2009-10 Euroleague Preview
The Euroleague season tips off in full force on Wednesday with six games, followed by five games on Thursday. ESPN360 will begin its 2009-10 Euroleague coverage with the Olympiakos-Orleanaise matchup at 12:15 p.m. ET. ESPN360 will be showing select Euroleague games all season. NBA TV will also be televising a tape-delayed Euroleague Game of the Week on Saturdays again this season - its coverage starts at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday with a look at Ricky Rubio, as Regal FC Barcelona takes on Fenerbahce.
Thursday's Euroleague schedule is highlighted by BC Khimki vs. Real Madrid, AJ Milano vs. Panathinaikos (PAO) and Lotto Roma vs. Caja Laboral.
24 teams are divided into four groups of six teams:
Group A: FC Barcelona; Montepaschi Siena; Fenerbahce Ulker; Cibona; Zalgiris; Asvel
Group B: Olympiakos; Efes Pilsen; Unicaja; Partizan; Lietuvos Rytas; Orleanaise
Group C: Maccabi Tel Aviv; CSKA; Caja Laboral; Lotto Roma; Union Olimpija; Maroussi
Group D: Panathinaikos; Real Madrid; AJ Milano; BC Khimki; Prokom; EWE Baskets
Format of competition:
1) The first stage of the regular season has each team playing home & away with the other five teams in the group for a total of 10 games.
2) The top four teams from each group advance to the Top 16 stage that begins on Jan. 27th. The Top 16 is divided into four groups of four teams, in which each team plays home & away against the other three teams in the group for a total of six games.
3) The top two teams from each Top 16 group advance to the quarterfinals. The quarters are a best-of-5 format that starts on March 23rd.
4) The quarterfinals winners advance to the Euroleague Final Four in Paris on May 7-9.
The Top 4 (Expect to see these teams in Paris):
FC BARCELONA (Spain): The biggest story surrounding Barca this summer was the signing of Ricky Rubio, but their acquistions of other key players, particularly Erazem Lorbek, might be just as important.
No surprise Juan Navarro is the linchpin of their offense. Will run him off screens all over the floor, especially baseline screens so he can curl into his patented floaters. Rubio will share ball-handling duties with Navarro, Jaka Lakovic and Gianluca Basile. Lakovic is a high-level combo guard with the ability to drill jumpers. Basile is another dangerous shooter.
Not to mention, Victor Sada & Roger Grimau will also see some time running the point. So I don't know how effective Rubio will be at Barca with so many other players needing to touch the ball.
Losing Dave Andersen and Ersan Ilyasova to the NBA does take a chunk out of the frontline, but the addition of Erazem Lorbek and Terrence Morris from CSKA really softens the blow. Lorbek (Pacers own rights) is one of the top big men in Europe, and might be the most offensively gifted big in the Euroleague. He's an inside-out force. Former Maryland standout Terrence Morris hopes to make up some of the loss from Ersan Ilyasova's departure. Much like Ilyasova, Morris can spread the floor at the 4-spot and rebounds well, but not as well as Ilyasova.
Fran Vasquez (Magic property) is not particularly skilled on offense but shoots a great percentage getting easy looks rolling off high screens. His combo of long arms & mobility make him an effective rebounder & a terrific defensive presence (08-09 Euroleague blocks leader). 7-footer Boniface Ndong was acquired to cause problems with his length and mobility. Pete Mickeal's athleticism makes him a great rebounder and defender at the 3-spot.
Barca did a great job spreading the floor last year, often having five shooters on the floor at one time. And they should be able to replicate that this year with Lorbek at the 5-spot and Morris at the 4. Barcelona loves to push the pace and have to imagine that, with Rubio on board, that will continue.
OLYMPIAKOS (Greece): Like their Greek rival PAO, Olympiakos have a wealth of options. Let's count the ways. Theo Papaloukas running the pick/roll is not a bad option. PG Milos Teodosic, who tore up the Eurobasket, ain't too bad running the pick/roll either, where he can drill jumpers or set up teammates. Von Wafer can create offense for himself, just don't expect him to pass, ever. Linas Kleiza is another explosive offensive option.
Sofo Schortsanitis (Clips draftee) is a highly efficient beast on the blocks with a combo of incredible girth and nimble feet. Giannis Bourousis is one of the finest centers in Europe, who can score with hooks or by facing up, not to mention his rebounding talent. Nikola Vujcic is a crafty center who is an effective passer and can score some off of rolls and hook shots.
