“A Greek, a Turkish and a British sit at a roundtable” could be the opening line for a pretty good joke. Here at CourtSide Diaries we have no intentions to joke around, especially when it comes to predictions, so we took our time, followed the summer roster moves of all teams, watched the first round of EuroLeague and EuroCup and we can now present you with our guesses for the unfolding of this season.
Evagelos Karagiannakidis of Hoop Fiction, Cagri Turhan of twitter fame and Rob Scott of Euroleague Adventures answered a couple of questions (and avoided some others) ranging from “Who are going to be the 5 worse players this season?” to “Which team is going to be the first FIBA Champions League winners?” and you can read all about their thoughts below.
Final Four Teams
Evagelos Karagiannakidis (EK): CSKA Moscow, Fenerbahce, Real Madrid, The Unknown X.
The Itoudis-Obradovic duo is definitely going to attend, Real Madrid has all the potential in the world to be the third participant as long as its not-so-deep backcourt meet expectations — and then comes total chaos. Efes, Darüşşafaka, Barcelona, and behind them Panathinaikos (excluded from the conversation after Mike James’ injury) could be the fourth team. I’ll go with coach Perasovic because Efes’ investment deserves a homeland-held Final 4.
Cagri Turhan (CT): Real Madrid, Fenerbahçe, CSKA Moscow, Panathinaikos
If a Final Four favorite is to be selected among two Spanish sides, before the season starts, at least let’s use that to jinx it. Los Blancos will definitely miss Sergio Rodriguez, because not only he makes plays out of nothing but also for balancing Sergio Llull. And, those are just two of the many reasons. Yet, the new signings are likely to bring the much needed balance and defensive stability, which were missing last year. There are not many dark horses to stop them for making it to last four. Fenerbahçe is the team which would not be satisfied with nothing but winning it all. Preserving the roster is a major step to book their place in the last four. CSKA Moscow is a proven team and one hell of a coach. Plus, they put on a show in Berlin last season. Most reliable candidate among all. (You can read below for Panathinaikos)
Rob Scott (RS): Along with Fenerbahce and CSKA, I think Real Madrid returns on the back of improved defense, insane depth and a prodigious 18 year old covering up for Philadelphia’s theft of Spanish Basketball Jesus. I really want to pick another surprise to go with last season’s, but I’m struggling. I think more and more that this will be decided by moves yet to be made. So many teams are a player away. Panathinaikos is the closest amongst the contenders for this spot though, even with Mike James out for at least two months after he lost his temper and put his fist through a glass panel. Pedoulakis took a roster without the offensive talent of this one to the playoffs and as long as James calms down and explodes out of the smothering mass of arms this squad can throw out on defense they might be the safest bet.
Rob Scott (RS): Bayern Munich, UCAM Murcia, Zenit St Petersburg, Gran Canaria
Hey, it’s Alba Berlin! Reggie Redding, Alex Renfroe, Nihad Djedovic, Alex King, Bryce Taylor…. I liked it a lot the last time Redding and Renfroe teamed up, and add in Vlad Lucic, Maxi Kleber, Ondrej Balvin and Anton Gavel I think they have a deep lineup. The question is, can Sasha Djordevic avoid becoming the Mantas Kalnietis of coaching? (Brilliant in summer international play, less so in the domestic grind). UCAM Murcia has the best playmaker on the continent outside of Euroleague (and maybe in it) in Fac Campazzo, his hookup with a re-charged Vitor Faverani already has chemistry, and build in a physical, bullying (British!) wing in Ovie Soko, shooting from Billy Baron, all-around offensive versatility from Nemanja Radovic, Marty Pocius throwing himself all over the court and role players who are settled and know their business, they can push into the next tier of success this season. Zenit St Petersburg finished third in the VTB League, ahead of Euroleague competition, added one of Europe’s best two-way playmakers in Stefan Markovic and a returning Sergey Karasev to play for his dad once again. They kept the core of Ryan Toolson and his insane three-point percentages (51.6% in 15 Eurocup games, 47.6% in VTB), Janis Timmer and Kyle Landry back from injury in the middle. Aaron White impressed in Germany with his hustle and motor. They’re just full of pros. (For Gran Canaria see below)
Basketball Champions League
Rob Scott (RS): AEK Athens, Sidigas Avellino, Umana Reyer Venezia, Iberostar Tenerife
Mike Dixon put up points for Nymburk in VTB last season, and although Roko Ukic can’t guard my grandma, he can still score and run an offense at this level. Add in the reunion of two of the cult hero early decade Bilbao team members in Dimitris Mavroeidis and Kostas Vasileiadis, what’s not to like with AEK? Sidigas Avellino may have lost the Italian league MVP James Nunnally to Fenerbahce, but replaced him with Levi Randolph, a super athletic scorer who sniffed the Celtics roster. Adonis Thomas has had a couple of NBA cups of coffee too before injuries derailed him and if those two guys are suited to the Euro grind, they’ll get plenty of freedom both in Italy and BCL. Alongside Joe Ragland (Italy version) there’s too much scoring for them not to get this far. Umana Reyer Venezia is another Italian rep and they bring back the core of a good Italian league playoff team that took Milano to six games in the semi finals. Bramos, Viggiano, Ejim, Peric, Ress, Ortner… they’re all back. Add in Marquez Haynes who should fit in more at this level after trying to be a microwave points generator off the bench in Euroleague, and Tyrus McGee from Cremona, a useful scorer and shooter, all the pieces for a deep run are here. (Iberostar Tenerife below)
Evagelos Karagiannakidis (EK): CSKA Moscow – The Russians seem to be ready for the repeat, despite having to overcome a Final 4 held in Turkey. Milos Teodosic is totally liberated from the pressure of consecutive failed F4s, Itoudis is coaching an unchanged team with a high chemistry level, and James Augustine adds the missing frontline depth both defensively and by being creative on offense.
