Will Clyburn: why the latest Efes star is a perfect fit for three-peat run?

Donatas Urbonas
Senior Staff Writer
2022-06-21 06:00
Credit: Mikhail Serbin, Tolga Adanali - Getty Images | BasketNews illustration/M.DidÄ—
Credit Mikhail Serbin, Tolga Adanali - Getty Images | BasketNews illustration/M.DidÄ—

We shouldn't be even discussing the possibility of this emerging Big Three.

Midway through the 2021-22 season, Will Clyburn was in talks with CSKA for a contract extension.

There was nothing official yet, but a 32-year-old forward expressed a clear desire to stay in Moscow on a new multi-year deal.

Free throws this season

Points made: 13,0
Accuracy: 81,5%
Place in standings: 7
Record max: 28
Record min: 3
Most made FTs: Vasilije Micic

The reigning champions Anadolu Efes were also in the opposite direction.

Efes were struggling on the floor, and the ownership had already considered finishing this glorious chapter with a rebuild. Few BasketNews sources told that Efes were weighing a significant budget reduction.

But things have changed.

Russia invaded Ukraine, and an old-time EuroLeague powerhouse was excluded from the competition.

Efes made another crazy turnaround, and Ergin Ataman started throwing his predictions again.

On its way to the back-to-back title and watching a historical three-peat mirage on the horizon, Efes owner decided to open his wallet again.

Due to the lira crash in Turkey, keeping the same budget for Efes means investing 30-40% more. But the Turkish club didn't hesitate to throw over $2M per year for arguably the best EuroLeague small forward.

During the week of the Final Four in Belgrade, there were hundreds of bomb threats in Serbia's schools, shopping malls, restaurants, the city zoo, and the football game.

Fortunately, no explosives have been found. But the only 'bomb' that exploded was in one of Belgrade's restaurants or floating river clubs.

Before the EuroLeague title game, the word spread out that Efes reached an agreement with Will Clyburn. Straight after the title game Ugur Ozan Sulak of Socrates reported that Clyburn is heading to Efes on a two-year contract.

The entire European basketball Twitter has blasted and officially launched Efes' three-peat campaign.

"The club's management declared that we will go for the third title, so we needed a star," Yakup Sekizkok, Ergin Ataman's assistant on Efes coaching staff, told BasketNews.

"That was a safety insurance signing," one of the Efes success architects added.

With Vasilije Micic on the verge of the NBA contract and Shane Larkin on an expiring deal, Efes couldn't wait too long to risk losing them both in the summer market.

Instead, they locked another superstar just in case Micic or Larkin left.

And they also showed their star duo how serious they were about going for another EuroLeague title, putting Larkin and Micic in a comfort zone that was difficult to leave.

There's a high chance that this Big 3 will be established in Anadolu Efes for the 2022-23 season.

The best summer signing?

Will Clyburn ticks all the boxes.

First of all, Clyburn is not as creative pick-and-roll playmaker as Krunoslav Simon, but he is another player who can bring the ball down the court.

Efes didn't have such a small forward that could play on the low post. Clyburn would have ranked fourth in an entire Efes team per post-up plays on average last season (12.6%). That's the weapon that Ataman never had before at the small forward position.

He's also another star presence attacking the switch on the perimeter that gives one more solid option to coach Ataman in crunch time.

"Sometimes we struggle to attack the switch when shots don't go in from the 3-point line or pull-ups. But Will has explosiveness with his strength and the ability to go and finish with contact," Sekizkok told BasketNews.

"If Vasa and Shane prefer to finish the mismatch situation from the outside, Will goes under the rim. He is the former EuroLeague Final Four MVP. One more clutch player that knows how to play in the playoffs. It's not just the one reason why we've signed him. He is the whole package," Yakup Sekizkok added.

"Will is someone who could take the offensive load," Errick McCollum, a former Anadolu Efes scorer, told on the URBONUS podcast. "Someone who can score in the post and outside. He draws fouls. He improves their transition game. He's a two-way player. At six foot seven, he can guard one through four. He can switch on the five if it's late in the clock."

"Often, Efes struggled when Micic or Larkin was hurt. Or when those two had to shoulder the load," he continued. "You even saw it was very tough to manufacture any points for them outside of those players in the final. I think Clyburn just alleviates all that stress, all those issues, and gives them more balance. Clyburn is a guy who can play in the system and the freelance offense."

"His main strength is his ability to play in the fast breaks, where we always tried to use him," Clyburn's former coach in Darussafaka Istanbul, Kestutis Kemzura, recalls.

"His ability to play in transition, penetrate, fight for the rebound, cuts, his size for defense, athleticism... He's a versatile player you can use in all five positions. David (Blatt) always loved such players. When Will joined Darussafaka, we discussed with David that he already had NBA tools. He belongs to the European elite for a reason," former David Blatt's assistant coach told BasketNews.

Clyburn's offensive presence also may benefit from the load management perspective. Micic and Larkin might stay fresher in defense and for the decisive minutes.

As the most physical small forward in Efes, he'll help his new team improve their rebounding. Efes were 13th in defensive rebound percentage and 14th in total rebound percentage.

Rebounding is also not the main strength of a new Efes power forward Amath M'Baye, so Clyburn's size at small forward obviously helps.

Also, Ataman can switch Clyburn from position three to four. In the Turkish league, where teams are allowed to register only five foreigners, he will help cover a few spots.

"He was giving us problems big time, and now it's the best summer signing," Sekizkok concluded.

Red flags, anyone?

The names that Efes managed to bring to one lineup are just insane.

Efes now accommodates the last three Final Four MVPs, starting from the 2019 Final Four (Clyburn 2019, Micic 2021, and 2022).

