Despite a few unexpected results in the first round of the new season, most of the favourites came away with a win. But it became increasingly clear throughout the games that many of the teams are not completely ready yet, making surprises and upsets in the following week highly possible.
This week’s picks include:
- Red Star Belgrade v Fenerbahçe = Fenerbahçe to win
- LDLC ASVEL v Panathinaikos = Panathinaikos to win
- Khimki v Baskonia = Baskonia to win
- Armani Exchange Milan v Žalgiris = Milan to win
Summer is over. The FIBA World Cup is over. September is also nearly over. The NBA hasn’t started yet. So time to wake up the Green Day guy because the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague is back on October 3rd.
Despite club concerns over the amount of travelling required throughout the Euroleague season, and its consequent bearing on team fatigue and performance, it was decided to allow two more teams to participate this year, bringing the total number of teams to 18. Luckily for the fans, this means that they will now be able to enjoy 34 exciting rounds of games between the best clubs in crowd-filled European venues this season.
Three clubs from EuroLeague 2018-19 won’t be keeping us company during the upcoming season; Darüşşafaka Tekfen Istanbul from Turkey, Budućnost VOLI Podgorica from Montenegro and Herbalife Gran Canaria from Spain. Considering that they occupied the bottom three places in the league table, few fans will miss them.
Alba Berlin from Germany, Crvena Zvezda from Serbia, LDLC ASVEL from France, Valencia Basket from Spain and Zenit Saint Petersburg from Russia are expected to fill their shoes this year. Given their predecessors’ disappointing performances last season, this won’t be so hard to accomplish.
|Competing Team||City / Country||Head Coach|
|Alba Berlin||Berlin, Germany||Aíto García Reneses|
|Anadolu Efes||Istanbul, Turkey||Ergin Ataman|
|AX Armani Exchange Milan||Milan, Turkey||Ettore Messina|
|Barcelona Lassa||Barcelona, Spain||Svetislav Pešić|
|Bayern Munich||Munich, Germany||Dejan Radonjić|
|Crvena Zvezda||Belgrade, Serbia||Milan Tomić|
|CSKA Moscow||Moscow, Russia||Dimitris Itoudis|
|Fenerbahçe Beko||Istanbul, Turky||Želimir "Željko" Obradović|
|Khimki Moscow||Moscow, Russia||Rimas Kurtinaitis|
|Kirolbet Baskonia||Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain||Velimir Perasović|
|LDLC ASVEL||Villeurbanne, France||Zvezdan Mitrović|
|Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv||Tel Aviv, Israel||Ioannis Sfairopoulos|
|Olympiacos||Piraeus, Greece||David Blat|
|Panathinaikos OPAP||Athens, Greece||Argyris Pedoulakis|
|Real Madrid||Madrid, Spain||Pablo Laso|
|Valencia Basket||Valencia, Spain||Jaume Ponsarnau|
|Žalgiris||Kaunas, Lithuania||Šarūnas "Šaras" Jasikevičius|
|Zenit Saint Petersburg||Saint Petersburg, Russia||Joan Plaza|
Thanks to EuroLeague’s license based system, European basketball fans will be familiar with most of the clubs, with eleven out of the eighteen clubs holding long-term licenses and existing as members of the Shareholders Executive Board.
This ‘closed’ system might appear unattractive, unfair and perhaps even boring to certain fans as it makes it hard for new clubs to participate in Europe’s best competition. On the other hand, it is thanks to this system that European basketball has become attractive worldwide, revenues have increased and it is easier for European clubs to attract NBAers, thus making the product significantly better and more popular.
Following a fantastic 2018-19 season in which CSKA Moscow maintained their dominance in both the Russian VTB United League and EuroLeague, Coach Itoudis will have his work cut out to make the upcoming season equally as successful.
The summer transfer period has been turbulent for CSKA with five key players leaving the club. Most remarkably, the French shooting guard Nando de Colo, one of the team’s leaders, left to Fenerbahçe Beko. Moreover, Sergio Rodríguez signed a contract with Olimpia Milano, Cory Higgins with Barcelona Lassa, Alec Peters with Anadolu Efes and Othello Hunter with Maccabi Tel Aviv. With all of them being important to Itoudis’ style of play, it remains to be seen how their departure will affect the champions.
