With the new Euroleague season starting on October 12th, here is a preview of what we are expecting to see from the defending champions, Fenerbahce, and the other 15 clubs that will do their best to dethrone Zeljco Obradovic and his players.
The end of last season saw Fenerbahce dominate Olympiacos in Euroleague’s Championship Game, which took place at the “Sinan Erdem Dome” in Istanbul, Turkey, to win the title for the first time in their franchise history.
This year, the Turks want to successfully defend their title, yet their mission will certainly be very difficult, given that most of their opponents are of very high quality.
Coach Obradovic saw two of his best players, namely Bogdan Bogdanovic and Ekpeh Udoh, leave the team to join the Sacramento Kings and the Utah Jazz, respectively, but the newcomers will make the squad even stronger than last year.
Playing alongside Kostas Sloukas, Luigi Datome and Jan Vesely, Brad Wanamaker, Nicolo Melli, Sinan Guler and Jason Thompson will do their best to help the club become one of the grand favourites for the title, while Marko Guduric will have the opportunity to show he can become an elite star.
Fenerbahce’s biggest rival will undoubtedly be CSKA Moscow. The Muscovites seem to be the number one favourite to go all the way to the end, based on their off-season moves.
After losing to Olympiacos in last year’s semi-final, for the fourth time in the last six years, and failing to claim the title, the “Bear” now wants to return to the top of Europe and that’s why they signed versatile and talented players that can make the difference on both ends of the floor.
Although Milos Teodosic left the team and joined the Los Angeles Clippers, coach Dimitris Itoudis acquired Leo Westermann, Will Clyburn and Sergio Rodriguez, who are expected to work effectively with Nando De Colo and Cory Higgins to create an explosive back-court line.
Moreover, the Russians signed Othello Hunter, who will form a dominant duo with Kyle Hines in the front-line, while the presence of Nikita Kurbanov and Andrey Vorontsevich gives the Greek coach more “weapons”, both offensively and defensively.
Regarding the other 14 clubs, all of them are (pretty much) on the same level, with the exception of Crvena Zvezda, Zalgiris Kaunas and Unicaja Malaga, which will need to defy the odds and play consistently and at very high standards to qualify to the playoffs.
Starting with the two Greek giants, Olympiacos and Panathinaikos changed almost half of their respective rosters, so their success will rely on the level of chemistry between the newcomers and the players that retained their place in the squad.
The “Reds” signed versatile players that are able to play in more than one positions (Janis Strelnieks, Brian Roberts, Hollis Thompson, Kim Tillie, Jamel McLean), yet captain Vassilis Spanoulis and co-captain Giorgos Printezis will again be the undisputed leaders.
Kostas Papanikolaou and Nikola Milutinov will be the supporting cast, as Ioannis Papapetrou needs to have a break-out year, with his contract expiring at the end of the season.
Olympiacos’ roster seems to be deeper and better than last year’s one, however only if they remain healthy, they will become an equal title contender.
Concerning the “Greens”, Nick Calathes is the leader, with Chris Singleton, K.C Rivers, James Gist and Nikos Pappas executing most plays as well. In my opinion, Lukas Lekavicius is the club’s most important acquisition, as he will be Calathes’ backup and is expected to score crucial points and control the tempo.
For their part, Zach Auguste and Thanasis Antetokounmpo have to adapt to a different playing style and the immediate need for success, while experienced center, Ian Vougioukas, returns to the club, for the first time in five years, to offer decent solutions, both offensively and defensively.
Last but not least, Matt Lojeski will be a game changer, only if he remains healthy during the season, with Panathinaikos’ target being to successfully defend the domestic titles as well as return to the Final Four, for the first time since 2012.
It’s also worth mentioning that the “Greens” beat the “Reds” at Piece and Friendship Stadium on Sunday night (68-71), in Greek Basket League’s opening round, however the result will only boost the winners’ confidence, whereas Olympiacos will try to solve their problems.
Brose Bamberg have a completely new roster, with great coach Andrea Trinchieri creating a tremendous back-court line (Nikos Zisis, Daniel Hackett, Ricky Hickman, Bryce Taylor, Maodo Lo) that will be impressive in every game, but it’s the front-line’s performance that will determine whether the Germans will maintain a promotion push.
More specifically, the departure of Melli and Daniel Theis (who signed with the Boston Celtics) meant Leo Radosevic would be the only reliable player inside the paint, so Trinchieri needed to cover the gap.
Consequently, power forwards Quincy Miller and Luka Mitrovic joined the team, with forward Augustine Rubit, one of Eurocup’s best players last season, being appointed as Theis’ replacement.
That said, the aforementioned players’ performance will be vital for the squad, with coach Trinchieri now having his sights set on improving the club’s chemistry level.
On the other hand, Maccabi Tel-Aviv faced one of the most difficult off-seasons in their history, as almost the entire roster was let go, however the newly-acquired players look ready to make the Israeli giants a force to be reckoned with.
Pierre Jackson and John Di Bartolomeo will be great offensively, although they will face many problems defensively, with centers Artsiom Parakhouski and Alex Tyus being the reference points inside the paint, while the performance of two-time NBA champion Norris Cole will be the X-Factor for the Israeli club.
Anadolu Efes was eliminated by Olympiacos in last year’s playoffs and didn’t reach the Final Four. This year, coach Velimir Perasovic and his players want to go all the way to the end.
