Euroleague Preview, Week 3
Fenerbahçe looks to join Europe’s elite.
by Nick Gibson / @euro_adventures
Two match-ups between undefeated clubs highlight the Euroleague’s third week of play. In the first, Fenerbahçe Ülker does their best to oust the 2010 champs in Palau Blaugrana. The second pits the unlikeliest of the 2-0ers, Union Olimpija, against the 2009 champs, Panathinaikos. Those and 10 more to come, but first it’s time for me to apologize to a forgotten prospect…
Bojan Bogdanovic, SF Cibona | 21 | 6-8 | 216 pounds
It took me a good eight days to realize I had completely forgotten about Bojan. I had scanned all 24 rosters up and down in search of names that stood out; I needed talented youngsters who might presume large enough roles on their teams to compete for the Euroleague’s Rising Star Award for the best player under 22. Recent winners include prodigies like Ricky Rubio, Novica Velickovic, Danilo Gallinari, Rudy Fernandez and Andrea Bargnani; did I not think Bogdanovic deserved a spot in this pantheon of prospects? Of course I did. The reason I skipped him over is because his stellar play at the end of last season made me forget — honestly forget — how young this guy was.
A tremendous shooter who’s long enough to get it off over anyone, Bogdanovic hit 6-6 from deep in a Top 16 to become one of the youngest week MVP’s in the Euroleague’s history. Anyone who thought he might have topped out just needs to check this season’s EL scoring leaders through two to see that Bojan’s tied for second at 21.5 per game including a 28-point explosion against Barcelona in week one. And for NBA mock-watchers, the poise with which this 21-year-old has accepted a leadership role on Croatia’s most storied franchise is enough to slap that “intangibles” tag on him, to boot.
Now on to the picks. Last week’s record: 8-4.
BC Khimki (1-1) vs. Caja Laboral (2-0)
Khimki’s talent runs a couple layers deep at each position and Sergio Scariolo’s system puts them in place to be successful. Benjamin Eze protects the rim while Kresimir Loncar stretches the defense with some elbow jumpers; Raul Lopez shuffles his floormates around so Keith Langford can find space and do work. It’s a way of playing that lends itself to close contests, with fourth quarters usually deciding the victor.
Caja Laboral’s first two games have showcased the harmonious yet unlikely union between volume and efficiency. With more points (174), assists (35), three-pointers made (22) and a higher index ranking (212) than all 23 other teams, Vitoria’s collective chucker mentality has served them just fine. But behind the flash and fling of David Logan and Mirza Teletovic (13-30 combined on 3PT this season) there’s the elbow grease of Stanko Barac, whose 15 and 7 averages just earned him a three-year extension from the club, and Fernando San Emeterio, whose average ranking of 22 is second only to Oleksiy Pecherov in the EL despite taking only nine shots in two games. Add the brilliance of Brazilian point man Marcelinho Huertas to the mix and you’ve got explosive balance. Caja Laboral.
Zalgiris (1-1) vs. Asseco Prokom (0-2)
Zalgiris has six guys who average more than 19 minutes per game with another four at 14 plus. That sort of spread will make Aco Petrovic’s life a little easier, yet I can only hope that his master plan also involves finding a mix that works when it matters most. Asseco Prokom, on the other hand, is fairly aware of the talent they possess and I believe Tomas Pacesas knows how he’d like to harness it; but it’s an issue when your starting power forward puts up numbers like this in the first two:
Ronnie Burrell: 2.5 points (29 percent shooting), 3.5 rebounds, 0 blocks, 0 steals, 0 FT attempted in 21 min/game.
The Daniel Ewing, Bobby Brown, JR Giddens perimeter seems content to take turns dominating possessions, but someone needs to step up big time if Prokom wants to turn firepower into staying power. Sound similar to last season? Substitute ‘David Logan’ for ‘Bobby Brown’ and ‘Qyntel Woods’ for ‘JR Giddens’ and you’ve got a DNA match. In a league where toughness is presumed to be in short supply, one would be surprised how it can make all the difference. Zalgiris.
