Crvena Zvezda? Will the newcomers make the difference?

Photo: Euroleague

With the Serbian team having made many changes to its active roster this summer, it’s the newly-acquired players’ performance that will determine whether the 2017-18 season will be a successful one for the club, as Belgrade also hosts the 2018 Final Four in May.

This off-season certainly was one of the most difficult ones for Crvena Zvezda, who saw almost all the players leave the club and join other teams.

Players that had a key role in last year’s decent Euroleague presence (as the squad came one step away from qualifying to the playoffs), like Charles Jenkins, Stefan Jovic, Marko Simonovic, Marko Guduric and Ognjen Kuzmic, among others, were let go and the same happened with great head coach, Dejan Radonjić, who left the team as well.

Consequently, it was widely believed that Zvezda would be the league’s weak link this season, due to the financial issues they faced during the summer.

However, things have now been completely different, one week before the start of the new Euroleague season. In the past two months, the team has acquired many players that are ready to help the squad defy the odds once again.

In the back-court line, Taylor Rochestie is the undisputed leader and his consistent performances will determine whether the Serbians will remain competitive for 40 minutes.

However, and in order for this to happen, he should play at the same high standards as he did when he played for Nizhny Novgorod two years ago.

Alongside the talented combo guard, James Feldeine will try to take advantage of his excellent three-point percentage (averaging 38% per game) and his ability to be very effective in one-on-one situations, so as to be a game changer offensively.

Moreover, Branko Lazic, who is also the club’s new captain, is expected to be a great on-ball defender, yet it’s his offensive stability that will make him even more productive for new head coach, Dusan Alimpijevic.

Concurrently, small forward Nemanja Dangubic, who is one of the very few players that retained their place in the roster, will have a more active role in the tactics, given Guduric’s departure, while 2012 Euroleague champion, Marko Keselj, will add plenty of experience to the roster and come off the bench to score crucial points from beyond the arc.

Regarding the Serbians’ front-line, the presence of Milko Bjelica, Pero Antic and Mathias Lessort will be vital for the club’s effort to be successful in the season.

Bjelica will be one of the leaders, both on and off the court, not only by playing excellent defence and scoring points from inside the paint and the three-point range, but also by helping the newcomers adapt to the team’s playing style and high expectations.

For his part, Antic (in what could be his final season as a professional player, as he plans to retire in the next one or two years) returns to Crvena Zvezda for the first time in almost 10 years, ready to make the difference, both defensively and offensively, thanks to his experience (three-time Euroleague champion) and decent three-point percentage.

Concurrently, big man Lessort will be the squad’s X-Factor, as his strength, athleticism and ability to be a great rim protector will make him the reference point in the team’s strategy and plays.

Although he will make his Euroleague debut on October 12th, he seems ready to play at the same high standards as Kuzmic, Maik Zirbes and Boban Marjanovic did in the last few years as well as become dominant, both inside the paint and above the rim.

Concerning the other newcomers (guard Nikola Radicevic, forwards Ognjen Dobric, Petar Rakicevic and Nikola Jovanovic as well as center Stefan Jankovic), although they all have great potential, they still are inexperienced and their target will be to get better game after game in order to be effective and productive in the second part of the season, when everything will be on the line.

That said, what exactly are we expecting to see from Crvena Zvezda this season?

Even though it’s still too early for any predictions, Zvezda will depend a lot on the veterans (Rochestie, Feldeine, Antic, Bjelica) and Lessort to execute most plays, with the youngsters coming off the bench and acting as the supporting cast.

The squad will rely on its tough defence in order to remain competitive for 40 minutes, trying to concede less than 70 points per game.

At the same time, Rochestie and Feldeine are expected to run most plays, by driving to the basket and creating open shots for their team-mates, while Lazic’s and Dangubic’s performance will give coach Alimpijevic extra aces offensively.

Last but not least, if the squad has a decent three-point percentage (around 35-37%) and takes advantage of his impressive home-court, then they will have the opportunity to fight until the end to qualify to the playoffs.

Photo: Euroleague

Overall, Crvena Zvezda faced many issues during this off-season, however their recent signings have improved the situation and what remains to be seen is whether the Serbians will play decent basketball and defy the odds once again.