What we know, however, is that Andrey Vatutin, the club’s CEO, spent enough rubles to bring in Moscow worthy replacements. Kostas Koufos, a Greek-American centre with more than ten years of experience in the NBA (who we thank for the great memes), and Johaness Voigtmann, a massive German centre from Kirolbet Baskonia who plays usually as a power forward, are expected to fill Hunter’s shoes and make CSKA’s paint impregnable.
Mike James will be covering De Colo’s absence, while Ron Baker, a shooting guard from the Washington Wizards looking for a fresh start in his career, and Jānis Strēlnieks, who cashed out after two wonderful seasons with Olympiacos, will be playing as a shooting guard. Lastly, Darrun Hilliard, a small forward from Kirolbet Baskonia, will be a quality addition so that the 2019 Final Four MVP, Will Clyburn, can rest a bit.
Even though CSKA kept its captain Kyle Hines and other key players like Will Clyburn, Andrey Vorontsevich, Daniel Hacket and Nikita Kurbanov, four out of the starting five are new additions to the team. Specifically, according to current information James will be the point guard, Baker the shooting guard, Clyburn the small forward, Voigtmann the power forward and Koufos the centre altering with Hines.
Moreover, De Colo was more than just a very good shooting guard and they will definitely miss his presence, at least at the start of the season. It will be up to Coach Itoudis to turn this collection of great players into a team worthy of last season’s successes.
Predicted club ranking at the end of the regular season: 3
Real Madrid Baloncesto
Real Madrid, the club with the most EuroLeagues titles, had a very different approach to CSKA during the transfer period. In spite of the Merengues not being able to repeat 2018’s triumph after losing to CSKA in the EuroLeague semifinal, they confirmed their dominance within the Spanish border by winning their second consecutive Liga ACB.
The club’s board therefore decided to keep the team’s roster and make a few adjustments. Emphasis was placed on extending the contracts of existing players like Facundo Campazzo, Walter Tavares, Jeffrey Taylor and more, rewarding their contribution over the years.
Nicolás Laprovíttola, an Argentine-Italian point-guard from Joventut Badalona, and Jordan Mickey, an American power-forward from Khimki Moscow who can also play as a centre and therefore cover Gustavo Ayón’s departure for Zenit St.Petersburg, are two top tier additions to Real Madrid’s squad. Both are expected to come from the bench when needed to give valuable solutions or points rather be part of the starting five. Naturally, that will depend on their performance throughout the season.
Despite remaining the same as last season, Real Madrid starting squad is still impressive. Facundo Campazzo as the point guard, Rudy Fernández the shooting guard, Jeffrey Taylor the small forward, Anthony Randolph the power forward and the massive Edy Tavares as the centre, are expected to terrorise opponents for one more season. It will be hard for Coach Lasso to leave players like Sergio Llull or Fabien Causeur on the bench, players that in any other European club would be irreplaceable.
Predicted club ranking at the end of the regular season: 1
Coach Obradović, just like his pupil Coach Itoudis, was always against major roster changes. Unfortunately for him, he had to deal with important players like Nicolò Melli and Marko Gudurić leaving Istanbul to try their luck in the NBA.
Considering that last season Coach Željko was using almost exclusively just eight players of the squad, these two departures could be detrimental for the team. Especially when you take into account that Sinan Güler has also returned to Darüşşafaka Tekfen after 12 years.
Nevertheless, Jan Veselý, Gigi Datome, Kostas Sloukas, Bobby Dixon and Melih Mahmutoğlu extended their contracts by at least two years. Derrick Williams, an experienced NBAer who had a great season winning the BBL with Bayern Munich, will be covering Melli’s gap alongside Kalinić.
Leo Westermann was brought as a back-up for Sloukas and Dixon but with the potential of being in the club’s starting five, while De Colo is expected to fill Gudurić’s shoes to the fullest and be the one to make a difference. After all, it was him that led CSKA to its 8th EuroLeague title, and Coach Obradović brought him to Istanbul for the exact same reason: to assist Fenerbahçe in reaching the top of European basketball for a second time in the Lanxess Arena, May 2020.
With the current available information, Fener’s starting five are expected to consist of Veselý as the centre, Williams as the power forward. Datome as the small forward, De Colo, Sloukas and Dixon altering in the position of the point guard. If Williams doesn’t prove himself to be worthy of this role, it won’t be long before Coach Željko replaces him with Kalinić.