At least one member of this Big 3 was named on the All-EuroLeague First team every year since the 2018-19 season.

Also, all three players made the Top 6 in scoring last season.

You can't get better than this, right?

There might be some challenges, though.

Micic led the EuroLeague in usage last season (30.6 USG%) among the players that spent above 20 minutes per game on average, per BBallytics.

Usage rate calculates what percentage of team plays a player was involved in while he was on the floor when the play ends in one of the three results: field-goal attempt, free-throw attempt, or a turnover.

Clyburn was fifth (28.1%) on that BBallytics list. At least Larkin (22.9 USG%) was far away from these numbers.

Micic, Larkin, and Clyburn were in the Top 10 in isolation plays made on average last EuroLeague season.

Micic was second in the competition by field goal attempts (13.2 FGA), while Clyburn was behind him in third place (12.4 FGA), and Larkin was 14th (10.5 FGA).

Also, Efes were 9th in the defensive rating, and per BBallytics, two main newcomers, Clyburn and Ante Zizic, had a negative defensive impact on their teams.

Some sacrifices have to be made to make this star lineup work. But the basketball community thinks Clyburn is a good fit next to this duo, which was already labeled as the potentially greatest EuroLeague backcourt ever.

"We played with a lot of motion, and Will was a good part of it. Since we had Wanamaker and Wilbekin, maybe we didn't focus too much on Will handling the ball. But he moves without the ball really well," Kemzura recalled Clyburn's ability to play off the ball.

Efes saw him being a good fit next to star guards better than anybody else.

CSKA, who had Nando De Colo, Cory Higgins, and Will Clyburn at their backcourt, was the only team that stopped this Efes core from winning the EuroLeague title three years ago.

On top of that, Clyburn was the MVP of the 2019 Final Four.

"Throughout the years in CSKA, Will played next to Mike James, Nando De Colo, Cory Higgins, and Daniel Hackett. Many vital star players. I don't think it will be a problem for him to become a part of a big three," Sekizkok told BasketNews.

"I believe he will adapt immediately. He knows our system from our past matchups. He spent a season in Darussafaka, so he knows the city and the culture, which is also a huge advantage. I think it will take him only two practices to feel like he was with our team for four seasons," Sekizkok smiled.

The character qualities that Clyburn shares also help.

"After one game, David (Blatt) got angry with him and voiced it in the locker room. Later, Will came to the coach's office and told us that David was right, he was sorry, and that won't happen again," Kemzura said.

"He's a fighter. He was always hungry for the competition," the current Lithuanian NT assistant coach said to BasketNews.

"He is a team guy, and we're a great family," Yakup Sekizkok added.

"Okay, many teams say that they're like family. But we're family not only in good times. We had fights and problems. We struggled a lot. We argued a lot too. We had bad days. But it didn't matter. When the games came, we always played till the end. I think Will is a perfect family guy for us. And he will be an important part of this family," Anadolu Efes assistant coach concluded.

Three-peat incoming?

Does this lineup make Anadolu Efes a clear title contender?

That's the question that might have a historic outcome.

This year Anadolu Efes joined Maccabi Tel Aviv (2004, 2005) and Olympiacos Piraeus (2011, 2012) as the only back-to-back EuroLeague champions.

In the modern EuroLeague history, no team managed to win the trophy three seasons in a row.

Shane Larkin has an option for NBA exit in his new contract extension with Anadolu Efes. Vasilije Micic's deal with Efes runs through 2024, but he also has an NBA exit clause.

However, according to BasketNews sources, there's significant confidence that Efes will manage to keep them in Istanbul.

With Krunoslav Simon, Chris Singleton, and Adrien Moerman set to leave Efes, the reigning champions might lose some depth. But with this upgraded backcourt, Ante Zizic, and Amath M'Baye in the front, Efes don't look any weaker.

"They have the continuity. This core was together for four years. And you bring in a guy like Will Clyburn, who's everything they were missing," McCollum told on the URBONUS podcast.

"I love this signing. I think with him and Zizic inside, if they can keep Pleiss, because you need that kind of big man shooter as well, as he was instrumental for them in the Final Four, I think they're a clear favorite to win it," McCollum concluded.

"From my experience with Ataman, I believe the Efes style won't change. Now they'll be even deeper and stronger," Kemzura projected new-look Efes.

"Larkin and Micic still be the key players who will orchestrate the game. In general, I think Efes got stronger with these moves," the Lithuanian coach added.

"But we can talk about it for the entire week. There's one thing to judge from the paper. But in real life, there are a lot of factors that have to click. But yes, we can assume that Efes is the main title contender now," Kemzura finished.

If you thought that was the end of an era, you were wrong.

You might see those fists again for quite some time.


Anadolu Efes Istanbul

Position Player Status
PG Shane Larkin (story) Signed until 2024
PG Vasilije Micic Signed until 2023 +1
PG Dogus Balbay Signed until 2023
SG Rodrigue Beaubois Signed until 2023
SG Erten Gazi (story) Signed until 2023 +1
SF Will Clyburn (story) Signed until 2024
SF Elijah Bryant Signed until 2023
SF Bugrahan Tuncer (story) Signed until 2024
PF Amath M'Baye (story)
Signed until 2023 + 1
PF Chris Singleton Signed until 2022 +1
C Bryant Dunston (story) Signed until 2023
C Tibor Pleiss Signed until 2022 +1
C Egemen Guven Signed until 2023
Coach Ergin Ataman
Expired contract Krunoslav Simon (will not return), James Anderson, Tolga Gecim, Adrien Moerman, Yigitsan Saybir, Filip Petrusev
Rumored to leave Vasilije Micic (has NBA out), James Anderson (story), Filip Petrusev, Chris Singleton, Adrien Moerman
Interested Ante Zizic (story)

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