Euroleague Basketball 2020/21 season preview – Part 2

Vladimir Micov Armani Milano
Photo: EuroLeague Basketball

Euroleague Basketball returns to action after almost seven months and the 18 teams are ready for the start of another exciting season.

In a two-part preview, TalkBasket.net analyzes the changes the clubs made to their respective rosters and what we are expecting to see from them this season.

Here is the second part of the preview, while fans can read Part 1 here.

Κhimki

Some promising new faces will blend with the remaining firepower in the Moscow Region. Star quality has been an indispensable element in the recent history of the club and this year is no exception. It is a blessing -at least, on paper- for any team to have Alexey Shved, Errick McCollum, Jonas Jerebko and Greg Monroe on the roster.

Shved is a perennial scoring machine and the player that best personifies Khimki’s identity. Now, being on his fourth season with them and while the ink is still fresh on his new contract, the Alphonso Ford Trophy winner in 2018 knows that he will be the go-to guy and the player with the highest usage in Rimas Kurtinaitis’ arsenal.

The Lithuanian coach, who took the reigns of the Russian side amid the 2018-19 campaign, has won three Eurocup trophies but has had mixed results at the Euroleague level.

The addition of another great, albeit undersized, scoring guard in McCollum can work more effectively as an alternative to Shved’s bad nights rather than a supplement to the undisputed leader.

Shved’s playing style is complemented better by the returning point guard, Stefan Jovic. Russian national Evgeny Voronov arrived from Zenit St. Petersburg, while Sergey Karasev, Viatcheslav Zaitsev and Egor Vialtsev conclude the backcourt lineup.

However, the list of reliable shooters at Kurtinaitis’ disposal is endlesss: Dairis Bertans and Sergey Monia as swingmen, Jannis Timma as a spot-up threat, Jonas Jerebko as an athletic stretch four, Devin Booker as forward-center.

All the above-mentioned players can tear any defense apart and were in Moscow Region last year to prove it. The front court is no less intriguing: Jordan Mickey returned from Real Madrid for a second stint in Khimki uniform, Greg Monroe left his one-man show in Munich for Russia and Maksim Barashkov is clearly the third choice coming off the bench.

During last summer, the Russians bid farewell to the injury-plagued veteran Timofey Mogzov, Jeremy Evans and Anthony Gill, who is still exploring his NBA potential.

Khimki will most probably be a repetition of last year’s version: a fun-to-watch team that can score 90+ points on any given night, but may struggle against a hard-nose opponent who can target their defensive weaknesses. A defensive-minded point guard and a rim protector would be greatly needed in this respect. Prediction: They will fight for a play-off spot until the last minute.

Ζenit Saint Petersburg

The news that stands out as the potential difference maker for Zenit is its head coach returning for another round. Xavi Pascual is the most valuable asset for an inexperienced team, which had to make significant yet necessary changes during the summer period.

The players missing from the 2020-21 roster mainly comprised the team’s frontcourt: Gustavo Ayon, Tim Abromaitis and Colton Iverson. Alex Renfroe and Andrew Albicy are also gone. That goes with the territory for a group whose performance was subpar on its Euroleague debut.

Zenit suffered immensely because it’s always difficult to create a team from scratch. Thus, Pascual teamed up with Greek GM Manos Papadopoulos, a long-time Panathinaikos’ executive, to make a rebuild.

The venture is accentuated by the signing of Euroleague regulars who aim to resurrect their career, like Kevin Pangos and Arturas Gudaitis. The Canadian guard was essentially a non-factor at FC Barcelona, but Pascual surely has a lot more in common with Jasikevicius compared to Pesic.

The Lithuanian center, on the other hand, had a rough time in Milan coming off an injury that may have delayed or even irreparably damaged his NBA dream. Since Euroleague experience was needed, arrivals included veteran shooting guards Vitaly Fridzon (34) and KC Rivers (33).

Alex Poythress, an athletic forward who excelled with Galatasaray, may not fit the above description, but his talents had been in very high demand as soon as he became a free agent. Billy Baron, known for his deadly threes, had a good rookie year with Red Star Belgrade. His contribution will be pivotal, especially when he shares the court with Pangos.

Versatile guard-forward Mateusz Ponitka is back after what can be described as a career-best season. The same goes for swingman and steal specialist Austin Hollins, the 2019 Eurocup Finals MVP Will Thomas (a forward with nice post moves) and Russian NT guard Dmitry Khvostov. Also present this year are both reserve big men Andrey Zubkov and Anton Pushkov.

To sum up, much of Zenit’s success or failure will depend on how and to what extent Pangos and Gudaitis will respond to their roles as leaders in the backcourt and the frontline, respectively. In theory, the team from Saint Petersburg is better prepared to face adversity and tough competition, but in no case does it start from the pole position for the Euroleague playoffs.

