10 Stars, 1 Season

10 Stars, 1 Season

The VTB League Final Four sorted out the winners and losers Russian-roulette style. Now let’s look back on the 10 biggest stars who defined the season.

Nando De Colo, CSKA
Stats: 16.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists and a 17.7 efficiency rating

A injury to De Colo’s hip cost CSKA dearly in the EuroLeague. But he was his usual self on the Russian front. When healthy, De Colo is reminiscent of a high-tech robot: Every movement, every drive, every shot planned out and consistently effective. The VTB League’s MVP helped the Army Men cruise through the Final Four without any drama. Opposing fans are sick of the French star, accusing him of flopping, arrogance and other basketball sins, but no one can deny he’s the most efficient attacking weapon in the history of Russian basketball. 

Dmitry Kulagin, Lokomotiv-Kuban
Stats: 10.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 9.8 efficiency rating

There are some stories everyone can appreciate, regardless of team loyalties. Dmitry Kulagin’s breakthrough is one such case. The Russian guard began the season without a team and finished as a franchise player on one of the League’s Big Five. Kulagin earned one of the most prestigious individual awards for his efforts: Defensive Player of the Year. Loko’s season ended in heartbreak, coming up short in the EuroCup finals and missing out on the Final Four. But now we know Kulagin can respond to a challenge. The talented playmaker’s story has only begun.

Codi Miller-McIntyre, PARMA
Stats: 16.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 8.0 assists and a 19.1 efficiency rating

PARMA didn’t make the Playoffs, but improved seven-fold on its win total from last season to become a legitimate threat in the League. Miller-McIntyre and his Perm squad were key players in the regular season’s biggest storyline: The surprising competitiveness of the League’s underdog teams and a brutal postseason chase. We’ve never seen someone like Miller-McIntyre in the League, an oversized guard ala Magic Johnson and Ben Simmons. He put up ridiculous stats throughout the regular season, highlighted by a pair of triple-doubles. The League had gone three seasons without a triple-double before Miller-McIntyre recorded two in a single campaign. Boasting one of the longest last names in Russia, the American playmaker was one of the season’s biggest surprises. 

Kyle Kuric, Zenit
16.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists and a 14.5 efficiency rating

Zenit struggled to find a rhythm throughout the campaign and never really tested CSKA in the Final Four semifinals. But there was a happy ending for St. Petersburg. Zenit took down UNICS in the Third Place Game–coach Vasily Karasev called it the biggest win in club history. Kuric engineered the victory, pouring in 23 points in the first half, a new Playoffs record. The American sniper was also the top scorer in the quarterfinal series with Avtodor and carried the team throughout the regular season, helping St. Petersburg salvage an otherwise mediocre campaign. Nice work, Kuric! 

Sergio Rodriguez, CSKA
Stats: 9.8 points, 1.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists and an 11.6 efficiency rating

CSKA waited all season for the Final Four. Rodriguez and co. came up short in the EuroLeague version. But the Spaniard streaked to 21 first-half points vs. Zenit, missing only one field goal attempt, ensuring the Army Men’s Final Four curse in Europe would not apply in Moscow. This may have been his biggest contribution of the season as he went on to win the Final Four MVP. 

Alex Perez, VEF
Stats: 13.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, 5.9 assists and a 13.7 efficiency rating

VEF was the League’s biggest surprise, relying on teamwork in an era of superstar players. The Mexican point guard was both the glue on the team and the spark for VEF’s offense. Perez played in all 27 games, averaging six assists and finishing in the Top-20 in efficiency rating. He was streaky in the best sense of the word, helping unravel opposing defenses with sudden bursts of offense, including deep, deep threes and lightning-quick drives to the bucket. For the second consecutive season, Riga was the League’s best non-Russian team and made the postseason.

Stevan Jelovac, Nizhny Novgorod
Stats: 20.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists and a 19.9 efficiency rating

Nizhny Novgorod got better and better throughout the season, saving the best for last. Jelovac had a similar trajectory, becoming the club’s most reliable option on offense and the leader in the clubhouse in good times and bad. Jelovac made history in February, setting the League’s single-game scoring record in a key overtime win vs. Kalev with 49 points. He was also the reason for Nizhny’s lone playoff win, scoring 29 points to upset UNICS in Game 2. Nizhny’s management gave the team a B+ on the season and Jelovac, who finished Top-5 in scoring and 2nd in efficiency rating in the League, was one of the biggest reasons for the success. 

Coty Clarke, Avtodor
Stats: 20.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and a 22.0 efficiency rating

Clarke lived up to the lofty expectations placed on him when he made the move to Europe in 2016. Along with the American forward, Avtodor enjoyed a breakthrough campaign, finishing in a club-record 5th place, despite having one of the smallest budgets in Russian basketball. Clarke finished with the highest efficiency rating in the League and ranked third in scoring. The American saved his best for April and May, never scoring fewer than 20 points in a game, including three 30+-point outbursts. He was named the April MVP for his efforts and was a serious contender for overall MVP. 

Jamar Smith, UNICS
Stats: 14.4 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and a 14.2 efficiency rating

For the first time in recent memory, UNICS was not reliant on a single superstar to carry the team. Smith, however, thrived as a scorer in Priftis’ altruistic offensive schemes. The American embraced a role on the bench, earning the League’s Sixth Man of the Year. He also came up big in the Final Four semis vs. Khimki, recording 23 points and four assists. He didn’t get much help from his teammates, however, in the defeat, slightly marring an otherwise fantastic campaign. 

Alexey Shved, Khimki
Stats: 23.6 points, 2.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists and a 18.0 efficiency rating

The VTB League Playoffs were a perfect microcosm of Shved’s season. He was the top scorer at the European championships, EuroLeague and VTB United League this season, turning heads across the continent. His teams were largely successful, but came up a little short each time, and Shved never picked up an MVP award. At the same time, Shved was clutch again and again, recording one of the most memorable campaigns of all time. Shved shut down the League’s top defensive team, Lokomotiv-Kuban, in the quarterfinals before scoring a Playoffs-record 36 points in the semifinals. He couldn’t take down CSKA on his own, but ensured a strong finish to a disappointing regular-season campaign and a return to the EuroLeague–the team’s goal from the beginning. Alexey Shved is now officially Europe’s most dangerous option on offense.