Euroleague Playoffs: Olympiacos vs. Asseco Prokom
Josh Childress and Linas Kleiza are doing just fine.
by Nick Gibson
As I write this, the Atlanta Hawks are third place in the Eastern Conference. The Denver Nuggets, third out West. Thousands of miles away in Piraeus, Josh Childress and Linas Kleiza don’t have time for regrets or for what-ifs.
After a rookie year of ups and downs, Childress has bumped his EL scoring from 8.8 to 14.7 on 63 percent shooting and just might earn a spot on the All-Euroleague team. A seasoned international player before he even left Colorado, Kleiza has already established himself as the most complete scorer in Europe. The size/athleticism gap between the NBA and the EL has allowed him to slide to power forward—he leads the team in rebounding—or take his man outside and go to work. Even on a team stacked with talent, Kleiza’s 17-point average is enough to lead the league, and if the season ended today he would get my vote for MVP. The individual accolades are nice, but Josh and Linas know why the Aggelopoulos brothers plucked them from the NBA: to win Olympiacos their first Euroleague title since 1997. A 13-3 record and ridiculous 88.4 points per game (translates to 106 points in 48 minutes) has them well on their way. David Logan, Qyntel Woods and Polish champs Asseco Prokom will do their best to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Whippersnapper Watch: Milos Teodosic | PG | Olympiacos | 6-5 | 180 pounds | 1987
With stubble on his face, a mop on his head and a floppily carefree demeanor, Milos looks more stoner than baller. His release is lightning quick, inconsistent and rarely features a pair of set feet, yet he’s hit 42 percent of his threes. His crossover probably shouldn’t work and he doesn’t have the hops to finish above the rim, but he’s managed to convert on his 63 percent of his two-point tries and has had only three shots blocked in 16 games. His unimpressive physical stats and limited on-ball defense have kept him out of mock drafts for years, but anyone who follows the international hoops scene knows what Teodosic, who turns 23 on March 19, is capable of on the court. His Top 16 averages of 15.5 points, 4.8 assists and 1.3 steals led to a January MVP Trophy and solidified his status as the best young point guard in Europe (at this point, yes, better than Rubio). Moreover, his development has allowed Olympiacos to rest the best sixth man in European history, Theo Papaloukas, who has played extremely well in shorter stints this year. If you plan on watching the FIBA World Championships this summer or the Olympics in London, it’s worth getting to know the man who’s expected to put Serbia on the medal stand.
Olympiacos Theme Song: Throw Some D’s by Rich Boy. Only Zalgiris and Caja Laboral saw the opposition score more in the Top 16, so any sort of D they can muster should be thrown immediately. I’ve said it once (four times, maybe) and I’ll say it again: Give Patrick Beverley 20 minutes per game and Daniel Ewing will be in a panic once he steps across half court.
Asseco Prokom Theme Song: A mash-up of Bobby Valentino’s Slow Down and Salt-N-Pepa’s Push It. Very few teams in Europe can keep up with Prokom’s pace of play, but Olympiacos is most certainly one of them. Dictating the tempo will be impossible against the league’s deepest and most balanced offense, but if Prokom mixes some giddy up with some settle down they might knock the Greeks out of their rhythm.
Olympiacos will lose if they can’t keep Ratko Varda, Pape Sow and Ronnie Burrell away from the glass. Olympiacos plays so fast and furious that sometimes they rev the engines before securing a very critical item: the ball. In their three losses, Olympiacos had a combined rebounding margin of -18. Not coincidentally, big man Ioannis Bourousis scored a total of 7 points in those games, missing one due to injury. In order to win—or at least tie—the battle of the boards, Olympiacos needs some energy from centers Sofoklis Schortsanitis and Ioannis Bourousis who together average 17.7 points and 7.7 boards in 29 minutes of play. And though I won’t ask much of the legendary Nikola Vujcic in the hustle department, I will ask that he plants his feet firmly in the lane and puts his hands up very, very high.
Prokom will lose if Daniel Ewing works too hard for his own offense. The former Los Angeles Clipper has cuddled up to the European game, where he’s enjoyed the freedom Coach K allowed back in his Devil days. But while Ewing thrives with the ball in his hands, so do David Logan, Qyntel Woods and the Dirk-esque Jan Jagla (Dirk-esque in the sense that he’s blonde, German, very tall and loves to shoot). Asseco Prokom is only 1-3 when Ewing scores 16+ but 2-1 when he has 5+ assists. Keep your head up, Daniel.
Prediction: Even if Prokom rolls out a brilliant gameplan and executes to perfection, it won’t be enough to beat the Greeks in Peace and Friendship Stadium, where they haven’t lost in a year. It will be enough to steal one for the home crowd and avoid the sweep. Olympiacos in four.
Game Schedule (*if necessary)
March 23 – at Olympiacos
March 25 – at Olympiacos
March 30 – at Asseco Prokom
*April 1 – at Asseco Prokom
*April 7 – at Olympiacos
Nick Gibson is the co-creator and producer of Slam and Freaknick’s Euroleague Adventures, which features a blog, podcast, prospect watch and a closer look at Americans playing overseas. Gibson is a broadcast journalism student at Syracuse University and can be contacted at email@example.com.