure seems bound to be Stateside next summer.
In the past I felt that playing in the NBA was not something really close to me. Now, I think about it. I want to travel to the States, play in the NBA and compete against the best players in the world. Maybe now I am more ready mentally and also on the court. I know what I can do it, I believe in myself and I have no doubts or second thoughts.
He went on to describe how the NBA’s slightly bigger courts and more talented finishers, both from distance and in the pick-and-roll, cater to his style of play as a shot maker and creator. However, he also set strict guidelines for the type of team he’s looking for — a winning team with minutes to spare.
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I want to go to the NBA and I know that I can establish myself there and really contribute. I will not sign anywhere just to be able to say that I played in the NBA. I need the whole package that will excite me. So it depends on what offers I get as a free agent and the way the teams approach and talk to me.
In addition to the limited options he might find among contenders in need of point guards, there’s this reminder from international basketball guru David Pick from a Basketball Insiders interview last year: “Milos Teodosic can’t guard a practice cone to save his life. His offense, at times, is borderline brilliance and I love watching him hoop. But he can’t even guard Dick Bavetta on the sidelines.”
Then again, there’s always room for brilliant playmakers who don’t play defense. After all, the Chicago Bulls gave Rajon Rondo $28 million to be their point guard for the next two years, and he doesn’t even have anything close to the shooting track record Teodosic has put together over the past 10 years.
And if we learned anything from the NBA GM survey, it’s that most teams would still give the Serb a shot a decade after they could have secured his draft rights. Only now, with salaries skyrocketing, he may be looking at an eight-figure payday if he does decide to leave the EuroLeague next summer.
Oh, and here’s a wacky theory, just for fun. Spurs coach Ettore Messina, who received at least one vote on the GM survey as the NBA’s top assistant, coached Teodosic for two seasons on CSKA Moscow. Tony Parker will be entering the final year of his contract as a 35-year-old next summer. So, San Antonio, ever an international player’s destination, might be that contender in need of a point guard.
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