The Spurs should consider taking a flyer on two former Euroleague MVPs

The Spurs should consider taking a flyer on two former Euroleague MVPs
Scott Kinser-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio could find cheap playmaking and shooting in Vasilije Micic and Sasha Vezenkov, two proven talents still trying to find their way in the NBA.

The Spurs were pioneers in looking overseas for talent. In the contending years under Gregg Popovich, they scouted the FIBA game well and added rotation players who learned their trade in Europe.

Since those days the league has caught up and players are in teams’ radars early. More and more international prospects get drafted and join the league quickly, and the ones who can’t perform at the highest level are discarded. It’s harder now to find uncovered gems overseas.

But what about some highly decorated players who made the leap and simply didn’t have the opportunity to adjust? If the team is looking to add some veterans to replace the ones it has lost, taking a look at some European standouts on short, team-friendly deals could be worth it in this transitional period.

Vasilije Micic could be the big combo guard the Spurs need

Last season the coaching staff tried to play bigger ball handlers at point guard, with Jeremy Sochan and then Malaki Branham being the lead guards. In past years, they used Josh Richardson and Josh Primo as main ball handlers off the bench. Tre Jones ended up as the starter because the others struggled, but the idea of a big playmaker is clearly appealing to Gregg Popovich.

Enter Vasilije Micic. The 30-year-old 6’5 point guard joined the Thunder last season after being crowned Euroleague MVP but couldn’t crack the rotation for a contender. He came off the bench for 30 games and struggled with scoring and efficiency, which wasn’t hugely surprising for his adaptation period. Then he was traded to the Hornets and his numbers improved in a bigger role, with his assist percentage in particular climbing heavily. Micic, who didn’t find his stroke from outside in the NBA, also worked with the Hornets’ shot doctor despite shooting over 37 percent from outside for his career, which shows he’s humble and willing to continue to learn. A veteran with no ego trying to live his NBA dream could bring a different perspective to a young locker room and Micic has the skill to help on offense.

The issues with Micic come on the defensive end, where he can struggle to stay in front of quicker players. The Spurs have good point-of-attack defenders that could use help creating in Jeremy Sochan and Blake Wesley so it shouldn’t be too hard to hide Micic on spot-up shooters while he shares playmaking duties.

Micic has one more guaranteed year in his contract worth close to $8 million and then a club option, so he’s essentially on an expiring deal. If he works out, the Spurs can keep him for cheap and if he doesn’t, they can use his contract as salary ballast on a trade or waive him. The Hornets shouldn’t be too attached to him but might want to wait until after the Olympics to move him to see if he can improve his trade value. Still, the Spurs have plenty of second-rounders to make a deal happen.

Sasha Vezenkov could spread the floor for Victor Wembanyama

Spacing and outside shooting have been a severe issue for the Spurs in recent years. Too many of their players can’t shoot or are not consistent enough to punish defenses that overhelp or pack the paint. Last season San Antonio took the 11th most threes per game but ranked 28th in three-point shooting percentage, which shows that opponents were fine with allowing them to pull the trigger from outside because they knew they wouldn’t make them pay.

The team as a whole will have to do better in that area for the offense to click, but Sasha Vezenkov could help the Spurs a lot in terms of spacing. The 2022 Euroleague MVP joined the Kings last season but couldn’t carve out a place for himself and ended up playing just 12 minutes a game and appearing in 42 games, partially because of injuries. In that small of a role, the 6’8 power forward still managed to launch 120 threes and connect on 45, to finish the year as a 37.5 percent shooter from outside. The only two players with a better shooting percentage in last season’s Spurs’ roster were Doug McDermott and Cedi Osman, the guys Vezenkov would be replacing. Vezenkov, who shot 40 percent in his career in Europe, is a volume shooter who can fire on spot-up situations or on the move, coming off screens or after handoffs, so defenses have to respect him.

As with Micic, defense is an issue. Vezenkov is a good defensive rebounder but could get targeted on the pick-and-roll, especially if the Spurs continue to switch those actions. Having Wembanyama on the back line should help mitigate his individual issues and his experience should allow him to play well enough at the team level to avoid being a liability.

Vezenkov, just like Micic, has one more guaranteed year on his contract and a team option for the year after. The Kings have an expensive roster and are reportedly in the process of parting ways with him, since he’s not happy in Sacramento and he’s not a priority for the team. If the Spurs don’t think Sandro Mamukelashvili can fill the role of stretch forward, Vezenkov could be a good, cheap option.

Micic and Vezenkov are too old and flawed to become a part of the Spurs’ core, but they could potentially help in the short term as other veterans have. Their first year in the league was disappointing, but their environment and the adjustment period from switching leagues can at least partially be blamed for their struggles. Both veterans now have a season in the NBA under their belts, so they should be better next year, especially if they get to play for Gregg Popovich, who has experience dealing with international players.

The two former Euroleague MVPs should not be major targets or priorities for the Spurs, but they are proven talents that might be undervalued in the market. As low risk additions, they could be worth a flyer if the front office wants experience and upside without having to make long-term commitments.

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