Rarely in its six-year history has the Euroleague's monthly MVP award gone to a player whose team did not win all its games in that month. This time, however, an exception was more than appropriate in order to recognize a Euroleague rookie who has dominated a month like few players before him. For leading his team to key victories in the thick of a tough Top 16 race, Euroleague Basketball has chosen Partizan Belgrade center Aleks Maric as the Sportingbet MVP for December. Behind his formidable efforts, Partizan knocked off seasoned opponents Unicaja and Efes Pilsen to start the month. Even though Partizan narrowly lost December's last game, one of the Euroleague's youngest teams is now knocking hard again at the Top 16 door, led by a player whom few knew much about before the season started. Having arrived to Belgrade from his native Australia by way of America and Spain, Maric was not tipped to dominate right away. But dominate he has, especially in December, when he won two weekly MVP awards, averaged 22 points and 11.6 rebounds, and made an incredible 80% of his two-point shots. Through eight games, Maric is the Euroleague's highest-rated player, by far. Now, his magic month of December - highlighted by the eighth-best individual performance in a Euroleague game all decade - has proven that a new star is on the rise in the Euroleague: Aleks Maric of Partizan Belgrade.
The Sportingbet MVP of the Month honor is in its sixth season. Although statistics and performance ratings are taken into consideration for the award, they alone do not determine who is honored. The winner is named by Euroleague Basketball based on his and his team's performance. The award for December was decided considering the three regular season games played by all teams during that month. Sportingbet, a Euroleague Basketball partner, is the new sponsor of the MVP of the Month award. Just as the best Euroleague player each month combines performance and leadership for success, so does Sportingbet's sponsorship communicate its conviction to be the best betting brand in European basketball.
To start December, Partizan sat tied for fourth place with a 2-3 record and had to open the month on the road against the undefeated Group B leader, Unicaja. Partizan had built momentum, however, from a big home victory over Olympiacos, led by Maric, in the last game of November, while Unicaja's frontcourt was without three key players. Partizan took advantage of those absences to seize an early lead, dominate in rebounds and defend exceptionally, ultimately taking away Unicaja's unbeaten status with a 64-72 road win. Maric was in the middle of it all, posting Partizan's best index rating that night thanks to 12 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists. If winning in Malaga was fun, Maric was ready to almost double it against Efes Pilsen the next week. This was the night when Maric would prove unstoppable, scoring 34 points on 13-for-16 two-point shooting and grabbing 16 rebounds in a classic tug of war that Partizan won 93-92 before a packed house of adoring fans at Pionir Arena. At the final buzzer, Maric had posted the eighth-best single-game index rating of the entire decade, 49, in less than 31 minutes on the floor. Only one player on the top-ten list for performances this decade had played less time in his big game than Maric. It goes without saying that Maric won that week's MVP honor, which is based solely on index rating. In December's last game, he won it again, despite Partizan's 75-72 road loss at Entente Orleans. In that game, the Orleans defense was designed to shut down Maric, but his 7-for-8 two-point and 6-for-7 free-throw shooting led to 20 points, which combined with his 11 rebounds were good for his fourth double-double in 5 games. His only three-point attempt this season, from halfcourt trying to tie the game on the buzzer, almost went in, too.
Maric's surge through the decade's last month served to remind what great company he keeps. Over three games in a row, only six players before him - Anthony Parker, Dejan Milojevic, Arvydas Macijauskas, Jaka Lakovic, Tanoka Beard and Mirsad Turkcan - have collected higher performance index ratings than Maric did in December. What's more, if you go back and add his last game from November, only one of those players - Milojevic - was more prolific than Maric over four consecutive games. His one-man show throughout December was not needed to win over Partizan's famous fans, because Maric had done that in his first few games in black-and-white. Now, he and his 7,000-plus new friends will get to celebrate together when Maric receives his Sportingbet December MVP award at an upcoming Partizan home game.