The second leg of the 2014-15 ACB season begins tonight with a three-game slate.
Valencia, playing its first game without former head coach Velimir Perasovic, kicks off the action at home against UCAM Murcia.
After that, Maxi Kleber and Obradoiro visit Manresa’s group of intriguing prospects.
First-place Unicaja Málaga closes out Saturday night when they face MoraBanc Andorra on the road.
Here’s everything you need to know about tonight’s games.
UCAM Murcia (8-9) at Valencia Basket (10-7)
Tip-off: 19:00 CET (1 p.m. ET)
Last Meeting: Murcia won 85-76
Why NBA Fans Should Care: Raul Neto (Murcia, Utah Jazz), Guillem Vives (Valencia), Bojan Dubljevic (Valencia, Minnesota Timberwolves)
NBA scouts will have their eyes on the point guard matchup, which features 2013 2nd-round pick Raul Neto squaring off against 2015 NBA Draft prospect Guillem Vives (Valencia).
Neto is the flashier player. The 22-year-old Brazilian is a brilliant passer and Jason Williams-esque in his ability to toe the line between creativity and recklessness.
In his first game against Valencia this season, Neto gave us this gem.
Not only is that a no-look one-handed pass through traffic, but he does it with his off hand. Not many players can make passes like that.
For the season, Neto is eighth in the ACB with 4.3 assists per game. Before the season, he did some solid work against Team USA in a FIBA World Cup qualifier.
Vives doesn’t create highlights like Neto, but he’s a high-quality point guard.
He won the ACB’s Young Player of the Year award last season, and he is finding consistent minutes on what should be a playoff team. That’s rare for a 21-year-old.
After withdrawing from the 2014 Draft, Vives moved from FIATC Joventut to Valencia.
Although his playing time and production have dipped, Vives remains on the NBA radar. He is currently ranked No. 5 in DraftExpress.com’s International ’93 rankings.
Minnesota Timberwolves fans should also be following the progress of Montenegrin center Bojan Dubljevic.
The 23-year-old was highly productive in Valencia’s Euroleague campaign, leading the team with 15.5 points per game on 51.1 percent shooting. However, he hasn’t been nearly as good in ACB play (8.6 points, 39.4 percent shooting).
It will be interesting to see how he fares against Murcia’s athletic front court.
Rio Natura Monbus Obradoiro (8-9) at La Bruixa d’Or Manresa (4-13)
Tip-off: 20:30 CET (2:30 p.m. ET)
Last Meeting: Obradoiro won 88-64
Why NBA Fans Should Care: Marc Garcia (Manresa), Marius Grigonis (Manresa)
That young man is Marius Grigonis, a lights-out three-point shooter from Lithuania.
The 6’7″ guard/forward is No. 10 in DraftExpress’s International ’94 rankings, but I believe he is the most slept-on draft prospect in Spain.
Grigonis is shooting 45.6 percent on threes this season, good for 5th among ACB players with 50-plus attempts.
In week 8, he put up 25 points on 7-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc against Gipuzkoa. When I saw him in Sevilla, he hit 6-of-8 threes, including this deep bomb to beat the shot clock buzzer.
Grigonis is also a good rebounder for his position, pulling down four per game. He’s had three games this season with at least seven rebounds.
Grigonis isn’t a great athlete and he needs to get stronger, but he certainly hasn’t been overwhelmed physically. In Sevilla, he matched up well against former NBA player Derrick Byars (6’7″, 220 pounds).
Also on Manresa is Marc Garcia, a highly touted Spanish shooting guard.
Garcia, 18, has dominated competition his own age, and he is the No. 2 player in DraftExpress’s International ’96 rankings.
However, Garcia has struggled in his transition to the ACB. Although Garcia is known for his shooting, he is hitting just 28.8 percent of his twos and 29.6 percent of his threes this season.
Of course, it’s tough to find a rhythm when you play as sparingly as Garcia has. He’s averaging 12.9 minutes per game and has played less than 10 minutes on six occasions this season.
Hopefully he can see some more time tonight.
Unicaja Málaga (14-3) at MoraBanc Andorra (5-12)
Tip-off: 21:00 CET (3 p.m. ET)
Last Meeting: Unicaja won 83-69
Why NBA Fans Should Care: Mindaugas Kuzminskas (Málaga), Maodo Nguirane (Málaga)
Kuzminskas, 25, still has one year left on his contract with Malága, but that hasn’t stopped the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz from showing interest in the small forward, according to David Pick of BasketballInsiders.com.
Kuzminskas is a lanky 6’9″ forward. He has been essential to first-place Málaga’s early-season success, averaging 9.8 points and 3.8 rebounds in 19.4 minutes per game.
Kuzminskas isn’t a good outside shooter (36.2 percent on threes in the ACB, 26.3 percent in Euroleague), but he gets to the rim and shoots a high percentage inside the arc.
He also had his best game of the 2014 FIBA World Cup against Team USA, putting up 15 points and 9 rebounds in Lithuania’s semi-final loss.
Another player to keep an eye on is Maodo Nguirane, a 6’11” center from Senegal.
Nguirane is averaging just 2.2 minutes per game this season (1.4 in Euroleague), but this will likely be a blowout, so hopefully Unicaja will give the young man some playing time.
Nguirane is No. 19 in DraftExpress’s International ’93 rankings.