Crvena Zvezda’s impressive winning streak continues

Photo: EuroLeague

With the Turkish Airlines Euroleague reaching a turning point, the Serbian club has been on fire lately, having won seven straight games and eight of their last nine, as they have been transformed into one of the favourites to qualify to the playoffs.

Two months ago, things were completely different for the Serbians. Having failed to claim consecutive victories, and coming from three straight defeats, the squad had to significantly improve its performance in order to take the upper hand over its opponents.

Fast forward to today, Crvena Zvezda look unstoppable, as they welcome Anadolu Efes in Belgrade on Friday night. Coach Dejan Radonjic’s squad currently performs at very high standards, having improved most aspects of its game.

The team is very effective on both ends of the floor, having come closer to the top, as they have lost only once in their last nine matches (to Olympiacos in Piraeus).

What are the key elements, though, that have led to the club’s transformation in the past 60 days?

First of all, there is a significant enhancement in their defensive performance, both on 1 on 1 and pick’ n’ roll situations.

Thanks to Ognjen Kuzmic’s presence inside the paint, the guards can be more aggressive and press their opponents really hard in order to either make the steal (the team is on top of the respective category, averaging 8.4 per game), or force them to shoot the ball very badly.

Concurrently, in pick ’n’ roll situations, the Serbians prevent their opponents from driving to the basket and scoring easy lay-ups, due to Kuzmic’s ability to act as the rim protector (0.5 blocks per game, along with many deflections) as well as the forwards’ effective hedge-outs.

Moreover, they have raised their energy levels and fight for every loose ball, making their opponents’ effort to score points very difficult (having one of the best defensive lines in the entire league).

Offensively, Crvena Zvezda has been equally productive, being among the top clubs in the assist/turnover ratio (153.3%), although they have adopted a rather old-fashioned playing style. More specifically, they don’t create many fast breaks, focusing more on spacing and good ball movement.

The aforementioned tactics end up in either three-point attempts from Marco Simonovic, who has a career year so far (13.1 ppg, 43.4% from range), and Charles Jenkins (8.2 points and two steals per game) or mid-range shots from Stefan Jovic.

The latter has made a tremendous season until now (8.3 points and six assists per game) and his impressive pick ’n’ roll co-operation with Kuzmic (who won the MVP of the Month award a few days ago) is one of the factors that have helped the Serbian giant rapidly improve his numbers (10.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game).

At the same time, the team’s great ball movement, and Radonjic’s target to take advantage of his players’ talents, have led to Milko Bjelica (7.8 ppg) and Branko Lazic (60% in two-pointers, but also one of the best defenders) offering decent solutions off the bench, both offensively and defensively.

The same goes for versatile forward Nemanja Dangubic, who has great potential and a high three-point percentage (37.1%).

It’s also worth mentioning that the club has earned great victories at home over some of the competition’s favourites (CSKA Moscow, Fenerbahce and Real Madrid, for instance), while they are equally productive on the road, having prevailed over teams that also fight for the qualification to the play-offs (Baskonia, Bamberg, Zalgiris Kaunas).

All in all, Crvena Zvezda is the best team in the Euroleague right now and wants to continue that way against Anadolu Efes in order to claim the eighth straight win and climb higher on the table (currently being fifth, with a 12-8 record).

That said, what remains to be seen is whether the team can make the surprise and qualify to the Final-Four (just like Lokomotiv Kuban did last year), as they will probably advance to the play-offs, one way or another.