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!
Today we will compare to floor managers who, even though they squared off against each other at the start of the current decade, the peak of their respective careers and their dominance on the courts relate to different decades.
We are going to compare Kostas Sloukas with Jaka Lakovic, two of the best guards of the decades they peaked in. Both were members of teams that played for the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague trophy every year, had great offensive talent and rose to prominence through teamwork. Their ability to score and create was always one of their team’s best weapons, as they could expect something extra from them at critical moments. Their style of play as well as the role they had on their teams is quite similar even if, in terms of age, they are separated by 12 years.
Jaka Lakovic (guard, 1978, 1.86 meters)
The Slovenian guard played in the EuroLeague for 11 seasons. He began his career in Geoplin Slovan and made his debut in the EuroLeague wearing the colors of Krka Novo Mesto. After an impressive debut season in 2001-02 with 20.9 points, 3.8 assists and 2 steals per game, he signed with Panathinaikos Athens.
Coach Zeljko Obradovic trusted him quickly and for every year over the next four seasons his role with the Greens was upgraded. Lakovic appeared in the first Final Four of his career in 2005 in Moscow, but did not win the EuroLeague until his next stop, Barcelona. In the summer of 2006, Lakovic made the big decision to continue his career with FC Barcelona and in his fourth season with that team, in 2010, he captured the title in Paris.
Lakovic’s run with the Blaugrana ended a year later and the following season was his last in the EuroLeague, with Galatasaray Istanbul. Lakovic also played for Sidigas Avellino in Italy, Royal Hali Gaziantep in Turkey and Barcelona B before he chose to pursue coaching in the summer of 2016.
Kostas Sloukas (guard, 1990, 1.90 meters)
Sloukas is 27 years old and now in his seventh EuroLeague season. He joined Olympiacos Piraeus at the age of 18, but only received substantial playing time after he returned from his loan to Aris Thessaloniki for the 2010-11 season. He was part of the Reds’ effort to regenerate with a new, younger core and the timing was perfect as he was fortunate enough to be an integral piece of the squad that won the EuroLeague two seasons in a row.
Sloukas appeared in one more Final Four with Olympiacos, in 2015 in Madrid, where he lost the championship game to Real Madrid. But Sloukas was back battling for the continental crown a year later with Fenerbahce Istanbul, with whom he also reached the EuroLeague final. In fact, one element that Sloukas shares with Lakovic is that both of them worked with Obradovic at a similar age (Sloukas at 25, Lakovic at 24).
The Fenerbahce guard clearly has several years ahead of him and can win more trophies, but his style of play certainly matches Lakovic’s. In fact, Sloukas is currently enjoying the best season of his career in terms of his stats. He is playing more than ever (26:10 per game) and has the highest scoring average (10.7 ppg.), best three-point shooting accuracy (50%) and the most assists (4.6 apg.) of his career.
Aside from the roles each has had with top teams in the EuroLeague, they also share several similarities in style of play. Both are known for their ability to drive to the basket and get past their defenders in one-on-one situations. They are both rather explosive and have the abilities to score in front of bigger players. One of the strengths in their games is the ability to run in the open court and help their teams score easy points. They are also very good ball handlers.
Similar style and effectiveness in shooting
Lakovic and Sloukas are quite similar both in terms of shooting styles and effectiveness. They have a good long-range shot (39% for Lakovic and 41% for Sloukas) and are especially distinguished for their ability to execute behind screens; this is precisely why no defense can deal with them passively. However, they are excellent in mid-range shooting too; their effectiveness in this department is rare among top-class players as the years go by. Both are excellent creators in the pick-and-roll, with Lakovic being better at passing close to the basket, but Sloukas very effective at seeing all the passes. Both can read rival defenses and choose the best option for their team in pick-and-roll situations.
Reading the defense and stealing the ball
Thanks to his size, Sloukas outperforms Lakovic on defense, even though both of them have an aptitude for steals and for individual and team defense. The difference is that due to Sloukas’s height and build, he is more effective in switching on defense.
Role in their teams
In the best years of his career in Panathinaikos and Barcelona, Lakovic was known for his speed. In fact, thanks to his killer instinct, he very often took his team’s most crucial attacks in close games and was the one who decided their outcome. He had for a period a prominent leadership role, first at Panathinaikos game and then for Barcelona. Sloukas became famous very early on for his clutch shots, like the one in Istanbul against Lakovic’s Galatasaray in the in the 2011-12 Top 16, a harbinger of Olympiacos’s conquest of the EuroLeague later that year in the same city. That game also serves as somewhat of a passing of the torch between Lakovic and Sloukas; the latter had his first double-digit scoring game on that night against Lakovic, Lakovic had his final double-digit scoring game in Piraeus against Sloukas a week weeks later.
Modern guards of the 21st century
If they played in the 1980s they could have been their team’s undisputed leaders, playing 35-plus minutes in every game and taking 50% of their team’s shots. Modern basketball, however, requires plurality, reading, the ability to create as well as execute and, most of all, adaptability to conditions. Basketball is a team sport. And it is the teams that win. And Lakovic and Sloukas are exceptional team players.