After spending two seasons with Real Madrid, perhaps the best team in the world outside of the NBA, center Salah Mejri has agreed to a contract with the Mavericks.
The 7′ 1″, 245 pound 29-year-old is the first Tunisian player in the NBA and was the first Arabic player in general to play in the Spanish ACB League, widely considered the second-best basketball league on the planet. He averaged 4.3 points and 2.1 rebounds last season with Real Madrid, including 5.0 points and 2.5 rebounds in eight Euroleague games. He and his club won the “triple crown” of European basketball last season, winning the domestic league, the domestic cup, and the Euroleague all in the same season. It’s just the 22nd time that’s happened in 50 years.
Mejri’s experience in Madrid could very well set him up for success in the NBA. Playing behind more established veterans like Felipe Reyes and Gustavo Ayon, Mejri’s playing time was limited to 9.2 minutes per game. But the Spanish League, like many others in Europe, favors giving playing time to seasoned players, particularly at the top clubs, which typically roll out loaded rosters. For example, Mario Hezonja, one of the best international prospects in recent memory, averaged just 14.2 minutes per game last season with Barcelona, Mejri and Madrid’s top rival in Spain.
Salah Mejri Dunks
2 Amazing Dunks by newly signed Dallas Mavericks Center Salah Mejri
That could prove to be beneficial to his development, however. Madrid is a perennial contender for every major trophy in Europe, and Mejri now has plenty of experience playing overseas against NBA-caliber competition and with NBA-caliber teammates. Last season, for example, he teamed up with Sergio Rodriguez, Rudy Fernandez, Andres Nocioni, and Ayon, each of whom have played in the NBA within the last five seasons. Although his playing time might not have been what he maybe deserved, that’s how it goes in Europe. And, besides, it’s clear that he has NBA talent, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
The top clubs in Europe are renowned for their ability to run precise pick-and-rolls. The four-out, wide-open, flowing NBA game we know today has been in place overseas for years now, and in many ways those teams inspired NBA clubs to play that way. Real Madrid’s Sergio Rodriguez, who averaged 6.6 points and 3.2 assists during the 2009-10 season with Sacramento and New York, is maybe the best point guard in the world not in the NBA, so that’s who Mejri got to practice and play with day in and day out. As a result not only of the playing style in Europe but also considering who was on the roster, Mejri got plenty of reps in the pick-and-roll, and he excelled in that system, hitting 80 percent of his shot attempts out of P&Rs and finishing in the 83rd percentile in points per possession on such plays, according to Synergy Sports.
Factoring cuts into the equation, which for big men essentially means any off-ball movement that doesn’t follow setting a ball screen, Mejri’s numbers soared. He shot 57-of-71 on shots either as the roll man or a cutter, good for 80.3 percent.
He moves well for a seven-footer and is a smooth finisher, but he can also finish with force if needed.
There’s also little doubt that he has ball skills, as demonstrated below, when he puts the ball on the floor once and makes a nice move before finishing.
Aside from offense, Mejri has shown the ability to protect the rim before. At the 2012 Olympics, for example, he swatted 17 shots in just five games, which led all players in the tournament, even among those who played past the group stage. That Olympic appearance came on the heels of Tunisia winning the 2011 AfroBasket, a competition among the top international teams in Africa, for the first time in the country’s history. Mejri was named tournament MVP after grabbing 15 rebounds in the 67-56 win over Angola in the final.
At 29, Mejri is already in his prime physically, but he can still grow as a player. That’s got to be enticing to the Dallas front office, and clearly it was enough to attract the club to the player. The Mavs front office has vested interest in other overseas players as well. Currently, Finnish point guard Petteri Koponen, whose rights are similarly owned by the Mavericks (though he’s not under contract), is still playing in Europe, but he could join the team as early as next summer. Mejri is currently under contract with Spanish club Valencia, but the Mavs could buy out his contract if they feel Mejri is ready to play right away.