NBA Draft 2011: Introducing Petteri Koponen

Here he is, folks. And he's a cutie! (Photo by Roberto Serra/Getty Images)

Hey Moneyballers! Hippo Taatila, from Helsinki, Finland, sent me this incredibly in-depth analysis of our new aqcusition, Petteri Koponen. It's long, but I think you'll enjoy it because it is really informative! Thanks again, Hippo!!!

 

1. Who is Petteri Koponen?

Petteri Koponen (6-4", 200) is a 23-year old Finnish combo guard currently playing for Virtus Bologna in Italian Serie A. Koponen was raised in Helsinki, Finland and started to catch the eye of basketball scouts during 2006/07 season, when he lead Espoon Honka Playboys to Finnish championship. Koponen was drafted by Philadelphia 76ers in 1st round of 2007 NBA draft and his rights were bought by Portland Trailblazers soon afterwards. In 2007/08, Koponen was named Finnish league MVP after leading Honka Playboys to second consecutive title, and in summer of 2008, he signed a four-year contract with Bologna.

2. How did he get drafted?

Finnish national team head coach Henrik Dettmann invited Koponen to national team camp right after 2005/06 Finnish league campaign, when Koponen had averaged five points a game in limited minutes for Honka Playboys. Koponen played extremely well despite being by far the youngest player in the team and when 2006/07 season started, Honka Playboys head coach Mihailo Pavicevic said he would be giving Koponen the team's starting point guard duties. After early struggles, Koponen started to play extremely well and he was invited to the 2007 Nike Hoop Summit in Memphis. Koponen played 31 minutes for the World team and finished with seven points, six assists and only one turnover despite playing against tough Team USA backcourt of Derrick Rose, OJ Mayo, Jonny Flynn and Jerryd Bayless.

(Koponen alley oop to Nicolas Batum in 2007 Nike Hoop Summit)

After 2007 Nike Hoop Summit, Koponen returned to Finland and lead his Honka Playboys to their first Finnish league title in four years. Right after the championship Koponen signed with Pinnacle Hoops management and attended numerous NBA pre-draft camps with coach Pavicevic. Koponen was heavily scouted by San Antonio Spurs (1st round #28 in 2007 draft) and Phoenix Suns (1st round #29 in 2007 draft), but after Spurs selected Tiago Splitter and Suns picked Alando Tucker, Portland Trailblazers GM Kevin Pritchard arranged a deal with Philadelphia 76ers. Sixers picked Koponen as 30th pick and shipped him to Portland.

3. How did Koponen do with the Blazers?

Koponen flew to Portland right after the 2007 NBA Draft and played with Trailblazers in Las Vegas Summer League. Because Koponen was still considered a long-term project, he only played five minutes a game in Vegas and returned to Honka Playboys for 2007/08 season to mature. Koponen fulfilled his military service in Finnish army during 2007/08 while practicing intensely throughout the season. In 2006/07, Koponen was primarily a pass-first point guard, but in 2007/08 Koponen started to become a match-up nightmare for opposing teams because of his strenght, quickness and shooting skill, and Honka's offensive system was pretty much based on Koponen playing 1-on-1.

Koponen returned to Las Vegas in 2008 and shared Blazers backcourt with Jerryd Bayless. In the first summer league game, Koponen scored 19 points in a victory over the Washington Wizards, but struggled mightily with his shot in the remaining games. Koponen also had some problems facing ball pressure when playing point guard and he had to turn his back against his opponent numerous times. He averaged 12 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists a game in Vegas but it was clear that he needed some seasoning abroad.

(Koponen half court shot in 2007 summer league)

(Koponen playmaking in 2007 summer league)

4. So what happened with Koponen and Blazers?

Koponen started his pro career with Virtus Bologna in 2008/09. Koponen played back-up for veteran PG Earl Boykins and only averaged 2,8 points and 1,3 rebounds in seven minutes a game. In the summer of 2009, Koponen didn't even consider joining Trailblazers summer league team. Instead, Koponen stayed in Finland to help national team with Eurobasket qualifications. Koponen played very well in qualifiers against Tony Parker's France and Marco Belinelli's Italy and seemed to be ready to take the next step.

In 2009/10, Virtus Bologna head coach Lino Lardo inserted Koponen into his team's starting line-up. After early struggles, Koponen finally found his rhythm in November 2009 and became one of the best scorers and defensive players in Serie A in a matter of months. In May 2010, Koponen suffered a stress fracture in his foot and had to be sidelined for six months. Right after Koponen's injury, Virtus Bologna lost their next seven games and dropped from Serie A #2 spot to #7 spot. Koponen spent the 2010 summer rehabbing his foot and couldn't participate in the Las Vegas summer league.

Koponen returned to action when the 2010/11 Serie A season tipped off. The season was a roller coaster one: Koponen wasn't in 100% shape until January 2011 and the team struggled throughout the year, finishing the regular season #8 and suffering their third straight first round playoff exit. Koponen had some very impressive performances in 2010/11, but usually a good game was followed by a mediocre one. Koponen averaged 12,1 points, 2,6 rebounds, 2,1 assists and 1,4 steals in 30,0 minutes a game.

In June 2011, Koponen told Finnish media he felt like he was being "held hostage" by the Blazers who didn't want to bring him over, but didn't want to let go of his rights either. Blazers interim GM Chad Buchanan immediately answered that Blazers would love to bring Koponen over but they want to make sure the timing is right. Only two weeks after the incident, Koponen's right were shipped to Dallas Mavericks.

