(The article below includes a translated version of Evangellos Stelakis‘ piece about AEK Athens on Basketball Guru who we would like to heartfully thank. If you are reading this and understand the Greek language you should be heading there as soon as you finish reading this!)
AEK, survivor of one of the most competitive groups in BCL, and not long separated from a Greek Cup title win (against Olympiacos BC), is among the best 16 teams of the Basketball Champions League. CEZ Nymburk is waiting for them — awaiting a very interesting, unique and, definitely complex matchup.
A couple of summer signings didn’t deliver as expected, the previous coach was fired, and the performances of the team were only bringing disappointment to everyone. However, the changes that were made both in the squad and in the technical staff proved to be enough for AEK to make it further in the competition. In contrast to the start of the season, the team has now adopted a more free-flow offensive style that suits its roster much more. AEK’s players may not be shooting very well (32% from behind the arc and 74% from the charity line), but the team scores 82.1 points per game. It is offense that also gave the team its first domestic trophy after 2002. But let’s start from the beginning:
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
AEK started the season with a defeat against Estudiantes at home, a win against Venezia away, a loss against Banvit at home, a win against Rosa Radom away, a defeat against Strasbourg at home, a win against Olimpija Ljubljana, and then a loss against Bayeruth in Germany. Looking at their record might resemble looking at an oscillograph screen: down, up, down, up, down, up, and so on and so forth. This can be interpreted either as AEK being inconsistent or AEK being able to overcome losses pretty quickly. In a group that featured two of last season’s F4 participants…and probably was the toughest one in the history of BCL…and with the team failing to take advantage of their homecourt…AEK still finished 3rd. The last game, against Bayeruth, looked like a knock-out game, and if we mix that with the whole development of the group, we have a strong reason to believe that the Greek side has acquired what it takes to succeed in the competition’s next round.
L’adorable, Green and Duki
Manny Harris is undoubtedly one of the most important players for AEK: his 16.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2 steals per game demonstrate exactly that. His performances in both away as well as home games, such as the 19 point. 9 rebound. 3 steals one in Spain against Estudiantes, and the 23 point, 8 rebound, 6 assist, and 4 steals against Bayeruth in Athens, showcase the significance of the swingman’s presence for AEK’s offense.
Mike Green, the head of the operation, is another leader in the pack, and his 12 points (with 41% from behind the arc), 4.9 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game (playing more than 21 minutes in all but one of them) prove exactly that. He is ranked 8th in assists in the league, and in order to better understand what this means for AEK we should be reminded of the team’s pretty bad 3PT FG percentage (32%). As Nymburk relies quite a lot on their PG, Lawrence, to create for others, Green could be a key player for this Round of 16 matchup.
Last but not least, we can’t talk about AEK without mentioning their captain, Dušan Šakota. Coach Šakota’s son remains one of the most essential parts of this team, no matter how many other PFs are there. 15.2 points (60% in 2FG and 38% from behind the arc), 4.3 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in 26 minutes per game are Dušan’s contributions to his team. But it’s not just about the numbers — he was always there, in the big wins and the bad losses, and he was the one that made the shot which gave AEK the ticket to this round. His experience from last season might also prove vital.
The best of the rest
If we are to talk about the aforementioned key players’ teammates, it’s probably right to begin with the Greeks of the squad: Panagiotis Vasilopoulos, who has had a career full of obstacles but is still here, adds much needed experience to the units he plays with. Mavroeidis is a center that, despite his obvious weaknesses, can be trusted to deliver when close to the rim and Larentzakis is one of the “younger” guys that’s been contributing, even if not to the great extent that some might have hoped.
Delroy James is another one that deserves to be mentioned as we go on with the roster, mainly because of the way he has adapted to the team — a player that used to make great use of possessions with his previous teams has now found a new role that fits him much better and delivers 9.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game.
Along with Vasilopoulos, AEK recently signed Vince Hunter and Kevin Punter (to replace Sy and Barlow) and has found in them, respectively, an athletic center to give what Elonu can’t due to his injury, and an instant scorer to strengthen the backcourt. Hunter is much more experienced compared to the previous time he was in Athens for Panathinaikos, and gives coach Šakota the option to differentiate his frontline’s character which, before Hunter’s acquisition, only had two very similar players in the form of Mavroeidis and Kavvadas. Hunter offers exactly what was described above, leaving his previous BCL team with 20.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game.
Looking at the team that AEK Athens has to face in the Round of 16, one must emphasize that simple concept: team. Nymburk is one of those sides in which one fails to find a couple of players that stand out, skills or contribution-wise. Having also won their domestic cup title a couple of weeks ago, the Czech team has, in Benda, Bohačík, Peterka, Hruban, Kriz, and Pumprla, a group of players that have been playing together for quite some time. The team also chose to enhance its capabilities with Dardan Berisha, a scorer from Kosovo that has a statline of 14.1 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, American guard Kendrick Ray (14.1 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game), and experienced playmaker Eugene Lawrence (11 points, 5.9 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game).
Just by looking at Nymburk’s numbers one can understand the ways that the team chooses to play — freely and wildly. Nymburk ranks first in field goals attempted per game (with 67.8, with #2 Estudiantes at 65.8), and second in rebounds (with 545, compared to #1 Tenerife’s 551). With that noted, there are just two players that delivered more assists than Eugene Lawrence. Lawrence tallies an outstanding 82 assists in total, which is just above 30% of Nymburk’s total assists, and a whole 49 more than #2 Kendrick Ray (33). Something which tells you all you need to know about what the other players do — shoot the ball. And quite often in a let’s-not-think-much-about-it fashion, not even considering if it’s very early on the clock.
Defensively, Nymburk isn’t afraid to try different approaches and, despite the fact that it lacks athletic guys in the frontcourt, manages to compensate for that with their schemes and a willingness to run that everybody on the team demonstrates (mainly with the goal of quickly getting a shot attempt up).
Text edited by: Nick Flynt