By Antonis Stroggylakis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
This has been without a single doubt the top season in Malcolm Delaney’s professional career so far. Given the high level of competitiveness in which he produced the usual goods he delivers and taking into account his team’s historical accomplishments, it is safe to say that we’ve never seen him playing more substantively brilliant basketball.
With him as a top performer, Lokomotiv Kuban reached the Euroleague Final Four, a first-time achievement for the club. And that happened in just the second season in which the Russian team plays in the competition.
His numbers could easily make a loud statement of what we suggest in the title on their own. Delaney sees his name in the first three places of three key statistical categories, among players who have made it past the playoffs. Second in scoring with 16.3 points per game, second in index rating with an average of 19.3 and third in assists with 5.6 per game.
While all the above easily put him in the category of “Greats” of this season in the competition, there’s more when it comes to why, among other things, Malcolm Delaney is the MVP of Euroleague 2015/2016.
Most definitions of the word “valuable” describe it as “extremely useful or important”. Thus the MVP is the player who has been most useful or important for his team. Perhaps both. Let’s put aside the “Most” for now and focus in the “useful” and “important” part. True to the definition of “valuable”, Malcolm Delaney has been both “useful” and “important” at an extreme level for Lokomotiv Kuban this season.
From the moment that Giorgos Bartzokas decided to make him the founding stone around which he would built the Loko’s basketball structure, Delaney would steadily develop his game to max and in perfect accordance with the greater good of his team. And the more he evolved and diversified his own performances, the more that structure of Lokomotiv Kuban grew until reaching sky-scraping Euroleague Final Four heights.
Of course it all began in the regular season. With Delaney averaging 16.1 points, 5.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game, Loko finished first in Group C showing its teeth to the Euroleague world. “Hold on a minute”, you are going to say. “Who cares about the freaking regular season?”. Umm… I don’t know? A team that needed to avoid the notoriously difficult “Group of Death”, probably. It was of crucial importance for Lokomotiv Kuban, a squad in search for chemistry, with many players that had minimal, if not nonexistent, experience of the Euroleague whereabouts, to not enter the Top 16 snake-pit in which Olympiacos and Khimki Moscow got killed with instantly and Real Madrid succumbed to the serpents’ poison three games later.
While leading his team through the regular season, also winning October MVP, Delaney also gave one of the most epic performances we have seen in this season’s Euroleague, when he scored 20 points in 4 minutes and 16 seconds against Panathinaikos, single-handedly pushing his team towards a highly important victory. Of course, that wasn’t the only personal show he has given.
Entering the Top 16 gauntlet
There’s no need to analyze why every game of the Top 16 counts. Especially for a team like Lokomotiv Kuban. And that is because even though the Russian team did not exactly scream it loud, it definitely had the desire to make that extra step towards the playoffs. To start the Top 16 with a road win, was something of a necessity.
Thus Loko knew that the premiere of the Top 16 against Cedevita Zagreb was a “must win”. But things didn’t look exactly bright for them at the beginning of the match. And they would have been darker if not for Malcolm Delaney. The American guard scored 14 out of his team’s 16 points in the first period and 22 out of Loko’s 27 in the mid of the second quarter, while his team was behind the score 29 – 27. He finished the first half with 24 points and dished 6 assists, carrying the team’s full weight on his back. A sign of a true MVP.
If it wasn’t for that gigantic output by Delaney in that period, Lokomotiv could quite possibly begin the Top 16 with a negative result. And since every victory or defeat creates a domino effect, a possible loss vs Cedevita might had dire effects in the team’s future in the competition.
In this game that was much more important than it looked at a first glance, Delaney registered Euroleague career highs in points (31) and index rating (41). What is more amazing, is the fact that he combined his scoring record of 31 points with 8 assists. Not a set of numbers you find everyday in Euroleague, but definitely one that shows Delaney’s ever-growing versatility.
Lokomotiv Kuban finished the Top 16 with nine victories, good enough to grand them second place and home-court advantage in the playoffs. In these matches, Delaney averaged 16.6 points, 7.2 assists and only 2.4 turnovers per game. A superb balance between rich scoring and prolific creation which establishes how vital his input was for the offense of Lokomotiv Kuban.
Last stop before the Final Four
To reach the Final Four, Lokomotiv Kuban had to prove its mettle against Barcelona. The Russian team won the series 3-2 after losing the home-court advantage and then reclaiming it with an overtime victory in Spain.
