January 8, 2022
EuroLeague MVP race: Making a case for the top 15 players
Who is best positioned to win EuroLeague MVP with four weeks left in the regular season?
If you know anything about popular sayings, you must have heard this one at least once: “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
I’m pretty sure American mathematician, statistician and phycicist Herman Chernoff thought the same when he developed what came to be known as the Chernoff Faces. Summing it up quickly, Chernoff figured out a visual way to display multivariate data in the shape of a human face. In other words, he translated a data set comprised of multiple variables into the different parts of a face (e.g., eyes, nose and mouth) with varying shapes, sizes, places, etc., making it easy and quick to recognize patterns and draw conclusions.
The underlying idea—because Chernoff was not goofing around—is that humans are so accustomed to faces that is very simple for us to spot even the slightest changes without much effort. And it worked!
But Chernoff Faces are also fun. Basketball is fun, too. So what about combining those two things in this last week of post-Christmas hiatus for the EuroLeague?
Chernoff-ing EuroLeague MVP candidates
Instead of using faces to represent our data set of players, I opted to draw from the defunct hoops blog Hoopism, which I spent a lot of time reading and learning from. Hoopism did something similar with NBA players to what I have attempted here.
With 10 weeks of play in the books and just a month remaining in the regular season, it’s time to start seriously discussing who deserves the MVP Award. I created a group of MVP contenders using the following rules:
- The top 10 players in total efficiency are in. With that stat, we acknowledge the players playing the most games/time while yielding the most production.
- The top 10 players in average efficiency are in, too. That allows us to include players who went overseas later or debuted deeper into the season (e.g., Kahleah Copper and Satou Sabally) but have been extraordinary in the games they have played.
- The reigning EuroLeague (Alina Iagupova) and WNBA (Jonquel Jones) MVPs, who are also having great seasons, are in.
Some of the players in the first two groups overlap, giving us 15 players: 10 WNBA imports and five non-imports. Here is the full field of contenders, sorted from left to right, top to bottom, by total efficiency. Their average efficiency is next to their name, and the legend in the bottom right corner explains which statistical categories correspond to which body parts.
That’s a wildly heterogeneous group of players, isn’t it? Let’s go through each of the 15 players in order, highlight some of the incredible things they’re doing, and ultimately pick a potential future EuroLeague MVP.
Tina Krajisnik – Galatasaray
- Krajisnik’s 222 total efficiency through 10 games ranks first in the EuroLeague.
- She’s also a top-three player in average efficiency (22.2) and leads everybody who has played at least nine games this season in that category.
- Rounding up a bit, Krajisnik is one of only two players averaging 18 points and nine rebounds per game.
- Krajisnik is the only one doing that and putting up more than two assists, more than two steals and almost one block per game.
- Working against Krajisnik is the fact that Galatasaray currently has a losing record (4-6) and that she has a minus-13 plus-minus this season.
- However, Krajisnik has the most complete resume of the top 15 players in the counting statistical categories.
Sandrine Gruda – Beretta Famila Schio
- Gruda is the only player averaging a double-double on the year thanks to her 15.0 points and 10.7 rebounds per game.
- Gruda is also adding 2.9 assists, 0.4 steals and 1.7 blocks per game. The latter is the fourth-highest mark among all EuroLeague players and the third-highest among players with more than five games played.
- Gruda’s 220 total efficiency is just two points shy of Krajisnik’s.
- Gruda is playing 1.3 minutes more per game than Krajisnik while maintaining virtually the same efficiency, which works in Gruda’s favor.
- There are no 3-point shots to Gruda’s name, which works a little bit against her in the current basketball landscape (in other words: no stretching the floor from this classic center).
- Famila Schio has a 6-4 record, tied for second in Group B. Gruda is boasting a plus-43 plus-minus this season.
Elizabeth Williams (ATL) – Fenerbahçe
- Williams is the first WNBA import to pop up in the total efficiency leaderboard.
- She is playing the second-most minutes per game (36.0), behind teammate Alina Iagupova’s 36.4. Neither has missed a single match.
- Williams is the league’s leading shot blocker with 2.8 swats a game. That’s 0.7 blocks more than the player who ranks second.
- Williams is one of only three players shooting 57% or higher while attempting 10 or more field goals per game. Not a lot of 3-point production (if at all), though.
- She is averaging a league-leading 4.1 stocks (steals+blocks) per game and is one of only two players averaging four or more stocks per game this season, though she is playing significantly more minutes than the other, Dragana Stankovic.
- Williams is the only player in this group averaging fewer than one turnover per game (0.7)—again, while playing the second-most minutes!
Kayla McBride (MIN) – Fenerbahçe
- Walking bucket. McBride is hoisting 13.1 field goals per game and shooting 51.1% from the field. Only six players are putting up such numbers in terms of volume/accuracy.
