Milos Teodosic took the scenic route to the NBA. The Serbian international been rumored to be on NBA radars for years, starting with a flirtation with the Grizzlies in 2013 and amplified by rumors with the Brooklyn Nets last summer. He was relatively unheralded as a youth player, with almost no NBA Draft interest. He came up in Serbia, before bursting onto the Euroleague scene in 2009-2010 with Olympiakos, and then transferring to CSKA Moscow.
He’s one of the most decorated European players of this generation: A Euroleague MVP in 2010. A Euroleague Champion in 2016. Three All-Euroleague first team nods, and three more appearances on the second team. And let’s not forget an Olympic silver medal in 2016, which was the point where he entered the mainstream NBA consciousness.
Now, he’s a Los Angeles Clipper. His two-year, $12.3 million deal gives him a chance to try to carry that European success into the NBA. At 30-years old, there’s no more development coming; no upside; and no more chances beyond this. He’s here to make an immediate impact. But what will that impact look like?
As far as fitting a role goes, it’s not hard to see how the Clippers will try to use him. If you’re going to try to have anyone fill Chris Paul’s shoes, Milos is about the best approximation you could ask for. His playmaking ability is elite, even by NBA standards. Clippers fans aren’t going to be wanting for those highlight passes and “How did he see that?!” looks that Paul dazzled with for years.
I could write an entire article just on Teodosic’s passing and creation ability (In fact, it’s already been done here). But suffice to say, the fit with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan is going to be great.
In order to best make use of that passing ability though, you need to be able to create, and this is where Teodosic might run into some early issues. Teodosic’s athleticism is incredibly mediocre by European standards, putting him at a real disadvantage in the NBA. This could negatively affect his ability to get to the rim, as he’s purely a below-the-rim player. But he makes up for that athleticism gap with craft, and he still rates out as a strong finisher at the European level, thanks to his wide array of floaters, ball-fakes, and scoop shots.
That craftiness, supplemented by the threat of his passing, makes him an intriguing option at the point of attack. CSKA Moscow most commonly surrounded Teodosic with an elite pick-and-roll finisher (Nikita Kurbanov or Kyle Hines) and shooters like former Charlotte Bobcat Cory Higgins and Russian corner assassin Andrey Vorontsevich. This opened up the floor for him, negating that lack of athleticism to a degree. The Clippers likely can do the same thing by pairing him with Jordan and surrounding that tandem with players with their best shooting wings - Danilo Gallinari, Sam Dekker, and Patrick Beverley, for instance.
With Blake, Gallo, and Austin Rivers around though, Teodosic won’t always be the primary creator on offense. This was also the case at CSKA, where 2016 Euroleague MVP Nando De Colo and Aaron Jackson both split time with Milos as the primary ball-handler. This allowed Milos to be a threat off-ball, which is something he can continue to do at the NBA level. He shot 38.9 percent from three on nearly six attempts per game last season, and 42.5 percent in 2015-2016. His release is quick and fluid, and despite quirky form (He sometimes shoots with his feet wide, and doesn’t always generate good lift), it’s hard to argue with the results.
He also has to be accounted for at all times off ball. If you lose him, he’ll quickly shift into attack mode and diagnose the defense’s rotations before they even realize what’s happening.
This profile is one of an NBA player. He’s going to be a positive on the offensive end as an initiator, and even if his shot doesn’t translate perfectly to the NBA three-point line, he offers enough off-ball talent to drift between roles as the Clippers roster dictates that he needs to. However, he has been in Europe for a decade for a reason. There are some real issues he’ll need to work through that will give him problems at the NBA level. However, team context should help in both regards.
The biggest issue is the defense. Milos is athletically challenged already, and he doesn’t have the quickness or strength to stay in front of guys at either guard spot in the NBA. That’s compounded by his effort level. To say it’s lacking is an offense to the word lacking. This is a man who does not care in the slightest on this end of the floor.
He will get up for bigger games; he at least paid attention against teams like Olympiacos and Fenerbahce. But he’s equal parts poor awareness and poor effort. If he’s beaten, he will walk around on the perimeter, waiting for his teammates to bail him out. At times he makes Kyrie Irving look like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
You also have to build a strong rebounding team around him because he’s never going to crash the glass. His total rebound rate has hovered between 5.9 and 7.2 percent for his career, and CSKA was one of the worst rebounding teams in Euroleague partly because of that.
There’s also the matter of his decision making, which is not always the best. Teodosic’s turnover rate was 19.5 last season, which would have tied James Harden for 11th-worst in the NBA last year. He’ll dazzle with his court vision and fancy technique on passes, but believe me, no one buys into the hype of Milos Teodosic’s passing more than Milos Teodosic.
Part of the reason CSKA carried three guards the past two years was because of Teodosic’s defense, but it was also because sometimes, he gets a little carried away with forcing the issue. You need other options around to be able to slow the pace and protect the ball if Teodosic is getting a little out of hand.
That’s why I love this team fit so much for him. The Clippers can replicate a lot of the things that made those CSKA teams lethal around him. Most importantly, they have two legitimately elite defenders who figure to share the floor with him a lot. Beverley is going to handle most on-ball and point-of-attack assignments, and Jordan is hanging in the back to cover for the frequent back-cuts that he’s going to get torched on. The Clippers are still going to be far worse on defense with Teodosic on the floor vs. off, and there is no way he and Lou Williams can ever, ever, EVER share the floor. But they figure to be a strong rebounding team around him, and if they can get Luc Mbah a Moute back (or if Sindarius Thornwell can be anything in his rookie season), there should be enough defenders here to at least counter the sieve that’s sitting at two guard. Teams have figured this out before.
The other guards on the roster also should fit pretty well next to him. Beverley already has played with Teodosic before (2010 with Olympiakos), and the pairing worked very similarly to Teodosic and De Colo at CSKA Moscow. Beverley has since added a lot of strength to his three-point shot, and he’s a low-turnover ball-handler that is vital next to Milos. Then there’s Rivers, who had a 59.6 effective field goal percentage and also offers plenty of creation ability with his similar probing style. Having two big guards who can rotate with Teodosic, passably take primary scoring threats on the defensive end, and spot up is about the best fit you could ask for with him.
This was the right time for Teodosic to come to the NBA. He’s proven all he possibly could in Europe, and he’s ready for his next challenge. In joining the Clippers, he’s also entering a situation that’s build well to capitalize on his strengths and hide his weaknesses. He has two strong lob threats; a rim protector and ace on-ball defender to hide him defensively; multiple plus passers that he can play off of; and two tall guards who can play on and off the ball to give the team options in offensive sets.
He won’t be an elite player in the NBA. His defensive warts and lack of control at the expense of flair will prevent that. But he’s an excellent fit for the roster, and the Clippers are right to be excited about him. We finally get to see Milos Teodosic, NBA player. This is going to be fun.