The regular season is in the rearview mirror with the Playoffs opening on Wednesday. Now is the perfect chance to size up the candidates for the League’s Most Valuable Player award. Meet the fantastic five–the players who combined individual excellence with team success.
Nando De Colo (CSKA Moscow)
Stats: 17.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 18.0 efficiency rating in 22.5 minutes
Team: 22-2, 1st place
De Colo has several things in common with LeBron James as an MVP candidate. Under his smart leadership, CSKA is always at the top of the League, while his level of play and consistency makes him a perennial MVP candidate, even with Itoudis’ conservative approach to playing time. But after picking up back-to-back awards in 2015 and 2016, the Frenchman, much like 4-x MVP James, may be overlooked in favor of the League’s new hot thing.
There’s little to criticize about his game. He continues to shoot at a very high percentage and draw fouls, plus he’s second on the team in assists, behind only Sergio Rodriguez. Despite carrying much of the weight on offense–De Colo ranks 5th in the League in scoring and efficiency rating–he’s also respectable on defense.
De Colo has done what was expected of him this season. He consistently rose to the occasion in big moments throughout the course of the campaign and made a strong case for MVP, despite playing the fewest minutes of any serious contender. Like LeBron, the Army Men’s leader could win MVP every season. But that’s not going to happen, of course. It’s often more difficult to repeat than to win something for the first time. It’s especially true with a subjective award like MVP–the public wants new stars. Of course, these are only my musings. Nando, like always, has made a serious claim on the season’s top prize.
Outstanding Performance: November 12 vs. PARMA — 34 points, 11-13 from the field, four assists, 39 efficiency rating
Coty Clarke (Avtodor Saratov)
Stats: 20.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 22.4 efficiency rating
Team: 14-10, 5th place
Clarke probably would win Most Improved Player of the Year this season, if the League gave out the award. He was hyped as a poor man’s Draymond Green when he joined UNICS in 2016, but picked up an injury early into the campaign and never really clicked in Kazan (9.4 points, 6.1 rebounds).
He’s living up to the hype now in Saratov, though he’s been more of a scorer than a playmaker, unlike Golden State’s star forward. Avtodor enjoyed a breakout season, too, cruising to a club-record 14-10 after missing the postseason in 2017. Saratov even managed to squeeze ahead of Khimki into 5th place, an incredible achievement given Moscow Region reached the quarterfinals of the EuroLeague this season.
Clarke is the pure embodiment of Avtodor’s up-tempo, score-first mentality. The Black-White star is most dangerous close to the basket, but is happy to run in transition and knock down a triple. There are almost no holes in his game and he fits perfectly with Avtodor’s modern, position-free system on the court.
As the biggest star on the League’s most exciting, carefree team, Clarke not surprisingly ranks 1st in efficiency rating and 3rd in scoring. He even saved his best for last, dominating in April and May as Avtodor charged into 5th place. The American forward scored at least 20 points in every game, while dropping more than 30 three times. That’s a pretty good way to wrap up an MVP campaign.
Outstanding Performance: April 29 vs. PARMA — 36 points, 17 rebounds, 45 efficiency rating
Stephane Lasme (UNICS Kazan)
Stats: 13.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.8 blocks, 16.4 efficiency rating in 27.0 minutes
Team: 22-2, 2nd place
With Keith Langford’s departure, UNICS revamped. The Tatar club is now known for balance, discipline and teamwork. Kazan doesn’t need someone with a superstar mentality these seasons. Luckily for UNICS, Lasme thrives in that type of situation. His team missed out on 1st place by one game, but is gunning for the Final Four and a 1st-ever VTB United League championship.
The League’s block leader (1.8 per game) and one of the top rebounders, Lasme demonstrated why he recently won a EuroLeague Defensive Player of the Year award. He’s also impressed on offense, using a consistent mid-range jumper, post moves and a knack for pick-and-rolls to rank 2nd on the team in scoring. Lasme has found his second youth in the Tatar capital to become a key cog in Kazan’s system and rank in the top 10 in the League in efficiency rating.
There are no clear criteria for MVP. You can pick a superstar player, even if the team struggles to win – take Russell Westbrook. Or you might pick an outcomes-focused player, like Tim Duncan, who used fundamentals to make his team better. Lasme is the least flashy player and person on this list, but his combination of consistency, reliability, overall impact and team success make the center one of the top MVP contenders in the mold of the Spurs’ legendary big man.
Outstanding Performance: October 5 vs. Zenit – 20 points, seven rebounds, two steals, five blocks, 32 efficiency rating
Alexey Shved (Khimki Moscow Region)
Stats: 22.3 points, 2.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.1 steals, 16.9 efficiency rating in 29.0 minutes
Team: 13-11, 6th place
Alexey Shved may be the perfect archetype for MVP. As everyone knows, Shved is Khimki. Of course, the superstar Russian would probably have the same role on any team in Europe. The League’s top scorer (and 7th in assists) is the most dangerous offensive player in Europe and capable of taking over any game. He won the MVP last season, but Khimki’s performance may hurt his case this season. The Russian star once again won the scoring title, dropping 34 points twice and knocking down one of the biggest buzzer-beaters of the season vs. Nizhny Novgorod, but Khimki’s focus on the EuroLeague (where he also finished 1st in scoring) meant the club stumbled to 6th place in the VTB United League. Khimki may not have lived up to expectations domestically, but that didn’t prevent Shved from enjoying the best season in European basketball this year.
Outstanding Performance: December 10 vs. Nizhny Novgorod – 34 points, three rebounds, five assists, 20 efficiency rating
Codi Miller-McIntyre (PARMA Perm)
Stats: 16.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.5 steals, 19.1 efficiency rating in 32.5 minutes
Team: 7-17, 11th place
Miller-McIntyre is the only player on the list not in the Playoffs. But he stacks up well against the rest of the contenders when it comes to team impact and individual stats.
As everyone knows, Westbrook won the NBA MVP thanks to an insane triple-double campaign. Miller-McIntyre, of course, was unable to average a triple-double himself, but he did become the first player in League history to record two triple-doubles in one season (17 + 11 + 11 vs. Enisey and 16 + 10 + 16 vs. Avtodor) to go with two near-misses (13 + 9 + 11 vs. VEF, 17 + 8 + 10 vs. Khimki).
PARMA did not make the postseason, but took a huge step forward as a team. After going 1-23 in its debut campaign, PARMA was in playoff contention until the final week of the season, with much of the credit going to the League’s top playmaker and 3rd-most efficient contributor.
Outstanding Performance: March 4 vs. Kalev – 24 points, five rebounds, 17 assists, 38 efficiency rating