Two former MVPs and another game-changer who has been everything but an MVP are among the long-term injured players who are due to inject ever more star power into the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague before long.
Still waiting in the wings, some of the EuroLeague's best
In a season that is already shaping up to be as competitive as any, fans shouldn't forget that they can anticipate the return of several generational talents – Nikola Mirotic of FC Barcelona, last season's MVP, Shane Larkin of two-time defending champion Anadolu Efes Istanbul, and Nemanja Bjelica, the 2015 MVP from Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul – who have yet to play a single game between them this season.
That's not to mention other former All-EuroLeague selections like Rudy Fernandez and Anthony Randoplph of Real Madrid, who have yet to play, either, or Shavon Shields of EA7 Emporio Armani Milan, who has missed all but three games so far. Those three players have four All-EuroLeague selections between them.
With that in mind, here's a rundown of 10 players currently missing in action who fans can expect to impact the playoffs race ahead.
Anthony Randolph, Real Madrid – Randolph is arguably the most unlucky player in this list after undergoing two majoe injuries. He was sidelined for 340 days due to an Achilles' Heel injury and went down again in last season's Spanish League playoffs due to a anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) fracture. Randolph has a rare combination of size, deep range, ballhandling and experience that could be Real's X-factor in the long run.
Steven Enoch, Cazoo Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz – After a solid debut last season, Enoch has yet to play a EuroLeague game in this one due to an ankle injury just before Round 1. Baskonia opted not to sign anyone new and moved Matt Costello to the center position to help Maik Kotsar. Enoch gives Baskonia even more offensive power, as he can score in many ways but also battle for offensive rebounds to look for second-chance points.
Martin Hermannsson, Valencia Basket – In a competition where good shots are hard to come by without great ball movement, the value of born playmakers like Hermannsson is evident. Until he returns to the court for Valencia Basket, his 4.1 assists per game over two previous EuroLeague seasons will be missed. Hermannsson is also a solid on-the-ball defender and strong free throw shooter, two more skills that add up to a winning contributor.
Kyle Kuric, FC Barcelona – Kuric has been sidelined until now due to a head injury but is supposed to be back very soon. Barca knows exactly what to expect when he does return, as Kuric is an elite three-point shooter. He ranks seventh all-time in three-point percentaege (44.9%) despite taking just 3.5 shots per night. Kuric forces opponent to spread their defenses, giving more space for players like Nikola Kalinic, Tomas Satoransky and Nico Laprovittola to play one-on-one.
Marcus Eriksson, ALBA Berlin – ALBA has found a shooting ace in up-and-coming talent Gabriele Procida but needs more firepower to be fully competitive. Maodo Lo just returned and Eriksson, when he does, will provide unlimited range, quick shots off screens, step-back jumpers and big baskets in one-on-one situations. ALBA runs its offense through point forward Luke Sikma, so the more options he has to find a shooter, the more unpredictable and better his team's offense will be.
Rudy Fernandez, Real Madrid – Fernandez turns 38 in April but make mo mistake, he will be ready to help Real in many ways. An underrated defensive player, Rudy's help instincts in double-team situations is unmatched. Steals, assists, clutch plays, three-pointers, rebounds – you name it – his off-the-charts basketball IQ makes him a valuable piece. Fernandez is arguably has one of the best rolls of honor in basketball history, so if experience counts, he has it all.
Shavon Shields, EA7 Emporio Armani Milan – Milan has struggled without its on-court leader, missing his solid one-on-one skills. Shields can put the ball on the floor, pull the trigger from anywhere and attack the rim with great determination. New stars like Kevin Pangos, Johannes Voigtmann and Brandon Davies need an adjustment period,Naz Mitrou-Long was out for weeks and Gigi Datome has been in and out of action. So, only when Shields comes back should we be able to see Milan's full potential.
Nemanja Bjelica, Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul – All Fenerbahce fans are looking forward to seeing "The Professor" back in the EuroLeague. Bjelica's last appearance in the competition came in the 2015 Final Four, Fenerbahce's first, as that season's newly-named EuroLeague MVP. Bjelica can handle the basketball and pass like a point guard, power the boards and use his talent to score in many ways. With Bjelica, a unique player who will likely need some time to readjust, Fenerbahce should only get better.
Shane Larkin, Anadolu Efes Istanbul – Simply put, Larkin and Vasilije Micic have pretty much dominated the competition in the last three years. Larkin did his part by playing with a lot of character, finding endless way to score, and thinking team first. He will return to a team currently led by Micic and Will Clyburn. For the first time, Efes will have three elite generators and it may take some time for the two-time defending champs to adjust. Once Efes does, not many teams will find it easy to stop their Big Three.
Nikola Mirotic, FC Barcelona – The reigning MVP has been sidelined due to a torn Achilles' tendon. Once he returns, Barca gets arguably the best offensive weapon in the competition, a player makes it look easy to score both in the low post and from beyond the arc. Mirotic is also a good defensive rebounder with very good feel for steals. Two main questions arise: Will be able to play at a MVP level? And will he finally be able to lead Barca to the EuroLeague title, 13 years later?