Partizan (1-1) vs. Maccabi Electra (1-1)
When I met Vladimir Lucic in Denver last season during the Euroleague American Tour, I was so struck by his youth that I went home to make sure that he was actually on the roster. He was, and that spot yielded him a grand total of 1:19 in week ten at Olympiacos. Lucic accumulated a lone turnover. No more, no less. After watching a week one defeat in Kaunas from the bench, Coach Vladimir Jovanovic called on Lucic for a spark, and once the athletic 6-8 forward got going, he couldn’t be extinguished. Whether he got it in the corner or on the wing, he took a dribble and launched himself at the rim, drawing two fouls and scoring six points as he shot some life back into Pionir Arena. While his stats might not amaze just yet, the aging (or more appropriately, aged) Partizan wing duo of Dusan Kecman and Petar Bozic is terrific in the veteran leadership department, but their mobility leaves much to be desired. Vlad Lucic is the perfect pace changer, especially as Jan Vesely labors through these first few weeks.
Yet among all the week’s terrific individual match ups, Maccabi’s Sofoklis Schortsanitis vs. Partizan’s Nathan Jawai stands out as the, well, biggest. Although Sofo’s 345 makes Jawai seem dainty at 280, Nathan’s NBA experience and craft inside will make for a 12-round battle. (Better make that eight rounds; Baby Shaq has historic troubles staying on the court for more than 20 minutes.) This battle’s intrigue stems as much from performance as it does girth, as both are coming off terrific outings: Sofo had 24 and 5 in only 21 minutes of action; Jawai put up 15 and 8 in 28. While these two bump uglies on the block, Macabi’s superior supporting cast will try and do what they could not in last year’s quarterfinals: tame the raucous atmosphere of Pionir Arena. This year they’ll be lucky enough to catch Partizan in the developmental stages of the season. Maccabi Electra.
Olympiacos (1-1) vs. Unicaja (1-1)
Milos Teodosic is a star student in the Juan Carlos Navarro school of offensive ingenuity. But what happens when he’s having an off day? Vassilis Spanoulis is as aggressive as they make ‘em, but what is one to do when his propensity for turnovers puts him on the bench in crunch time? With Papaloukas as the master of facility, this leaves you without a player capable of creating for himself when the usual attackers shoot blanks. Last season, Linas Kleiza was the killer, thriving in isolation when Olympiacos absolutely needed a bucket. This season, the search for that slasher continues, and though I think the job is Marko Keselj’s for the taking, he hasn’t exactly taken it. Yet. Last week’s road loss to Brose Baskets leads me to believe that wins away from home will be harder to come by on nights when Teodosic goes cold (2/10) from deep.
Luckily Olympiacos has one of the young season’s wildest stats in their favor: In two games, Unicaja has been outrebounded 92-56 in total and 39-20 on the offensive glass. That’s a ridiculously inexcusable -36 margin and an extra 19 possessions they’ve allowed their opponents. The fact they have won a game at all can be (I think) solely attributed to their +14 turnover margin, where they do their best to negate their deficiencies on the boards. Considering Olympiacos is +11 in the rebounding department, chalk one in the W column for the Greeks. Olympiacos.
Brose Baskets (1-1) vs. Spirou Charleroi (0-2)
Considering Brose beat a much better Olympiacos team at home and lost to a slightly better (at best) Roma team by 18 on the road leads me toward two conclusions: they play better A) in home sweet Bamberg home and B) in faster-paced games. Aside from Belgium, German systems most clearly resemble the American brand of basketball, and Brose’s 7-0 record in the BBL (Germany’s domestic league) indicates they feel quite comfortable playing fast and loose. And guess where Spirou calls home? Belgium. Brose Baskets.
Virtus Roma (1-1) vs. Real Madrid (1-1)
As I had hoped coming into the season, Real Madrid’s frontcourt is far more active than last season’s, which featured the hunched figure of Darjus Lavrinovic alongside an injured Felipe Reyes, far too much Jorge Garbajosa and an at-times under utilized Novica Velickovic. Now Reyes is back to his steady, productive and healthy self, D’Or Fischer provides the active defender they lacked and Ante Tomic has carried a strong ACB finish through the offseason, into FIBA and now he enters the Euroleague season with expectations matched by few. I can’t fathom why Velickovic is getting the shaft so far (7:35 per game), but Carlos Suarez’s incredible start makes it easier to stomach. On paper, Roma’s frontcourt should have the collective muscle to form a worthy adversary, but Ali Traore’s struggle to fit with his new club puts a serious damper on things. Andrea Crosariol has been a Godsend off the bench (12 and 7 plus a block and a half), but if it’s up to him and the young Vladimir Dasic it could get ugly in the paint. Real Madrid.