Cagri Turhan (CT): Panathinaikos – If that was a wise choice, it would be ideal to go with a proven team and coach like CSKA Moscow or the coach you never ever bet against and who also have the home field advantage in the title decider games, Fenerbahçe. That’s a wishful thinking among very few viable choices. PAO should not be the wishful thinking when there isn’t a Diamantidis to lift the trophy in May. Why that’s a wishful thinking is that Euroleague desperately needs more top teams to fight for the title and PAO has made some steps for that in the off-season. In order that to happen, Bourousis must be the same guy in Vitoria and not the one who makes you crazy in the decade before, Mike James and Chris Singleton must perform like last year even at a slower pace, Nick Calathes must become THE guy to run the offense consistently, KC Rivers must validate the fact that Real Madrid repeated the mistake of letting him go and above all Argyris Pedoulakis must fulfill the expectations when the spring comes. Oh not finished yet… Giannakopoulos Jr. (a.k.a. Preznit) should stay calm too. All are possible with some question marks. Last one is not possible, we all know that.
Rob Scott (RS): Fenerbahce – We haven’t even started, and the Final Four can offer up shocks at any time, but I can’t see past a repeat of last year’s final. For the sake of balance, I’ll say Fenerbahce to get revenge in their home city. The biggest question mark is how James Nunnally reacts to the step up in competition; Italian League MVP is great and all, but he’ll have to be a cog in a bigger machine now under Obradovic. Still, they kept Ekpe Udoh and Jan Vesely from NBA cash-ins, which counts as two of the biggest off-season wins. Continuity, maybe the deepest roster in a new format which makes that a huge factor, it looks like they have everything it takes.
EK: In a competition that consists of really interesting clubs, Valencia should be the one out of five Spanish teams to go till the end. Solid recruiting, many Euroleague-material players, and a debt from last year’s outstanding beginning which ended with empty hands.
RS: Herbalife Gran Canaria – The Islanders look primed to go one better than their Eurocup semi-final and final defeats over the past two seasons. Bo McCalebb is back, maybe not as the force he was at the turn of the decade in Siena, but the dude can still get to the rack. Kyle Kuric came back from freaking brain surgery and looks as accurate a gunner as he ever was (which is really damn good). Darko Planinic will be a force in the paint and can replicate the straight-line rim running of Alen Omic, but with a softer touch when he gets there. Richard Hendrix is still a great interior passer, he’s the only question mark as he bounced between teams last season. Royce O’Neale looks like a great pick up, he’s a big body wing, can really move with the ball and shoot it too. Sasu Salin is one of the low key deadliest on-ball guards in this competition. They also have an intriguing young Latvian centre in Andzejs Pasecniks who might be about to burst onto the scene in a big way. They’re deep, they’ve been here before, this is their time.
Basketball Champions League
EK: Besiktas – Ufuk Sarica created an ensemble reflecting his own explosive personality and the result seems to be ready for the long-run. Brutally effective execution on offense, tones of effort on defense — look for the absolute infliction of his high-tempo philosophy.
RS: Iberostar Tenerife – They’ve beaten low-level ACB teams comfortably, and knocked off their Supercopa winning island neighbours (and my Eurocup pick) Gran Canaria in week one of the domestic campaign. I’m saying this because there are playoff bubble teams in the Spanish league which might be better than any club in this competition, and this doesn’t seem like a fluke start for Txus Vidoretta’s talented roster. Fran Vazquez might be a step slow for Euroelague but he’ll be a bully in and around the rim at this level. Marius Grigonis is a fearless gunner, and Davin White may be a ‘random points generator’ type player but he should get buckets. Aaron Dornekamp is one of those super role players who can help in multiple ways. If they can get into a rhythm of competing versus generally superior competition at home then they’re more than capable of dominating this first Champions League season
Surprise Team (EuroLeague)
EK: Brose Bamberg – The Germans almost did it last year but they missed out on the playoffs in the last top-16 game. The competition’s difficulty level has risen , and analysts expect Bamberg to finish between 10th and 12th — but Trinchieri’ s creativity aims to prove them wrong. Bamberg is the definition of a team, Bamberg is going to be in the playoffs, and Bamberg will push its playoff opponent to the limit. And yes, Bamberg shall be the surprise team of the season.
