After a second straight unsuccessful season, Olympiacos made many changes to their active roster and playing style, as a new head coach and five new players joined the club.
Will this be enough, though, to bring the “Reds” back to the top of Europe for the first time since 2013?
After four years in the squad’s bench, coach Giannis Sfairopoulos was let go, having won two Greek Basket League titles (2015, 2016) and having played in two EuroLeague Championship Games (2015, 2017).
Olympiacos owners, Panagiotis and Giorgos Angelopoulos, hired David Blatt as Sfairopoulos’ replacement, with the American head coach being ready to make the difference.
Under Blatt, the “Reds” playing style will change and become more athletic and physical, especially defensively.
His defensive tactics will include a combination of defensive plays, including zone press, switch defence and hedge out, as the roster consists of players that can perfectly adapt to this playing style (Kostas Papanikolaou, Axel Toupane, Zach LeDay, among others).
Although the Greeks had the second-best defensive line in the EuroLeague, their defensive performance was inconsistent in the last part of the season, which prevented them from being competitive in the playoffs.
More specifically, Olympiacos were facing a lot of problems defensively against teams that had an excellent ball movement and the ability to take advantage of every inch of the floor.
Blatt is expected to change this, as defence will again become the “Reds” main weapon in their effort to control the tempo and take the upper hand in the game.
On the other end of the floor, the team will be seeking for a better and quicker ball movement, which will enable them to create more open shots and make the opponents’ effort to stop them more difficult.
The three-time EuroLeague champions acquired players that can score both from beyond the arc (Nigel Williams-Goss, Janis Timma, Alexandar Vezenkov) and inside the paint (LeDay), so it’s certain Blatt’s plays will include not only pick’n’roll situations, but also transition and post-up game.
It’s obvious that the American coach will need to differentiate the squad’s offensive tactics, as the “Reds” used to rely a lot on Vassilis Spanoulis and his great passing and shooting ability.
However, this playing style has become predictable and Blatt has to find alternative ways to take advantage of the 36-year-old guard’s talent.
That said, and given the importance of Spanoulis’ role for the “Reds”, it is likely the team’s undisputed leader will play fewer minutes in order to be in the ideal playing condition during the season.
Concurrently, Giorgos Printezis will again be one of the reference points, thanks to his great post-up game, but if there is no sufficient backup, it’s certain he will not be able to play at very high standards in the last part of the season, when everything will be on the line.
And that’s why I think Olympiacos should acquire another power forward, who will be more athletic and physical than Vezenkov, whose advantage is his decent three-point percentage.
At the same time, the performance of Timma and Toupane will be a game changer for the three-time EuroLeague champions, as they both came in as Ioannis Papapetrou’s replacement, with the latter joining Panathinaikos.
Toupane is a better on and off-ball defender than the Greek forward, while Timma is a three-point specialist, unlike Papapetrou, who had a mediocre percentage from beyond the arc.
Without a doubt, the presence of Williams-Goss and LeDay will be crucial for the club’s success.
Both players are coming off excellent seasons with Partizan and Hapoel Gilboa Galil, respectively, where they were their teams’ leaders.
Williams-Goss had a tremendous three-point percentage and a great scoring and passing ability, while LeDay was the top scorer and rebounder of his team.
However, their lack of EuroLeague experience and the need for immediate success are the two issues they will have to deal with next season.
If they adapt to it effectively, then they will immediately make the difference, otherwise they will certainly need more playing time in order to play at high standards.
Last but not least, Nikola Milutinov and Janis Strelnieks, the only foreign players that remained with the team, are expected to be more productive than last year, as the Serbian center suffered multiple injuries last season, while the Latvian guard will have a more active role in Blatt’s tactics.
Overall, Olympiacos decided to make many changes to their active roster and it’s inevitable they will deal with chemistry issues in the beginning of the season.
But, coach Blatt, who is one of the best European coaches, having won both the EuroLeague and EuroCup title, has a very talented and deep roster that can beat any opponent and go all the way in the EuroLeague.
That said, although it’s still too early in the season, the “Reds” are considered title contenders and one of the clubs that will fight tooth and nail for the qualification to the Final Four.
Many betting websites, like OLBG.com, have already started creating early betting predictions for the 2018/19 EuroLeague season, with the Greek giants being among the grand favourites to win the title.