With eight victories in the last nine games and (with) one game remaining before the end of the regular season, Anadolu Efes have secured their place in the playoffs and are now fighting for the home-court advantage.
After a disappointing season last year, the Turkish club made a series of changes to the active roster in order to become one of the best teams in the league.
The most important one was the appointment of Velimir Perasovic (who led Baskonia to the Final Four in 2016) as the squad’s head coach, while most players didn’t leave the team.
The acquisition of former Khimki forward, Tyler Honeycutt, along with the arrival of forward DeShaun Thomas, offered extra solutions to the Croatian coach in his effort to impose his own playing style.
However, the club didn’t make a good start to the season. With four losses in the first six matches, it was one of the same for the Turks, who wanted to avoid failing again.
With Anadolu Efes having played 15 games until the end of 2016 (7-8 record), the team’s main characteristic was the ups and downs they were facing, as a series of consecutive victories (two or three) was always interrupted by one or more losses.
What is worth mentioning is that Perasovic focused on creating a squad that would play at very high standards in every game, based on the good ball movement (fifth in the assists’ category, with 18.66 per game) and the high field-goal percentage.
The Croatian coach tried to take advantage of his players’ athleticism and talent in order to help his team execute most plays in transition.
Although this didn’t happen in the first 15 matches, things have been completely different since January, with the Turks having lost only four times in 14 matches.
That said, what were the key elements that let Anadolu Efes turn things around?
I think the biggest change that took place in the team was that most players rapidly enhanced their performance and were able to be at their very best in every game.
Apart from Thomas Heurtel (13.2 points and 5.8 assists per game) and Derrick Brown (13 points and 5.7 rebounds per game), who have been the club’s leaders since the beginning of the season, Perasovic has seen more players be ready to make the difference in every game.
More specifically, center Bryan Dunston (10.6 ppg and 6.2 rpg), guard Jayson Granger (9.6 ppg and 3.9 apg, also being the squad’s best on-ball defender) and Honeycutt have managed to improve their numbers and be among the key players in Efes’ current winning streak.
In my opinion, a game-changing move for the club was the signing of forward Brandon Paul, who replaced Bryce Cotton, with the American forward immediately adapting to Perasovic’s tactics and being one of the best players in the last 10 games.
What we have seen until now is Perasovic’s intention to exploit Heurtel’s ability to score points as well as dish many assists, so the Frenchman executes most plays in the game, mostly through pick’n’roll situations or in transition.
In addition, the Croatian coach gives Brown many isolation plays, as the American power forward is tremendous both from range and inside the paint and his playing style leads the opponents to lose their defensive balance.
Moreover, Dunston again is a dominant force inside the paint, while Honeycutt acts as the link between the back-court line and the frontline, doing everything on the floor and being effective both defensively and offensively (averaging 8.9 points, 7.3 boards, 2.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game).
For his part, Paul (9.6 ppg) has offered Anadolu Efes an extra “weapon” from the three-point range (43%), which has also helped the team increase its offensive productivity (third best offence, with 84.17 points per game).
Last but not least, Perasovic is expecting from Cedi Osman (7.6 ppg, 43% in three-pointers) and Thomas (7.7 ppg) to stabilise their performance at high standards, before the start of the play-off series, in order to have seven or eight players ready to fight tooth and nail for the qualification to the Final Four.
Although the club will not have the home-court advantage in the playoffs, they seem capable of making the surprise and eliminating their opponents, as they will probably face either defending champions CSKA Moscow or Olympiacos Piraeus.
What was obvious during their home game against the “Reds” on Thursday night was that the squad’s chemistry has rapidly improved, which is the main factor that has led to their impressive winning streak (eight victories in the last nine games) and has enabled them to play much better, especially offensively.
However, one thing they need to change, within the next two weeks, is their defence, which should become even tougher and more effective for the entire game, as it seems the players lose their concentration and allow their opponents to make a come-back.
That said, the match against Real Madrid on Friday night, which will be the last one in the regular season for both clubs, will be the perfect test for the Turks in order to prove their tremendous form and make a statement ahead of the playoffs.
Because, in the end, Anadolu Efes has been on fire in the past two months and will certainly do their best to qualify to the Final Four, currently being one of the best teams in the league.