By Nikos Varlas/ 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, we match up two players who share many common elements in their careers, even if one has retired and the other still has many years ahead of him and hasn’t even come close to his peak.
Nikola Milutinov (2.13 meters, Center)
Born in 1994, Milutinov is playing his fifth Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season. He debuted with Partizan Belgrade in his native Serbia, where he played for two EuroLeague campaign and another in the EuroCup. Milutinov moved to Olympiacos Piraeus in the summer of 2015 and is now in his third season with the club.
Milutinov is the first starting center the Reds have used in several years who is reminiscent of an old-school, classic pivot and post player instead of an undersized center. In his first season with Olympiacos, Milutinov was a part-time starter, but did not play big minutes. His role increased little by little last season, but this year he has become a key piece of the puzzle and his production has increased accordingly.
This season, Milutinov has averaged 8.6 points on 57.3% two-point shooting and 77.3% on free throws, 5.2 rebounds, 1.0 assist and a performance index rating of 13.1 over 21 minutes of playing time in 12 games. He has scored double digits in five of those games, including a double-double against Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade of 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Among his career highlights, Milutinov won a pair of Serbian championships and one Adriatic League title with Partizan and one Greek championship with Olympiacos.
Nikola Pekovic (2.10 meters, Center)
The Montenegrin center was born in 1986 and played in the EuroLeague for five seasons and a half seasons. He joined Partizan in 2005 and spent three seasons there before moving to Panathinaikos Athens for another two campaigns. After playing one season for Minnesota in the NBA, Pekovic rejoined Partizan for seven games during the NBA lockout of 2011.
Over 98 career EuroLeague games, Pekovic tallied 11.7 points on 59.4% two-point shooting and 75.7% from the free throw line plus 4.3 rebounds. He won the EuroLeague with Panathinaikos in 2009 in Berlin and that season he was also a member of the All-EuroLeague First Team.
Pekovic also won three Serbian championships and one Serbian Cup as well as two Adriatic Leagues crowns with Partizan. In his two seasons in Greece, Pekovic won three domestic titles: two championships and one cup.
So many similarities and common features!
These two players cannot be compared directly since one is still in the early years of his professional career and the other has completed his journey. But it’s rare that we come across two players who have so many common basketball features and whose courses are so similar that it’s not an exaggeration to say that they have parallel basketball lives.
Pekovic played in 98 games in the EuroLeague and Milutinov will reach 96 appearances against Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz in Round 17. They play the same position, both came of age and won titles with the same team (Partizan), and both of them left Serbia and Partizan to take the next step in their respective basketball careers in Greece, one for Panathinaikos, the other for Olympiacos.
Pekovic experienced the joy of winning the title with the Greens, Milutinov already played in a EuroLeague Championship Game with Olympiacos last season in Istanbul and, as he has stated, his dream is to win the EuroLeague with the Reds. They even share the same first name!
Dominant centers whose trademark is their technique
It’s not just that they have common courses and the fact that they have both played for Partizan and Greek teams in the EuroLeague. It’s also that they share many features as players. They are both known for their offensive gifts and their ability to finish plays in the paint using both hands, with their favorite execution move being the hook.
Both Pekovic, when he was still playing, as well as Milutinov now, are centers who have high-quality technique, are able to finish plays both by posting up as well as facing the basket. They have a variety of pivot moves in the post, but also reliable mid-range jumpers.
Milutinov and Pekovic have similar percentages in two-point and free throw shooting and often make plays in transition thanks to very good speed for their size, while they are more or less rebounders of the same range. Big men who know the fundamentals very well as graduates of the inexhaustible Plavi school.
Their differences are… minor!
No two people are exactly the same, in life or in basketball. Pekovic and Milutinov have differences; they differ in certain skills and weaknesses.
In his overall career, Pekovic was a more gifted scorer than Milutinov. Of course, the 23-year-old center is constantly improving and he might very well reach the same level in the future. Pekovic had an amazing ability to finish plays using the glass.
Furthermore, he played and finished pick-and-rolls more efficiently, though he had an amazing trio of facilitators: Dimitris Diamantidis, Vassilis Spanoulis and Sarunas Jasikevicius. Also, the way Pekovic positioned himself in the paint in order to create an advantage when he received the ball, the way he pinned down the rival defender, should be taught in basketball academies. He excelled at this both in half-court situations and in the open court.
What are the things Milutinov is or can become better at? Definitely creation. He has a better perception of space, he can read plays more easily, and with Olympiacos he’s already systematically used as a stepping-stone to build attacks.
He has also improved a lot in what is a difficult part of the game for seven-footers: playing defense against faster guards following switches on screens, or even in pick-and-roll or two-on-two defensive situations. Pekovic was much more of a finisher than a creator and, whether switching or in pick-and-roll defenses, he couldn’t go as low as Milutinov and his reactions were slower.
As we say in the title of this section, these are details that are mainly of concern to coaches and experts. The point is that Pekovic and Milutinov have more elements that unite them than separate them in their EuroLeague careers. Both are true descendants of the old-school style of dominant big men.
And another thing. Both of them – Pekovic for a greater number of years because of his age, Milutinov for fewer and, as he has said, through DVDs – admired, used as a role model and were influenced as players by the great Vlade Divac.