Rick Pitino says Nick Calathes is a better passer than Magic Johnson, Larry Bird
The latest stop on Rick Pitino’s increasingly wayward coaching career has taken him to the Mediterranean, where he’s coaching traditional Greek power Panathinaikos.
One might expect Rick Pitino to be somewhat humbled after his exile from the University of Louisville in the wake of a tawdry recruiting scandal, but that apparently hasn’t proven the case.
After Panathinaikos’ 88-75 victory over Anadolu Efes Istanbul on Friday, the veteran coach showered lavish praise on point guard Nick Calathes who had 20 points, eight rebounds and 13 assists in the win.
Rick Pitino says former Grizzlies guard Nick Calathes is a better passer than Magic Johnson and Larry Bird 🤔
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 1, 2019
“I’ve coached against Magic Johnson, Bird, some of the great guards – Maurice Cheeks, Isiah Thomas – in the game,” Pitino said. “Nick Calathes is the best passer I’ve seen in my lifetime.”
Nick Calathes, to be clear, is indeed a fantastic passer. He leads the Euroleague with 8.29 assists per game and has notched eight games this season with at least 10 dimes — an especially impressive feat considering the slow pace and physical nature of European basketball.
However, calling Calathes “the best passer I’ve seen in my lifetime” does obvious disservice to a player whose world-class passing ability doesn’t require the aid of hyperbole. Pitino’s exaggeration seems more like an excuse for him to name check the greats he’s coached against in the last four decades than an accurate assessment of Calathes’ merit as a passer.
Calathes, by the way, played for the Memphis Grizzlies in 2013-14 and 2014-15, backing up Mike Conley. He averaged 4.6 points and 2.7 assists in 15.6 minutes per game, unable to carve out a bigger role with the Grizzlies due to his lack of athleticism and reliable 3-point range.