Ahead of his second season in Athens, experienced coach Xavi Pascual has received several reinforcements in his bid to take Panathinaikos to the Final Four for the first time since 2012. There is a familiar face in the paint as veteran Ian Vougioukas returns for his second spell with the Greens, and more proven experience comes in the form of swingman Matt Lojeski following his short move from Olympiacos Piraeus. Exciting point guard Lukas Lekavicius was snapped up from Zalgiris Kaunas to join the backcourt, and forward Thanasis Antetokounmpo will attract plenty of attention as he returns to his home city. American combo guard Marcus Denmon, compatriot power forward Zach Auguste and young Greek big man Dinos Mitoglou are the other new arrivals.
Long-serving playmaker Nick Calathes remains the lead ball-handler for the Greens this season with the assistance of Lukas Lekavicius, who has all the tools to continue his ascent as one of the league’s rising stars after averaging 8.5 points with Zalgiris last season. Another new signing, combo guard Marcus Denmon, arrives with plenty of European experience after spending the last five years in France, Italy and Turkey, and he has the potential to become a prolific scorer after averaging 16.1 points for Gazientep last season. More firepower and great versatility will be provided by the experienced Matt Lojeski as he makes the switch from red-and-white to green after four highly-consistent seasons with Olympiacos. And there will also be time in Pascual’s backcourt for scorer Nikos Pappas and rising star Eleftherios Bochoridis.
Panathinaikos added plenty of presence inside the paint with the arrivals of Ian Vougioukas, Zach Auguste and Dinos Mitoglou, who all stand strong at 2.08 meters or taller. The physically powerful styles of Vougioukas and Auguste – a stretch four who averaged 14.0 points and 10.7 rebounds per game in his last year of college in the United States – offers a contrast with the extra mobility and long-range shooting skills of Chris Singleton, giving Pascual a nice variety of options. We can also expect to see a lot more of the customary high-flying pick-and-roll play – and hard-nosed defense – from James Gist and Kenny Gabriel, while Pascual can also call upon one of the league’s most-dangerous three-point shooters in the form of the experienced K.C. Rivers. The energetic and physically imposing Antetokounmpo will leave nothing on the floor in his attempts to live up to expectations following an outstanding season in Spain with MoraBanc Andorra.
PLAYER TO WATCH
After a breakthrough season with Zalgiris, Lukas Lekavicius now has the opportunity to establish himself as one of Europe’s top backcourt stars with his switch in green uniforms. Having progressed through Zalgiris’s famous youth development system, Lekavicius debuted in the EuroLeague in 2014 and wasted no time in making his mark, averaging nearly 20 minutes on the floor in his rookie campaign and leading the team in assists. His progress continued under the tutelage of Sarunas Jasikevicius last season when he came off the bench in every game to again lead the team in assists. With Nick Calathes an ever-present starter for Panathinaikos, Lekavicius is likely to repeat his ‘sixth man’ role in Athens, and if he continues the improvement he has shown in the last three years he could be a star in the making.
From Nick Calathes and Lukas Lekavicius in the backcourt to Ian Vougioukas and Chris Singleton in the paint, Panathinaikos looks strong, versatile and experienced at every position, so there is every reason to expect another good season under a coach who has never failed to reach the playoffs in 10 EuroLeague campaigns and boasts a career winning percentage of 74% in the competition. Importantly, the club also has a sense of unfinished business after a hugely frustrating finish to last season, which saw an outstanding end to the regular season followed by a collapse in the playoffs against Fenerbahce. With talent, experience, motivation and the backing of the Olympic Sports Center Athens crowd, it’s safe to expect Panathinaikos to be among the leading contenders once again.