(The article below includes a translated version of the author’s piece about PAOK Thessaloniki 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!)
After a very cute, but mostly effective, run in the second round of the Basketball Champions League’s Group Stage, Ilias Papatheodorou’s team qualified for the competition’s Top 16 round with a 7-7 record, only behind Tenerife and Ludwigsburg. Their opponent, Pınar Karşıyaka, a team that only three seasons ago won the Turkish Basketball League and two seasons ago participated in the EuroLeague. The Turkish side is maybe going through a tough time but is also Aleksandar Trifunović’ team, has some very good American players on its roster and one of the most fearful group of fans and arenas in the whole of the BCL. However, while they probably show as the favourite of this matchup, it won’t be a huge surprise if PAOK manages to knock them out.
Not only does Karşıyaka find itself in the bottom of the standings of the Turkish Basketball League, with 12 wins and 18 defeats, it also is a team that almost found itself knocked out of the competition very early on when their Hungarian opponent in BCL’s qualification round 2, Alba Fehervar, visited Turkey with a win in the first leg. Pinar managed to overcome that obstacle at the time, but the weaknesses they showed early on have stayed with them. These are, namely, a unit-personality that doesn’t exist, an inconsistency of performance throughout games (as a natural result of the lack of team character), and a shortage of individual defensive talent and/or willingness to hide the two previous elements.
It probably says a lot for coach Trifunović’ side that there are 9 players that have played in at least half of the games the team has played in the BCL — plus one late addition to the roster — and six of them are playing more than 24 minutes per game. Of these six, there are four that are playing more than 29 minutes per game (= for almost the entire 3 of the 4 quarters). It’s not a secret that this team belongs to its American players: Dominique Waters, a PG with EuroLeague experience and 15.6 points and 7 assists in 30 minutes per game, Jarrod Jones, a Ball State graduate that plays the PF position and has 19.7 points and 6.4 rebounds in 33.5 of playing time per game, SG/SF DJ Kennedy with 19.5 points and 9.1 rebounds in 33.9 minutes per game and another SG, Scott Wood, who came from G League’s Santa Cruz to contribute 9.4 points (with a 48.8% in 3PTS) in 29.3 minutes per game.
When the guys mentioned above get their rhythm on, Karşıyaka is one of the most enjoyable teams to watch in the competition: shooting on the second pass after they cross mid-court seems like the right thing to do — if not the ONLY thing to do! However, when shots don’t fall, we all start getting annoyed with their very poor, if not insulting, version of run’n’gun, and start questioning the lack of a clear offensive direction, as well as of a Plan B. It also makes their defense look only worse.
A possible scenario for Karşıyaka to wave goodbye to FIBA’s competition is that they lose by more than six points in Thessaloniki, then don’t start hot in their home game, thus losing their cool before it’s actually time to worry about losing your cool.
PAOK looked very confused at the beginning of the season, finding itself with a 2-6 record after the first eight games. In the last six games, the players of the Greek team managed to get five Ws (losing only to Tenerife away), and emerged as one of the qualifying teams from one of the toughest groups — especially for the teams that finished from 3rd to 6th. But it wasn’t just the Ws. After a very bad two-month period at the beginning of the season, the team looked like it was finally adopting a playing style — a result of, among other things, a couple of roster changes. What was it exactly that turned the switch for Papatheodorou’s team?
- The team signed ex-Olympiacos PG Dimitris Katsivelis and replaced Dillard and Klaasen with Goss and Jackson. Dillard’s dismissal and Katsivelis’s signing boosted the team’s production of better shots (Katsivelis has 3.2 assists per game and young prospect Koniaris has 4). This also gave Goss the chance to be the scoring leader the team was in great need of. Goss, a veteran with great experience from the Italian league, focuses mainly on scoring, is direct about it, and achieves that by shooting quite well from behind the 3PT line — something that PAOK really needed.
- Linos Chrysikopoulos, a versatile SF/PF, got more playing time. After having played for only 23 minutes in total in the first 4 games, Linos now contributes 7.5 points (with 48% from behind the arc) and 2.8 rebounds in 18.1 minutes per game. Chrysikopoulos was a vital part of some very important wins for PAOK with 15 points and 5 rebounds against Neptunas, 16 points and 5 assists against Chalon, and 13 points and 4 rebounds against Orlandina. Going by the numbers, he is PAOK’s fifth best player, with 0.9 in the +/- metric.
- Vassilis Charalampopoulos is finally an active part of the team’s roster. After having a late surgery and taking a couple of games to understand what’s going on, the young prospect now contributes 8.1 points with a stunning 59% from behind the arc and 50% in 2PT. His qualities are there and it remains to be seen how he’ll develop them and himself overall.
- PAOK was shooting a devastating 29.2% from behind the 3PT line and 67.5% from the charity stripe during the first round of the group stage, but found itself shooting 45% from behind the arc and 74.4% from the charity line more recently. This resulted in an increase of 8.2 points in offensive production for PAOK (71.7 points in the first round and 79.9 points in the second round), which means that they can get away even with mediocre nights on defense.
- When required, however, PAOK managed to perform on defense as well: Gaziantep scored 65 points in Turkey (9 below its average), Neptunas saw its 81.3 points reduced to 70 against PAOK. Meanwhile, Venspils, in the last game of the group stage that was also the one which would decide the qualifying team, scored 16 whole points less than its average (59 vs 75).
- Of the 1061 points that PAOK has scored in the 13 games for which data is available, PAOK has scored 358 (36%) from inside the paint and 348 (32.7%) from behind the arc. Furthermore, PAOK’s Greek unit has contributed 55% of the team’s total points (41.7 out of the 75.8 per game).
The MVP and Petteway
If we were to pick PAOK’s MVP in this group stage that would be Lucky Jones. Jones is the glue guy for PAOK and can be trusted to contribute serious numbers in pretty much every single statistical category: 9.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 12.4 EFF in 28.2 minutes per game. Jones showed some impressive adaptation skills and earned his coach’s trust even in nights during which he wasn’t that good, individually. This paid off as Jones registered 22 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 steal in the very important victory against Elan Chalon.
Terran Petteway, the latest addition to the roster, is a player in which coach Papatheodorou hopes to find a second scoring leader, next to Goss. Petteway had a pretty good last season with Pistoia, especially in Legabasket’s playoffs, and is a player who always finds ways to fill in his statline. He wasn’t that impressive with Nanterre this season, but PAOK’s fans can hope to see a player that scores, grabs rebounds, and utilizes his energy levels and his length to guard anyone from the PG to the SF positions.
Text edited by: Nick Flynt