With two straight matches at home, against Armani Milano and Maccabi Tel-Aviv, respectively, it’s a great opportunity for Panathinaikos to return to the winning track and help many players enhance their overall performance.
Back in July, we were mentioning that the newcomers would determine the club’s success in the Euroleague, making the “Greens” an equal title contender.
Fast forward to today, none of the players that joined the Greek giants in the summer has made the difference on both ends of the floor.
More specifically, Lukas Lekavicius (4.2 points per game, 54.5% from beyond the arc) and Matt Lojeski (5.5 ppg, 42.3% in three-pointers, just 40% in free throws!), who came as the back-up of Nick Calathes and K.C Rivers, respectively, have been inconsistent, and coach Xavi Pascual can’t rely on them to be game changers, both defensively and offensively.
For their part, Kenny Gabriel (2.3 points and 2.2 rebounds per game) and Thanasis Antetokounmpo (3.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg) do their best every time they enter the floor (especially the latter), however they have certain drawbacks that prevent them from having a central role in the Catalan coach’s tactics.
The American power forward has missed many three-pointers (5/22, just 22.2%), while he is not very tough defensively.
On the other hand, the Greek forward is the team’s best on and off-ball defender, yet his offensive performance is mediocre (47.6 in two-pointers, 33.3% in three-pointers) and can not offer decent solutions on the one end of the floor.
To make matters worse, Ian Vougioukas, Marcus Denmon and Zach Auguste are the squad’s weak links so far.
Regarding the Greek center (3.4 points per game), yes he can score points from inside the paint (66.7% in two-pointers), however his playing style is so predictable that it’s not so difficult for his opponents to stop him.
On the other end of the floor, Vougioukas is very ineffective as a rim protector, while his lack of speed and agility makes him a target in the opponents’ pick’n’roll.
Consequently, he plays just nine minutes per game, so he needs to quickly turn things around, otherwise his place in the roster may be in serious jeopardy.
Concerning Denmon, the American shooting guard plays well below the average standards and it seems he can’t adapt to the “Greens” playing style.
His inconsistency from beyond the arc (7/9 against Khimki, 2/14 in the rest nine games, 39.1% in total) and mid-range (23.1% in two-pointers), respectively, along with his lack of concentration, especially defensively, have already made most of Panathinaikos’ fans wonder whether he is the ideal replacement for Phoenix Suns guard, Mike James, who was one of the key players last year.
Last but not least, Auguste seems to be the number one favourite to leave the side, as he continues to play very badly on both ends of the floor.
What is obvious for the 24-year-old power forward is his difficulty in adjusting to the European playing style of basketball, which prevents him from being competitive and offering decent solutions in every game.
Every time Auguste enters the floor, his team-mates need to play tougher defensively, while his productivity is very low on the other end of the floor (just 2.1 ppg), due to his lack of concentration and terrible free-throw percentage (1/7, 14.3%!).
As a result of the aforementioned situation, there are five players that need to be at their very best in order to ensure Panathinaikos will fight for the win until the end.
Calathes is the undisputed leader. There is no doubt about it.
The versatile guard does everything on the floor (scoring, passing, rebounding, stealing the ball) and comes close to the triple-double in every game (14 points, 7.5 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.4 steals per game, but just 23.5% from the three-point range). Concurrently, he is a great defender and every time he goes to the bench, the “Greens” lose their tempo.
Alongside him, James Gist and Chris Singleton are two of Pascual’s aces, giving him the chance to make the squad’s playing style more aggressive.
Gist, a defensive specialist and a decent three-point shooter, is one of the reference points in the tactics (10 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 50% in three-pointers), while Singleton is one of the top scorers in every game (9.7 ppg), thanks to his all-around performance (5.2 rpg, 47.5% from beyond the arc), which is vital for the team’s effort to claim the victory.
Moreover, K.C Rivers has been tremendous so far, especially from the three-point range (40.7%), while his consistency has made him one of the leaders as well (10.9 points per game, 57.9% in two-pointers).
Concerning Nikos Pappas, his offensive talent and effectiveness in 1-on-1 situations are remarkable (10.7 ppg, 45.5% in three-pointers, 54.8% in two-pointers), yet he should stabilise his performance at high levels in order to offer coach Pascual an extra “weapon” offensively.
For instance, he was tremendous against Zalgiris Kaunas in Lithuania, where he scored 16 points (on 4/7 from beyond the arc), and tried to turn things around in the fourth quarter, when he hit four three-pointers, yet the six-time Euroleague champions came up short in the end.
Overall, my point is that if Panathinaikos continue to rely only on the aforementioned five players, then things will be difficult for them, in terms of securing the home-court advantage.
Given that they will probably qualify to the playoffs, especially if they remain unbeaten at home, they will need extra help from every member of the roster in order to become a title contender.
That said, and although I think Lekavicius and Lojeski will play better game after game, all the newcomers should drastically enhance their performance on both ends of the floor.
Otherwise, the Catalan coach should consider making changes to the active roster and signing players that could immediately become game changers.
It’s also worth adding that Panathinaikos should start claiming victories on the road as well, since they have only won twice in their six away matches (against Olympiacos and Anadolu Efes, respectively).
Especially against Zalgiris a week ago, they conceded 33 points in the third quarter and had to come back from a 17-point deficit in the fourth one (64-47), despite being in front by 10 (10-20) after 10 minutes in the game.
To make matters worse, they let their opponents grab 16 offensive rebounds and 13 more in total (37-24), while they had a very low percentage in free throws (56.7%) and two-pointers (44.4%), respectively.
So, they certainly got what they deserved, namely to lose the game, and that was another wake-up call for the “Greens”, who should put an end to their weak performances on the road, if they want to remain high in the standings.
In the end, though, they will accomplish this only if the supporting cast steps up and becomes more productive. Otherwise, maybe it’s time for coach Pascual to change his initial plans and bring in new players.