Yotam Halperin is another top-flight combo guard who's the best shooter on the team. Don't forget Josh Childress is on this squad, and he can defend multiple positions, rebound, and attack the rim. Coach Yannakis could have have trouble keeping everyone happy. This team lost by two points to PAO in the semifinals last year and that was without a fit Sofo. Sofo is in good shape this year and Kleiza adds more juice to the roster. Not making the Final 4 would be a major disappointment.
PANATHINAIKOS (Greece): The defending champs kept their core pretty much intact, making them one of the favorites. Coach Obradovic uses a heavy diet of pick/rolls which is a no-brainer when you have three of the top playmakers in Europe with D. Diamantidis, V. Spanoulis, & S. Jasikevicius. Also, will showcase some UCLA-type sets and some double-high post sets with either of his 3 great points directing the show.
If Diamantidis, Jasikevicius, and Spanoulis was not enough firepower running the point, PAO added Nick Kalathes to the mix. It will be interesting to see how much floor time the former Florida star actually sees, considering minutes are spread thin already. To add to the overkill on the perimeter, Milenko Tepic provides another solid ball-handler with a savvy floor game. Former Maryland standout Drew Nicholas gives this team more offensive firepower on the perimeter.
6-8 PF Mike Batiste does his damage rolling off high screens to often finish with a two-handed slammer-jammer (as Dr. Jack would say). Antonis Fotsis does his damage with his shooting stroke, but will also crash the glass and is an underrated finisher & passer. 6-11 Nikola Pekovic (TWolves property) is a physical beast on the blocks, where he's a highly efficient scorer. Pekovic is one of the best young NBA prospects in Europe and is expected to join Minny next season.
PAO has been a solid defensive squad under Obradovic's direction and much the same is expected this year.
REAL MADRID (Spain): Like the other top clubs, Real has an extremely deep roster. The roster is filled with smart veterans, with which new coach Ettore Messina should work wonders. Have to imagine Real will be a stout defensive unit with Messina at the helm.
Pablo Prigioni gives Messina a superb floor general who rarely makes mistakes and is the best pure passer in Europe. Houston Rocket draftee Sergio Llull is a speedy combo guard who can cause havoc defensively. Rimas Kaukenas and Louis Bullock provide terrific shooting at the SG position.
The frontline rotation is as good as any in Europe with the likes of Felipe Reyes, Jorge Garbajosa, Novica Velickovic, Darjus Lavrinovic and Axel Hervelle at Messina's disposal. Reyes will be the offensive focal point on the blocks, where his deft footwork leads to plenty of points. Garbo, Velickovic and Lavrinovic all can float out to the 3pt. line and each guy is a quality defender. All NBA fans should keep tabs on the multi-skilled Serb, Novica Velickovic, who is one of the top young free agents in Europe.
Did not make the Final Four last season, but with the additions of Prigioni, Velickovic, Garbajosa and maybe most importantly Messina, I expect lofty heights this season.
Tier II (Contenders who could make a serious run at a Final Four appearance):
CAJA LABORAL (Spain): The team formally known as Tau Ceramica, dealt with significant turnover on the roster where Splitter is the only returning starter. It will interesting to see if they can replace the scoring void left by Rakocevic. Tiago Splitter is one the best bigs in the Euroleague and should see even more offensive touches with the departure of Igor Rakocevic.
Have a great pair of athletic, active 6-9 combo forwards in Walt Herrmann and Lior Eliyahu. Eliyahu (Rockets draftee) loves to use his athletic gifts to finish hard at the rim and rebound in traffic.Mirza Teletovic is another valuable 6-9 combo forward who is a deadly marksman.
6-3 Marcelo Huertas takes over the starting PG slot vacated by Pablo Prigioni. Huertas uses his speed well and has a knack for floaters like Navarro. Caja has added 6-3 Brad Oleson to hopefully fill Rakocevic's shoes. Oleson was the 2nd leading scorer in the ACB last season and he can drill jumpers. This team has the ability to play uptempo thanks to a very mobile frontcourt and a PG who thrives in a fast-paced setting.
CSKA MOSCOW (Russia): The perennial European power has some question marks concerning their '09-'10 prospects. First off, how much will the lost of Euro coaching legend Ettore Messina hurt CSKA? CSKA was always a well-disciplined team under the guidance of Messina and always a tough defensive unit. Can the team defense still be top-notch without Messina?
The other major issue facing CSKA is the health of PF Matjaz Smodis. Smodis won't be available until the quarterfinals in March (if CSKA makes it that far) after having back surgery. Smodis has been hampered with injuries over the last few years and CSKA desperately needs his multi-skilled talents, especially with the loss of E. Lorbek to Barca.
