CSKA’s most impressive move this summer was the acquisition of Joel Freeland after a three-year stint in the NBA. What can the British bigman offer the Muscovites?

Eurohoops | By Lefteris Moutis/ moutis@eurohoops.net

His career

It’s not such a common phenomenon to see a British center at the top level of the Euroleague. However, by chance, Joel Freeland turned to basketball at 16 and from then on followed a constantly upward course in his career. Despite his enormous height (2m.08) he played football until the age of 16, but he broke his leg and decided to turn to a different sport.

Basketball won him over immediately and after a few impressive appearances with the British youth national team he was called by Gran Canaria to learn basketball in the much more advanced – basketball-wise – Spain. After only a year in the second team of the islanders he was picked at No 30 of the 2006 draft, aged 22 from the Blazers. The NBA dream still seemed distant at that point for Freeland. However, he quickly found a role in Gran Canaria’s first team and by 2009 he had established himself as one of the most evolvable bigmen in Europe.

He then moved to Malaga signing a five-year contract. However, after three years of constant improvement (in the 2011-12 season he had 12,6 points and 6,8 rebounds in the Euroleague), he was called by the Blazers to make the big step. He paid Unicaja 1,5 million euros in order to be a free agent and he moved to Portland.

There, he earned a spot on the team’s rotation though without managing to ever become a core member or to make his presence felt in the best championship in the world. He didn’t play in more than 52 games in any of the years he spent there, averaging 14 minutes of playing time and 3,5 points per game. Overall, in three years he grossed just 8,9 million dollars and a short while ago CSKA offered him the net amount of almost 3 million dollars a year. The difference, as well as the challenge, is huge and so Freeland was persuaded to sign a two-year contract with the Muscovites.

Prediction: He can bring something different

The quality bigmen who can make the difference at the high level of the Euroleague are rare and of course highly paid. Dimitris Itoudis chose the British center believing he can take advantage of his good pick-and-roll moves in offense. However, Freeland’s biggest asset, which is now rare on European courts, is his effectiveness in the post. He can make the difference playing with his back against the basket, while he is quite fast for his size and he can make it hard on most opposing bigmen.

In CSKA’s frontline he will find players like Kyle Hines and Andrey Vorontsevich who have completely different characteristics from him and together they can create a really full and mutually complementary line of bigmen. Freeland can make the difference in offense, while the rest of his teammates will have to cover him defensively since he’s not really distinguished for his dedication and effectiveness in this area. For example, he is expected to have trouble when he’s called upon to mark undersized bigmen.