The second half of the regular season has started and it is crunch time for all Turkish Airlines EuroLeague teams. The race to reach the playoffs is going to be more exciting than ever! I had the luck to be at Palau Blaugrana Thursday for the game between FC Barcelona Lassa and CSKA Moscow. Barcelona played with outstanding intensity, especially on defense, and a very fluid offense in which every player who stepped on court scored at least 5 points. It may rank 12th overall, but if I were you, I wouldn't discard Barcelona as a potential playoff contender just yet. Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade recorded a good-as-gold home win against Zalgiris Kaunas and is now one win away from the playoffs zone. We had two road winners in Round 16: Valencia Basket rallied from 17 down to beat Unicaja in Malaga and Khimki Moscow Region, led by an outstanding Alexey Shved, managed to down Brose Bamberg in Germany. Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul lost Jan Vesely and James Nunnally on the same play, but managed to defeat Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz behind an outstanding Brad Wanamaker. Real Madrid, Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens and Olympiacos Piraeus also won at home; Los Blancos got their fifth consecutive win by downing Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv at home.
It was an okay week for my team Gancedato in the EuroLeague Fantasy Challenge. My trades were definitely terrible this time around, at least two of three; Nick Calathes played really well, just as expected. Still, I scored 150.7 points and rank 675th overall, so I more or less kept my spot in the standings. Nevertheless, I will try to shake things up a bit in Round 17. But before that, let me recommend five possible steals.
1. LUIGI DATOME, FENERBAHCE DOGUS ISTANBUL - Nikola Kalinic has been out for the best part of the season and James Nunnally is out for a month due to a hand fracture – it could have been way worse, but still, get well soon, James! That leaves Luigi Datome and Marko Guduric as Fenerbahce's main options at small forward. Expect them to see extended playing time for a month.
2. PIERRE JACKSON, MACCABI FOX TEL AVIV - I would have recommended him last week, but Norris Cole went down with an injury when this column was already published. Still, since Cole will be out for at least one more week, it is an excellent chance to pick up Jackson. Maccabi plays at home, too, which is always a plus.
3. WALTER TAVARES, REAL MADRID - Another player clearly on his way up. Tavares had career highs in rebounds (12) and blocks (3) in his team's home win against Maccabi. He has made 69.6% of his two-point shots – mainly on dunks and jump hooks – and his adjustment to Madrid's run-and-gun game has been fantastic. Keep an eye on him.
4. MINDAUGAS KUZMINSKAS, AX ARMANI EXCHANGE OLIMPIA MILAN - A top player at a fantastic price, €820,000, Mindaugas already had 12 points in his Milan debut against Olympiacos and should do better and better as he adjusts to the team. He is a natural mismatch with his combination of size, quickness and athleticism.
5. RICKY HICKMAN, BROSE BAMBERG - This one is based on a hunch. Hickman has not been playing well lately, but he plays against his former team, Maccabi, which he helped win the EuroLeague title in 2014. I expected him to be highly motivated against his former team with enough playing time to shine in Tel Aviv.
So, time for me to talk trades and as always, I am using all three of them. I wish I had more, but that's the beauty of this game. I am trading Dejan Musli because he comes off a disappointing game and it is never easy to go against Art Parakhouski and Alex Tyus, two very good shot blockers. I am also trading Nick Calathes of Panathinaikos because his team plays against FC Barcelona, who usually puts good pressure on point guards. Coach Sito Alonso knows that stopping Calathes is the key for Barcelona to win in Athens and will pressure on him, I am sure. Calathes will be back on my team soon, of course. And here comes the bomb: I am trading Luka Doncic of Real Madrid. I don't think the game fits him very well and at this point, if I want to move forwards in the standings, I have to risk a little bit, so I will be one round without Doncic and will take it from there. It is always good to have different players, too.
I am buying back Errick McCollum. Efes unregistered Josh Adams, which is a clear message: the team belongs to McCollum now and he must lead it from now on. Of course, Zvezda is a tough, defensive opponent, but I will rely on McCollum (and Derrick Brown) to make the difference. I am also buying Pierre Jackson because of what I explained before; Norris Cole is sidelined and he plays at home. Finally, I am adding Bojan Dubljevic of Valencia Basket just because Fenerbahce may be without Jan Vesely, who is pretty much the only one who can stop 'Dubi' down low. Dubljevic has been playing well and should have a great game against the reigning champs.
So, Gancedato started a revolution, which may last one week only, I know. The roster looks like this in Round 17:
PIERRE JACKSON, MACCABI FOX TEL AVIV (PG) - A super scorer with extended playing time. Jackson must lead Maccabi until Cole comes back. The problem? Brose knows that, too.
NANDO DE COLO, CSKA MOSCOW (SG) - He plays against a run-and-gun team - Milan, so I am making him team captain. I am pretty sure he will have a very good game.
WILL CLYBURN, CSKA MOSCOW (SF) - Had a season-high 12 rebounds against Milan back in Round 1. CSKA needs him to stop Kuzminskas, too.
TOKO SHENGELIA, BASKONIA VITORIA GASTEIZ (PF) - He comes off a so-so game in the Spanish League, which works on our favor. I doubt he will have back-to-back games like that.
BOJAN DUBLJEVIC, VALENCIA BASKET (C) - Dubi, Dubi! That is what Valencia fans sing. And I hope to hear that song a lot during the game against Fenerbahce! It would be a good sign!
ALEXEY SHVED, KHIMKI MOSCOW REGION (G) - He comes off a great game and plays at home, where he feels even more comfortable. What's not to like about Shved this week?
DERRICK BROWN, ANADOLU EFES ISTANBUL (F) - I know, he comes off a so-so game and his team ranks last overall, but I still believe in Efes and Brown. What a great player!
ERRICK McCOLLUM, ANADOLU EFES ISTANBUL (U) - I believe Efes's comeback will depend on McCollum's performance. I expect him to play a lot and make things happen.
Bench: Vassilis Toliopoulos, Olympiacos Piraeus (G), Egehan Arna (F) and Melih Mahmutoglou (U), Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul and Jake Cohen, Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv (C).
That's all. Let's see what happens, I took some risks this time around! Enjoy a new Turkish Airlines EuroLeague round and good luck in the EuroLeague Fantasy Challenge!