And Tonight, Starting at Center It’s… Buyer’s Remorse!
Every offseason, there are always a few front office decisions that come back to bite both budgets and title aspirations alike on the metaphorical derriere. And after 10 EuroLeague Rounds and a handful of domestic games, it’s time to pick apart the Top 5 (or should we say Bottom 5) Offseason Regrets™ from the EuroLeague elite.
Let’s pour one out for the Shved-bots & their playoff ambitions. Khimki recently lost Thomas Robinson, whose motor and glass-pounding ways were translating well as Khimki were starting to gain some momentum in EuroLeague. Word has it that he’ll be out for around 3-4 months, and unless they sign a sweeeeet replacement, you have to imagine that someone in the front office sent the “don’t worry about looking at flights to Belgrade” email earlier this week. A low playoff seed should still be possible with Shved and the rest of his merry-men, but a playoff series might be too much without that dominant inside presence, even with Shved determined to get his hands on that Alphonso Ford Trophy.
Manic Maccabi Missing A Voice of Reason
After the last few years of being the punchline in almost all EuroLeague jokes, many anticipated Maccabi to hopefully become less of a disaster, and maybe, just maybe, keep a coach for an entire season. And just so everyone is on the same page, this Maccabi side – Alex Tyus aside – was not built to win games on the defensive side of the floor. This is straight up ‘shooters gonna shoot’ basketball. So far, Maccabi has been doing its best Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde impression whilst surprisingly keeping just off pace at the top of the EuroLeague standings. But it would take a brave man to bet on them being there come the end of the regular season, given the inconsistency shown already this season: Beat Madrid, lose to Efes. Win at Khimki, lose at Barcelona. When Maccabi is rolling offensively, they can hang with the best Europe has to offer. But when they get trigger happy and the shots aren’t falling, it can be a long night. And the shots most certainly are not falling: Maccabi are sitting dead last in three-point makes, shooting a painful 32% from deep as a team. They have yet to find the shot that neither DeShaun Thomas nor Pierre Jackson doesn’t like. And Norris Cole, for all his valuable 2nd unit production, is more of a driver than a shooter. Apart from Alex Tyus and Deshaun Thomas, there isn’t a whole lot of EuroLeague experience on this roster. And it shows.
Maccabi are a savvy floor general away from possibly sneaking homecourt advantage come playoff time – someone whose sole job is to keep the ball moving and maybe control the trigger finger of some of Maccabi’s more enthusiastic gunslingers. Someone like Petteri Koponen, currently stuck in the wilderness of Barcelona’s rotation, would have been an ideal fit in Tel Aviv, but alas – who wants stability anyway?
Dončić doing his best Dark Knight Impression
It would be easy to pick apart Madrid’s decision to let Othello Hunter go in the summer, given the current state of their frontcourt rotation. With that said, nobody has had worse luck this season than Los Blancos. Literally. Even Hollywood wouldn’t write a disaster film as devastating as the injury bug currently ravaging the Spanish giants. However, in what is likely to be Super Luka’s grand finale on European shores, it is looking like Madrid’s front office made an even bigger miss in their offseason planning. Who did they bring in to replace some of Sergio Llull’s production? Organic growth from Dončić was apparently Pablo Laso’s plan A-Z – but who is supposed to be replacing the ‘Robin to your Batman’ Dončić offered Llull last season? And I’m taking nothing away from Dončić here – the kid is practically carrying a European Giant to a playoff berth with such a unique blend of ability that has the Euro hoops faithful on constant ‘Luka Triple Double Watch.’ But if Dončić isn’t firing, or *rapidly touches every wooden surface in sight* goes down with an injury, who on Earth is even partially replacing his production? Campazzo has looked almost unplayable at points already this season, whilst Rudy’s health severely limits his production. And signing Chasson Randle as an import player will baffle me until the season’s end. In truth, Madrid needed another proven EuroLeague guard. Ideally, we’re talking a player in the mould of Tyrese Rice [ed. But still capable of playing professional basketball]/Jayson Granger – someone who can play on or off the ball, whilst offering just enough scoring facilitating to ease the burden on Madrid’s brightest star.
With five notches in the loss column already this season, four of which have been decided by seven points or less, it’s clear Madrid could really use that extra punch if they want to give the EuroLeague Prince the opportunity for Final Four redemption in Belgrade come May.