Predicted club ranking at the end of the regular season: 2
Anadolu Efes SK
Despite failing to win a title, last season was considered a success for Ergin Ataman’s team as they not only managed to reach a EuroLeague Final Four after eighteen years, but managed to go one step further and reach the final after beating Fenerbahçe. Consequently, it made absolute sense to use the club’s resources to extend key player contracts and bring in a few few top players.
Shane Larkin, being indifferent to Boston Celtic’s interest, signed a new 1+1 years contract while Micić, Dunston and Simon extended theirs for two more years. Since Adrien Moerman has another year left in his, Anadolu Efes’ starting five will be almost the same as last season, with Micić as the point guard, Larkin the shooting guard, Anderson the small forward, Singleton or Peters the power forward and Dunston the centre.
Alec Peters from CSKA and Chris Singleton from Barcelona were brought to strengthen both Efes’ existing frontline and defence inside the paint while also filling the gap created by Moerman’s ankle injury, which will keep him away from the action for approximately three more months. Peters has been in Europe for only a year, meaning there are question marks over his future performance as with most American players trying their luck in Europe. On the other hand, Singleton, having successfully played for Lokomotiv Kuban, Panathinaikos and Barcelona, will be expected to immediately take an active role in the team.
Most importantly, Coach Ergin Ataman signed a new two-year contract with the club as a reward for bringing Anadolu back to the top of European basketball. This also comes with a carte blanche from the club’s executive board to design the team as he wishes, so that the club can try to better their 2018/19 EuroLeague season and begin to challenge Fenerbahçe’s dominance in domestic competitions - both of which won’t be an easy task!
Predicted club ranking at the end of the regular season: 5
Compared to last season, the Blaugrana are arguably the most strengthened team in the competition. Even though they managed to end their poor streak of not reaching the playoffs stage, they were knocked out by Anadolu Efes in the fifth game of the series. This season their primary goal is to go one step further and attend the Final Four in Germany.
To succeed, the club’s board extended Coach Pešić’s contact for two more years and brought in world class talent including Nikola Mirotić from the Milwaukee Bucks, Álex Abrines from Oklahoma City Thunder, Brandon Davies from Žalgiris and Cory Higgins from CSKA. Moreover, to deal with Thomas Heurtel’s knee injury, which will keep him off courts for four months, Barcelona demonstrated increased readiness by signing a 1+1 year contract with the former All-EuroLeague guard Malcolm Delaney.
To fit the new players in the squad, Seraphin, Singleton and Blažič had to leave the club. Even though all three are players of well-known value, their replacements are expected to out-perform them. At least that’s the plan.
The starting five for the Catalans at the beginning of the season are expected to be Delaney, Higgins, Abrines, Mirotić and Davies. With players like Tomić, Claver and Pangos coming off the bench, Barcelona’s roster resembles a team competing in the NBA rather than the EuroLeague. Especially after Christmas when Heurtel is expected to be back.
Barcelona will have probably the best and most expensive players in the EuroLeague in the upcoming season. The question is whether Coach Pešić will manage to transform them into a team capable of defeating Europe’s best clubs.
Predicted club ranking at the end of the regular season: 6
Despite last season’s happy ending with the Greens winning their 37th Greek championship, it has been a turbulent season. After two years in Athens, Coach Xavi Pascual left the club in December due to his club’s poor performance in the EuroLeague. His replacement, the Hall-Of-Famer Rick Pitino, managed to make an impressive comeback - finishing sixth in the regular season but losing to Real Madrid in the playoff series 3-0.
In an effort to end the club’s seven year absence from the Final Four stage, Coach Argyris Pedoulakis joined Panathinaikos for a third time, as did seven new players who replace the six that left. The most notable departures consisted of the team’s former captain, James Gist, who joined Red Star and Thanasis Antetokounmpo, who joined his brother Giannis at Milwaukee.
To replace those that have left, players were brought from top clubs across Europe, as well as the USA. Rion Brown and Ben Bentil cashed out their great seasons with Greek clubs Promitheas Patras and Peristeri, respectively making a big step in their career. Jacob Wiley, the centre from Long Beach, was brought in as a backup for Georgios Papagiannis, who has great expectations placed upon him this season. Marcus Denmon returned to the club after one season in China with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls, and, alongside Tyrece Rice, who left Brose Bamberg for the Greek champions, will be called to offer solutions in the offense.
