It is Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs time and I LOVE IT! We have seen some great basketball in all four series. Could this be the best playoffs in EuroLeague history? Hard to tell, because great basketball is GUARANTEED in the EuroLeague at this time of the year, so I wouldn't say that categorically... but we are watching great basketball, that is for sure. Zalgiris Kaunas upset Olympiacos Piraeus in Game 1, taking the game to overtime and relying on Kevin Pangos and Arturas Milaknis to win it down the stretch. Olympiacos bounced back in Game 2, with a lot of players contributing and Vassilis Spanoulis running the show. The series between Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens and Real Madrid is equally outstanding. Panathinaikos rolled in Game 1, opening it with a 20-0 run and never looking back. Game 2 was very different, as Madrid's veterans took over, especially Felipe Reyes, who had 18 points off the bench. The oldest player in the competition at age 38, Reyes can be competitive for as long as he wants. KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz was close to beating Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul on the road, especially in Game 2, but the reigning champs prevailed. Khimki Moscow Region had a good opportunity to beat CSKA Moscow in Game 1, but missed it. CSKA and Fener are one win away from returning to the Final Four, which is less than a month away, in Belgrade, a big basketball city... isn't it exciting!?!
I am definitely excited and maybe that's why I am not acing it in the EuroLeague Fantasy Challenge. I more or less anticipate to what's going to happen, but don't get the right players. I will give you an example: without Nando De Colo, someone had to step up in CSKA Moscow. I decided to buy Will Clyburn and Cory Higgins and they played a good game, but didn't get Sergio Rodriguez, who had career-highs in points and performance index rating. Of course, if a superstar is missing, another superstar steps up and Rodriguez is a former EuroLeague MVP. I had Nick Calathes of Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens as team captain, but he had a PIR of 18, which is not bad, but 10 other players had a better performance index rating than this. Good, but not great. Therefore, I still rank 204th overall, but my feeling is that I am missing very good opportunities to get closer to the Top 100.
Before I look at my team, I will recommend a player per series:
Olympiacos Piraeus vs. Zalgiris Kaunas. Games 3 and 4 will be played in Kaunas, so I am going for Paulius Jankunas, who didn't play well in Athens, but will feel more comfortable at Zalgirio Arena.
Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens vs. Real Madrid. Games 3 and 4 will be played in the Spanish capital. Is Sergio Llull coming back? If so, he is too much of a risk. My bet is Gustavo Ayon.
CSKA Moscow vs. Khimki Moscow Region. Simply put, Sergio Rodriguez has been outstanding, but Anthony Gill is this series' sleeper. He's been giving CSKA a lot of trouble and is a very good option.
Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul vs. KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz. Baskonia needs instant offense in Game 3 at Buesa Arena and one player who can provide it is, of course, Rodrigue Beaubois. A lot depends on his performance.
I don't need to make a lot of trades; now that I have unlimited trades, I don't need that many. Oh, the irony. Yes, I am buying Sergio Rodriguez and even though the logical options would be dropping Alexey Shved of Khimki, who comes off a 9-PIR game, I am selling Calathes instead. Since Nikola Milutinov went down due to injury and Georgios Bogris is playing in pain, I am buying Jamel McLean of Olympiacos instead of Will Clyburn of CSKA.
That's it. The team is doing okay, so why change a lot? I am beginning to sound like a top contender general manager more than a EuroLeague Fantasy Challenge user, but this is how I feel.
So, Gancedato looks like this before Game 3 of the playoffs. Remember, I will make some trades before Game 4 and add a new lineup at the bottom of this blog entry.
Sergio Rodriguez, CSKA Moscow (PG) - Chachismo! A way of life! Sergio Rodriguez is playing some of the best basketball of his career and stepping up in Nando De Colo's absence.
Luka Doncic, Real Madrid (SG) - Llull may be back or not, but a lot will depend on Doncic's point guard skills. Madrid needs his best version to make it to the Final Four.
Cory Higgins, CSKA Moscow (SF) - Higgins is a solid value; he rarely has a bad game and is leading CSKA is a silent and effective way. He is one of my favorite Fantasy players.
Toko Shengelia, KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz (PF) - Shengelia usually plays better at home, and that's where he will play this week. The best power forward around.
Jan Vesely, Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul (C) - He had a key role in Game 2 and even though Baskonia will focus on him, Vesely should still be able to put up big numbers again.
Mike James, Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens (G) - I decided to keep him and not Calathes because of his scoring skills. I may be wrong, but I think James will have a big week.
Jamel McLean, Olympiacos Piraeus (F) - With Milutinov sidelined, Bogris playing in pain and Printezis not 100%, McLean is Olympiacos's biggest threat around the baskets.
Alexey Shved, Khimki Moscow Region (U) - Shved wants to keep playing. For that, Khimki must beat CSKA and therefore, he must have a monster game. Let's see if I read it right!
That's all, EuroLeague Fantasy Challenge fans! Unless there is a Game 5, this will be the final blog entry this season, but I have a feeling we will see that happening. As always, thank you, EuroLeague Fantasy Challenge fans, for making the game so special and reading this column on weekly basis! Enjoy the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Playoffs, which is as exciting as basketball can be!
GAME 4 UPDATE: After a solid, yet not great Game 3, I am making a couple of changes and making Sergio Rodriguez my new team captain. New lineup: Sergio Rodriguez, Luka Doncic, Cory Higgins, Toko Shengelia, Jan Vesely, Nick Calathes, Brandon Davies and Alexey Shved. Good luck!