Not a lot has changed for Turkish Airlines EuroLeague powerhouse Real Madrid, although some key departures will leave certain players with bigger roles this season. Madrid, however, fortified its frontcourt with two major additions - experienced center Othello Hunter and versatile forward Anthony Randolph, who was chosen to the All-EuroLeague Second Team last season. Playmaker Dontaye Draper, who helped Madrid reach back-to-back EuroLeague Championship Games in 2013 and 2014, returns to play a leading role on defense. Most of its core players and head coach Pablo Laso are back, so expect Madrid to be as strong as in the last few years.
Madrid likes to run the floor and play up-tempo, and it has the best playmaker to do that in Sergio Llull. Explosive, athletic and never afraid to take big shots, Llull has emerged as his team's floor general and on-court leader. Los Blancos are really deep at point guard, as Draper is a top-class on-the-ball defender who has a knack for steals. Teenage sensation Luka Doncic will have an extended role this season. Doncic is a tall playmaker with a high basketball IQ, who can create his own shot, generate for others and contribute on defense. Madrid has been patient with him and now may be the time for him to start taking over. As always, Rudy Fernandez will offer a little bit of everything - three-pointers, steals, rebounds, alley-oops, defense - to make Madrid more competitive. Jaycee Carroll is simply one of the best pure shooters in basketball, while Jeffery Taylor offers athleticism, size and deep shooting range at both wings.
Madrid has one of its deepest frontcourts ever - and that is a quite a statement for a nine-time EuroLeague champion. Jonas Maciulis is a rock-solid small forward, who brings strength, experience and explosiveness. Andres Nocioni, who earned Final Four MVP honors with Madrid in 2015, is an aggressive and versatile forward who always thinks team first. He may see playing time at small forward, where he played for years, due to Madrid's frontcourt depth. Felipe Reyes and Trey Thompkins will split minutes at power forward. Reyes, the EuroLeague's all-time leading rebounder, will keep powering the boards and remains effective on offense. Thompkins can open the floor with his three-point shots, but is also a tough rebounder. Randolph is a natural-born mismatch due to his size, ball-handling ability and athleticism. At age 27, he is right at the prime of his career and ready to challenge for big goals. All-EuroLeague center Gustavo Ayon will see most of the minutes at center, where he combines post skills, rebounds, leadership and character. And Hunter gives Coach Laso even more power around the baskets.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Coming off a brilliant EuroLeague debut season in which he took Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar to its first-ever EuroLeague Final Four, Randolph comes to Madrid ready to fulfil his potential. At 2.11 meters, Randolph is able to hit jumpers with unlimited range, even off the dribble. A great rebounder at both ends, Randolph can corral defensive boards and start the fast break due to his great ball-handling, which is a plus for Madrid's run-and-gun system. He played was very consistent last season and if Ayon and Randolph can adjust to playing together, Madrid could be more dangerous than ever.
Madrid has been very successful since Laso's arrival, both at the domestic and the EuroLeague levels. The goal remains the same - challenging for every available title. It will be very important for Los Blancos to grab an early road win, as it plays against five powerhouses - Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv, EA7 Emporio Armani Milan, CSKA Moscow, FC Barcelona and Fenerbahce Istanbul - in as many road games in the first two regular season months. Madrid will play four of its final six regular season games at home, which could be critical in the long run, when teams are fighting for survival or home-court advantage in the playoffs.