Robertas Javtokas has still got it
February 11th, 2009

For some reason, whenever we get a EuroCup game screened over here (something that happens way more than the screening of NBA games), it almost always involves Dynamo Moscow. It’s a bit annoying having to see the same old players out there time after time when there’s so many others that I’d rather watch. But it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either, because Dynamo Moscow (as is the case with all EuroCup teams) has plenty of good quality talent on it, and I get to see them all over again.

The most notable players on the Dynamo Moscow team are former Hawk swingman Travis Hansen, Spurs draft pick Robertas Javtokas, former Nets and Rockets forward Bostjan Nachbar, former Blazer and King forward Sergei Monia, big Lithuanian Darjus Lavrinovic, and Russian national team point guard Sergei Bykov. (Brian Chase, who recently signed with Dynamo, hasn’t played yet.) Travis Hansen has taken an acceptable NBA career and turned it into a beast of a European career, playing as a first option player on some of Europe’s better teams, showing a fine mid-range game, the ability to run the offence, and his ever-present athleticism. Nachbar is playing well against the far less athletic European opposition, and Monia still rocks the “I’ll do anything but shoot” approach that so befits a baby-faced tweener Russian. Lavrinovic is a good all-around player, with legit NBA size, an inside/outside game, good rebounding instincts and no ability to jump off the floor, and Bykov is a good little guard whose sensible and smooth play is making the loss of Jannero Pargo entirely survivable.

However, the one I’m going to focus on is Javtokas.

Often, the commentators talk of Robertas Javtokas’s 40-inch vertical. You may have heard about it yourself; it was his combination of great size and athleticism that made him interesting in the first place. However, it now seems misguided. Despite having a very nice dunk in their most recent game off of a pick-and-roll situation, Javtokas’s vertical appears to be little more than half of what it used to be. Whether this is due to just age (Javtokas turns 29 next month) or the fallout from his near-fatal motorbike accident for a few years ago, I couldn’t say. But this man doesn’t play like a leaper. He’s not Keon Clark, Tyrus Thomas or Chris Andersen. Instead, he’s more of a Kendrick Perkins.

But regardless of whatever stereotype you wish to force him into, Javtokas can play. Playing exclusively in the paint on both ends, Javtokas is tall and strong, and still with a decent (if oversold) vertical leap. This combination often gives him the size and athleticism advantage in European play, and would make him the equal of many NBA players. To go with that, Javtokas boasts good shot-blocking instincts and timing, a good rebounding rate, and some acceptable offence. Javtokas does not create much offence for himself, has no offence away from the hoop, and is not a post-up player (although when he drops a baseline spin on you, it’s usually mustard), but he is a decent finisher on the move. And that’s all that he really needs to be. His prognosis as a backup NBA centre is quite good; while he has his flaws (lateral quickness, needs a bib on offence, nothing away from the paint, etc), Javtokas can also impact the game in a positive way. This is something often underappreciated in a league that has players like Oleksiy Pecherov and Aaron Gray getting backup centre minutes.

It’s tough to say whether Javtokas’s window of opportunity with the Spurs has finally passed him by. For years now, the Spurs and Javtokas have had occasional flirtations that always seemed to end in Javtokas pricing himself out of the market. The Spurs would only stretch to a budget that pays him like the backup centre that he would be (such as what they gave Jackie Butler, Fabricio Oberto or Francisco Elson – about $2 to $3 million a year), whereas Javtokas wanted more of a three-year, $15 million deal. Every time, negotiations broke down, Javtokas went back to Europe, and continued to produce at a high level, while the Spurs went in another direction. But every time, they kept his rights.

Maybe that will pay off. Dynamo Moscow recently lost one of their big signings (Pargo) and another important guard (Hollis Price) after missing out on some of their payments. Times are tight the world over right now, and particularly so in the world of European basketball, which isn’t exactly a professional field renouned for its prompt, accurate salary payments. Last night’s Dynamo game was also only played in front of a half-filled stadium, despite its importance – with huge salaries committed to Nachbar, Hansen and others, and without huge amounts of money coming in, Dynamo might not be able to afford Javtokas next year.

Is there one more short left for him? He could certainly play in the NBA, and another Spurs draft pick – Luis Scola, who is one month younger than Javtokas – joined the league only last year, proving that it’s never really too late. The Spurs traded Scola’s rights, and perhaps could do the same to Javtokas, for whom there will surely be a market. However, the Spurs ought to consider bringing him over themselves – with Oberto only partially guaranteed, Kurt Thomas’s continued decline, Ian Mahinmi’s lack of progress, and Matt Bonner’s inevitable fall from brilliance, San Antonio could use an extra centre.

With Javtokas, they may have one in-house.

(As for the Marousi end of things, Sonics and Pistons fans may have been interested in the play of Andreas Glyniadakis. Well, he still continually runs around calling for the ball, and often gets it considering his improvement as an offensive player. Glyniadakis has a reasonably deft touch from six feet and in, and rarely drifts outside of the paint, And he developed a nice stroke from the free throw line, going 8-10, even though his technique seems to involve looking at the floor and standing up so quickly that he risks getting the bends. However, he is also one of the softest players you’ve ever seen, particularly at 7’1 and about 270 pounds. Glyniadakis is so against contact – and I’m not exaggerating here – that he won’t even take any contact when sitting screens, seemingly content with standing in the right place and rolling without causing any obstruction whatsoever, which is kind of what screens are for. On defence he is similarly soft, allowing Lavrinovic and Javtokas to repeatedly go up unchallenged, and not using his bulk to ever hit anyone. Lavrinovic had four and-ones in the game, and this is not a coincidence – Glyniadakis challenged few shots, and when he did, he merely put his little paws on them. Additionally, Minnesota Timberwolves fans who want to know how Loukas Mavrokefalidis is doing are going to be similarly disappointed – Mavman was extremely bad in this game. In fact, the only two things he did well were freeze Javtokas on a backpick for a layup in the first quarter, and then hit a three with Marousi down 19 late. That’s it. The rest of the time, he missed his shots (including a lefty hook shot that hit the side of the backboard), played weak defence, showed no agility, and was a non-factor on the boards. Mavrokefalidis is Marousi’s leading scorer in both EuroCup and Greek league play, averaging 12.4 and 11.7 ppg respectively, but he was awful in this one. And when the thing that will ever get him into the NBA is his scoring, it’s not good when it disappears so dramatically against quality opposition. Marousi’s bright spots included veteran American journeymen Billy Keys – who demonstrated good passing skills, as well as the ability to get his own from both long- and mid-range – and Jarod Stevenson, who proved he could shoot. That was about it. Pat Calathes worked hard, but achieved little. And he’s balding fast.)

(Close bracket.)

Posted by at 4:43 AM