Welcome to 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's panel includes David Carnicero, EuroLeague announcer for Movistar Plus in Spain; Theo Papaloukas, two-time EuroLeague champion and Euroleague Basketball Legend; Vladimir Stankovic, veteran journalist and longtime EuroLeague.net collaborator; Drazen Kanazir, Author at Eurohoops.net; and Javier Gancedo, Senior Editorial Manager at EuroLeague.net. Check out their opinions on three questions after Round 16 of the regular season.
1. Which team had the best start to 2018 in Round 16?
"Several teams had important victories and successful starts to the new year. However, I think FC Barcelona Lassa had the best start because they beat CSKA Moscow with a very convincing performance that had consistency, decisiveness, intensity and quality in offense and defense. They showed that the road win over Khimki Moscow Region was not just one good night and it looks like they are starting to find chemistry as they are playing better now all together as a team. If they continue this way, they can hope to recover the lost ground for a spot in the playoffs."
"FC Barcelona Lassa is the team that has started the year best. And they had it harder than anyone else, because they had to beat CSKA Moscow. They did it and in style, leaving the Russian giant at 72 points, its second-worst register of the season. Barça dominated the game from top to bottom and won by 13. Sito Alonso seems to have found the recipe for success with his team, but it still has to prove that it can win steadily on the road. Otherwise, it will be impossible for them to be in the playoffs."
"Those who won on the road, Valencia Basket and Khimki Moscow Region. Each road win counts almost twice as much as one at home. At the same time, FC Barcelona Lassa has bounced back and is in better shape now. It is never easy to beat CSKA Moscow. And Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens and Olympiacos Piraeus both keep their very high chances to make it to the playoffs."
"FC Barcelona Lassa made a splash in Round 16 with a much-needed win over CSKA Moscow. It was the second win in a row for Sito Alonso’s squad against a team from the Russian capital. They grabbed a total of 46 rebounds and dished out 24 assists, outnumbering their opponent in both categories. With six wins and 10 losses, the 2010 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague champions are ranked 12th in the competition, but are only two wins away from the last playoff spot."
"I am going to say Valencia Basket. Of course, FC Barcelona Lassa beat mighty CSKA Moscow, but Valencia managed to down Unicaja Malaga on the road by rallying from 17 points down. Moreover, they did it with six injured players on the roster – Antoine Diot, Joan Sastre, Latavious Williams, Sergi Garcia, Fernando San Emeterio and Guillem Vives – and three others not in their best physical condition: Bojan Dubljevic, Alberto Abalde, Erick Green. Valencia got its second consecutive win, will play three of its next four at home and is set to bring back some players."
2. Which player had the best start to 2018 in Round 16?
"I am going to go with Khimki's Malcolm Thomas. I know that, after Thomas Robinson’s injury, he’s been very important for his team and we have to applaud him for responding to the challenge. In Bamberg, he did everything: he scored, played defense, grabbed rebounds, helped out in creation, made blocks, stole a lot of balls. He stepped up and his own performance was accompanied by a very important away win for his team, which adds even more value and substance to his personal contribution."
"Taylor Rochestie. With his 16 points, 4 boards, 10 assists and 4 steals, he was the key for the win of Crvena Zvezda against the biggest surprise of the season, Zalgiris Kaunas. The Texan guard is the thermometer of the Serbian team, and he was key in his team's seven wins, leading Zvezda to within one victory of the playoffs positions."
"It is very difficult to pick just one name. Pierre Jackson of Maccabi stepped up big against Real Madrid. Malcolm Thomas and Alexey Shved of Khimki did really well in Bamberg. Taylor Rochestie and Dejan Davidovac led Crvena Zvezda to a big home win against Zalgiris and of course, Nick Calathes returned to Panathinaikos and played a really good game."
"With 28 points in the city known as Freak City, the leading scorer in the EuroLeague with 21.8 points per game once again proved his killer instinct, even in a tough environment such as Brose Arena in Bamberg. For Alexey Shved, it was the 11th game in which he scored at least 20 points this season in the EuroLeague. He also provided 6 assists as well as 3 boards against the German powerhouse."
"Marko Guduric of Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul. He stepped up when his team needed him most, posting season highs in points (18), rebounds (3), fouls drawn (5) and performance index rating (21). With Nikola Kalinic and James Nunnally sidelined for several weeks, Guduric will have the chance to get extended playing time and help Fenerbahce even more. He had a great start to 2018 and his role on the team will be very important until Kalinic and Nunnally return."
3. Which recent player signing by any EuroLeague team did you like best?
"Certainly Mindaugas Kuzminskas's transfer to AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan cannot go unnoticed. He's an excellent player and this was the loudest of all the moves that were made during the season. But I will say that I was pleased about Beno Udrih's return to Europe for Zalgiris Kaunas! On one hand because Zalgiris is having a wonderful season and it now added a quality player with a lot of experience and one more floor manager to their roster. On the other hand, a great player with a long and very successful career returns to Europe’s top league after 15 years!"
"Walter Tavares. Real Madrid's big man made his debut less than two months ago in the EuroLeague and he's one of the most determinant players in the league. His 220 centimeters, his long arms and his intensity make him able to dominate games on defense like few can. His 7 points, 6 rebounds and 1 block per game in 18 minutes are more than acceptable for a newcomer, but his weight and role in the game of Madrid cannot be measured only with numbers and stats."
"There are not a lot of new faces, but I have to say I like Dylan Ennis. I think he will do a good job in Zvezda. Also, Mindaugas Kuzminskas is an excellent addition for AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan. And of course, Beni Udrih will do very well in Zalgiris, in his return to the EuroLeague after almost 15 years away. Sarunas Jasikevicius was an elite point guard and I am sure he looked for an experienced player like him!"
"The signing of Slovenian guard Beno Udrih. At this stage of the season, the addition of the 35-year-old will come in very handy for this year’s surprise team, Zalgiris Kaunas. He can take the ball-handling pressure off Kevin Pangos and Vasilije Micic. Apart from giving these two some rest, the veteran will bring a lot of experience for head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius. Udrih spent 13 seasons in the NBA and three seasons in the EuroLeague."
"Mindaugas Kuzminskas of AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan. He has all it takes to become one of his new team's leader. His versatility, speed, ball-handling and impressive athleticism turn him into a natural-born mismatch. Coach Simone Pianigiani can use a tall lineup with Kuzminskas and Vladimir Micov on the perimeter or use his size at power forward with Andrew Goudelock and Dairis Bertans together on court. In other words, Kuzminskas is a very good player that makes Milan significantly better; a very, very good signing."