By Lefteris Moutis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome to one of Eurohoops’s trademark columns, which among other things aims to match up current players with counterparts from past eras. Every player has his unique traits – just like any person – and it’s not always easy to compare them with players from the past, especially when we consider how much basketball has changed over time, even if, as in this case, the two players’ careers overlapped.
In this space, we will select a current Turkish Airlines EuroLeague player, ranging from the greatest of superstars to role players, and seek a comparable player from the 2000-2010 decade. As you will see, the magic in looking for which players come to mind from all those currently playing when you look back at the previous decade never gets old. Naturally, not everyone will agree with our selections, but when you disagree, know that we are interested in hearing your comparable version for each player. Join in on the fun!
This time the matchup is between Nicolo Melli and Dejan Tomasevic, two big men who are characterized by their basketball quality and their ability to function as playmakers in the paint, often tipping the balance in favor of their teams.
Many teams look not just for the conventional type of outside-in creation from players, but also for the very valuable and rare inside-out version. Both Melli and Tomasevic are known and respected for their abilities to see the court, read the opposing defense and be second pillars of creativity under the basket.
Dejan Tomasevic (center, 1973, 2.08 meters)
The Serbian big man began his career with Borac Cacak, moved to Crvena Zvezda Belgrade as soon as he reached adulthood, became a Yugoslavian champion and then made the big leap to collect titles with rival Partizan. Tomasevic made his EuroLeague debut with Buducnost Podgorica and posted one of the best seasons for a player in competition history! Tomasevic had an average performance index rating of 30.9, which has not been matched since!
That season became the ideal passport for him to transfer to Tau Vitoria in the summer of 2001 and then to Valencia Basket a year later, winning the ULEB Cup in 2003 as well as the MVP title. He was also a permanent fixture with the national teams of Yugoslavia and Serbia, winning a total of seven medals in international competitions.
The most mature years of his career were those that followed with Panathinaikos Athens under the guidance of Zeljko Obradovic. Tomasevic appeared in a Final Four for the first time in 2005 in Moscow and two years later celebrated winning the EuroLeague title in Athens. He ended his career in 2009 with PAOK Thessaloniki at the age of 36, with his body betrayed by constant injuries.
Nicolo Melli (forward/center, 1991, 2.05 meters)
Melli is just 26 years old, but already he’s in his seventh EuroLeague season, having started from an early age to appear in Europe’s premier competition. The Italian big man began his career in his hometown of Reggio Emilia, with whom he set a record in 2004 when he was included in the line-up, but did not, for an Italian League game at just 13 years old. Melli was plagued by several injuries, but in 2010, EA7 Emporio Armani Milan decided to invest in him with a four-year contract. He slowly found his role – after a loan to Scavolini Pesaro that lasted a few months – and became a key member of the Italian team.
In the summer of 2015, though, his compatriot Andrea Trinchieri picked him to join Brose Bamberg and thus offered Melli the opportunity to change his game style and become a complete and modern big man. His best years appear to be ahead of him, but his evolution over the last two years shows that Melli is already an accomplished playmaker from the post, whose play resembles that of Tomasevic, the current vice president of the Serbian Basketball Federation.
How much they resemble each other…
The first and most obvious place where their games are similar is their ability to create for their teammates from the paint. They have an excellent perception of space, see many passes and consistently have a high average in assists because of the way they play. Perhaps the only difference is that Melli can also create from the high post, while Tomasevic mainly does so from the low post.
Both are good rebounders, not so much because of their athletic qualities (after all, neither is known for that), but thanks to their intelligence and foresight. Both players are good at faking and function very well in pick-and-roll offenses. They’re not especially known for setting dynamic screens, but can both find their way to the opponent’s basket effectively.
Their similarities on offense
A special skill that has established them at the top level is their ability to finish plays from both sides and with both hands. Furthermore, they each have a good mid-range shot. Melli is the more-capable long-range shooter, in contrast to Tomasevic, who rarely tried his hand from behind the three-point line.
Their comparison on defense
It is perhaps unfair that neither player would be remembered particularly his defensive skills, because both Melli and Tomasevic have been top-ranked in rebounds, the nedessary closing moment in any successful defense. Tomasevic was also the rare big man to average as many as 2 steals in a season. Melli, who has somewhat better foot speed, can be more reliable at switching defenses away from the basket. Neither is known for shot-blocking, but with their basketball smarts they can each cover for a lack athleticism by anticipating situations. They have the ability to read the game from a defensive standpoint, too, and in this way be one step ahead of more athletic opponents.
Different and hard-to-find big men
The ability of a big man to see the court and create from the paint is always rare and hard to find. Melli plays more as a power forward (hence his ability to put the ball on the floor and launch his drives from further away) and Tomasevic was more of a center. However, the quality and basketball minds of both players are elements that would make any team more unpredictable and attractive to basketball fans.