Welcome to a new crew on the Experts Round Table, where we ask a variety of the most knowledgeable Turkish Airlines EuroLeague followers across the continent their opinions on the topics of the day. This week we have Manuel Moreno, the former long-time EuroLeague writer for Sport in Spain; Matjaz Smodis, three-time EuroLeague champion and Euroleague Basketball Legend; Massimo Oriani of Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport; Bugra Uzar, Chief Editor, Eurohoops Turkey; and Frankie Sachs, Editor at Euroleague.net. Check out their opinions on three questions about what player specialists are their favorites so far this season.
1. Who is your favorite shooter in the EuroLeague this season?
I like pure specialists and have a weakness for those who play a little but solve a lot, such as Petteri Koponen or Jaycee Carroll. The latter has decided many victories for Real Madrid when its offense has been blocked, for example against a zone defense. Both are examples of great spot-up shooting mechanics. But at this moment, I will go instead with the quality and maturity of Alexey Shved of Khimki Moscow Region. He seems to me the most complete shooter right now for what he does both in spot-up and on-the-run situations, coming off screens (whether on or off the ball), and whether or not his defender is taller. It's no accident that Shved has not scored less than 17 points in any of the first 10 games.
I know others have more three-pointers or higher percentages, but I like what Kevin Pangos is doing for Zalgiris. He is the key to their offense, which is much more potent than in recent years, as both its best outside shooter and passer. He's third in three-pointers (24) made and has the best percentage (46.2%) of the top four shooters. He keeps defense honest as his team's main outside threat, but also uses that threat to set up his teammates as the EuroLeague's fifth-best assist man. He's a main reason why Zalgiris scores the fourth-most points per game in the league.
I’d have to go with James Nunnally of Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul. Having had the chance of following him closely when he was with Sidigas Avellino, I must say that his shooting touch has gotten even better under the guidance of Coach Obradovic. He also benefits from playing alongside outstanding teammates and passers who make life easier for him. He seems to be steadily becoming one of the better shooters in this year's EuroLeague and his minutes have also grown. Three years ago, when he was in the D-League playing for Philadelphia's affiliate team, he was shooting over 40% from three-point range and fans and media were clamoring to move him to the NBA roster, which did not have an outside shooter of his caliber. He was not part of "The Process" then, but he is definitely part of the champs' project this year.
Even though James Nunnally is having an amazing season from behind the arc, my mind is very clear about this choice: Jaycee Carroll from Real Madrid. He has been one of the best and most dangerous shooters in the EuroLeague for many years. His shooting is perfect and quick at the same time. He only needs a small space to execute, so you have to keep your eye on him all the time. After the injuries to Gustavo Ayon and Anthony Randolph, his role is even more important because Madrid depends more heavily on him. And he has all the necessary skills to answer this call.
Shooting percentages seem to climb higher and higher every season, and that's no knock on the defenses. The three-pointer is becoming a more important weapon all the time. The one thing that most of the top shooters have in common is that the vast majority of their attempts come in spot-up situations. But the man that stands out for me is former MVP Nando De Colo, who handles the ball as much as any of the other elite shooters. When I watch De Colo and I see him rise for a jumper, I expect it to go in. His game is pretty and his shot is sweet.
2. Who is your favorite dunker in the EuroLeague this season?
A dunk almost always arrives after good team play. You have to move the ball in order to give an advantage to the man who can culminate the play with one spectacular move. Kevin Seraphin of Barcelona knows well how to use his body and has had some amazing dunks this season. But it seems to me that the most active player now is Jan Vesely of Fenerbahce. His two dunks in Moscow when his team won against CSKA in overtime are undoubtedly among the best of the year. Two unstoppable dunks: the first a centimeter away from the face of the powerful Othello Hunter; and the second, with the game decided, against Semen Antonov. The best dunks always have a victim to make the picture better.
Maybe because we haven't seen him in the EuroLeague for a while, I have been pleasantly surprised at how well Kevin Seraphin is getting to the rim for Barcelona so far. I particularly like his footwork and speed. Whether he gets the ball close or "dives" after pick-and-rolls, he's a danger to leave the rim shaking. Once he's airborne, there is not much anybody can do, as we've seen with a couple of his big slams coming against a couple of defenders.
