CSKA Moscow: The “Bear” strikes back

After failing to successfully defend their title in the 2017 Euroleague Final Four, the Muscovites acquired many top-class players in order to return to the top of Europe.

Although the club was considered one of the favourites to win the title for a second straight time, the loss to Olympiacos Piraeus in the semi-final put an end to CSKA’s hopes to advance to another Euroleague Championship Game.

Consequently, they finished third and immediately started making the necessary changes to the roster.

After claiming another VTB League title, the Russians saw key players, like Milos Teodosic, Aaron Jackson and James Augustine, leave the team, while Joel Freeland’s departure made Kyle Hines the squad’s sole center.

Teodosic’s and Jackson’s decision to sign with other clubs weakened the team’s back-court line, with coach Dimitris Itoudis having to sign versatile players to cover the gap and the Muscovites making some excellent moves during the off-season.

Not only did they sign experienced point-guard Leo Westermann from Zalgiris Kaunas as well as Darussafaka’s impressive forward, Will Clyburn, but also they convinced Sergio Rodriguez to return to Europe, after spending one year as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.

The latter is expected to be Teodosic’s replacement and will certainly create an unstoppable duo with Nando De Colo, who kept his place in the team, with Westermann coming off the bench to change the tempo and offer decent solutions on both ends of the floor.

Moreover, the 2016 Euroleague champions acquired Othello Hunter in order to strengthen their front-line, with the American center being very effective both inside the paint and above the rim.

That said, what exactly are we expecting to see from the Muscovites next season?

Certainly, Itoudis’ target will be to set as many pick’n’roll plays as he can in order to take advantage of Rodriguez’s and De Colo’s ability to score points and dish assists as well as Hines’ and Hunter’s talent to be very productive inside the paint.

In addition, the presence of consistent three-point players, like Westermann, Cory Higgins and Andrey Vorontsevich, guarantees the Muscovites will try to create as many open shots as they can, either in transition or in 5-on-5 situations.

Photo: Euroleague

In order to achieve this, though, they will need to have good spacing and quick and effective ball movement so as to make their opponents’ defence lose its balance.

Defensively, the Muscovites will probably have no problem to deal with their opponents’ playing style, as the roster is consisted of players that can easily adapt to different defensive strategies (e.g switch defence, 1-on-1 plays).

Overall, Itoudis will focus on again making his players be solid and excellent defensively, while, offensively, his tactics will revolve around De Colo’s and Rodriguez’s ability to make the difference by scoring points and dishing assists.

Euroleague Basketball
Photo: Euroleague Basketball

It’s also worth mentioning that the squad’s newcomers (Westermann, Hunter, Rodriguez, Clyburn) are some of the best clutch players in the Euroleague, which is very important, considering that some of the “Bear’s” matches will probably be decided in the last seconds.

That said, the Greek coach did his best to make his club more powerful ahead of the new season, however he needs to work even harder to make his players be at their very best in every game, with CSKA Moscow being considered the number one favourite to go all the way to the end.