Andres Nocioni is still playing basketball, for those who choose to ignore that there’s professional basketball being played outside the NBA. Yes, that Andres Nocioni, who played eight seasons in the NBA and built the reputation of being a defensive-minded pest. He’s also that same Nocioni who jumped around the league after the Bulls dumped his contract, playing up until the Sixers waived him in 2012. Even if Chapu hasn’t been relevant in America since then, on Sunday he reminded the rest of the world that he’s still pretty darn good at basketball:
Nocioni was rewarded Euroleague Final Four MVP after leading Real Madrid to their record ninth Euroleague championship on Sunday. He finished with 12 points and seven rebounds to go along with his usual tough-minded play in a 78-59 victory over Olympiacos Piraeus. His late three-pointer put Real Madrid up double digits for good and gave Nocioni his first professional title. Nocioni may be a ghost in every Bulls fans’ memory, but his triumph with Real Madrid was the pinnacle of his elongated return to basketball relevancy.
The end of Nocioni’s NBA career was ugly. Chicago was forced to trade him, along with Drew Gooden and others, to the Sacramento Kings in the Brad Miller/John Salmons deal in 2009. This was a product of Nocioni’s five-year, $38 million extension in 2007, which was bad the second he signed it.
The Bulls felt obligated to extend the Argentine after three solid seasons to start his career in Chicago. His eruption against the Miami Heat in the 2006 playoffs helped his case, when he put up ridiculous averages of 22.3 points and 8.8 rebounds with shooting percentages of .560/.476/.857. He also did this with the Bulls, which I can’t stop watching to this day:
Bulls fans imagined him as part of the Ben Gordon–Luol Deng–Kirk Hinrich nucleus of the future, but it was not to be. Nocioni wouldn’t even crack a league-average PER the rest of his NBA career, which woefully came to an end as a benchwarmer in 2012. That led to his return to Spain, where Nocioni has always thrived.
Nocioni’s Spanish League success is what put him on the NBA radar in the first place. Nocioni won the ACB MVP with Vitoria in 2004 during his last season in Spain before coming over, and the ACB League is considered the best league in the world outside the NBA. Nocioni returned to Vitoria after his release from Philadelphia, giving him the fresh start he sorely needed.
He thrived in his return to Spain from the get-go, averaging 13.3 points and 5.0 rebounds with percentages of .513/.460/.776 and a 20.7 PER in his first full season back in the ACB in 2013, besting his numbers when he won MVP nearly a decade earlier. Nocioni stayed with Vitoria for another season before making the leap to the cream of the crop of Spanish basketball: Real Madrid.
Real Madrid needed a stretch 4 after Nikola Mirotic left his longtime club to sign a more lucrative deal with the Bulls. Ironically, a former Bull was the perfect fit to replace Mirotic’s production and impact on a Real Madrid team already deep with former NBA talent in Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Rodriguez and Gustavo Ayon. Nocioni took on a smaller role with the more talented team, but he excelled nonetheless.
More talent naturally leads to more open looks. Nocioni connected on 50 percent of his three-pointers on 1.4 makes per game in his first ACB season with Real Madrid. That equates to a 65.0 true shooting percentage, something he hadn’t previously done at any level. He didn’t perform as well in the Euroleague, where the competition is more stiff, but he still averaged 8.4 points and 3.7 rebounds in just 17.2 minutes per game. He also delivered when it mattered most.
Nocioni scored 12 points in both of Real Madrid’s Final Four wins over Fenerbahce and Olympiacos, respectively, helping the club overcome a heartbreaking overtime loss to David Blatt and Maccabi Tel-Aviv in last year’s final. Those totals aren’t anything crazy, but Nocioni’s impact has never been measured by stats.
Chapu is that classic player other teams hate and his teammates hate less. He’s relentless on defense and even more relentless in his desire to get under the skin of whomever is unlucky enough to be assigned to him that night. Olympiacos’ Brent Petway fell for Nocioni’s antics and was assessed an unsportsmanlike foul (Euroleague equivalent of a flagrant) for roughing up the Argentine after the whistle in the second quarter of the final. If Nocioni can catch the other team off guard for even a second, he’s doing his job.
Nocioni is 35 years old, so his days of being relevant in the basketball world will be over soon. His athleticism is declining, as are his abilities to create his own shot. But Nocioni is and will always be a pest and a player who gives his team everything he has got. It’s not everyday a former NBA burnout becomes a Euroleague Final Four MVP. I, for one, am happy to know Noce is still being Noce somewhere in the world.