The 2017-18 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season was made great thanks to contributions from many. There were, of course, the great stars who produce spectacularly from year to year, young studs who have come of age and made major impacts, as well as newcomers, both from Europe and overseas, who also left their marks on the competition. There is another group that does not fit into any of the categories above but nonetheless made the season a great one. They are the breakout players who had played in the Euroleague Basketball competitions before, but this season delivered in ways that we had yet to see from them. Of the players who made the list, half played in the EuroLeague the previous season and three others in the 7DAYS EuroCup, but all shined bright this year.
10: Ahmet Duverioglu, Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul
Of all the players on this list, perhaps no player has made strides as big as those of Fenerbahce center Ahmet Duverioglu. After appearing in only nine 2016-17 EuroLeague games with Fenerbahce’s championship-winning squad, Duverioglu started both Final Four games for the club this season. He also led the league in field goal shooting accuracy at 70.9%, which was the 11th best single-season rate in competition history. Though Duverioglu still played a limited role in terms of minutes (8:57 per game), his physicality helped wear down opposing big men and opened up opportunities for frontline mates Jan Vesely and Nicolo Melli. With head coach Zeljko Obradovic pushing Duverioglu along, next season could be even brighter for the big man.
9: Malcolm Thomas, Khimki Moscow Region
Malcolm Thomas was just 23 years old and in his second professional season when he arrived in Tel Aviv for his EuroLeague debut with Maccabi back in the 2012-13 season. That spell did not go as he hoped and the sides parted ways before the end of the season. Five years later, Thomas came back to the EuroLeague with Khimki and it was a much different story as he started at center and helped the team reach the playoffs. Thomas was a force on the glass and a fixture on the highlight reels thanks to his spectacular above-the-rim play, including his 74 offensive rebounds, which were the sixth-most in the competition this season.
8: Jamel McLean, Olympiacos Piraeus
Jamel McLean produced better numbers in the past than he did during the 2017-18 season, his first with Olympiacos, but this time he made a strong positive impact for a playoff team. McLean was a dangerous weapon for the Reds whether in short bursts off the bench or starring roles when other key pieces on the frontline were hurt. He led the way with 22 points in a win over his former team, AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan, starred with 25 points and 12 rebounds in a win over CSKA Moscow, and posted 21 points in the team’s Game 2 victory over Zalgiris Kaunas in the playoffs. Though he only averaged 18 minutes per game, McLean ranked 15th in the league in per-minute PIR, with 25.2 prorated over 40 minutes.
7: Axel Toupane, Zalgiris Kaunas
Four years removed from his first EuroLeague experience, Axel Toupane returned to Europe this season after two years overseas in the NBA and NBA G-League. Toupane offered Zalgiris many talents that head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius maximized in guiding the team to the Final Four. Toupane used his size and speed to give Zalgiris elite perimeter defense. A regular starter, he was an effective shooter (54.8% 2FG) who could create his own shot, too. Toupane is only 25, so his best basketball is still in front of him and his breakout season with Zalgiris serves as a reminder that the one-time top prospect could become an impact player at the top levels in Europe for years to come.
6: Nikola Milutinov, Olympiacos Piraeus
Nikola Milutinov’s third season for Olympiacos was his best yet – and by a significant margin. The 23-year-old center went from being a useful young player with potential to one who has proven himself to be a powerful force in the paint. This season he doubled his scoring average to a career-best 8.8 points per game and ranked ninth in the league in rebounding with 5.7 per game. Milutinov’s 65.3 shooting percentage was fourth-best in the competition and his all-around production can be seen by the fact that he was 11th in the league in per-minute PIR at 25.8 prorated over 40 minutes. Milutinov also showed his fighting spirit by battling back from injury to appear in the playoffs even though he was not at 100% of his abilities.
5: Dejan Musli, Brose Bamberg
Dejan Musli was a two-time Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament Finals MVP as a junior, but it took him some time to make his mark in the EuroLeague. He played parts of three seasons in the competition prior to this one and he helped Unicaja Malaga win the 7DAYS EuroCup a year ago. But this past season – in fact, the last half of it – is when his EuroLeague breakthrough occurred. Musli started the campaign with Unicaja before making a midseason move to Bamberg, where he truly shined by averaging 10.4 points on 59.4% shooting and 6.1 rebounds in 15 games. He ranked seventh in per-minute PIR at 27.9 prorated over 40 minutes, joining the upper echelon of EuroLeague centers.