Coach Simone Pianigiani has seriously strengthened the AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan backcourt with a trio of exciting additions, including the dynamic figure of Mike James, who averaged 16.2 points per game for Panathinaikos last season. He is joined by another player who enjoyed great success elsewhere in last season’s competition, Nemanja Nedovic . The Serbian playmaker even outshone James, averaging 16.8 points for Unicaja Malaga in the 2017-18 campaign, second best in the entire Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. The third backcourt addition is Amadeo Della Valle, who is stepping up for his first season in European basketball’s elite competition after greatly impressing in the 7DAYS EuroCup with Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia. Another new recruit from the Italian league is experienced forward Christian Burns, who spent last season playing with Cantu and is also preparing to make his EuroLeague debut. The roster is completed by a second signing from Unicaja, experienced forward Jeff Brooks.
Excitement and entertainment – and a flurry of points – are guaranteed from the Milan backcourt this season, with new signings James and Nedovic forming a potentially devastating combination with their ability to score from all over the floor. James has averaged 12.1 points per game during his four EuroLeague seasons, and his explosive highlight reel dunks are sure to get the Milan fans on their feet, while Nedovic is coming off the best season of his career and is capable of creating shots from nothing. Fellow newcomer Della Valle is just as much fun to watch. He averaged 17.5 points per game in last season’s EuroCup and his game management will make him a crowd favorite. The returning trio of Dairis Bertans, Curtis Jerrells and Vladimir Micov add plenty of long-range firepower and veteran know-how, and a calm head and reliable pair of hands comes in the form of veteran playmaker Andrea Cinciarini. All told, Milan possesses more than enough firepower to cause serious problems for any defense over the coming months, and the challenge for Pianigiani will be to fit all his pieces together to ensure consistency.
A major reason for optimism among fans is the retention of prized big man duo Arturas Gudaitis and Kaleb Tarczewski. Both excelled during their first season at the club in 2017-18, and keeping the tough and athletic pairing together for the new campaign is fantastic news. Both in their mid-twenties, Gudaitis (10.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last season) and Tarczewski (6.7 points, 5.7 rebounds) could just keep on getting better, and could easily prove to be among the very best big-men tandems in the competition. Pianigiani can also call upon the versatile skills of experienced Mindaugas Kuzminskas. Brooks will provide solid rebounding and endless supplies of energy, while fellow new signing Burns averaged 14.2 points and 10 rebounds per game in the Italian League with Cantu last season. Further depth comes from youngster Simone Fontecchio, who will be hoping to make an impact after a solid season on loan at Cremona.
PLAYER TO WATCH:
Over the last four years there have been few sights in European basketball more thrilling than Mike James accelerating past a helpless defense and taking off from near the free-throw line to explode a ferocious dunk. As such, fans in Milan have plenty to look forward to with the arrival of the all-action guard in the fashion capital. James offers far more than just eye-catching slams, though. He performed at a consistently high level during his spells with Baskonia and Panathinaikos, averaging double figures in points every season. His role at Panathinaikos was chiefly as a scorer while Nick Calathes took care of playmaking duties, and it will be fascinating to witness how coach Pianigiani intends to use James in tandem with Nedovic. James enters the new season on a streak of seven straight games with double-figure scoring, averaging 18.6 points in the process. If he can start life in Milan in a similar vein, the Italian team will be a force to be feared.
With James and Nedovic in the backcourt, Gudaitis and Tarczewski in the paint, and a deep roster offering plenty of EuroLeague experience, the prospects for Milan are looking good. At the very least, the Italian team should possess what it takes to challenge for a playoffs spot – and playing four of the first six games at home could help establish some early momentum. Throughout last season coach Pianigiani regularly emphasized that his team was in a building process and already looking ahead to the next campaign. That time has now arrived, and the retention of last season's core players provides a solid base for the new ones to work from. If everyone can quickly find their individual role within the collective framework, this team has a huge amount of potential. And considering the players signed in the summer, they will definitely be a lot of fun to watch.