Even though the star of Anthony Randolph often outshined everyone else, in Loko’s first playoffs venture, Malcolm Delaney contributed constantly and heavily during the series. Perhaps the most impressive aspect was that while he increased his aggressiveness, attempting more field goals than in the previous stages in the competition, he shot the ball even better! During the regular season and the Top 16, Delaney fired with 42% from the field, but this percentage rose to 47% in the playoffs. Meanwhile, he attempted 11.8 shots per game, compared to the average of 10.3 he made in the first two Euroleague stages, finishing with 15.8 points per game.
At the same time, another fact which showcases how immensely valuable Delaney is for Lokomotiv Kuban, was once more established. The Russian team was in desperate need of his assists, apart from his scoring. In the two games that Loko lost, the American combo guard averaged only 2 assists. In the three victories that send the team to the Final Four, Delaney dished 6.6. assists per game.
The impact of Malcolm Delaney in Lokomotiv’s game was simply so enormous that his team looked doomed without his play-making skills. Yes, their top scorer’s playmaking kills. When these appeared doing their trick, his team’s engines were up and running at full speed again.
Malcolm Delaney is generally one of those rare players whose mere presence on court forces his opponents to sound the alarm. Woe to anyone who will not pay full attention on him, and leave even the tiniest space for the Baltimore-born guard to act.
At the same time, he is one of the very few other ballers in Europe right now able to relentlessly attack the basket with a hydrogen fueled force, while simultaneously exhibiting an exemplary altruistic behavior, dedicated to the benefit of the whole. Lokomotiv Kuban relied on exactly that rare characteristic in order to taste the Final Four dream.
Of course, the system of the Russians works in such a way that will allow him to produce the desired numbers for the sake of the team. His teammates rush to make countless screens, on the ball or not, for Delaney to get rid of his personal opponents and execute. It’s a codependent relation really, but one without the offense of Lokomotiv Kuban would, most likely, crumble down.
While he is caring for his team general offensive well-being in every single way one can imagine, he will not slack off on the other side of court. That would have been impossible in the best defensive team in Euroleague, wouldn’t it?
So basically what we have here, is one of the most dangerous gunslingers in Euroleague spending 33:18 minutes per game on court in the team that displays the ultimate defense of the competition. Isn’t it impressive that he, a pure scorer, one of the most characteristic basketball natural born killers in Europe as a matter of fact, had also played his part in his team’s defense, that happens to be his best in Europe . Is there any other Euroleague MVP contender who can claim that?
It is not a coincidence, that Malcolm Delaney plays so much in each game. More than any other player in Euroleague this season. He is top in the related category in both accumulated and average numbers. And this is exactly what mostly sets him apart from all the other… “suitors” of the MVP award.
The comparison game
Of all other players in the Final Four teams that are possible candidates to be named MVP, Delaney remains on court far longer. Since comparisons are inevitable, Nando De Colo, of CSKA Moscow and Giannis Bourousis, of Laboral Kutxa who are considered as the other two favorites for the honor, have averaged 27:27 and 25:02 minutes per game respectively. Delaney, as mentioned above, plays a lot more.
You have seen CSKA Moscow without De Colo or Laboral kutxa without Bourousis. Sometimes these teams performed well with these two on the bench or absent from a game and sometimes they did not. But you can’t even imagine how Lokomotiv Kuban would be without Malcolm Delaney.
The other thing that distinguishes Delaney is the fact that the quality of his performance was not reduced on the playoffs. While De Colo and Bourousis saw a serious decrease in their numbers, in comparison with how they performed in the regular season and the Top 16, the American guard of Loko remained consistent, even improving his shooting, as written above.
No pain, no gain
Malcolm Delaney often looks tireless, despite suffering severe pressure from the opposing defense in each and every game he plays, and always having his hands full with tasks that are needed to be done.
What is more, is that after playing so many minutes in each game, he won’t hesitate to make that necessary dive in order to save the ball possession which might make a difference between life and death for his team. We saw exactly that thing happening in Game 1 of the playoff series vs Barcelona. In case you forgot, here it is again.
Having the stamina and mindset to make that self-sacrificing play in the final seconds of the game, after having spent 32 fully intense minutes on court, shows that Delaney’s will to win overpowers every kind of fatigue. It perfectly portrays the stuff that he is made from. The stuff that MVPs are made from.
What the 26-year old player possesses, and has greatly put into action this year for Lokomotiv Kuban, is that deep understanding of the trials that one needs to pass in order to win. And knowing that the cost in this process is irrelevant. That tons of sweat must be spilled in order to get where you want to. That individual numbers can go to hell, if the team is not ahead in the score at the final buzzer. Malcolm Delaney doesn’t simply understand these things. His game in this Euroleague season has vehemently preached, and practiced, the basketball gospel of doing what needs to be done in order to win.
And that, perhaps more than any other reason, is why he is the Euroleague 2015/2016 MVP.