Real Madrid has continued to meet its own lofty standards over the past decade by always challenging for the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague trophy and lifting it for the ninth time in 2015 - its first continental crown in 20 years. The goal remains the same, as Madrid will try to take every trophy available this season. Sergio Llull's severe knee injury will hurt the team early in the season, but Madrid has made sure it brought in the right players to remain fully competitive. Playmaker Facu Campazzo returns after a successful two-year loan in Murcia, and Madrid added experienced swingman Fabien Causeur, up-and-coming forward Santiago Yusta and center Ognjen Kuzmic. All of its main players are back, including teen sensation Luka Doncic, who will have to step up in Llull's absence. At age 18, Doncic is among the best players in the competition and his potential does not seem to have any limits.
Madrid will obviously miss Llull for his leadership, athleticism and impossible clutch shot-making ability. Madrid, however, will be very well covered at the point guard position. Doncic is a physical playmaker with outstanding basketball IQ, great determination and stunning court vision. Expect him to play a leading role, which is very impressive at his young age. Campazzo will be his backup; the pass-first playmaker is never afraid to take important shots. He also offers strong on-the-ball defense and is always looking for the steal. Both Doncic and Campazzo play with a lot of heart and are on-court leaders. Madrid has many options at the wings. Jaycee Carroll, one of the best pure shooters in competition history, will keep coming off the bench to provide instant offense. Rudy Fernandez will do a little bit of everything to make Madrid better - defense, three-pointers, driving layups and much more. Causeur is also a good slasher who can pull the trigger from downtown and offers energy and intensity. Jeffery Taylor and Jonas Maciulis will split minutes at small forward; both are good three-point shooters, Maciulis is more experienced and Taylor more athletic. Yusta and Dino Radoncic are set to fight for playing time and must be ready if Coach Pablo Laso needs them.
A year playing together will make Madrid's frontline even stronger. Anthony Randolph is a natural-born mismatch, a big man able who can handle the ball like a guard and shoot like a small forward. Randolph also has great timing for blocks and put-back slams, making him the complete package. Gustavo Ayon is his perfect complement, a very good low post player with great hands, who works really fast around the basket. On defense, Ayon is a steals specialist, too. Kuzmic will give Madrid a size advantage in the paint, and he knows how to use his body to be effective at both ends. Felipe Reyes is set to reclaim his crown as the competition's all-time leading rebounder. He will keep crashing the boards and adding new weapons on offense; he has extended his shooting range beyond the three-point line in recent years. Trey Thompkins returns as stretch power forward who can open the floor with his shots from downtown and also provide valuable help under the boards.
PLAYER TO WATCH
All eyes will be on Doncic and everyone in Madrid is fully aware of that. Last season's EuroLeague Rising Star will see more playing time without Llull, and Doncic is ready for the challenge. Over the years, he has become a very physical point guard. Doncic also rebounds really well at both ends, but it is his ability to penetrate and his amazing basketball IQ that make him special. Doncic can pull the trigger from beyond the arc, even off the dribble, will always look for the open man if double teamed and is also a sticky defender who can fire up the crowd with the occasional block. Looking back in history, it is hard to think of any European player who was so mature, developed and able to make the difference at his age the way Doncic has. Expect EuroLeague fans - especially in Madrid - to witness something special as Doncic prepares to take over and lead one of the best teams on the continent.
Again, Madrid is always built to compete for titles and no season is an exception. Madrid made it to the Final Four last season after a one-year absence and chose to keep its core of players to have another go. Coach Laso and seven players were already there when Madrid won it all in 2015. With such a steady environment, new players should not find much of a problem to adjust to the team. Madrid finished first at the end of the regular season last year and should challenge to once again have home-court advantage in the playoffs. Of course, as every year with Coach Laso, the team is built not only to win, but to play attractive, fun-to-watch basketball. Expect all its home games to be basketball celebrations, as Madrid tries to become the first team to win 10 EuroLeague titles.