Euroleague Final Four: CSKA Moscow’s Chances
The Wrath of Sasha Kaun.
by Nick Gibson / @euro_adventures
TWO YOU MIGHT REMEMBER
Trajan Langdon, Duke: The best ever Blue Devil from beyond the arc not named Redick, the Alaskan Assassin left the Cavs in 2003 after three NBA seasons and instantly made Europe his personal playground. He has played in five Euroleague title games, won two, and picked up three All-Euroleague nods and one Final Four MVP (’08) en route to a spot on Euroleague’s All-Decade team.
Sasha Kaun, Kansas: Sasha came to Lawrence as a draft prospect and left as a champion whose personal achievements fell drastically short of expectations. Last season he cozied up on the bench, called “fives” and returned there to start the ’09-10 campaign, logging just 22 minutes in the first four weeks. He was forced into duty in week five, given the starting role in week six and thanks to averages of 15 points and 7 rebounds over the next few games, hasn’t relinquished that spot since.
ONE YOU SHOULD KNOW
Ramunas Siskauskas: Making widow’s peaks cool again one award at a time, Siskauskas is as solid as solid gets. After earning a championship with Panathinaikos in 2007, he switched sides and brought home the gold in Moscow in ’08 along with a shiny Euroleague MVP Trophy. He can stow it on the shelf next to his three All-Euroleague awards and his EL All-Decade Team plaque.
Scouts is watching: Andrey Vorontsevich. It’s pretty clear he’s modeled his game after Siskauskas, and that’s miles away from a bad thing. He hit 55 percent of his shots this year and had his best game in the Playoffs against Caja Laboral when he dropped 15 and 7 in 26 minutes. His combo of height (6-9), stroke and speed would probably be enough to garner some NBA looks, but almost 23 years young and in line for a starring role in Moscow he’ll likely stay put. So the scouts won’t be so busy in this one, but after braving volcanic ash and awkward airport security pat downs they’ll want to write something in their little notepads. And if they plan on checking out the big, 1988-born Artem Zabelin they best get to their seats in time for warm-ups.
The grizzled veteran: JR Holden. All sorts of senior citizens on this team, but Langdon and Siskauskas have agreed to share the limelight with this American-born, Bucknell-bred starter for the Russian national team. Holden arrived in CSKA in 2002 and they have played in a record seven Euroleague Final Fours since, not including this one. In those eight seasons (the equivalent of two lifetimes in Euro ball), JR has captured titles in 2006 and 2008 and was the third CSKA player named to the Euroleague’s All-Decade Team based on the following career ranks: Games played (1st), three-pointers made (2nd), assists (3rd), points (4th). Ridiculous.
Nothing to do with anything: Trajan Langdon was taken 150th overall in the 6th round of the 1994 MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres as a third baseman and pitcher. They could have traded down 414 spots and groomed J.D. Drew as Tony Gwynn’s replacement.
They’ll run you off the court if you don’t open each quarter with a new defensive scheme and fresh personnel. The emergence of Kaun as an offensive weapon and the recent acquisition of All-Name All-Star Pops Mensah-Bonsu has given CSKA the balance they should have been missing without Terrence Morris, Erazem Lorbek and the injured Matjaz Smodis. Not to take anything away from rookie coach Evgeny Pashutin, but these guys almost direct themselves at this point. They’ll adjust before the shot clock strikes single digits if they have to. Be ready to do the same, Barca.
You can beat them if you turn Viktor Khryapa into a jumpshooter. The former Bull and Blazer has been excellent this season and has an All-Euroleague nomination and a Defensive Player of the Year Award to show for it. But if a couple of J’s fall early, Khryapa tends to leave his most valuable commodity—mismatchability—on the sideline and keeps on a’chuckin’ from distance. It’s not that he can’t shoot—he can—but he and CSKA are better served with Khryapa either slashing to the basket or finding cutters (he leads the team with 4.2 assists per game).
How they paid for their trip to Paris: The Moscow management entered the off-season intent on cutting 40 percent of their budget. Apparently, they weren’t playing around. All-Euroleague forwards Erazem Lorbek and Terrence Morris were jettisoned to Barcelona and legendary coach Ettore Messina got Plies-type plenty money with Real Madrid. When forward Matjaz Smodis—yes, another All-Euroleaguer—was lost for the season with a back injury, the prognosis wasn’t so cheery in Moscow. Their only notable off-season signing, Ivan Radenovic, was a bust up front and CSKA floundered to a 1-2 start. With a foot in the grave, Siskauskas started hitting, Kaun stopped sucking and Khryapa decided it would be fun to max out his potential. Only one of the next 15 games would end unfavorably for the Russians. I would say they’re lucky to be here, but now I know better than that. Because as other European teams scramble to fill their rosters with teenagers or reputable dinosaurs, CSKA chills in the background and tweaks the gears of their systematic powerhouse.
Chances of winning it all: 25%
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.