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Can Panathinaikos exceed the expectations in the 2018/19 season?

Although the “Greens” brought in many talented players during the off-season, the question is whether these players really fit to the club’s playing style or coach Xavi Pascual will need to change his initial plans and tactics.

After winning the Greek Basket League title in June, Panathinaikos immediately started formulating their plans ahead of the new season.

Their priority was to renew Nick Calathes’ contract, with the Greek guard, who was coming off the best season of his career, agreeing to a new, three-year deal with the team.

At the same time, the six-time EuroLeague champions brought center Stephane Lasme back to the squad, while they also acquired big man Giorgos Papagiannis and power forward DeShaun Thomas.

In the backcourt line, coach Pascual saw Nikos Pappas and Lukas Lekavicius re-sign with the club, while the “Greens” added Keith Langford and Ioannis Papapetrou to the roster, with the Greek forward leaving Olympiacos to join Panathinaikos.

That said, the question is whether the players that came in during the off-season can solve the issues the Greek giants faced last season.

Photo: 7DAYS EuroCup

First and foremost, the team’s biggest problem last year was that Calathes was the only one able to create open shots for his team-mates and help the squad have a decent and quick ball movement.

Neither Pappas nor Lekavicius and James could do the same thing, with the Greek shooting guard and the American combo guard being very effective only in transition and 1-on-1 situations.

As a result, the squad’s playing style often was very predictable, especially in 5-on-5 plays and when Calathes was on the bench, so coach Pascual was relying on transition and three-pointers to make the difference on the one end of the floor.

Even though it was expecting the club would sign players with different characteristics to Calathes and Pappas ones, Langford is a player that can only create for himself and not for his team-mates, so I can’t understand how he will be 100% effective alongside the Greek guard.

It seems to me that Panathinaikos didn’t fix their mistake, so what I want to see is the duos that will be created in the backcourt line.

Because I don’t think that the duos of Calathes-Pappas, Langford-Calathes, Lekavicius-Langford or Lekavicius-Pappas can be very productive for a long period of time during the game.

Nikos Pappas, Panathinaikos Superfoods – Photo: Euroleague Basketball

What Pascual could do instead is for Pappas and Langford to come off the bench and one of the forwards (e.g Matt Lojeski, Papapetrou) to play alongside Calathes, as the aforementioned players can work well with the “Greens” leader.

However, I don’t believe this solution can be productive in every match, so it’s likely the club will have to run in transition as much as they can, especially in the first part of the season and until the Catalan coach solves the problems in the backcourt line.

Concerning the forwards, Papapetrou and Thanasis Antetokounmpo are great on and off-ball defenders, however their inconsistency from the three-point range (both shot at 28.6% last season) prevents the “Greens” from finding extra solutions offensively.

Ideally, it would be great for the squad if Papapetrou rapidly increased his performance and became an all-around player that can score both from mid-range and beyond the arc, as I don’t see how Antetokounmpo will become a decent three-point shooter.

Lojeski is the squad’s best small forward in terms of shooting percentage, but no one can guarantee he will remain healthy during the entire season and will be at his very best in every game.

Photo: Euroleague

That said, it’s not unlikely coach Pascual will have DeShaun Thomas play as small forward in some matches, as the former Maccabi Tel-Aviv player can play in both positions (small and power forward).

Thomas’ biggest advantage is his high shooting percentage (both from mid and the three-point range), which can significantly help the team, especially when Calathes is on the floor.

Concerning the “Greens” frontline, power forward Ntinos Mitoglou has improved his footwork and can play well in pick’n’pop situations, while big men Ian Vougioukas (mainly) and Giorgos Papagiannis can easily score inside the paint.

However, they both are mediocre defenders and that can make Panathinaikos vulnerable defensively, especially in 5-on-5 situations.

As far as Papagiannis is concerned, his presence in the NBA was a step back for his career and now has to work as hard as he can in order to improve every aspect of his game on both ends of the floor. Otherwise, it’s certain he will have limited playing time during the season.

Last but not least, James Gist and Lasme will once again be game changers for the six-time EuroLeague champions, with their versatile performance being the key in coach Pascual’s tactics.

Yet, they should not play more than 20-25 minutes per game, especially in the first part of the season, in order to play consistently and at high standards for a long period of time.

Photo: Euroleague Basketball

Overall, Panathinaikos have acquired very talented players that can make the difference in 1-on-1 situations and help the team win crucial games in their effort to go all the way in both the Greek Basket League and the EuroLeague.

The club is considered one of the favourites to reach the playoffs and the Final Four, with many betting websites (look at www.bettingsites.ng for the latest betting odds and predictions in basketball and other sports) already offering early odds and predictions concerning the top European basketball competition.

However, my main concern, as I said above, is whether these players can really solve the problems the squad had to deal with last season, which included the lack of an effective plan B as well as how predictable their playing style was when Calathes was on the bench and his team-mates couldn’t create open shots for one another.

Although the “Greens” roster consists of players that can play excellent defence both on and off the ball, it’s their offensive productivity that will determine their success.

If coach Pascual doesn’t create effective duos in the backcourt line, which can play well mainly in 5-on-5 situations, then the Greek giants will again rely on transition and three-pointers to make the difference.

However, such a scenario will only help them for a short period of time and certainly not against the top clubs (e.g CSKA Moscow, Fenerbahce, Olympiacos).

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