Searching For Free Agents In A January Blizzard

It might be freezing cold and snowy outside, but basketball season is starting to heat up, or, at the least, get cozy. Don't get me wrong, we haven't made it to the best part of the season yet. We're over the new players and coaches and we've figured out how each team plays, but the regular season is far from done. Proclamations from coaches that they are treating every game like it's their last ring hollow. It's time to stretch out in the hammock...or, for those of us stuck in Moscow, wrap up in a furry robe and settle into an armchair with something warm to watch the whirling blizzard outside.

But if you take a closer look and peek through the snowstorm, you'll notice several strange characters roaming about. They keep getting buried in snowbanks and slipping on the ice, sending passers-by scattering, but quickly dust themselves off and continue staggering ahead.

I'm talking about the scouts, for whom winter is the busiest time of year after the summer. It's the last chance to patch holes on the roster that may have formed in the autumn, or were never fully addressed during the offseason in the typical Russian hope that they would mend on their own.

But the holes have refused to patch over and the dreaded free-agent deadline is rapidly approaching. As a result, those unlucky individuals dart about the corners of the winter transfer market instead of gorging themselves on Olivier salad, like any sane person during the holidays.

It has to be admitted, though, that their work often produces fruit. Two big moves made headlines on the 13th: Khimki acquired Josh Boone, while Lokomotiv was reported to have signed Mardy Collins. The second item has yet to be confirmed, but Krasnodar has yet to comment, meaning the deal is likely close to being finished.

Boone and Collins have much in common. Both are Americans, 31 years old, and spent several years in the late 2000's on NBA benches. At the beginning of this decade, they both grew sick and tired of the arrangement and began roaming the globe: Venezuela, China, Philippines, D-League, not to mention various average European clubs. Collins, it's true, did end up at Olympiacos two seasons ago, but few remember his time there, and he didn't show up much in the box score. Yes, and Boone, although he's been right under our nose the last couple of months with Kalev and leads the league in rebounding (11.5 per game), is not someone the general basketball public knows well. The stats, of course, can be deceiving. If that's all you judge a player by, it's very easy to miss badly.

It's not complicated to understand why Khimki needed a center and Loko wanted a guard/small forward. Moscow Region has stopped believing that modern medicine will find a why to snap Paul Davis's endless string of injuries and with all respect to Dmitry Sokolov, who replaced Davis in December, he wasn't quite able to fill the American's shoes. Krasnodar, meanwhile, parted ways with center Kyrylo Fesenko in order to free up a spot for a smaller player. Indeed, the Railwaymen need reinforcements, especially on offense. When hot, leading scorer Malcolm Delaney is practically unstoppable. But you can't always rely on him to drop 20 points in five minutes ala Michael Jordan.

Both clubs needed new blood. Now we need to figure out whether Boone and Collins fit Khimki and Lokomotiv-Kuban's needs. How should we do that? Easy! We don't even need to shake off our warm robe and brave the cold. The video archives are easily at hand.

I tried to pick more recent games against talented opposition. This is just what I was looking for: December, Euroleague, Strasbourg vs. Khimki. It turned out to be a good game. Let's see what this forward Mardy Collins is all about...

It turns out he's more of a point guard than a forward. To be more specific, he can play several positions. At 198 cm and a solid frame, he can play anything from point guard to small forward. At Strasbourg, he primarily plays point guard. He's a good dribbler and solid passer. He's not bad driving the ball, which isn't surprising, given his physical attributes. As for his shot...it's not terrible, but he's not going to set any records, either. On defense, though, he's excellent. He can handle his man and slide over to help teammates.

Overall, he's an interesting player. He should fit in well with Georgios Bartzokas's tough, defensive-minded squad. The only question is why the Greek coach needs another hard-working, average shooter, when he's already got Voronov, Draper and Bykov? Yes, Collins will help, but I don't see him adding much offensive fire.

Alright, let's move to Boone. We've got another December game, this time vs. UNICS...So, he's a center? That might be true for Kalev, but for Khimki...You know, you do get different types of players at 208 cm.

There's no debate, Boone is a terrific rebounder, whether on the offensive or defensive end. But I didn't see much desire to bang with big, bruising centers like Parakhouski. That said, his ability to shoot was impressive. His mid-range shot is just what Khimki has been missing without Davis. He can also knock down the hook shot and score around the basket. Best of all, he attacks without fear or hesitation. Plus, he can jump and run the floor, including on the fast break.

It looks like Khimki has acquired a different type of player for the club. He's someone who can solve specific team shortcomings and it doesn't matter much whether he's a power forward or center. That's the biggest difference between these two January signings in the VTB United League. I'm proud to present my findings, having reviewed the video and fulfilled my blogger duties.

But, wait...what's happening in the Eurocup? Well, would you take a look at that! Strasbourg, which joined the competition from the Euroleague, beat up on Avtodor and was led in scoring by Mardy Collins. 19 points, five rebounds, five assists and 2-4 shooting from downtown! Perhaps I missed something in my review?...

Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Collins is still playing for Strasbourg and it's possible Loko's scouts will have to keep running about in the cold in search of another free agent. On that note, do you a fur-hat clad head and pair of boots sticking out of the snowbank? That's one of those St. Petersburg fellows. The poor things are searching for someone to replace Landry at center.