NBA & EuroLeague recap: Nikola Mirotic makes EuroLeague history

Our weekly international spotlight shines on three talented big men this week, with two familiar faces making their second appearance on our NBA & EuroLeague recap.

By William Imbo
Picture by 2021 Quality Sport Images

The more things change, the more they stay the same. We may only be a few days into 2022, but the duo of Rudy Gobert and Nikola Mirotic, by virtue of their excellent play over the last seven days, are once again worthy inclusions in our weekly recap of the top international ballers in the world.

They are joined by 2.03m (6'8") Cameroonian power forward Pascal Siakam, who has starred for the Toronto Raptors in recent games.

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%)

Rudy Gobert | France | Utah Jazz (NBA)

27 December - 3 January stats

16.4 ppg, 15.8 rpg, 2.2 bpg, .667 FG%

Jazz @ Spurs: 110-104 W | Jazz @ Trail Blazers: 120-105 W | Timberwolves @ Jazz: 108-120 W | Warriors @ Jazz: 123-116 L | Jazz @ Pelicans: 115-104 W

Gobert has been playing inspired basketball this season; the Tokyo 2020 silver medallist is averaging career highs in points, rebounds and minutes played per game.

Gobert's increased playing time may be because the French center is yet to miss a game this season; an impressive feat considering how quickly the games come in the modern NBA, not to mention the rate at which players from every team are entering the league's health and safety protocols.

The more probable reason is that Jazz head coach Quin Snyder knows just how important Gobert is to his team's defense; Utah have a defensive rating of 102.9 with Gobert on the court (good for second in the NBA), but that figure drops to 108.6 when he sits.

But Gobert's defensive ability is old news (he is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year after all); it's his offensive explosion that has the Jazz currently leading the league in field goal percentage and points per game. Gobert, for his part, also leads the league in rebounds per game, field goal percentage and double-doubles.

The 29-year-old looks to be an obvious candidate for his third consecutive All-Star team, but no doubt Gobert has his eyes on a bigger prize this season: the Larry O'Brien trophy.

Pascal Siakam | Cameroon | Toronto Raptors (NBA)

28 December - 2 January stats

24.3 ppg, 13 rpg, 7.3 apg, 1.6 spg, .497 FG%

Sixers @ Raptors: 114-109 L | Clippers @ Raptors: 108-116 W | Knicks @ Raptors: 105-120 W

Like Gobert, Pascal Siakam is posting career highs in points, rebounds, assists and minutes per game this season. However, unlike Gobert, Siakam has missed a healthy amount of time this campaign (including the first 10 games of the season) as he worked his way back from offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

Naturally, it took a few games for the Cameroonian to get going, but over the past month he's shown flashes of the talent that earned him his first All-Star nod in 2020 (including a monster 25 point, 19 rebound, 7 assist effort in a win over the Clippers on 31 December).

With the Raptors finally getting their core healthy after being decimated through injury and COVID absences, they are starting to make a climb up the standings and currently hold the final play-in position in the Eastern Conference.

Nikola Mirotic | Spain | FC Barcelona (EuroLeague)

30 December stats

19 points, 4 rebounds, .625 FG%

FC Barcelona @ Bitci Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz: 75-94 L

Looking at the stats above (not to mention the fact Barcelona were hammered by Baskonia last week), you'd be well within your rights to question why Mirotic is worthy of inclusion in our EuroLeague coverage.

Well, let's just say Barcelona's loss was an outlier in what was otherwise an incredible month for the EuroLeague leaders.

Buoyed by Mirotic's stellar play (the 30-year-old led all players in points (21.4) in December), Barcelona won all five of their games - including a huge victory over rivals Real Madrid - to climb to 15-3. Mirotic was recognized as the league's MVP of the Month for December, becoming only the fourth player to win the award twice in the same season and the first to win the award twice in two different seasons.

With more than half the season gone and 16 games still to play, Barcelona have a slender lead at the top of the EuroLeague standings. But with Rio 2016 bronze medallist Mirotic playing at an MVP-calibre level, they look to be the favourites to capture a first EuroLeague title since 2010.

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