Well, the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season comes to an end. It has been over five months of action and fun in which we saw pleasant surprises, newcomers living up to the expectations, players reaching superstar status, a lot of competitiveness and of course, above all, great basketball. Round 29 determined which eight teams will keep fighting for EuroLeague glory - congratulations to Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz for making it again to the playoffs, its 11th appearance in 14 years. CSKA Moscow, Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul and Olympiacos Piraeus will have the home-court advantage in the playoffs, with the other spot yet to be determined. None of them knows its opponent just yet and that makes Round 30 very exciting.
As for the EuroLeague Fantasy Challenge, I had a good round but the fact that my seventh-best player this round, Toko Shengelia of Baskonia, was my team captain and that hurt me a little bit. Had I chosen Luka Doncic of Real Madrid, who was my vice-captain, I would have had 25 extra points. Still, I got 169.2 points, which is a respectable score, and went up a few spots to rank 147th overall with 4,781 points. Remember that the game is set to go on until the end of the Final Four, but the fight to win the ultimate prize, a trip to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four as our VIP guest, ends next week. So, I will try to finish the regular season with a bang, but before that, let me recommend a few players for Round 30. Hint: I will only use players from teams who play at home or are in the playoffs.
1. TIBOR PLEISS, VALENCIA BASKET -This is a special game for Valencia - its first home game against Maccabi since 2004. Bojan Dubljevic is injured, so Pleiss will see most of the playing time under the basket, where he is very, very effective.
2. FELIPE REYES, REAL MADRID - He may be the senior-most player in the competition, but is still is one of the best. He is in very good shape, too, averaging 15 points and a PIR of 18 in the last few games. And his team needs him in a very important game.
3. MIKE JAMES, PANATHINAIKOS SUPERFOODS ATHENS - The most athletic guard in the competition? It could be argued. Panathinaikos needs a win to keep its chances to finish fourth and this is where James steps up. He has averaged 14.3 points on 71.7% two-point shooting since he came back.
4. PATRICIO GARINO, BASKONIA VITORIA GASTEIZ - A very cheap option, for a change. Garino is worth just €430,000 but has had a double-digit PIR in each of Baskonia's last three games. He also had a PIR of 14 in the Spanish League, so the time seems to be right to buy him.
5. THOMAS HEURTEL, FC BARCELONA LASSA - It is Barcelona's last home game after a difficult season and the team is playing fantastic these days. Heurtel has a lot to do with it - in Round 29, he had a season-high PIR of 29 with 20 points and 9 assists!
On to Gancedato... Let's take a look at my team. I only want players who will fight for certain goals or play at home in Round 30. That means I am keeping Nick Calathes, Toko Shengelia, Luka Doncic and Alexey Shved. I am selling Dorell Wright and Sonny Weems for sure, and then I have to decide between Ante Tomic and Nando De Colo. It's a very tough call, don't you think? Tomic is at his best level this season, but De Colo is always a great fantasy player. Barcelona plays against Khimki Moscow Region, which will bring all of its available players, and CSKA hosts Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade, which has the Adriatic League playoffs in the back of its mind to try to get back to the EuroLeague next season, so if Zvezda saves players, maybe CSKA will, too. I know, I am trying to anticipate, but I am selling Nando De Colo - wow, I cannot believe that combination of words came from me, really.
I have to sign a small forward, but that is a difficult task, as I don't seem to like any of the players I see at the top of the list. I am very conditioned for the circumstances. If De Colo doesn’t play, then Cory Higgins would be a top choice... but what if CSKA sits Higgins? Or Will Clyburn? Or plays with a full lineup, trying to score 120 points against a distracted opponent to get the right rhythm before the playoffs? I don't know! Since he is playing well, I am going to sign Vladimir Micov of AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan. He is a reliable player who has averaged a PIR of 24.5 in the last couple of games. At the other forward, I am not playing games, so I am getting the most reliable player there is, Paulius Jankunas of Zalgiris Kaunas. Perfect for important games like this, always productive... a perfect player in my situation. Finally, I am getting Vassilis Spanoulis of Olympiacos because he is once again playing at his best level. Olympiacos plays at home and could use a win to get momentum. I can't believe this is the first time I have Spanoulis in my team this season. My mistake.
Anyway, Gancedato looks like this before Round 30:
Nick Calathes, Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens (PG) - Panathinaikos needs a win and Calathes has been unstoppable, getting double-doubles as if it was easy. And it is not easy. Big-time player.
Vassilis Spanoulis, Olympiacos Piraeus (SG) - What can I say about Billy that hasn't been said already? Spanoulis is reaching his best level as the season goes on. Warning to all other teams: be careful. He is back.
Vladimir Micov, AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan (SF) - Like I said, he is here by default. I love Micov, who by the way is a great interview, always, and I believe he will play well against Panathinaikos.
Toko Shengelia, Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz (PF) - Baskonia could finish sixth with a win, and at least has the seventh spot guaranteed if it beats Efes. Avoiding CSKA is a good goal to play for. Toko stays.
Ante Tomic, FC Barcelona Lassa (C) - He has arguably been the most unstoppable player in the league lately. Barcelona plays at home and will want to please its fans with a last win against a tough opponent.
Luka Doncic, Real Madrid (G) - I am making him team captain this week. Madrid fights for the ultimate goal - a win will give Los Blancos the home-court advantage. And Doncic loves challenges. Expect him to play well.
Paulius Jankunas, Zalgiris Kaunas (F) - It is very unlikely that Jankunas will get a PIR of 35 or more. But it is also very unlikely that he will finish the game with a PIR of 5 or less. Jankunas, a Zalgiris legend, is back.
Alexey Shved, Khimki Moscow Region (U)- I said it before and I will say it again. It is so much fun to watch Shved that I am not taking him out of my fantasy team. What a player! And with great Fantasy value, too.
BENCH: Vassilis Toliopoulos (Olympiacos), Egehan Arna and Melih Mahmutoglou (Fenerbahce), Jake Cohen (Maccabi).
By the way, Shved is coming to Barcelona this week and I hope to tell him that in person. Good luck to all the teams in the upper part of the standings, fighting for the big prize. Paulius Norkunas of Lithuania leads the overall standings but anything can happen. To everyone else, have a lot of fun in Round 30 and get ready for the playoffs!