Have You Heard of the Greek “Baby Shaq”?
Have you heard of the Greek “Baby Shaq”?
Back in 2003, a relatively unknown prospect was drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2nd round. Sofoklis Schortsanitis, a player at the time in the Greek League, was born in Cameroon but raised in Greece, where he was a excellent chess player (no joke, wikipedia it). By the time he was ready for the professional leagues, he had grown to 6’9, 345 lbs and had a game that mirrored the Big Aristotle, Shaquille O’Neal. Though he was still developing, the Clippers took a chance on the young center, hoping that more time in the Greek and other Euro league would season him for NBA. Within two years of being drafted by the Clippers, Greek “Baby Shaq” was signed by Greek powerhouse Olympiacos Piraeus to become their starting center. The 2005-06 season proved to be vital as he was selected for the 2006 Greek World Championship team.
While competing in the World Championships in Japan, Greek “Baby Shaq” led Greece to a huge upset 105-96 victory over the United States team that featured big men including Dwight, Chris Bosh, and Elton Brand. In fact, “Baby Shaq” dominated Team USA. In that game, Greek Baby Shaq scored 14 points and held the Dwight, Bosh, Brand group to a mere 13 points and 9 rebounds. With the decisive victory of Team USA, the Greek team played but ultimately lost in the gold medal game against Spain. With his potential reaching an all time high, the Clippers attempted to sign Greek “Baby Shaq” so they could further develop him in the NBA. However, Greek “Baby Shaq” turned down their offer as he was still under contract with Olympiacos.
Three years later Greek “Baby Shaq” continued to impress while at the 2009 FIBA Eurobasketball Championship, where he propelled Greece to a Bronze medal with an impressive performance of 23 points, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks and drew 12 fouls while shooting 78% against the favored Slovenian team. Once again, his rights holders came knocking and offered him a spot on their summer league team, hoping that Greek “Baby Shaq” would help an impressive front court featuring young bigs Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan. However, Greek “Baby Shaq” failed to impress in his Las Vegas try out and was not offered a contract. Greek “Baby Shaq” now suits up for Euro powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv.
While Greek “Baby Shaq” may not be playing in the league, there’s always hope that Sofoklis will join the like Eddy Curry, Glen Davis (once beat Shaq in wrestling), and Nathan Jawai (Australian Baby Shaq) as players that may have the nickname, but ultimately don’t have the game. While I’ll admit, I haven’t watched a ton of film on Greek “Baby Shaq”, but stop me when you hear a big difference from him and the other previous three incarnations of the “Baby Shaq”: Greek “Baby Shaq” is 6’9 (undersized like all the other “Baby Shaq”s), he’s 345 lbs (Eddy Curry anyone?), has limited offensive game as he only plays in the low post (with the exception of the “Big Baby” Glen Davis 3-point abilities, this applies to everyone else on this list), and can only play defense around the rim.
So while this nickname, “Baby Shaq” has been used frequently, it’s not an adequate description for these players. My thesis is that when draft day comes here, and draft analysts need players to compare prospects to, in these four situations they drift towards Shaq because of size/strength comparison. It’s not fair to these guys to live up to Shaq’s legacy, even if the nickname itself is belittling. Who, besides Glen Davis, wants to have baby in their nickname? With the exception of Davis, who doesn’t play anything at all like the actual O’Neal, all of these players received significant hype but were too small or not good enough to cut it in the pros.
So the question becomes, what if Schortsanitis had been offered a contract by the Clippers, what type of pro would he had become. Well, for starters, he would have been screwed off the bat because of the organization he would have probably gone too (unless the Clippers had decided to trade his rights). While the Clippers have actually been able to young talent, I can’t imagine Mike Dunleavy or Vinny Del Negro being able to correctly use a 6’9, 345 behemoth who’s too small to guard big centers on defense, can’t defend PF because of their speed. How would he had played next to Elton Brand? Great, two 6’9 PF/C overweight players who can’t guard anyone on offense and would clog the lanes for the Clippers guards.
Schortsanitis is the classic example of a great European player that would struggle to play in the NBA. He’s able to use his size to his advantage over in the Greek League and for Maccabi Tel Aviv, but I would believe that he would be too slow and not athletic enough to cut it in the real pros. Greek Baby Shaq is a player that would have to play close to 30, 35 minutes a night to not only be effective but to learn the American game and the NBA is simply not an arena for that (unless you’re the Bobcats, see Bismack Biyombo).
Maybe it’s for the best that we’ll never know what could have been for Schortsanitis in the NBA? Although he’s still young (26), at this point I doubt he could successfully adapt to the NBA at this stage in his career. Every once in awhile, he’ll pop up on my radar and I’ll think what could have been for Greek “Baby Shaq”. But for now, I’ll have to catch him on NBA TV Euroleague coverage and wait for the Olympics.