Understanding the Euroleague Final Four

Rob Hennigan has blanketed the globe in search of the world’s finest international basketball prospects.

As the Thunder’s Director of College/International Player Personnel, Hennigan recently traveled to Berlin, Germany, for the Euroleague Final Four.

The event, which ran from May 1-3, featured the most talented teams across Europe. Hennigan was there to evaluate international prospects both for the upcoming NBA Draft and the near future.

I caught up with Hennigan via email upon his return to Oklahoma City to pick his brain about all things Euroleague. Here’s the transcription:

How many Euroleague games did you get to see this season, from the regular season to the Top 16 to Playoffs to Final Four?

“Typically, our staff sees dozens of Euroleague games in-person each season, and we supplement that with quite a bit of film work. Massimo Biasin, our head international scout, does a great job of surveying the landscape and keeping us informed. But each season is unique in terms of how many Euroleague games we evaluate. Our coverage internationally is 99% player-driven, not team-driven, so the teams with the best draft prospects and free agents are the ones that garner the majority of our attention.”

Where does this rank in terms of international basketball scouting events?

“Well, that’s kind of a tricky question. For European teams, it’s the most significant, anticipated event of the basketball calendar. It’s basically a hybrid of the NBA Finals and the NCAA Final Four. The format really heightens the pressure and sense of urgency for these clubs as there’s a smaller margin for error in a one-game playoff.

“This event is also a great venue for improving our network of European contacts, as almost everyone within the European basketball community attends. We’re always looking for new ways to bolster our information gathering abroad and the Final Four is a convenient way to keep in touch with old friends and establish new contacts.”

Given the difference in style of play, how do you go about evaluating whether a European player can successfully crossover to the NBA?

“I think good players rise to the surface regardless of where they’re competing, especially at the Euroleague level. The European game and the NBA game differ on a few levels, but I think the majority of the upper echelon players in Europe are talented enough to contribute in our league. The main challenge is that most of these players would be forced to accept a reduced role in the NBA, and also a reduced salary. So that’s a major hurdle.”

What stood out about the way Final Four champion Panathinaikos Athens played throughout the tournament?

“I think their depth and continuity stood out here. They really executed offensively and seemed to have a purpose on the defensive end. They have a great coach, great chemistry, and a lot of big-game experience. Just like in the NBA playoffs, you can’t put a price on experience and Panathinkaikos certainly has a great group of veteran players.”

Did the time you spent at the Final Four better help the Thunder evaluate international prospects for the upcoming draft?

“Each Final Four is different when it comes to its relevancy for the draft. A lot depends on which teams qualify. Historically, the teams that qualify for the Final Four are the most experienced teams in Europe, so it’s rare for one of these teams to have a 20 year-old kid as one of its main contributors. This year’s Final Four featured a lot of veteran players and not very many draft prospects.

“Every year the Euroleague does organize a junior tournament that coincides with the Final Four festivities. The players in this tournament aren’t eligible for the upcoming draft, but scouting this tournament is a convenient way for us to identify future prospects.

When you returned from Europe this week, what are your top priorities? Generally speaking, who do you meet with and what’s discussed?

“This is definitely a hectic time of year for us, but it’s also a lot of fun. We’re currently in the middle of scheduling draft workouts, reviewing various data we’ve compiled throughout the season, and studying a lot of film. During the season our scouts spend countless hours evaluating games and researching players. And we’ll try to use these next few weeks to fuse everyone’s individual opinion into a well-informed decision that hopefully benefits the organization going forward.”

With the Draft next month, can you give us a general rundown of a typical day in your life now that you’re back home?

“There’s really no such thing as a typical day this time of year as everyone’s juggling a lot of responsibilities. I think it’s really important to be cognizant of how we manage our time over the next few weeks. Maintaining clear lines of communication is a major priority of ours. Whether it’s speaking with agents or making sure everyone in the office is on the same page, we make it a point to be pro-active and organized.”

Contact Chris Silva