Pablo Prigioni 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
If the Euroleague awarded a most improved player trophy, Tau Vitoria playmaker Pablo Prigioni would be shoe-in.
The Argentinian went from a littleknown back-up to the league-leader in assists in one season, pacing the Tau attack and feeding the many scorers the team boasts. He's already carried the team to the Spanish King's Cup title, where he was selected MVP, and has his eyes set on more.
What's most remarkable about Prigioni's performance this season is that he wasn't even expected to be the starter. After last year's starting point guard Jose Manuel Calderon decided to try his luck in the NBA, the team convinced prize Croatian prospect Roko-Leni Ukic to join Tau instead of the NBA's Toronto Raptors, the same team that inked Calderon.
However, Prigioni never let the starting job fall into Ukic's hands. He's been the leader all season, seizing the starting job early and making those around him better.
"My challenge was just that, to do my best as the starting point guard and live up to this team's tradition over these last years," Prigioni told the Euroleague Web site earlier this week. "It was a question of responsibility, without doubt, and I am happy at how the season has gone, but the decisive moments are still ahead of us."
Prigioni's next task will be to take Tau one step further than last year, when the team lost to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Euroleague title game in Moscow.
"[Maccabi] knows what it means to play in a Final Four, and what's more, how to win it. That presents great difficulties for us," he said. "We are playing what I consider to be the top candidate for the title."
Prigioni came off the bench, but had little to offer in last season's final, where he was scoreless in less than nine minutes on the floor. This year, he believes it should go better. "We have confidence in our game and that we'll wake up on April 28 feeling good, ready to play a good game and surprise them."
Among the reasons Prigioni gave for his optimism is the team's experience. "Most of us, almost all of us, had never played in a Final Four until last year. I think we played a great semifinal against CSKA, but then maybe the anxiety and lack of experience caught up with us in the final.
"We were not [as] calm and sure of ourselves as in the semifinal. And experience gives you that feeling of being there, in the moment. It's not just about having a great team. Maccabi played a great game. We have to learn how to be in the moment like that, to play calm if we reach the final. The anxiety hurt us last year and we have to try not to let that happen this time."
Prigioni plays a major leadership role on the team and his play in the early going figures to be key in getting the rest of his teammates involved. That could mean using a two-man game with big men Luis Scola and Tiago Splitter to open opportunities inside or it could be finding shooters Travis Hansen, Casey Jacobsen or Serkan Erdogan on the wing.
Prigioni averaged a modest 5.9 points per game this season, but that was the only category where he failed to shine. Not only was he an assists machine (6.4 apg), but he did so with only 2.5 turnovers per game. Moreover, he added 2.3 steals and when he did shoot, the ball usually went in - 75 percent on two-pointers and 38.7% on threes, which is why Prigioni isn't afraid to shoot if needed.
"When you have so many great players around, the point guard doesn't need to shoot so much. I have no problem saying they are better scorers than me, but I know that at times it is my responsibility to take the shots, and I am prepared for that. It's not my first option, but when I have to, I have no doubts about taking shots. [Whether] the shot goes in or not is another story."