Not too many worries on the perimeter with the trio of JR Holden, Trajan Langdon and Ramunas Siskauskas still on board (though, they're all over 30 years old) A main objective of the CSKA offense is to spring Langdon free off screens. CSKA's best all-around player is 6-6 SF Ramunas Siskauskas, whose combo of a quick first step and nice strength helps him draw fouls constantly. Can handle playmaking duties, rebounds, shoot from deep, and provides stout defense. 6-6 Anton Ponkrashov is not a danger to hit jumpers, but is a very crafty passer when he runs the offense. Zoran Planinic is one of the best distributors in Europe and can use his size to post up smaller PGs.
The frontline is not a totally lost cause. Vik Khryapa gives CSKA an underrated jack-o-trades combo forward who will fill in the holes with boards, steals, blocks, assists & versatile defense. Former Kansas big man Sasha Kahn is a live body on the backline who can finish around the rim and alter some shots on defense.
Have smart vet leadership that should ease the transition to a new coach, but another run to the Final Four will probably hinge on if Smodis can come back healthy.
EFES PILSEN (Turkey): This Turkish powerhouse has been vaulted into Euroleague upper echelon with additon of Igor Rakocevic and Bostjan Nachbar. A very deep, athletic roster. Igor Rakocevic is one of the top scorers in Europe--'09 Euroleague scoring champ. Boci Nachbar is coming off a great Eurobasket performance where he used his underrated athleticism to provide scoring, rebounding, and defense from both forward positions.
Pilsen adds even more firepower on the perimeter with a trio of former NCAA standouts Bootsy Thorton, Preston Schumpert and Charles Smith. The point guard position will be ably covered by the Kerem Tunceri and Ender Arslan. Both PGs are a danger to shoot from deep, while Tunceri is a steady leader/defender, Arslan is a danger to hit floaters off pick/rolls.
Mario Kasun is an athletic 7-footer with good rebounding and finishing ability. 6-10 Kerem Gonlum is another quality athlete up front who crashes the glass. Pilsen can turn to two quality veteran big bodies to spell Kasun in Kaya Pekar and Dan Santiago.
FENERBAHCE ULKER (Turkey): Another powerhouse team out of Turkey with plenty of athletic weapons. The two guys for NBA fans to focus on are 6-11 Omer Asik (Bulls property) and 6-9 Slovenian small forward Emir Preldizic (Cavs property). Asik is a very mobile big who can finish strong, rebound and block shots. Just hope he does not get fouled--Asik is a horrid free throw shooter. Preldizic is a highly-skilled SF with terrific ball-handling ability.
Ulker's roster is littered with former NBA journeymen. Lynn Greer comes over from Olympiacos to become the #1 option for Ulker. Greer is one of the better pure scorers in Europe who is adept in isos or ball screens. Greer will be paired with Will Soloman, another explosive guard who can score.
Former Jazz sharpshooter Gordon Giricek adds more perimeter firepower. Tarence Kinsey comes back to Fenerbahce after a stint with the Cavs.
6-9 bruiser Mirsad Turkcan was one of the top players in the Euroleague last season who was near the top of both the rebounding and scoring leaderboard. Oguz Savas and Semih Erden provide quality bulk next to Asik up front. Savas is painfully unathletic but does score efficiently around the rim thanks to his massive frame.
MACCABI TEL AVIV: Maccabi was proactive this summer adding top-notch talent to climb there way back into the upper echelon of the Euroleague. Maccabi is led on the frontline by a two possible future NBA players, D'Or Fischer and Maciej Lampe. Fischer (West Virginia) is a top-flight rebounder (particularly on the off. glass) and a defensive presence with serious shot-changing skills. Lampe can drill from deep, but also can score on the block with a hook or nice turnaround. Both Lampe & Fischer are qulaity athletes that can run the floor. Stephane Lasme's athleticism gives Tel Aviv another quality shot-blocker and rebounder up front. 6-10 Yaniv Green is another explosive athlete who is a relentless worker on the glass.
Maccabi picked up one of the best players in the Israeli league in PG Doron Perkins. Perkins is a nice athlete who can score, pass, and rebound. Perkins also causes much havoc on the defensive end which leads to plenty of steals. 6-3 Andrew Wisknewski brings a deft shooting touch and passing skills to the table. Former South Carolina guard Chuck Eidson was another great summer pickup for Maccabi. 6-7 Eidson played great for Rytas last season where he was basically a point forward with the ability pull-up off the dribble. Former NBA reserve Alan Anderson is a well-built SG that has a knack for bulling his way to the rim and can add rebounds & steals to the mix. Former USC standout David Bluthenthal is the designated deadeye at the SF spot.
