MIES (Switzerland) - The calendar has flicked over to 2022 and we're excited about another loaded FIBA 3x3 World Tour.
But before the action heats up, it's a good chance to reflect on an absolutely insane FIBA 3x3 World Tour 2021. And who better to look back on 2021 than Kyle Montgomery aka 'The Voice' of 3x3, who dishes out his awards.
Mister Clutch: Angel Matias (San Juan PCI Group)
Expect anyone else? This clutch player helped put Puerto Rico back on the 3x3 map as San Juan PCI Group stunned the world to win the Lausanne Masters, where he hit a trio of Tissot Buzzer Beaters to prove he should have starred in No Time To Die.
"Whenever San Juan need a bucket, they go to Angel Matias," Montgomery said. "He's a beast inside and a consistent capable shooter from outside. He was the most clutch player I saw on the tour last year."
Rookie of the year: Thibaut Vervoort (Antwerp)
The Belgian sniper lit a fuse on 3x3 in 2021 and took to the 21-point impressively quickly. He led surprise packet Belgium - a country traditionally without much success in basketball (with the men!) - to fourth place at the Tokyo Olympics and was one of the very best players on the World Tour as Antwerp became an unexpected force.
He finished sixth overall in scoring and his average of 6.1 ppg was the second highest for players who had appeared in more than 15 games.
And his nickname 'Must See TV' became one of the most popular on the World Tour.
"He can beat you with a quick first set. He can elevate and dunk on you and drown you in twos," Montgomery said. "This guy is the next big thing."
There were plenty of contenders after so many ankles needed medical attention in 2021. But the OG deserved top billing after Bjelica aka 'Mr Crossover' turned back the clock in Prague.
"I didn't even know he still had it in his bag," Montgomery said. "It's nostalgic with him coming back and breaking ankles."
Best Defense: Aleksandar Ratkov (Liman)
It was a tough year for Liman who were staring down the barrel of an empty season until they stunningly defied the odds to win their first ever World Tour Final. A key part of their victory was the rock solid defense of athletic big man Aleksandar Ratkov, who anchored Liman during their memorable run.
"I think he is unsung as a defender," Montgomery said. "This dude is always taking the most difficult defensive assignment. He always has his hand in the cookie jar and has a nonstop motor."
Comeback of the year: Dejan Majstorovic (Ub)
There were a lot of eyebrows raised after the Novi Sad legend switched to Serbian rival Ub but it proved a masterstroke and revived 'The Maestro's' sweet shooting stroke after being off target last year.
Majstorovic brought experience and championship pedigree to Ub, who had the best record (22-4) for the season and won back-to-back titles in Debrecen and Montreal. He also finished fifth in overall scoring on the World Tour, won Olympic bronze and gold at the FIBA 3x3 Europe Cup 2021.
"2020 wasn't his best year. 2019 was just ok for him," Montgomery said of Majstorovic. "But he was reborn with Ub this year at 33 years old. 'The Maestro' looked like he was 23 years old."
Best in game dunker: Strahinja Stojacic (Ub)
This unstoppable offensive threat proved he wasn't just Stefan Stojacic's aka 'Mr Robot' little bro. The Ub star tore up the World Tour where he finished 2021 as the No.1 ranked player in the world.
But it wasn't just that he was a walking bucket - this dude entertained like a Netflix show. He had the most highlights (88), drives (44) and dunks (15), including several that melted social media. No wonder he was named the Most Spectacular Player of the year by the fans.
"Strahinja Stojacic is so athletic. He has great lift and just attacks the rim fearlessly," Montgomery said. "I would not want to stand in the way when he had a full head of steam to the rim."
Best Shooter: Arvin Slagter (Amsterdam Talent & Pro)
Arvin Slagter announced himself in 2021 from the get go after an MVP performance in Doha to lead Amsterdam Talent & Pro to their first Masters title.
If you left this Dutch Olympian open he was guaranteed cash.
"He is a hired gun," Montgomery said. "You leave him open from two land, it's a lay up for him. He was wet all season."
Who got next? Antwerp
No one saw them coming. But Antwerp soon became a 3x3 sensation and fan favorite in 2021 where they made four semi-finals and finished fourth overall on the standings.
They are primed to make the leap this year.
"This team took the league by storm," Montgomery said. "This is a team loaded 1-4. This is going to be a team that can be contending World Tour titles. They are knocking on the door."
Player of the year: Karlis Lasmanis
2021 saw Karlis Lasmanis claim 3x3's crown. The lefty Latvian went up a gear as he tore through the World Tour with consecutive MVPs in Abu Dhabi and Mexico City.
Lasmanis took 'Flight KLM' and was the leading scorer overall at an insane 7.8 ppg. The 27-year-old topped player value (177.3) to prove Batman was the greatest superhero of them all as he claimed regular season MVP.
And, of course, 2021 will always be remembered for his gold-medal winning two-piece in Tokyo that will be forever part of Olympic's greatest highlights.
"Batman is an absolute monster," Montgomery said. "The eye test tells you he's the best player in the game and the stats tell you he's the best player in the game. Batman is only 27 years old - imagine how many great years he still has in front of him."