Mikhail Prokhorov: Honoring New Jersey Nets Owner With An All-Communist Squad
In honor of the Mikhail Prokhorov and his Communist roots I've decided to compile a squad of the best Eastern-European players that have played in the NBA. I'm just kidding, Prokhorov isn't a communist, he's a billionaire for crying out loud.
To be included on this list a player must have been born in one of the former Eastern-European Communist nations, i.e. Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union.
Players are broken up by the five natural position: point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center.
PG Sarūnas Jasikevičius
Sarūnas Jasikevičius (born in Kaunas, Lithuanian SSR, USSR, now Lithuania) heads because there haven't been many great European point guard imports over the years. During his two years in the league Jasikevičius averaged 6.8 ppg and 2.9 assists with the Indiana Pacers and then the Golden State Warriors.
Goran Dragić (born in Ljubljana, SR Slovenia, SFR Yugoslavia), Steve Nash's backup with the Phoenix Suns, is the only other point guard of note. In his three seasons in the NBA he's averaging 6.9 ppg and 2.8 assists. While his stats are nearly identical for Jasikevičius', Dragić is the reserve because of Jasikevičius' experience.
SG Dražen Petrović
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Dražen Petrović (born in Šibenik, SR Croatia, SFR Yugoslavia) was not only a great European player, but a great player, his country of birth notwithstanding.
Petrović played in the NBA from 1989 to 1993.
Petrović's career started slowly with the Portland Trail-Blazers. In his first season in the NBA Petrović averaged 7.6 ppg, but consider that he was only playing 12.6 mpg. Midway into his second season with the Trail-Blazers Petrović requested to be traded. His wish would eventually bring him to New Jersey and with a change of scenery Petrović blossomed into a viable scoring threat.
In his two full seasons with the Nets Petrović averaged 20.6 and 22.3 points, respectively. Not only that, but, into those two season Petrović made more than 50 percent of his shots from the field.
In 1993 Petrović's very promising career was cut short in a tragic car accident on German's Autobahn.
Šarūnas Marčiulionis (born in Kaunas, Lithuania SSR, USSR) was one of the first European players to have a prolonged stay in the NBA. In his 7 years (1989 to 1997) in the NBA Marčiulionis played for the Golden State Warriors, Seattle Super-Sonics, Sacramento Kings and the Denver Nuggets.
Predrag "Sasha" Danilović (Sarajevo, SR Bosnia and Herzegovina, SFR Yugoslavia) only played two seasons in the NBA (1995-1997), but produced solid number during his brief stint in the league.
Danilović averaged 12.8 ppg with the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks.
SF Andrei Kirilenko
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Andrei Kirilenko (born in Izhevsk, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union) is here because of his defense. European players have had a long running reputation for being soft and a liability on defense, however, Kirilenko is working hard to help shatter this stereotype.
From 2003 to 2006 (came into the NBA in 2001), Kirilenko averaged:
16.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.8 blk, 1.9 stl
15.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.3 blk, 1.6 stl
15.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.2 blk, 1.5 stl
As for Kirilenko's awards:
Member of the 2004 All-Start team
All-Defensive First Team 2006
All-Defensive Second Team 2004 and 2005
Toni Kukoč (born in Split, SR Croatia, SFR Yugoslavia) began his NBA career while Michael Jordan was playing baseball. Upon Jordan returning to the Bulls, Kukoč became an integral part of the machine that was the 2nd three-peat Bulls squad of the 90's. During the three-peat stretch Kukoč remained the teams 3rd leading scorer despite coming off the bench.
In 1996 Kukoč was the NBA Six Man of the Year.
Peja Stojaković (Požega, SR Croatia, SFR Yugoslavia) might be on the downward swing of his career (Stojaković's came into the league in 1998), but, you can't forget his playing days in Sacramento. From 2000 to 2005 Stojaković points per game averages were: 20.4, 21.2, 19.2, 24.2, 20.1. It is Stojaković's play that is largely responsible for the great Kings/Lakers series of the early 2000's.
In the process Stojaković earned the following honors:
3 time NBA All-Star from 2002 to 2004
All-NBA Second Team 2004
2 time NBA 3-Point Shootout Champion from 2002 to 2003
PF Dino Rađa
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Dino Rađa (Radja) (born in Split, SR Croatia, SFR Yugoslavia) had spent three and a half productive seasons with the Boston Celtics (1993 to 1997). Rađa averaged 16.7 ppg and 8.4 rpg in his time in the NBA, unfortunately his NBA career came to an end shortly after Rađa failed his physical as part of the trade that would have sent him to the Philadelphia 76ers.
In his most productive season (1995-1996) Rađa averaged 19.7 ppg, 9.8 rpb while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Vitaly Potapenko (born in Kiev, Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, USSR) is on this list simply because he's the second best power forward to come out of a Communist country. I didn't say he was the best, though.
Slava Medvedenko (born in Karapyshi, Kiev Oblast, Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, USSR) is here for the same reason that Potapenko is, however, Medvedenko did win two NBA rings with the Los Angeles Lakers.
C Arvydas Sabonis
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Arvydas Sabonis (born in Kaunas, Lithuania SSR - USSR) is the top center on this list simply because of the kind of player he was before entering the NBA. If it weren't for Sabonis' leg injuries people could be talking about him being one of NBA's greatest centers.
Unfortunately for Sabas his start in the NBA came almost 10 years after he'd been drafted by an NBA team. And by the time the 7'3" center arrived in Portland at the age of 31, much of his explosiveness and mobility was already long gone.
Before injures ravaged his body Sabonis possessed the agility of a young Ralph Sampson, the shooting range of Bill Lambier, Jason Kidd like court vision and basketball IQ of Larry Bird. Despite his body betraying him, Sabonis relied on his smarts in order to make up physical deficiencies towards the end of his career.
Check out this YouTube video to catch a glimpse of what Sabonis was capable of in his younger days.
In his seven years in the NBA Sabonis averaged 12 ppg, 7.3 rpg, while shooting 50 percent from the field and 32 percent from beyond the 3-point line.
Vlade Divac (born in Prijepolje, SR Serbia, SFR Yugoslavia), much like Sabonis, was a very skilled passing center. Unlike Sabonis, Divac enjoyed a 16 year career, averaging 11.8 ppg and 8.2 rbs. And like Sabonis, Divac's playoff woes during his time with the Sacramento Kings could be attributed to the Kings meeting the Los Angeles Lakers from 1999 to 2002.