MONTEPASCHI SIENA (Italy): The best team from Italy is a veteran bunch that reached the Euroleague quarters last year and have the goods to make another deep run this year. Led by former Clemson PG Terrel McIntyre, a Euroleague 1st-Team selection last year. The 5-9 McIntyre is a terror in the pick/roll where he's a multi-threat danger to pull-up from anywhere or get to the rim.
This team should have little trouble producing points on the perimeter with David Hawkins, Nikos Zisis, Romain Sato and Henry Domercant surrounding McIntyre. Zisis is a Greek Nat'l team stalwart with a nice mid-range jumper. SG Henry Domercant can stick jumpers all over the court. The former Xavier star Sato can be a menace defensively and on the boards thanks to his athleticism and long arms.
Veteran forward Shaun Stonerook (Ohio St.) is basically the Euroleague version of Anderson Varejao. Stonerook brings constant energy on both ends and is a pesky defender who's often a top-notch steal merchant. 6-11 Ksystof Lavrinovic provides Siena with a floor-spreading center who can also rebound and block some shots. 6-10 Ben Eze provides an athletic defender to the mix.
Actually, this team has the potential to cause a boatload of TOs with McIntyre, Sato and Hawkins adept at piling up steals. An experience cast that plays hard on both ends of the floor.
Tier III (Should see these teams in the Top 16 round):
ARMANI JEANS MILANO (Italy): Another solid Italian roster filled with reliable vets. Milano looks to be stocked on the perimeter. Former Oklahoma standout Hollis Price ably runs the offense and is a reliable deep shooter. Massimo Bulleri is past his prime but can still be valuable reserve behind Price. Milano acquired Alex Acker in the off-season to bolster the guard rotation. Marco Mordente is a veteran combo guard who can drill coming off screens and will do a little ball-handling.
Combo Forward Mike Hall has a nice all-around game and can get streaky from the perimeter. Hall is also a sneaky rebounder on the offensive end. Milano added the athletic talents of SF Stefano Machinelli in the summer. Stefano has solid post-up ability and a good finisher, and he does have NBA potential.
The backline is well taken care of with the services of Mason Rocca and Marijonas Petravicius. Petravicius was the lone bright spot for Lithuania at the recent Eurobasket where he used his wide-body to carve out space in the paint. He's an old-school bully who draws fouls. Yes, the coaching staff usually wears jeans on sidelines, I'm assuming they ain't Wranglers.
BC KHIMKI (Russia): Second best team out of Russia with a scary tandem of physical specimens at center, Timofey Mozgov and Robertas Javtokas. The 7-0 Mozgov is an imposing interior presence at both ends of the floor. Mozgov is a pretty good athlete for his size and a very powerful finisher rolling off of screens. Strong offensive rebounder, but does have issues with fouls. All NBA fans should keep an eye on the 23 year old Mozgov since any team can grab him in free agency.
R. Javtokas (Spurs property) ain't much good on the offensive end (besides dunks), but he's a capable rebounder and a strong defensive presence thanks to his strength and athleticism. 6-9 PF Paulius Jankunas adds another strong body up front who will rebound hard and defend.
Keith Langford (Kansas) should be the primary scoring option for Khimki. The explosive SG is comes to Euroleague play after a successful NBDL stint. SF Kelly McCarty is coming off a solid Eurobasket performance where he led Russia with 12.5 ppg & 5.5 rpg. McCarty can score on pull-ups, rebounds well for a wing and is a solid all-around defender. Wing Vitali Fridzon will be called upon to knock down jumpers. Coach Sergio Scariolo will turn to two veteran Spanish PGs, Carlos Cabezas & Raul Lopez, to run the team.
CIBONA (Croatia): Might be the shakiest of possible Top 16 participants and don't have much on Zalgiris in Group A. Jamont Gordon should dominate the ball and will use his speed to attack the paint, but not much of a shooter. Marko Tomas had to sit out the Eurobasket but he's back to provide Cibona with a multi-dimensional threat on the wings. The 6-7 Tomas is a deft shooter who has underrated athleticism he puts to good use to sneak to the rim and play solid defense. 6-7 SF Bojan Bogdanovic is a promising 20 year old who replicates much of what Tomas brings to the floor. 7-0 Daligor Bagaric is a hulking presence in the lane for Cibona.
LOTTOMATICA ROMA (Italy): A rather deep ballclub that should make a return trip to the Top 16 stage. PF Andre Hutson is a strong interior presence who Lotto will turn to for some interior scoring and tough board work. Forward Angelo Gigli is a wiry 6-11 athlete that will crash glass, runs the floor, finish well and change shots on the defensive end.