James Gist. His athletic abilities are head and shoulders above the competition. But that's not all. Timing, when we are talking alley-oops, is crucial. And the Panathinaikos forward seems to have it down to an art form. In Greece, Gist has become an all-around talent, having evolved from just being a high-flyer. He recently said in an interview that he now is "a lot different. Before I was just an athletic player doing a lot of athletic stuff on the court. Now, I understand the game of basketball a lot better. I read the game better, make my teammates better. I understand how to win." But that doesn’t mean that he has stopped flying and dazzling with his dunks!
Who says white men can't jump? Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul's big man, Jan Vesely, has unique athletic skills that make him an outstanding dunker. He is very explosive, he can jump very high and he also has long arms. All these features help him put everyone on the poster. He has all kinds of dunks in his arsenal: hammers, poster dunks, alley-oop dunks, beautiful dunks... He's always fun to watch because you never know when he's going to fly. That's why he has the nickname "Vesely Airlines".
When Toko Shengelia sees an opening, he attacks the rim with a vengeance. He may not have the high-flying athleticism that the likes of Jan Vesely and James Gist display, but the Baskonia big man brings power to his dunks that is terrifying to any man caught on the wrong end. When Baskonia has the ball in transition – whether after a Shengelia rebound, with him pushing the ball, or with the power forward thundering up the court as a trailer – Shengelia's first thought always seems to be how he can stuff the ball through the hole. And when he gets the opportunity, it's pure delight for spectators.
3. Who is your favorite shot-blocker in the EuroLeague this season?
The block is an intimidating play. Sometimes it doesn't even serve to get possession, as when it goes out of bounds or the shooting team recovers it, but to have a good shot-blocker always influences the opponent's offense and even causes shooters to change the trajectory of their shots. Anthony Randolph is a good intimidator, and Tibor Pleiss is a silent specialist - he has more blocks than any EuroLeague player so far - but I'll go with Bryant Dunston of Anadolu Efes Istanbul. At 2.03 meters, he is not one of the tallest shot-blockers, but he does combine power, coordination and instinct, three basic elements of this specialty, as well as anyone. Dunston has already detonated 17 blocks, 1.7 per game, and has put fear into many more rivals.
How could I not have a CSKA player in these answers? Kyle Hines is my favorite shot-blocker because I can't believe a guy who's just 1.98 meters can intimidate like he does. Many of his blocks are against tall guys who think they can dunk on him. Maybe they don't see him well because they are looking up. Then he explodes off the floor with such great balance that he rarely misses a block attempt. He even spikes some into the floor! It's always great to see the little big man prove that height doesn't matter, because he has the third-most blocks in EuroLeague history!
Alex Tyus. He can block your shot and then get up again and block you one more time in case you were able to grab the offensive rebound. He has honed his offensive skills but it's under his basket that the Maccabi Tel Aviv big man makes the difference. His block on Cory Jefferson when the Israeli's beat Milano in Week 5 still resonates as maybe the best block of the first third of Euroleague's current season. Statistically, he ranks third with 12 in 10 games, but it's his style that makes you jump out of your chair and makes him my favourite. Honorable mention to Kaleb Tarczewski of Milan, an old-style center with great timing and presence in the middle of the paint.
There are a lot of great blockers in the EuroLeague, but I'm going to go with Bryant Dunston from Anadolu Efes Istanbul. He has two Best Defender awards and you can easily see why he got them. He is a fantastic defender in the post and can make switches. He has great athletic skills, his timing is always good, and he understands plays and acts accordingly. Every defender is fearful when they are trying to attack the basket because Dunston often blocks their shots or forces them to take a bad one.
So many things go into being a great shot blocker, but sadly for some of the best and most-effective centers, their height causes great plays to seem less spectacular. However, at 2.03 meters, Alex Tyus's blocks are far more a product of his hops than his size. Tyus seems to have springs in his shoes, which allow him to meet any player at the rim. And the speed with which he hits the peak of his leap often catches players off guard and allows the Maccabi big man to swat shots every which way. Tyus is the rare player who is exciting to watch at both ends of the floor.