- Absolutely no one is close to McBride in 3-point attempts, 3-point percentage or overall shooting accuracy. McBride is the only player attempting more than seven 3-pointers per game while making a monster 46.1% of them, let alone hitting more than half of her field goal attempts.
- McBride is the only player shooting a perfect 100% from the free-throw line on more than three attempts per game (3.2).
- Fenerbahçe leads Group B with three players (McBride included) leading the league in minutes with at least 35.1 per game.
- McBride (172) has the second-highest total efficiency through Week 10 and a plus-minus above 152.
- She is one of only two players averaging at least 20 points per game and the only one with at least five rebounds and three assists on top of that.
- She is also one of only nine players averaging more than three assists per game (3.1) while turning the ball over fewer than two times per game. Of course, she’s playing the most minutes of those nine players.
Natasha Howard (NYL) – Dynamo Kursk
- Just three players are grabbing 9.5 or more rebounds per game, including Howard. Howard is the only one pairing that rebounding with more than 15 points a game (17.8 for her).
- Howard is one of the most prolific true bigs, attempting 14.9 field goals per game and scoring at a 51.9% clip. The four players ahead of her in field goal attempts are all guards.
- Although a top-five player in the EuroLeague in total efficiency, Howard is “only” eighth-best in average efficiency, surpassed by three players who have played between four and nine games (all of them in this list, too).
- Even though Howard is averaging 2.2 turnovers and 2.7 personal fouls per game, she’s still topped most of her competition in every other statistical category and the efficiency leaderboard, which speaks highly of her talent.
Maria Vadeeva – UMMC Ekaterinburg
- If not the MVP, Vadeeva should surely be the Sixth Woman of the Year. Vadeeva is averaging the third-lowest minutes per game (24.4) among those in this list, yet her average efficiency (20.0) is higher than four of the other 14.
- Imagine if Vadeeva started every game and played 36 minutes per game. Her current statistics would translate to averages of 21.8 points, 13.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.9 blocks with only 1.9 turnovers per game. That would put her second in points, first in rebounds and third in blocks among these 15 players.
- League-wide, among players averaging 25 or fewer minutes per game, Vadeeva leads everyone in points and rebounds while also being a top-five player in blocks and above average in steals and assists.
- Vadeeva’s 11.3 field goal attempts per game—not to mention her 53.1% shooting—are a true outlier among players in that 25-minutes-at-most cohort. Only one other player in that group is even at 10 attempts per game.
Megan Gustafson (WAS) – Arka Gdynia
- Gustafson’s minus-27 plus-minus is the lowest among players in this top 15. That’s not too worrisome, though, considering she plays for the worst team in Group B and she’s the only one with an average efficiency above 16.
- Although she’s had to lead her squad (12.1 field goal attempts per game), Gustafson has been able to shoot a monster 61.7% from the field (only one other top-15 player is above her and is attempting five fewer field goals per game).
- She is one of only four players averaging at least 10 points, eight rebounds, one assist and one block per game. That’s a fantastic baseline, indeed, but Gustafson is almost doubling that scoring with her 17.9 points per game.
- Overlooked golden nugget: Gustafson has the second-fewest fouls per game (0.8) among those in our top 15. She is the only player committing less than one foul while playing more than 27 minutes per game.
Dragana Stankovic – USK Praha
- Praha has been a basketball-bulldozing machine of late, and that has a lot to do with Stankovic.
- While not excelling at anything in particular other than blocking shots (she has the second-highest average league-wide at 2.1 per game), Stankovic’s stats are steady and high enough all across the board.
- No other player can match Stankovic’s line of 11.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.9 steals and 2.1 blocks per game. Only three other players match her in four of those five categories, falling short in blocks.
- Hurting Stankovic’s odds of getting the MVP: One of those three players mentioned above is teammate Alyssa Thomas, who could draw votes away from Stankovic while losing some herself, thus making both Praha players miss out on the award.
Brionna Jones (CON) – USK Praha
- Only 16 players have racked up a total efficiency of 165 or more. Jones is the only one to have reached that mark in just eight games.
- It is taking Jones 13.3 field goal attempts per game to average 19.8 points per game. That might lead you to think she’s putting up tons of volume to hit that scoring mark. Not so much, though, as Jones’ 1.49 points per shot rank third league-wide among players attempting at least 10 shots per game. Can’t get much more efficient than that.
- If you read about Stankovic above, you already know that she is competing with Alyssa Thomas on her own squad… and also Jones. It’s a little bit harsh, I know, but odds are that none of the three gets enough separation to become the MVP.
- There are three players in the league averaging at least two steals per game while pulling down more than seven boards per contest. Jones is one of them while also boasting the highest points-per-game mark in that group.