TD SYSTEMS Baskonia

The defending Spanish champs immerse themselves into the Euroleague arena with high hopes. It makes perfect sense, despite having lost their signature player, forward Tornike Shengelia.

“Toko” is now a Moscow resident, but that shouldn’t discourage Dusko Ivanovic who knows the ropes better than anyone else in Vitoria. The Montenegrin coach was forced to shake things up, shifting his team’s focus from the frontcourt to the perimeter.

Apart from Shengelia, the exit door was opened by Semaj Christon, Matt Janning, Jayson Granger, Shavon Shields and Michael Eric. Some were important players, others smaller pieces to the puzzle.

What matters is that the Basques somehow managed to find first-class solutions in order to fill the vacant positions. Versatile forward Rokas Giedraitis came in from Alba Berlin, where he had a breakout season.

Tonye Jekiri, who is a formidable rebounder and rim protector, did the same with ASVEL Basket in France. Stretch power forward Alec Peters will surely find sufficient playing time without Shengelia on the roster and will be required to open the court with his long-distance shots.

A strong core of players remained: ACB playoff heroes Achile Polonara, Luca Vildoza and Pierria Henry provide Ivanovic with strong defense and willingness to improve. Vildoza is a long-term project for Baskonia; Henry has been criticized for his decision making, but -regardless of a few lapses- his presence is indispensable on both ends of the floor.

Zoran Dragic has proven himself as Euroleague material, while Youssoupha Fall and Ilimane Diop have length combined with atlheticism to cover the center position. Two imports from the Baltic bolster the roster: Latvian Arturs Kurucs and Lithuanian Tadas Sedekerskis.

As a constant Euroleague playoff contender, Baskonia is once again expected to compete. However, even if their goal is not achieved, Dusko and his boys vouch to never let go. Giedraitis is crucial, but Shengelia’s tenacity and leadership will be missed.

Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich recreated its roster in order to come back after a disappointing season. Wade Baldwin (Olympiacos), Jajuan Johnson (Bahcesehir), Malcolm Thomas (Bayern Munich), Jalen Reynolds (Maccabi Tel Aviv), Nick Weiber Babb (MPH Ludwigsburg).

On the other hand, Greg Monroe (Khimki Moscow), Maodo Lo (AlBA Berlin), Josh Huestis (Rio Grande), Danilo Barthel (Fenerbahce Beko), Marvin Ogunsipe (Hamburg), Mathias Lessort and Oliver Kostic parted ways with the team, as they were not included in the plans of new head coach Andrea Trichieri.

Bayern Munich will enter the season with several personnel changes on and off the court. First and foremost, they start the season with a new head coach, as we said.

Trinchieri changed the direction of the team bringing athleticism to the German club’s equation. In particular, “long” athletic players came to the club to provide defensive stops.

Jaylen Reynolds will protect the paint to a team that had the seventh worst defense and allowed their opponents to score 55.7% from two-point distance ranked for fourth worst FG% in the 2019-2020 Euroleague.

Bayern could be a headache for any opponent in its home games due to the potentially good defense, but it’s pretty difficult to foresee, which player is going to close-out and make the shots, when Bayern needs them the most. However, the club could win more than last year’s disappointing eight-win record.

Maccabi Tel-Aviv

Maccabi Tel-Aviv did not change many things from last season, with Chris Jones (Bursaspor), Oz Blayzer (Rishon LeZion), Eidan Alber (Ironi Nes Ziona), Ante Zizic (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Dragan Bender coming in.

On the other hand, Nate Wolters (UNICS Kazan), Jake Cohen (Obradoiro), Jalen Reynolds (Bayern Munich), Tarik Black, Quincy Acy, Deni Avdija, Aaron Jackson and Amar’e Stoudemire left the team.

Maccabi Tel-Aviv had a great combination of athleticism on frontcourt last season, with Tarik Black and Quincy Acy, while Amar’e Stoudemire was a great addition for them mid-season. Of course, Deni Avdija, who was impressive in the last few games of the season, is going to be a lottery pick in this year’s draft.

However, Scottie Wilbekin will still be the X-factor of a possible Maccabi success, being a prime shot-creator and pick ‘n roll threat, especially with Othello Hunter and Ante Zizic in the mix. Zizic, who got back to Europe after three seasons in the NBA, will be a crucial part of Maccabi’s plan to control the paint.

The top-three of the competition is expected to be the same (Barcelona, Real Madrid, Efes) with the 2019-2020 season. However, Maccabi should be able to sneak in the top-four, despite losing firepower, especially in the front-court.

