Today’s report by Mozzartsport that Milos Teodosic is considering a move to the NBA didn’t come as a shock. Him openly saying it however was a surprise, writes Emmet Ryan
It’s not been a secret that Milos Teodosic has the NBA on his radar and teams within the NBA are certainly plenty familiar with him. After his impressive displays at the 2014 FIBA World Cup and, moreover, from last summer’s Olympics in Rio, it was only a matter of time before the talk got a little more serious.
The report (with translations via Sportando) was the first time we’ve really heard some solid words from Teodosic on his NBA ambitions.
“I will go to the NBA for sure, but I still don’t know when, in which club and on what terms. We’ll see. CSKA Moscow certainly has an advantage in the negotiations of a new contract…Offers from Grizzlies, Jazz, Spurs or Rockets? I did not get any offers from them. I don’t know who said that…For me this is an error. I like to play and I don’t like to sit on the bench and I would not agree on any contract if I have to sit on the bench. This is my condition for going to the NBA.”
That condition might seem a bit rich to observers across the Atlantic but Teodosic is negotiating from a position of power. He’s the most valuable point guard in Euroleague right now and has a pretty comfortable situation. CSKA Moscow expects success but doesn’t come with the rabid fanbase of some of Euroleague’s other big clubs or the mass media attention he would encounter in a NBA city. There’s also the matter of tax, namely that Europe’s biggest clubs can partially offset their contract weakness compared to the NBA by operating in environments that are far friendlier tax-wise.
The condition however should not be taken as an assumption that Teodosic won’t be willing to play as back-up. He’s smart enough to know that there’s a big difference between sitting behind an All-Star point guard and one below that level when it comes to minutes. If Milos finds a situation where he knows he will be valued and can get real minutes contributing, say the 20+ mins per game, he won’t consider his lack of a starter role that big a handicap.
The tools Milos has are easy to judge, and we’ll get to them in a moment, but one aspect of his experience in Europe that will appeal to NBA teams is that he is used to not starting. While Teodosic logs starter minutes, he comes in off the bench for Dimitris Itoudis and CSKA Moscow. In the odd situation that means the game already feels kind of over when he enters but, more often than not, it’s a chance for him to read the game and present a real change of pace when he enters. Pablo Laso deployed a similar approach with Sergio Rodriguez before Chacho went to the NBA last summer to join the Philadelphia 76ers.
That’s not what has NBA teams lusting after him, it’s just the top tier mustard over your regular grade on a hot dog. As a pure passer he puts up silly numbers in Euroleague. Despite a mid-season dip, he still has more than an assist per game than any other player in the league at 7.6 per (with 2.9 turnovers per game). At 16.9 points per game, he’s having his highest ever scoring season in the competition on 54.9 per cent shooting. While a career 37.3 per cent from deep isn’t setting tongues flapping it’s still comfortably in the top half of NBA point guards by comparison. His biggest asset, visually, however has been his ability to make other players deliver more.
Miroslav Raduljica has looked like an ill-planned signing at each of his stops over the last two years but when the big Serbian centre puts on the national team jersey he has Teodosic making him look like NBA back-up grade. Stick Teodosic with someone with a higher legitimate ceiling, as we saw with Nikola Jokic in the summer, and it’s just scary to watch at times. It’s not just the 1-5 match-up that works for him as a NBA fit, he sees the floor well and knows how to make optimal use of role players around him. That, combined with the obvious confidence, is making him look like a good fit now.
Of course, he wasn’t always sought after so hard and that’s suiting Teodosic’s current situation. Having gone undrafted, Milos doesn’t have to worry about negotiating with just one suitor. That benefits both his situation with CSKA and his ability to see what could be on the table for him in the NBA.
Looking at the fit factor, it’s hard to know what exactly Teodosic is going to look at. He could chase a ring from the off, which would suit his competitive streak, but the number of options on that front that would give him real minutes aren’t as deep as the other tiers of the NBA. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have it in mind, just that he knows he could carve out a solid 5+ year career in the NBA so there’s no need to rush.
His optimal situation is to find a team not terrible and on the up. Were the Bucks not so radically different a proposition with Giannis Antetokounmpo at point guard they would actually spring to mind fast but the teams that jump out really are the four he listed personally as not making offers. With Mike Conley in Memphis, it’s not going to be easy to get high impact minutes but the rest of what’s on that roster slots neatly around Teodosic’s game. The willingness of the Rockets and Spurs to adjust and find ways to make guys work, and the Jazz is another place where Teodosic could really work his magic while offering one of the nearest comparisons to a Moscow market in the league when it comes to external pressure. That’s not a diss on the local media in Salt Lake, the market size being a touch smaller means the city is quite different to larger city or higher profile city.
Philadelphia is certainly interesting, particularly as it would give him a chance to work with Chacho, while the Knicks will come up in conversation because the Knicks always come up in conversation. Of course he could just chase money but there’s reason to believe the short-term dollar ammount won’t be enough to sway him if he doesn’t like the prospects. All of this however assumes one thing; that he goes this summer.
Teodosic hits free agency in July and will get a good offer from CSKA but, despite the tax situation, still one that a NBA team can blow out of the water if it really wants him. For Teodosic the timing just seems to fit really well. He’s done everything he set out to do, finally winning Euroleague on his sixth trip to the Final Four, to go with his 5 VTB Leagues (the Russia plus clubs nearbyish league), and 2 Greek cups, He already has Euroleague MVP in the bag and is favourite for another this season. He has conquered all he seeks to at club level here and he’s got a good chance of finally adding a major international crown at EuroBasket next autumn, having silvers from that competition in 2009, the World Cup in 2014, and Rio.
For CSKA, it’s a massive void to fill and one they will fight like mad to avoid having to this summer at least. A one-year contract may sway Teodosic for this year, maybe, but the Russian giants have the resources to rebuild if he leaves. The real question is what it’s going to mean for European basketball.
While Vassilis Spanoulis is the nearest thing to a face of Euroleague, to the point that he’s literally in this site’s logo, Teodosics has been the star attraction of the revamped league. The 16-team 30-game format has given the fans more meaning Milos moments (I’m going to hell for that one) against top tier opponents year round. There are players on his level, not many but a few, and his talent can be replaced but his game can’t. Teodosic makes Euroleague objectively cooler. It was a moment Savas Birdal compared to when Sarunas Jasikevicius went for his stint in the NBA a decade ago. Yes, he had the talent and the offer was right, but there was no question the league was much poorer for his loss than the NBA gained from his addition.
That impact won’t be as easy to judge if and, purely selfishly, lamentably when he goes but it will be there. It’s not like a Dimitris Diamantidis or Juan Carlos Navarro giving in to age nor is it like when a Dario Saric makes the jump as he is approaching the elite level here. It’s a player who is delivering the best basketball of his life making the move at his prime. That’s going to be tough to take. Our best always go across the water, it’s often the best for them but it’s never easy to see them go.