With Errick McCollum, Ricky Ledo and Krunoslav Simon in the back-court line as well as Derrick Brown, Brock Motum, Bryant Dunston and Vladimir Stimac in the frontline, Perasovic has plenty of players able to play at very high standards and ready to make the difference.
This season, five Spanish clubs will take part in the Euroleague, proving that ACB is the most dominant European league.
After another disappointing season, Barcelona made so many changes to the roster that very few players (like captain Juan Carlos Navarro, Sasha Vezenkov, Ante Tomic, Victor Claver and Petteri Koponen) retained their place in the squad, with Sito Alonso replacing Giorgos Bartzokas on the team’s bench.
Concurrently, the administration signed plenty of versatile players, like Thomas Heurtel, Adam Hanga, Kevin Seraphin, Adrien Moerman, Pierre Oriola and Phillip Pressey, who have the ability to again make the Catalans an equal title contender.
With their offensive effectiveness being expected to be at high levels, it’s their defensive performance that will show how competitive they will be during the year.
Real Madrid will start the season having to deal with Sergio Llull’s serious injury (the club’s leader will be out of action for the next 7-8 months), so Luka Doncic, Fabien Causeur, Jaycee Carroll and newcomer Chasson Randle will need to take over.
The “Whites” have a very deep and talented team (Anthony Randolph, Ognjen Kuzmic, Felipe Reyes, Trey Thompkins, Gustavo Ayon, among others) and will again be among the top clubs, yet Llull’s absence can cost them the home-court advantage.
Coach Pablo Laso will impose a run’n’gun playing style in order to dominate the opponents and win as many games as possible until Llull’s return.
Concerning Baskonia, former point guard and one of the team’s legends, Pablo Prigioni, has been appointed as the head coach, with Tornike Shengelia, Marcelinho Huertas and Jayson Granger as the leaders.
With many talented players as the supporting cast (Rodrigue Beaubois, Janis Timma, Johannes Voigtmann, among others), the Basques will have many solutions offensively, however they should drastically enhance their defensive stability, otherwise things will be very difficult for them.
Regarding Valencia, the new ACB champions saw most of the players retain their place in the roster (Antoine Diot, Fernando San Emeterio, Sam Van Rossom, Rafa Martinez, Guillem Vives), with Txus Vidorreta as the new head coach, while the arrival of Erick Green, who has already taken over, along with Bojan Dubljevic’s presence, has raised the expectations.
That said, the squad has started the season in a great way on both ends of the floor and if they continue that way, they will certainly be Euroleague’s pleasant surprise.
For their part, and following an one-year absence, Unicaja Malaga return to the Euroleague to do their best to fight for the playoffs.
Dragan Milosavljevic, Alberto Diaz, and Nemanja Nedovic will be the reference points offensively, while Giorgi Shermadini and James Augustine will try to make the difference inside the paint.
Coach Joan Plaza needs to help his players remain competitive in the second part of the season, when everything will be on the line, as it’s common for Plaza and his players to make a great start and then fail to remain consistent until the end of the regular season.
With the 2018 Final Four taking place in Belgrade, Crvena Zvezda have extra motivation to play great basketball this year.
Despite having a rather young squad, coach Dusan Alimpijevic will depend on the veterans (Taylor Rochestie, Pero Antic, Milko Bjelica) and center Mathias Lessort to make the difference in the first part of the season, while Branko Lazic and Nemanja Dangubic will play a key role in the squad’s tactics.
Although it will certainly be difficult for the Serbians to maintain a play-off spot, they will need all the roster to be at their very best, so as to avoid being the league’s weak link.
Just like Malaga, Khimki returns to the Euroleague following an one-year absence, with coach Bartzokas having created a team full of talent and athleticism.
With Alexey Shved as the leader and many players as the supporting cast (Malcolm Thomas, James Anderson, Charles Jenkins, Stefan Markovic, among others), Bartzokas’ tactics will focus on the tough and effective defence as well as his players’ ability to be productive, both in 1 on 1 and pick’n’roll situations.
If the team remains healthy during the season, then they will certainly be the league’s pleasant surprise.
Armani Milano starts the season with high expectations, as the roster consists of many versatile and talented players (Andrew Goudelock, Mantas Kalnietis, Jordan Theodore, Dairis Bertans, Vladimir Micov, Patric Young) that can easily dominate their opponents.
However, all these players should play for one another, enhancing their chemistry level, and that is coach Simone Pianigiani’s biggest target in order to avoid another unsuccessful year.
Through a run’n’gun playing style, Armani will be tremendous offensively, yet it’s their defensive performance that will need to be at very high standards.
Last but not least, Zalgiris Kaunas always start the season as the underdogs, however they always find a way to defy the odds.
Coach and Euroleague legend, Sarunas Jasikevicius, will rely on great guards Dee Bost and Kevin Pangos, while Edgaras Ulanovas and Paulius Jankunas are expected to make the difference on both ends of the floor.
Brandon Davies and Aaron White can be game changers, if they play at very high standards, with the remaining players acting as the supporting cast.
Although they have a deep roster, they will not probably go any further than the regular season, however it will be very difficult for any opponent to beat them, especially at home.
Overall, there is no doubt this will be another exciting Euroleague season, with Fenerbahce and CSKA Moscow as the two grand favourites and most of the remaining clubs (Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Khimki, Baskonia, Brose Bamberg, Maccabi Tel-Aviv) being on the same level.
That said, impressive matches are expected to happen between the 16 clubs, which will fight tooth and nail for the coveted title.