Across the Pond

Assistant GM David sees Jerebko, Kravtsov play in their home countries

Slava Kravtsov and Jonas Jerebko will compete in the European Championships this summer.
Ukraine Business.com/Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Slava Kravtsov might not be a guy whose statistics jump out of the box score, but nobody has to convince Pistons fans who remember their 2004 NBA title of the value of just such a player. Ben Wallace put together a pretty fair career without filling up every statistical column.

Pistons assistant general manager George David saw Kravtsov affect games out of proportion to what his numbers suggested during his recent visit to Europe to watch Kravtsov play two games for Ukraine and Jonas Jerebko one for Sweden as they competed on their national teams in European Championship qualifying games.

“One of the things that goes unnoticed with Slava is not just the blocks, but the amount of shots he alters,” David said, back in his office after returning to Detroit on Tuesday following Sweden’s 111-74 Monday win over Luxembourg led by Jerebko. “It was evident in both of the games I saw where there were quite a few possessions where a penetrating guard just didn’t go into the lane because he was there.

“Beyond just his blocks, one of the things that is going to be a strong suit of his is simply impacting the game by altering shots. In the game against Cyprus, he forced the opposing center into two or three air balls in the first half. That’s something that doesn’t make it into the box score, but to me is just as big as something you see on a stat sheet.”

Kravtsov was especially impressive in Ukraine’s only loss in four games so far, an 80-79 overtime game with unbeaten Croatia. Limited to a handful of first-half minutes by foul trouble, Kravtsov was at the heart of Ukraine’s comeback that was foiled when Bogan Bogdanovic hit a 3-point basket with four seconds to play. He finished with 14 points, four rebounds and two blocked shots.

“He came back in the second half and dominated the game for them,” David said.

David also watched Ukraine practice and went out to dinner with Kravtsov, who will be tied up with his national team through its Sept. 8 finale at Cyprus. Kravtsov, who has averaged 8.5 points, 5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks over four games, is expected to be in Detroit sometime around the middle of the month, a few weeks before the opening of training camp.

“He’s eager,” David said. “He’s on a tremendously hectic schedule. It’s not like you’re playing in the Big Ten and going from Ohio State to Iowa. The flight from Kiev to Cyprus could easily be a four-hour flight. He is excited about joining the Pistons when this is finished, but right now it’s kind of hard for him to keep his focus on anything but the European qualifications.”

Jerebko’s participation with Sweden seemed unlikely as the 2011-12 NBA season ended. He was initially wary, coming off his 2010 Achilles tendon injury and the inability to rehabilitate under Pistons strength coach Arnie Kander during the lockout, of withstanding the rigors of the intense summer training schedule required of national team participation. But he came to the Pistons shortly after the season concluded and expressed his desire to suit up for Sweden.

The Pistons, David said, have long believed in supporting their players’ decisions in such matters. His trip to Europe was much less about evaluating Kravtsov and Jerebko than about supporting their players and checking in with them.

“You’re constantly evaluating, whether they’re playing in a pickup game at the practice facility or in Stockholm or the Ukraine,” he said. “But a trip like this, the intent is more a show of support. We definitely made a point to make sure we caught both of those guys play in their home countries.”

Jerebko is the unquestioned star for Sweden, which is 2-2 through four games. He’s averaged 20 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Sweden’s schedule wraps up on Sept. 11.

“He’s obviously their most talented player,” David said. “They do everything through him. That’s pretty much how they have to play. It’s given him a chance to do some things from a leadership standpoint with that team. That’s good. Being the lone NBA player on that team, it puts him in a position of leadership both on and off the court. It’s been a good experience for him.”