- Jones has the fourth-best total efficiency (187) and second-best average efficiency (23.4) among players with fewer than 30 minutes played per game.
Emma Meesseman (WAS) – UMMC Ekaterinburg
- It could be argued there are only two do-it-all players this season: Meesseman and Thomas. They are the only ones averaging at least six rebounds and four assists per game, and they are each adding double-digit points and at least one steal per game.
- Meesseman is one of five players averaging at least four assists per game while turning the ball over fewer than two times (1.7) a game.
- On the other hand, she’s committing a sky-high 2.6 personal fouls per game, though that is a product of her aggressiveness and she more than compensates for it with her steals.
- When it comes to shooting, few do it at Meesseman’s insane level: 56% from the field, 50% from 3-point range and 83% from the free-throw line through Week 10. Meesseman is one of only four players shooting above 50% from the field, the 3-point arc and the free-throw line in at least 20 minutes per game.
Alina Iagupova – Fenerbahçe
- The reigning EuroLeague MVP had a phenomenal debut this season, but a couple of bad outings followed that game. Then Iagupova righted her wrongs and played like a bona fide MVP contender.
- Iagupova will likely end the season atop pretty much every leaderboard, if only by pure brute force. She’s played every game, averaging a league-leading 36.4 minutes and attempting 16.5 field goals (over nine of them from beyond the arc) per game.
- Iagupova is averaging 17.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.0 dimes, two steals and almost one block per game. No other players are keeping up those numbers, with Thomas being the closest (13-8-6-2 with almost no blocks).
- Iagupova is Fenerbahçe’s point guard. It’s not a stretch calling her the Point Goddess.
- Iagupova leads the league in field-goal attempts (by 0.5) and 3-point shots (by 1.4) per game. On the other hand, she has the second-worst turnover average with 3.6 per game, though her personal fouls aren’t that high at 1.7 per game.
Alyssa Thomas (CON) – USK Praha
- Thomas is one of only 12 players scoring 13 or more points per game while playing fewer than 30 minutes per game. Among players averaging the same minutes, she is also top-six in rebounding, top-two in steals, and the best at dishing out dimes with 6.3 assists per game (no other player averaging the same minutes is averaging more than 4.6 dimes per game).
- Only Brionna Jones has accrued a higher plus-minus than Thomas’s plus-179, which is tied with Maria Conde and Veronika Vorackova. That is obviously tied to team performance (all four play for Praha), but it’s definitely a positive on Thomas’ resume.
- Thomas is one of only 15 players shooting above 49% from the field while attempting 10 or more field goals per game. But Thomas barely takes any 3-pointers.
- Thomas has been one of the steadiest players of the EuroLeague this season. She’s posted efficiency marks of at least 16 in all but two of her games, and she’s finished at or above 20 in four of those.
- Her 2.17 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks in the top 15 league-wide even though Thomas is averaging 2.9 turnovers per game. That shows how magnificent she’s been at dishing out dimes. No player other than Thomas who turns the ball over 2.4 or more times per game has an assist-to-turnover ratio above 1.90.
Jonquel Jones (CON) – UMMC Ekaterinburg
- The reigning WNBA MVP arrived a bit late overseas and has played in eight of UMMC’s 10 games. She’s been limited in terms of playing time, too, averaging just 23.3 minutes.
- What Jones is doing on a per-minute basis is nothing short of insane. Jones is putting up 14.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and one block per game. The first two marks lead all players averaging fewer than 24 minutes per game, while the blocks rank third and the assists are a top-13 figure.
- Per 36 minutes, Jones is averaging 22.5 points, 13.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. That, compared to actual stats from other players this season, would easily put Jones as one of the best all-around players.
- The players shooting 56/46/82 on the year while attempting at least nine field goals, two 3-point shots and three free throws per game: Jones and Copper.
- There are seven players averaging 14 points and eight rebounds per game, six of them in this top 15. Only one of them is doing it in fewer than 24 minutes per game: Jones.
Satou Sabally (DAL) – Fenerbahçe
- Sabally’s EuroLeague season has been one of a kind. She’s only played five games and a grand total of 123 minutes. Her 101 total efficiency isn’t the greatest, until you realize she’s the only player above 100 in fewer than six games.
- Her 20.2 average efficiency ranks 10th in the league through Week 10. No wonder, considering Sabally is averaging 14.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.4 blocks and just a “combined” three turnovers+fouls per game.
- Sabally isn’t quite the unicorn of the EuroLeague, but she’s one of only three players averaging at least 10 points and one assist, steal and block. She’s doing it while playing just 24.6 minutes per game, mind you.
- Sabally is hoisting almost nine field goals per game and connecting on more than 49% of those attempts. More than a third of those shots are from beyond the arc, and her 46.7% 3-point shooting ranks fourth among players attempting at least three 3-pointers per game.