The most exciting additions for Panathinaikos are Wesley Johnson, who joined as a free agent after spending some time with the Washington Wizards, and Jimmy Fredette, a notorious 3-pointer who last played for the Phoenix Suns. In addition to that, DeShaun Thomas was rewarded for his great season with a two year contract extension.
Although it’s true that both the team and the coaching staff have undergone major changes, there is still a feeling of optimism in Athens thanks to the known value of the new additions in the squad, who will be part of the starting five. Apart from Nick Calathes, who will remain the primary point guard and leader of the team, Fredette will be the shooting guard, Johnson the small forward assisted by Papapetrou, Thomas the power forward unless Bentil outperforms him and Willey the centre.
Given Coach Pedoulakis’ defensive game style it will be interesting to see how players with renowned offensive talent, like Fredette and Calathes, will perform in Panathinaikos.
Predicted club ranking at the end of the regular season: 7
The beginning of the new season finds the three-time European champions in complete disarray, mostly due to their unexpectedly poor performance last season.
Olympiacos started the 2018-19 season with high hopes of participating in another Final Four and returning to the top of the Greek championship. But despite the promising start, the club found themselves 9th in the EuroLeague regular season, unable to take part in the playoffs, whilst also being relegated to the Greek second division after forfeiting a game against Panathinaikos.
It was therefore decided to make limited transfers, and to try to build around the existing squad while reducing expenditure. Part of this effort was the contract renewal of the team’s legendary captain Vassilis Spanoulis, as well as Will Cherry, who is contracted for another season. It was also decided to keep the experienced Israeli-American coach, David Blatt, to help fortify the new team.
However, things rarely go as planned. Because of the team’s relegation to the second division and the club’s financial difficulties, key players including Axel Toupane, Zach LeDay, Janis Strelnieks, Janis Timma left Piraeus.
Replacements were brought in - including Mindaugas Kuzminskas, a forward from Olimpia Milano; the shooting guard Brandon Paul who spent 2016-17 in Istanbul for Anadolu Efes; the center Augustin Rubit from Brose Bamberg; Kevin Punter from Virtus Bologna, the 17th pick of 2016s draft; point guard Wade Baldwin and Vasilis Charalambopoulos, a player who’s had a long junior career in Panathinaikos - but most have limited or no EuroLeague experience at all.
This unusual situation has been further exacerbated by a decision made by the teams’ owners, the Aggelopouloi brothers, to use a development team for domestic competitions, saving the professional team for EuroLeague games only. And to make a bad situation worse, Coach Blatt was diagnosed with PPMS in August 2019. (We wish him all the best and are sure he will show the strength he has shown throughout his coaching and playing career).
Despite these turbulent times, Olympiacos were still considered the favorites against LDLC ASVEL last week. However, the French side won with a resounding 82 to 63, revealing all the weaknesses of the reds all too clearly. Soon after, Coach Blatt resigned, and to this day he is yet to be replaced.
It may be too early to predict how the Greek side will perform over the course of the season. But if we take into account what we know has happened over the summer, and what we saw last week in Villeurbanne; what we do know is that there are some tough times in store for Olympiacos.
Predicted club ranking at the end of the regular season: 11
The decision to change EuroLeague’s format to that of a league has had a direct impact on the competitiveness of the tournament. Unlike a cup format, which is what the EuroLeague used to follow, a league format makes it particularly difficult for potential underdogs to proceed to the Final Four. Especially considering that they will have to beat the tournaments’ strongest teams in a best-of-five series, most likely with a home disadvantage too.
With this in mind, our picks for Cologne’s Final Four at the moment are as follows: CSKA Moscow, Fenerbahçe Beko, Real Madrid Baloncesto and Barcelona Lassa.
When it comes to the tournament’s MVP, our bet is on Alexey Shved. The guard’s scoring skills are simply spectacular, and considering that he will be leading Khimki BC for one more season, it’s time his personal efforts are rewarded.
Game line bets
In all tournaments, in all sports, the first round has always hidden surprises. Judging all teams based on their display in the national leagues and their performance in preparatory games so far, our picks for the upcoming games are: