After winning its first Turkish Airlines EuroLeague championship one year ago, Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul took the competition by storm this season. Intent on defending the title despite a handful of roster changes, head coach Zeljko Obradovic's charges have been significantly better than last season's championship squad in most measurable quantities.
Fenerbahce's 21-9 regular season mark and second-place finish were three wins better and three spots higher than last season. The current squad also set a club record for average performance index rating (95.3) and outdid the championship side in scoring (81.5 ppg.), shooting accuracy (42.2% 3FG, 53.9 %, 79.5%), offensive rebounds (9.7 orpg.) and assists (19.4 apg.). While Fenerbahce was better on offense, it sacrificed little on defense to lead the league in points allowed (76.1 ppg.).
Although the additions over the summer included 2017 All-EuroLeague selections Nicolo Melli and Brad Wanamaker, promising scorer Marko Guduric and veterans Jason Thompson and Sinan Guler, a season-opening loss at 7DAYS EuroCup champion Unicaja Malaga could have been cause for worry in some places. However, Fenerbahce stayed the course and scored at least 80 points in six of its next seven games, culminating with a memorable 93-95 overtime win at CSKA Moscow.
After reaching the midway point in the regular season with a 9-6 record, Fenerbahce went on a tear and recorded winning streaks of five, four and three games in its 12-3 second half. Along the way, many players had opportunities to shine. Jan Vesely set a career high in scoring with a 31-point effort early in the season and was MVP in Round 22. Wanamaker claimed back-to-back MVP honors in Rounds 19 and 20. And no player in EuroLeague history made as many three-pointers as James Nunnally (46) at a rate of 55% or higher.
The playoffs would present a new challenge in the form of red-hot KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz, but the Fenerbahce attack was in prime form, averaging 89.3 points per game and win the series 3-1. Kostas Sloukas posted a double-double in the opener and Wanamaker poured in 19 points in Game 2. After losing Game 3 in Vitoria, which ended the club's 11-game winning streak in the playoffs, Melli and Guduric shined in Game 4 to wrap up the series.
Fenerbahce arrives in Belgrade with reasons for optimism; the champs have experience, talent and depth, plus the winningest coach in European basketball history. On top of that, between Obradovic, Guduric and Vesely – the latter of whom helped Partizan reach the 2010 Final Four and married a girl from Belgrade – Fenerbahce should enjoy support from the locals in the stands. Could that be the perfect mix needed to defend the EuroLeague title? We will know soon.