- Anete Steinberga (94%) and Sabally (93.8%) are the only two players hitting such high percentages from the free-throw line while attempting more than 3.6 freebies per game.
Kahleah Copper (CHI) – Perfumerias Avenida
- The WNBA champ and Avenida’s leading scorer is, also, the best bucket-getter in the EuroLeague with a ridiculous 25.8 points per game.
- Copper has only appeared in four games and played 108 minutes through Week 10 (her last game before the break got postponed, so she has five games remaining). We’ll see how things look when all is said and done, but Copper is currently boasting the highest average efficiency (24.5), more than a full point above second-place Brionna Jones (23.4).
- Copper’s shooting has been scorching hot: 60.2% from the field (15.0 attempts per game), 68.8% from beyond the arc (2.5 attempts) and 83.7% from the charity stripe (7.0 attempts). No one else is remotely close to this volume and accuracy from all areas of the court. Regression should come at some point, so enjoy this hot streak while it lasts!
- With Maite Cazorla and Leonor Rodriguez running the point for Avenida, Copper has focused on shooting. Only she and Katie Lou Samuelson are attempting double-digit shots for Avenida this season.
- Unlike other players, Copper has been pinpoint accurate even on such a heavy volume of shots. Copper is averaging 1.72 points per field goal, whereas none of the nine other players hoisting more than 14 shots a game are averaging more than 1.31 points per field goal.
- Although the small sample size clearly benefits Copper, she’s putting up her numbers while playing only 27 minutes per game. Per 36 minutes, Copper would be averaging an unheard-of 34 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals for an average efficiency of 32.7(!).
And your 2022 EuroLeague MVP is…
Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for has arrived. And if you read all of the words I typed above, I salute you.
So here is the (subjective) process I followed to choose my MVP. Remember, we’re about two-thirds into the season, so we can’t assume everybody will play all of the remaining games, double their minutes per game or anything like that. Let’s keep it realistic.
- There are only 14 regular-season games in a normal EuroLeague season. In such a short competition, it makes sense to use the “the best ability is availability” mantra and weight the cases from players with large sample sizes and playing prominent roles more heavily. Players removed from contention: Copper, Sabally, Jonquel Jones, Vadeeva.
- When I started covering the EuroLeague at The Next, I shared the 75th-percentile stat lines from the WNBA and the EuroLeague. Top-tier players average close to 14-5-3-1-1, so let’s set something a little lower as our benchmark—say, 13 points, four rebounds and one assist. Players removed from contention: Meesseman, Stankovic, Williams, Gustafson, Howard, Brionna Jones, Gruda.
- The Alyssa Thomas Rule: Thomas gets eliminated because she is averaging 13.0 points per game, right at the benchmark. She is also playing the fewest minutes per game of the four remaining contenders. Players removed from contention: Thomas.
With that, we’re down to three MVP candidates: Iagupova, McBride and Krajisnik.
Iagupova has had some heavy up and downs, from a blistering start to a middling middle to a phoenix-like resurrection. All games considered, the two-time, back-to-back reigning MVP has been as good as advertised.
McBride has been a threat at absolutely everything. She’s scoring the most points among these three at 20 per game on 51.1% shooting while contributing five boards, three dimes and a steal, against only 1.6 turnovers per game. Not bad.
Krajisnik, though, gets the nod for the Early 2022 Future EuroLeague MVP. What she has put together through the first 10 weeks of play has been wonderful and dominant as hell. Not only does Krajisnik lead the league with a 222 total efficiency, but she’s doing that while playing 31.5 minutes in the leading role for a not-so-great Galatasaray squad. Yes, she’s got strong teammates, but her team’s talent isn’t at the same level as UMMC’s or Praha’s.
The veteran center is turning 31 on Jan. 12. She’s in her first year playing for the Turkish side after having conquered the EuroBasket with Serbia last summer. Krajisnik closed that competition with the second-most steals (2.8) per game and posted a Final-high 13 rebounds against host France. Then she lifted the gold medal, joined Gala, moved to Turkey, and played phenomenal basketball to close the 2021 calendar year and top our EuroLeague MVP leaderboard.
Krajisnik’s 17.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.1 steals per game are all top-15 (at the very least) figures in the EuroLeague this season. Her assists per game are not great, but they are a top-tier mark for her position. She only losses 0.29 opportunities on offense (turnovers plus missed field goal attempts) per 36 minutes, another top-10 mark among players attempting at least 10 shots per game (top-five if we limit that group to players who have logged 300 or more minutes).
Simply put, there has not been a more available and impactful player than Krajisnik through 10 weeks of play. The fact that Galatasaray is 4-6 and facing elimination will definitely hurt her chances of winning MVP. But if we and the voters want to celebrate basketball, there hasn’t been a greater performer in the EuroLeague.