Ibrahim Jaaberis a quality European floor general. Jaaber is an erratic shooter, but can provide stout defense. Jacopo Giachetti and Luka Vitali will also see minutes at PG. Luigi Datome is one of the better young prospects in Europe and his shooting ability attached to a wiry 6-8 frame makes him enticing. Former Alabama standout Kennedy Winston will see time on the wings next to Datome.
PARTIZAN (Serbia): This squad does not project to be as good as last year with the loss of Milenko Tepic and Novica Velickovic. Probably should make the Top 16 portion but making the quarters again is a longshot. NBA fans should keep an eye on 6-11 Jan Vesely, a legit NBA draft prospect. The 19 year old Czech is a terrific athlete who can attack the rim
Besides Vesely, Partizan has other servicable size in the form of 6-11 former Nebraska standout Aleks Maric and 7-6 Slavko Vranes. Maric is adept at scoring in the paint and Vranes can be factor near the basket on both ends just because of his massive frame. Former NBA journeyman Milt Palacio is expected to be the primary playmaker.
UNICAJA (Spain): Quality Spanish club with a nice mix of experience and youth. Unicaja signed Taquen Dean to fill the scoring void at SG left by Thomas Kelati's departure. Dean was the 4th-best scoring in the ACB last season and loves to jack up jumpers. Former St. John's PG Omar Cook is a classic pass-first point who should rack up assists feeding the ball to the sharpshooting Dean.
The frontline is bolstered by a pair of Brits, Joel Freeland and Robert Archibald. Rob Archibald can score around the rim and is a sneaky driver when faced up 12-15 feet away. Portland Blazer property Joel Freeland likes to float out for his soft jumper, and use his mobility to change some shots. Giorgios Printezis is a nice athlete who can play both forward spots. Printezis can attack off the dribble, where he loves to finish with his left hand. Makes quick, decisive moves all the time & goes hard to the glass. Veteran wings Carlos Jimenez and Jiri Welsch provide adroit defense and smart floor games.
Tier IV (Teams that should not make it out of the first stage of the regular season):
ASSECO PROKOM (Poland): Liking this team as a sleeper team that could sneak into the Top 16 if Milano or Khimki falter in the first stage. Great athleticism across the board. Great one-two punch in the backcourt with Daniel Ewing and David Logan. The 6-1 Logan is one of the best scorers in Europe with the ability to shoot off the bounce or get to the rim. Qyntel Woods adds more athleticism on the wings. Jan Jagla joins this top Polish club and provides an active 7-footer who crashes the glass. Former Raptor center Pape Sow causes problems in the interior thanks to his length and crazy hops.
ASVEL VILLEURBANNE (France): A quality frontcourt Led by former Stanford center Curtis Borchardt and French Nat'l team reserve big Ali Traore. Lithuanian guard Mindaugas Lukauskis is an athletic finisher who also is a quality shooter. Bobby Dixon will play alongside Lukauskis in the backcourt. French Nat'l Coach Vince Collet will have his hands full trying to advance to the Top 16.
EWE BASKETS (Germany): Unfortunately placed in the toughest group where they have close to no shot of advancing. Led by some familiar NCAA names like Jason Gardner, Ricky Paulding, Ruben Boumtje Boumtje and Josh Carter.
LIETUVOS RYTAS (Lithuania): Little chance of advancing out of Group B. Quality backcourt with Bojan Popovic and Arturas Jomantas. Former Wash. State bruiser Aron Baynes adds a nasty dispositon in the painted area.
MAROUSSI (Greece): Placed in a tough Group C where they will have to vault over Lotto Roma. PG Billy Keys is the leader of this underrated Greek club. Kostas Kaimakoglu is an active body at the forward spot. Canadian PF Levon Kendall adds toughness up front.
ORLEANAISE (France): Probably the weakest team in the competiton, little hope of Top 16 action.
UNION OLIMPIJA (Slovenia): Do have a decent chance at advancing to the Top 16 if Lotto Roma trips up. A great collection of shooters with Matt Walsh (Fla Gators), Uros Slokar (ex-Raptors), Sani Becirovic, Saso Ozbolt and Nemanja Alexsandrov all having deep range.
ZALGIRIS (Lithuania): Are closely matched with Cibona in Group A and have a great shot at the Top 16. Backcourt led by 6-5 PG Mantas Kalnietis and SG Marcus Brown. Brown is the primary scoring option while Kalnietis is an athletic playmaker. Travis Watson and Mirza Begic provide solid play on the frontline.