CT: Unics Kazan – God bless Bertomeu! We have so many prospects for the overachieving team with the amazing 16 team format.
Wise choice should be Brose Baskets Bamberg, which has had a great and consistent season last year and usually plays good at home, likely to get the most upsets this season. My bet would be on Unics Kazan. A Russian team with no small budget is a candidate for the surprise team of the year? (Thanks Euroleague for the 16 team format again) Overachieving teams which are described as surprises of the season, reach that point because of their coaches most of the time. And, Evgeny Pashutin is a fine coach. His previous time at Kazan, Eurocup run with Lokomotiv Kuban and taking a CSKA team which was expected to be dispersed to Final-Four gives us a proven track record. Earning the second ticket from Russia over decent Khimki and Lokomotiv Kuban sides should be another indicator.
RS: If it’s a surprise, I’m not going to know, am I? But dribbling my crystal basketball, I think Baskonia will be a lot better than people expect, they’ve made maybe the canniest signings so far, even BARGS looks useful offensively. Put either him or Johannes Voigtmann as a stretch 5 around Toko Shengelia, who is as good as a new signing after his injuries, Hanga cutting and Larkin moving quicker than the camera can follow? Good luck defending that.
Disappointment Team (EuroLeague)
EK: Olympiacos BC – Huge problems with Patric Young not being ready even for 10 minutes of quality performance, and Ken Birch entering a rookie Euroleague season having to carry the team’s frontline. The forwards’ chemistry is lost after Papanikolaou’s return — coach Sfairopoulos is still looking for the most successful solution. Printezis is Euroleague’s best offensive forward, Spanoulis is The Clutch™, the newcomer Erick Green can score but, no, the Reds cannot expect a Final 4 appearance. They are even going to struggle to make the playoffs— it’ll be a success if they secure a spot.
CT: Maccabi Tel Aviv (Warning for the audience: Olimpia Milano and any Jasmin Repesa side are not considered in this category as they are the natural winners on a regular basis.)
Maccabi Tel Aviv is unlikely to be as terrible as last season since they set the bar too low. However, the roster is far from impressive to make a noise in this new format. Level of Maccabi rosters are in a constant decline since the back-to-back titles. That should be another case material to look into later.
RS: Is it a disappointment if nobody expects much in the first place? I have to go with Galatasaray, whose talent level is not matched by the way the pieces mesh. Add in the Ataman instability potential, an expectant crowd, it might all go pear shaped quickly. Swap out Blake Schilb for someone who could fill in alongside Russ Smith and Justin Dentmon without the ball, and I might be swayed, but that’s not likely.
Alphonso Ford Trophy Award
EK: The murderer returns to the crime scene, and we hope Keith Langford gives us a reason to watch Euroleague’s most indifferent team, Unics Kazan.
CT: Keith Langford – Unics Kazan will rely a lot on their scoring machine, while other candidates will have to share the ball with their teammates more than Keith Langford would.
RS: Shane Larkin will get the touches, the minutes and has the ability to wrack ‘em up quick.
Defensive Player of the Year
EK: Kyle Hines – A shadow above the rim, capable of following the fastest guards around Europe, his pure muscle can absorb everything in the paint.
CT: Kyle Hines – Sir Hines, because why not? Most adorable player since Shaun Stonerook.
RS: Ekpe Udoh – if last year he was finding his feet in Europe, got help anyone trying to invade the paint on his watch this time round. Good god.
Best and Worst Five (EuroLeague)
EK: (best) De Colos, Udohs, Llulls and all the usual safe choices are excluded.
Shane Larkin – Ready for European-style basketball, he is going to delight us with his mature decisions, putting his imprint on characteristic up-tempo Baskonia Basketball.
Krunoslav Simon – Top-class scorer, proved to be capable of a more creative role this summer with Croatia—he is going to be the leader of a team of maverick-types, so to speak.
Darius Miller – The glue for Trinchieri’s spacing, possibly the most vital element to provide balance between the backcourt and the frontline. Second Euroleague season, a built-up confidence and a player expected to shine.
Adrien Moerman – His all-around abilities can be the key for dominance on both sides of the court. Creative, able to score in many ways, with Luke Harangody offering more muscle and 3-point threat, the Turkish side may have the best PF duo in the competition.
Mike Zirbes – The Israelis are looking for balance, Miller’s injury was devastating, and the German center is going to carry the frontline with his muscular post-game.
Best Five: Nando de Colo-Vassilis Spanoulis-Jonas Maciulis-Kyle Hines (♥)-Ioannis Bourousis
Five Guys You Want to Kill When Watching: Thomas Heurtel – Sonny Weems – Jeffery Taylor – Semih Erden – Ognjen Kuzmic
RS (best): Milos Teodosic – Nando De Colo – Luigi Datome – Ekpe Udoh – Anthony Randolph