Zalgiris Kaunas

Like the majority of the other Euroleague teams, Zalgiris Kaunas also made changes to its roster. Joffrey Lauvergne (Fenerbahce Beko), Patricio Garino (Baskonia), Augustine Rubit (Olympiacos), Steve Vasturia (Rasta Vechta), Tomas Dimsa (Lietkabetis) and Marek Blazevic (Rytas) signed with the Lithuanians.

On the contrary, KC Rivers (Zenit), Gytis Masiulis (Lietkabelis), Laurynas Birutis (Obradoiro), Arnas Velicka (Chalon Reims), Edgaras Ulanovas (Fenerbahce Beko), Zach LeDay (Olimpia Milano) and Jock Landale parted ways with Zalgiris.

The 2020-21 season is going to be a transitional year for Zalgiris Kaunas with Martin Schiller on the bench instead of Sarunas Jasikevicius, who joined Barcelona the past summer.

Coming from the NBA G-League, Schiller was the top coach snatching the Coach of the Year award with Salt Lake City. On top of that, Zalgiris will lean on its successful core of Thomas Walkup, Arturas Milaknis and Lukas Lekavicius in the perimeter.

Also, Zalgiris’ frontline has gone through a “facelift” over the summer break, with proven players, like Joffrey Lauvergne and Augustine Rubit, coming into the squad.

The Lithuanians also added some depth in the wings and the guards with Patricio Garino, Steve Vasturia and Tomas Dimsa.

Zalgiris will remain a smart team that is going to make some noise in the regular season, and maybe be in the mix for the eighth place. However, it will be important to create the much needed chemistry, after losing several important parts of the previous season’s successful runs.

Armani Milano

Armani Milano enters the Euroleague with one target on its mind, to go all the way to the end. Coach Ettore Messina added plenty of experienced players to the roster in an effort to create a deep and powerful roster.

The Italians signed four-time champion center Kyle Hines, former champion with Fenerbahce Luigi Datome, Malcolm Delaney (former All-Euroleague guard), Kevin Punter, Zach LeDay, Shavon Shields and rookie Davide Moretti.

The aforementioned players, along with top guard Sergio Rodriguez, Vladimir Micov, Jeff Brooks and Kaleb Tarczewski (who remained with the squad), are ready to bring the Italians back to the Final Four after 29 years (1992).

With the likes of Delaney, Hines, Datome, Punter, Rodriguez and coach Messina’s guidance, Milano has the experience, the talent and the depth to reach the postseason and earn the home-court advantage en route to Cologne, where the Final Four will take place.

A top four finish is likely for Milano, even though the Italians will face tough competition from Day 1.

Fenerbahce

This season sees Fenerbahce enter a new era, following the departure of head coach Zeljko Obradovic after seven years. The legendary coach led the team to five consecutive Final Four appearances and the 2017 championship.

Igor Kokoskov is getting ready for his Euroleague debut, but knows a difficult task lies ahead. Alongside the Serbian coach, there will be seven new faces, which joined the team in the offseason.

Jarell Eddie, Dyshawn Pierre and Johnny Hamilton – all set for their debut in the competition, Lorenzo Brown, Edgaras Ulanovas, Danilo Barthel and Kenan Sipahi will attempt to keep the club at the top level for another season.

With Kostas Sloukas, Luigi Datome, Nikola Kalinic and Derrick Williams leaving the team, Nando De Colo and Jan Vesely have to step up and make the difference on both ends.

Their chemistry with the newcomers will show how possible it will be for Fenerbahce to remain competitive from start to finish. Coach Kokoskov is also a coach with a fantastic resume and there is plenty of elite talent in the team.

But, chemistry level, roles distributions and the team’s new playing style will determine their success. Most likely, they will earn a top 8 spot, yet it is too soon to predict whether they can overcome the other EuroLeague powerhouses.

ASVEL Villeurbanne

ASVEL Villeurbanne has a new head coach in long-time assistant T.J. Parker, the brother of club president Tony Parker.

Parker made many changes to the roster, bringing many new players, including Paul Lacombe, two-time NBA champion Norris Cole, Allerik Freeman, who averaged 18.5 points for Bursaspor in the Turkish League last season, Moustapha Fall, Kevarrius Hayes and William Howard.

Antoine Diot offers plenty of veteran experience, while David Lighty and his all-around playing style can make the difference on both ends.

ASVEL will try to take advantage of its home court and challenge for a playoff position. Given it is an ambitious and fast-developing club under a first-time head coach, plenty of ups and downs are expected in the season.

*Alexandros Tsakos, Giorgos Kyriakidis and Yiannis Bouranis contributed to this article.

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