The Phoenix Suns have a unique opportunity to land a true superstar this offseason that would allow Chris Paul to take on a smaller burden.
I’m not talking about Kevin Durant. I’m not talking about Donovan Mitchell. I’m talking about 2021 Euroleague MVP Vasilije Micic, who was drafted 52nd overall in 2014 by the Philadelphia 76ers, but has never come over yet from Europe despite getting up there in age, now 28 years old.
pronounced: vuh-SILL-ee-yuh MITS-itch
The Oklahoma City Thunder now hold his draft rights, and have been receiving interest from several teams that want to trade for Micic, given recent comments about feeling ready to come to the Association.
ESPN Sources: EuroLeague MVP Vasilije Micic continues to attract significant interest among several NBA teams who’d like to acquire and sign him. OKC has rights to 6-foot-5 PG, but doesn’t fit their rebuild timeline at 28. Micic would like to join NBA next season if deal’s found— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 12, 2022
If I’m Phoenix, I’m targeting Micic with the tax-payer mid-level exception, which maxes out around 3 years, $20 million. He currently makes $3 million annually in Europe, so financially it’s a no-brainer to Micic; it’s just a matter of putting together a package that will entice OKC to part with his rights.
At 6-5 and 205 pounds, Micic has plenty of other recent accolades in the best league outside the NBA:
- 2-time Euroleague champ — 2021, 2022
- 2-time Euroleague Final Four MVP — 2021, 2022
- All-Euroleague First Team — 2021
- 2-time All-Euroleague Second Team — 2019, 2022
And he’s won three silver medals in FIBA play representing his home nation of Serbia:
- 2011 U18 European Championship in Poland
- 2013 U19 World Cup in Czech Republic
- 2017 EuroBasket in Turkey
As for how he’s spent his time since being drafted...
- 2014-15: Bayern Munich (Euroleague)
- 2015-16: Crvena Zvezda (Euroleague)
- 2016-17: Tofas (Turkish Basketball Superleague)
- 2017-18: Zalgiris (Euroleague)
- 2018-22: Anadolu Efes (Eurleague)
Doesn’t take long perusing through Micic’s highlights to see that he checks a few boxes that the Suns look for in developmental prospects: quick decision-making, smart decision-making, efficiency, and ball security.
Seemingly born to play in the 0.5-offense, my favorite examples of decision-making in that highlight package come at the following marks:
- 0:15, 0:52, 3:30, 3:50, 4:03, 4:50 (quite the circus assist), 6:26, and 9:30
Even in a statistically muted Euroleague due to factors such as 40-minute regulation, stricter guidelines for what’s considered an assist, as well as a lack of defensive 3 seconds, Micic’s playmaking stands out on the stat sheet.
He’s averaged at least 4.0 assists per game in each season (4+) with Efes, including at least 5.5 over his first two Euroleague seasons as well as in his most recent domestic season. On a per 36 minute basis, he’s only logged fewer than 5.5 for one season and has reached 7+ assists twice.
If that’s not impressive enough, the turnover numbers are even more astonishing. At Efes, he’s never averaged more than 3.1 turnovers per game, and it’s never been above 3.8 on a per 36 basis.
A lot of these playmaking cases are working out of the pick-and-roll, a hallmark of Phoenix’s offense, especially when Paul is on the floor. This brings us — or me — to a fork in the road, since I’ve expressed concern in for over a year now toward centering too much of the Phoenix offense around one scheme — pick-and-roll.
When Cam Payne excelled in 2020-21, it was mainly because of the “changeup” aspect he brought to the lineup in relieving Paul. Payne’s “blink and you’ll miss it” brand of ball worked excellently juxtaposed with Paul’s measured “break down the defense and find the holes” style of offense. So I wonder if Micic having a similarly measured, albeit quicker tempo, game might not work as well off the bench.
You’ll notice as well in that video that Micic’s three-point repertoire is borderline if not elite. He’s able to hit pull-ups as defenders unwisely go under screens, when he gets a big switched on him, he has enough juice off the dribble to get his shot off, and he does it at a high volume as well:
Micic shot 344-921 over 174 games in his time with Efes — across Euroleague and domestic competition — coming out to 37.4% on 5.3 attempts per game. Over his last seven games this past season, he took no fewer than 7 threes in each game.
As for shortcomings, the most glaring problem is the athleticism, which will likely be relatively bad by NBA standards, though there are a few aspects working in his favor in that department.
Obvious positional size and strength at 6-5, 205 will help make up for his athleticism in a way that it hasn’t for someone like Facu Campazzo of the Denver Nuggets — who came over shortly after his Real Madrid teammate Luka Doncic was drafted. I can just about guarantee that if and when Micic does come over, he’ll be a better defender than Campazzo for that reason.
Micic will also benefit from the knowledge he accumulates from running an offense. There are plenty examples in that highlight package of being in the right place at the right time and that being enough for him to make a play on the ball in the passing lanes.
Like Woj and I mentioned earlier, Micic’s rights are now held by the OKC Thunder, but with the emergences of young guards like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, they don’t really have much use for a 28-year old rookie.
The trouble comes with waters as unprecedented as these. There’s never — at least recently — been a veteran Euroleague MVP whose draft rights have long existed with an NBA team though that player hasn’t even played a minute of NBA basketball yet, no matter how far back you go.
Any acquisition would start with gauging Micic’s interest in Phoenix, first and foremost. If he has interest in playing a role for the Suns that likely involves being mostly a bench player with certain spot starts possible if Paul or Booker have to miss any time (though I question what a lineup would look like with both Paul and Micic together), then you move on to Sam Presti and OKC.
We can say with near certainty knowing Presti that OKC would most likely be looking for picks, and I would start the conversation with two future second round picks. Need I remind us all that you’re likely not getting anyone in the 50s of the draft that can immediately help the way Micic might be able to as a “rookie”.
However, if the Suns can wiggle their way through this weird Durant situation while retaining at least one of their first round picks through the rest of the decade, that might have to be the price instead if it turns into a bidding war for Micic, referencing back to Woj’s report that “several” teams have shown interest.
I think Micic is worth it. He’s the kind of guy that can bring great stability to a bench unit or even to a starting unit when needed. He brings great experience like we know James Jones prefers, and he has a real championship pedigree, having won the last two Euroleague championships.
For more about Micic’s background, I can’t recommend the following video from the Euroleague’s YouTube channel enough, detailing some of the best basketball players to come out of Serbia; they focus on Nikola Jokic, Micic, and Milos Teodosic. The section that focuses on Micic starts at the 27:24 mark, though he appears throughout.
Among the interesting tidbits from the documentary:
- Micic’s agent Misko Raznatovic, who represents such NBA players as Cedi Osman and recent first-round pick Nikola Jovic, mentioned in the video that similar to other highly productive Euroleague guards like Shane Larkin, Scottie Wilbekin (who Raznatovic also represents), and Mike James, Micic can shoot well but what sets him apart from those guards is Micic’s ability to “penetrate without any problem and finish against big guys”, citing his size and strength. Penetration is an area where the Suns have been lacking as well.
- Vasilije’s sister, Nina, was a professional skier, including competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics. She’s now married to Luka Mitrovic, who was the 60th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft and was teammates with Vasilije on Crvena Zvezda, where Mitrovic now plays as well. The couple had their first child in February.