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Milos Teodosic already giving Clippers joy and pace

Los Angeles Clippers' Patrick Beverley, left, and Milos Teodosic pose for photos during an NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 25, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Milos Teodosic looks slightly disheveled, rocking a thick layer of stubble and a messy mop of hair, but his basketball mind and darting vision on the court couldn’t be sharper. Milos is magic.

As soon as the news broke that the Los Angeles Clippers had got creative in free agency by looking to Europe and had signed him to a two-year, $12.3 million deal, those who’d seen him play got excited. Experts of EuroLeague or fans who’d got a taste of his game from international contests for Serbia (like myself) felt a practically unanimous sense of excitement. Teodosic’s former teammate in Greece and now partner in LA, Patrick Beverley, had nothing but praise:

Beverley isn’t the only one. Kevin Durant told Bill Simmons that Teodosic made the best pass he’s ever seen during a game in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics when the United States faced Serbia. And not just in competition Durant has faced internationally, but altogether.

“He was running, like, toward the sideline and he flicked it around his head through two people, on the dime and he was on the 3-point line and flicked it to him with his right hand and hit him on the dime. It kinda faked me out, I spun in a circle and I’m like, ‘That’s the greatest I’ve ever seen in my life, from anybody.’ ”

Teodosic is already blossoming into an internet sensation just days into his NBA career. After two games of preseason adjustment to get his first sample of the NBA, he has looked comfortable. He tallied eight assists to only two turnovers in 20 minutes in his debut, and followed with five more assists in his second game.

The confidence to do the unthinkable (or impossible) for most players hasn’t wavered whatsoever. It’s that confidence, that relaxed yet insane confidence, that will ensure Teodosic doesn’t shy away from the best competition and toughest defenses he has faced. He isn’t afraid to push the ball as much as possible, whether he’s threading passes through the tightest windows or flinging passes over five defenders down court in transition.

The following transition passes are absolute rewind-quality dimes, and difficult to say the least:

 

The first pass is made to look easy, but Teodosic knows where Jordan is, barely moves his body then instantly flings a touch pass by a defender. That is probably not something you would see from the Clippers if he wasn’t on the team. At least, you wouldn’t see it look so effortless.

As for the second pass, well, when was the last time you saw a player hurl a one-handed shovel pass 70 feet, with the awareness to know where the recipient is to avoid any hesitation? These kinds of passes will accelerate the Clippers’ offense. The world has gone mad for Lonzo Ball’s vision, the way he gets teammates running and sets them up downcourt. With Teodosic making passes like this the second he has hit the NBA, he deserves a little madness himself.

“We’re looking for that long-court pass every chance we get,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said after the team’s preseason opener when talking about that bomb of a shovel pass, per Elliott Teaford of the OC Register. “We have guys, especially our bigs, who can outrun other bigs. … We want our guards (to make the long-distance pass). You see it, let it go.”

Possibly the best thing about Teodosic’s passing is that he doesn’t just dribble, dribble and dribble before making a fancy pass. His eye-popping assists often push the pace, which is something the Clippers could really use as they shake up their reloaded offense. It’s not just full-court dimes to create fast-break points either; Teodosic always seems to be looking ahead and has terrific recognition of his teammates to make outlet passes and push the tempo immediately. Again, with the Clippers trying to overcome the loss of Chris Paul, doing the one thing he didn’t too often (play fast) is a pretty good idea.

Despite consistently ranking as one of the NBA’s premier offenses throughout Paul’s six-year tenure in LA (they were top six in efficiency every season and led the league twice), it wasn’t done by playing fast. The Clippers ranked 25th in pace in Paul’s first year in 2011-12 and had just two years in the top 15 (seventh in 2013-14 and 10th in 2014-15).

That’s fine when one of the best point guards of all time puts on a clinic. The team was better for it. But now, with new personnel, playing fast will be the best way to unlock this team’s shooting, Point Blake Griffin, and the floor running of him and DeAndre Jordan. They’ve done just that so far, albeit in a super small, preseason sample size: The Clippers are leading the league in preseason pace at 110.71, just ahead of the always-running Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets. If LA fans wanted an encouraging sign that the team is going to move this season, they’re getting it.

A level of team-oriented ball movement and high tempo will be the best method to pull defenders apart and create open dives to the rim for Jordan, too. Like this, for example, all stemming from an unnecessary yet awesome behind-the-back pass from Teodosic that caught his defender off guard:

 

When we consider how much we can take away from two preseason games (which isn’t too much), it does seem pretty apparent that Teodosic’s passing translates from Europe. He has plenty of shooting around him from guards like Austin Rivers and Lou Williams to Danilo Gallinari in the frontcourt, and Teodosic already can execute pick-and-rolls with Jordan and run effective pick-and-pops with Griffin (helped by his improved 3-point shot, which he has displayed in preseason, too).

Teodosic’s recognition of teammate’s movements and his timing to fire passes into spaces that defenses wouldn’t even expect is so valuable. His awareness works in half-court settings too, which we should see more and more as the weeks and months go by. This pass is a good example. It looks relatively simple, but Teodosic uses a behind-the-back fake to throw off Lucas Nogueira, which helps create a touch more space to find Griffin inside. Don’t think Teodosic’s flash has no reasoning to it:

 

“He pretty much delivers it where you need it when you need it,” Griffin said about Teodosic, per Teaford. “Guys like that are easy to play with. You’ve just got to be ready to catch the ball. It’s a lot of fun. He’s one of those point guards who knows exactly when to pass. It’s been a lot of fun.”

As early as it is, it sounds like the team is coming together pretty well already.

Quite simply, Milos Teodosic’s passing looks brilliant. He can help ease the pressure on Blake somewhat and make life a little easier for promoted point guard Beverley, all while increasing the Clippers’ pace and movement. Not to mention their entertainment value and transition play. With a similar roster year after year, Doc Rivers being a flawed coach/executive and crushing playoff defeats piling up, the Clippers haven’t played with joy and passion in some time (J.J. Redick said so himself this summer).

Teodosic can inject a lot of it, and the team will be better for it.

All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.

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