The NBA and the EuroLeague continue to be impacted by COVID, with key players on every team entering health and safety protocols. Even so, basketball games continue to be entertaining (and close!); the average margin of victory of the five Christmas NBA games in 2021 was 6.4, down from 23.2 in 2020.
Amidst the news of player absences, Bojan Bogdanovic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have starred for the Jazz and Thunder respectively, while Vasilije Micic turned in a huge performance against his former team in EuroLeague play.
NB: points per game (ppg), rebounds per game (rpg), assists per game (apg), blocks per game (bpg), steals per game (spg), field goal percentage (FG%)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander | Canada | Oklahoma City Thunder (NBA)
20-26 December 2021 stats
27.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 7.0 apg, 1.25 spg, 1.25 bpg .472 FG%
Thunder 102-99 Grizzlies | Nuggets 94-108 Thunder | Thunder 101-113 Suns | Pelicans 112-117 Thunder
Gilgeous-Alexander deservedly picked up the Western Conference Player of the Week award after leading the Thunder to a 3-1 record, posting averages of 27.5 points, 7.0 assists and 6.3 rebounds; not to mention tallying a triple-double against the Nuggets with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists.
The Canadian has helped the Thunder win four of their last five games (with three wins over teams in the top six in the Western Conference) to improve to 12-20 and the 13th seed in the West standings. Gilgeous-Alexander has been an elite rim-finisher during that span, shooting 65% in the paint.
The Thunder are still very much in the mix for the play-in tournament and sit only a 1.5 games back of the San Antonio Spurs in 10th. Of course, it's still early in the season and with the uncertainty surrounding positive COVID tests and health and safety player protocols, it's impossible to predict how the rest of the Thunder's campaign will unfold. Yet one thing is for certain: if the Thunder have any hope of making the play-in tournament, they need to have Gilgeous-Alexander on the floor as much as possible.
Bojan Bogdanovic | Croatia | Utah Jazz (NBA)
20-27 December stats
21.25 ppg, 2.75 rpg, .553 FG%
Hornets 102-112 Jazz | Timberwolves 116-128 Jazz | Mavericks 116-120 Jazz | Jazz 110-104 Spurs
The Utah Jazz are currently riding a four-game win streak that has them sitting 3rd in the West at 24-9, and are piling up wins thanks to a well-balanced offense (the Jazz have a league-leading offensive rating of 117.1) that relies on big contributions from multiple players.
One of those players is Bogdanovic.
While the Jazz have star players in the form of Olympic medallist Rudy Gobert and All-Star Donovan Mitchell, Bogdanovic is one of the most consistent players in the entire league. The Croatian is currently averaging 17.4 points per game on a career-best effective field goal percentage of 59.5%. Sure, he doesn't contribute too much when it comes to rebounds, assists, steals or blocks, but the 32-year-old has hit double-figures in scoring in all but two games this season, and is the only player in the NBA who’s shot 40% or better on at least 100 3-point attempts and 85% or better on at least 100 free throw attempts.
The Jazz have an abundance of riches, but Bogdanovic is an integral piece to everything they do on offence and will be vital if Utah want to make a run at the NBA Finals in 2022.
Vasilije Micic | Serbia | Anadolu Efes Istanbul (EuroLeague)
22 December stats
21 points, 2 rebounds, .600 FG%
Anadolu Efes Istanbul 84-83 Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade
Reigning EuroLeague MVP and Final Four MVP Vasilije Micic was mentioned in NBA trade circles this past off-season, and it's easy to see why.
The 27-year-old ranks third among all EuroLeague players in points per game (16.27), and is sixth in 3-pointers made, free-throws made, and fouls drawn.
He's also an ice-cold assassin, as he proved yet again on 22 December when he sank 15 of his 21 points in the last quarter (including the decisive free throws) to push Anadolu Efes past Crvena Zvezda 84-83 in their last game of the first leg of the EuroLeague regular season.
“Many times I mentioned, I really don’t know what is the score in the game,” Micic told Eurohoops. “Maybe it is healthy sometimes to stay cool."
The win saw Anadolu Efes keep hold of the eighth and final playoff position in the EuroLeague standings, but they next face a tough matchup against 6-seed UNICS Kazan on 30 December.