Stop! It’s Not Miller Time for Bamberg
Bamberg has, as it turns out, been a pleasant surprise this season. A collapse of epic proportions was widely anticipated – even accepted, you could say. Bamberg was a small team that lost almost all its major contributors from a season in which you could argue they had overachieved. And, with all due respect to the replacements, they weren’t expected to match the names that had went before them. But, somehow, they’ve been better. Gone apparently is the Bamberg of old who couldn’t close out when the game is on the line and, although not glamorous, the ability to grind out results will go a long way to staying relevant over the course of the season. However, the Quincy Miller mystery dampens what has been an impressive season for the German side.
The Former All-EuroLeague forward was predicted by many to have a bounce-back season after an injury-plagued year in the Maccabi circus. His blend of athleticism and three-point shooting was supposed to give Bamberg the star power it so clearly lacked. But instead, he never appeared in a single EuroLeague game, and was shown the door 3 months into a two-year contract. Rumours of internal disagreements surfaced, but the exact manner of departure remains a mystery. Regardless, a high-profile signing gone this early in the season must have the Bamberg front office wincing and, although they are performing well so far, a player of his calibre could be the difference between a playoff berth or watching from the outside again this season.
Fener Fighting Growing Pains
As far as replacements go, Fenerbahçe really couldn’t have asked for a much better offseason. Remaining a serious Final Four contender after losing your two best players – who were also two of the best players in all of EuroLeague – shouldn’t happen. But it has. Wanamaker is a stud, Melli offers a different dimension to an already-intimidating front court, and investing in Gudurić over the long-term could prove to be one of the savvier moves of the offseason. And although sitting pretty in the standings, the Turkish giants look, dare I say it, very much beatable.
Defensively, they are still a classic Obradović team: a tough, stingy, well-oiled machine. It’s at the other end of the floor that the personnel changes are noticeable.Although they are at or near the top in most shooting percentage categories, Fener are coughing the ball up at an alarming rate – only being outpaced by Unicaja and Žalgiris Kaunas. Between Sloukas and new guard Brad Wanamaker, Fener boast two of Europe’s elite guards. But that influx of new personnel seems to have knocked their offensive rhythm in the season’s early goings, something that the European giants have to figure out quickly if they want to join the exclusive club in claiming back-to-back EuroLeague championships.
Barcelona Blunders Become All Too Clear
FC Barcelona are averaging over 82 PPG, good for third best in EuroLeague. The same FC Barcelona have yet to win on the road, and currently hold a 4-6 record going into games against Fenerbahçe and Real Madrid. Confession: I may have been a little too optimistic about this team.
Before the season I had the Catalan giants as a potential Final Four team. But it’s been all ‘new faces, same problems’ from the Blaugrana. The new names were EuroLeague staples – guys like Hanga and Heurtel, who have been brought in to send them back into the elite status that has evaded them for several years. Instead, the rotations have me more confused than my first Catalan grammar lesson (seriously), and the roster construction almost begs for some background disaster to come out to justify what on Earth is happening in the Catalan capital.
Player for player, on paper, this roster actually looks pretty good. In reality, you have a host of players that either can’t play on one end of the floor, or simply don’t work together. And then you have guys like Sasha Vezenkov, one of Europe’s elite offensive bigs, who have been in hiding longer than some Catalan politicians.
In truth, Ante Tomic should probably have moved on in the summer given the stacked frontcourt. And signing Pressey over Guillem Vives has most certainly proved to be one of the biggest faux-pas of the offseason. As is the case season after season, the Catalan giants are missing a true shotmaking 3. Although improving, quick changes are required if FC Barcelona wishes to be relevant come playoff time, as the current roster has nowhere near the consistency to handle a playoff series vs. some of Europe’s top guns.
It’s also worth noting that they have already suffered through a five-match losing streak between ACB and Euroleague play. You have to wonder how hot Sito Alonso’s seat may be feeling this early in the season, particularly given the fairly kind schedule they’ve had in the early goings of the Euroleague season. Or is this just all part of the well-publicised waiting process for Saras Jasikevičius’s eventual return to his old stomping grounds, when he’ll finally take Barcelona back to the promised land? Who knows!
Text edited by: Nick Flynt