5. So why didn't Blazers want Koponen after all?

First and foremost, it seems that Blazers considered Koponen a very-long-term project (comparison: Spurs didn't bring Manu Ginobili over before he turned 25, and Luis Scola was 27 when Rockets finally signed him). Blazers have had a guard logjam ever since 2007 and they haven't wanted to bring Koponen to the States just to give him bench splinters. Koponen's 2009/10 season was tremendous before his injury but in 2010/11, Koponen played most of his minutes off the ball while Blazers wanted to see him develop as a point guard. It is also worth noticing that Koponen hasn't seen a minute of Euroleague action. Serie A is a very competitive league, but a European player rarely makes it in the NBA before showing he can play in European elite level.

("Koponen held hostage" courtesy of Ball Don't Lie)

6. What's the connection between Mavs and Koponen?

Koponen told Finnish media already in 2010 that a handful of NBA teams are after him. One of the teams was Dallas Mavericks, whose representatives have visited Koponen in Bologna the first time during 2009/10 season. Blazers were reluctant selling Koponen's rights, but it seems that the June 2011 "hostage outburst" lead to a situation where Blazers wanted to actively find a solution for Koponen.

7. Ok, that's quite a history lesson. But what are his strenghts?

First things first: Koponen is big. Being 6-4", 200, he has the size to assure that no NBA guard will walk directly over him. Gary Payton was 6-4", 200 and he was bigger than any NBA point guard not named Penny Hardaway.

Koponen has been encouraged throughout his career to take big shots and he is a very "Americanized" player. Several Finnish players and coaches have noted correctly that Koponen's skill set is build for NBA style basketball, not Euroleague style. Koponen is able to beat any defender off the dribble, he's very good in creating his own shot and he hits the three with high percentages. Koponen also drives to the hole aggressively and isn't afraid of drawing contact.

It can be already said that Koponen is clutch. During his 2006-08 reign in Finnish league, he clinched numerous games with his big shots, but he has been showing clutch skills in national team games and Serie A as well. In 2008, Koponen's late NBA-trey helped Finland to pull off an impressive upset over soon-to-be-Eurobasket silver medallist Serbia, and in 2010/11 season, Koponen clinched four Virtus Bologna victories with his clutch time shots. When paying attention that Bologna only won 15 games in 10/11, it's worth noticing that over 25% of those were courtesy of Koponen.

Koponen also is an excellent on-ball defender and a very good off-ball defender. In Serie A, Koponen has been guarding stronger, more athletic American guards every single day and he rarely lets his man take advantage of him. He has also held his own against NBA opponents, for example in 2009 when he limited Tony Parker to only five points when Finland beat France in Eurobasket qualifiers.

As a point guard, Koponen excels leading the fast break. He's also a very good giving the first pass after the opponent turnover.

(Koponen buzzer beater from a December 2010 36-point game)

(Koponen highlights from a December 2010 36-point game)

(An ancient Koponen clutch three for 2006 Finnish league game)

8. Wow! This guy seems to be the real deal. Does he have weaknesses at all?

Of course he has weaknesses; otherwise he would already be in the big league.

Despite being a good basic point guard, his pg skills aren't Jason Kidd caliber. Koponen is a better scorer than creator and even though he can make you go "wow" with occasional pass every now and then, his assist-to-turnover ratio (2,1 assists/1,9 turnovers in 2010/11) isn't too good. The main thing is that Koponen's turnovers usually come in bunches. Koponen has improved in keeping his head straight, but he still has the tendency to lose his confidence momentarily when things aren't going his way.

2010/11 was difficult for Koponen also because he had to play big minutes off the ball. Koponen is a very good player when the ball is in his hands, but he hasn't quite learned how to play off the ball. Like I have already mentioned, Koponen is excellent creating his own shot, but he has only recently learned how to catch and shoot properly. Koponen certainly needs to be more effective off the ball.

And even though Koponen is big, strong and quick, he is a "typical euro" when it comes to athleticism: you won't be seeing him dunk over big guys like Russell Westbrook or Derrick Rose, and a guy like Rajon Rondo will eventually cross him over. Of course, ending up on the wrong side of SportsCenter highlight isn't too bad if you have otherwise played well.

(Koponen misses dunk in 2007 Finnish league playoffs)

9. So, when we will be seeing him in Mavs roster?

The day after Koponen-Fernandez trade, Donnie Nelson hinted in the Dallas Morning News that Mavs have something in store for Koponen - for the summer of 2012. Yep, you read that right - you won't be seeing Koponen in the NBA in 2011/12 (IF there is a season - please David Stern let there be a season, I don't want to spend next winter watching NHL reruns!).

It can be said that 2011/12 will the the defining season for Koponen. He still has one year of contract left with Virtus Bologna, but he isn't too happy with the fact that Virtus won't be playing any international games. Koponen could need some Euroleague - or even EuroCup - experience before flying across the ocean and joining the Mavs roster.

Of course it won't be the end of the world if Koponen stays with Virtus Bologna. The team just brought over veteran pg Terrell McIntyre what means that Koponen would be seeing minutes off the ball next season as well. Then again, if Koponen stays in Bologna, shows clearly that Virtus is HIS team and is able to get his team to at least the semifinals, one season in Italy could do.

(Adidas "All Petteri" commercial)

10. If I want to create Koponen for my NBA Live roster, who's the current NBA player closest to him?

Uh, go with Steve Blake or pre-injury Shaun Livingston.

11. Is "Honka Playboys" an actual team name?

Yes.

(Ballineurope.com's "Europe's top 12 basketball team names")

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