Welcome back 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 Joe Arlauckas, former EuroLeague champ and current game announcer and podcast host; Juan Antonio Casanova, the former long-time EuroLeague writer for La Vanguardia in Spain; Djordje Matic of Serbian newspaper Novosti; Alex Madrid of Eurohoops Spain; and Frank Lawlor, Editorial Director of Euroleague Basketball. Check out their opinions on three key questions after Round 4 of the regular season.
1. Which team needs to win most in Round 5?
I think the obvious answer here is Khimki; they have had such a rough ride early on with losses to Olympiacos and Fenerbahce and then two heartbreaking one-point losses. Khimki plays Herbalife Gran Canaria at home and another loss here can destroy an already delicate situation.
Juan Antonio Casanova
KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz. They lost their last three games, the last one against an – in theory – inferior opponent in Bayern. There's still plenty of time for everything, but the team has to react fast because its current 1-3 record does not match the quality of that roster, and Baskonia has been in the playoffs the last three seasons. The problem is even bigger because of the expectations they put into this season with the fact that the Final Four will be in Vitoria-Gasteiz next May.
Baskonia and Khimki, both of them. The Basque team is a clear contender for the Final Four and, after starting the season with a win in Kaunas, hasn’t been able to prove it. I find its record surprising considering the team's good performances in the Spanish League. On the other hand, Khimki needs to get off the bottom of the standings. They have lost the last two games on the last possession but, in the end, both count as defeats.
When you look at the standings, you can't not notice that Khimki and Buducnost both need a win. Nobody expected that Khimki could start 0-4. They have a good coach and a good team. And nobody expected that Buducnost would compete for the Final Four after such a long absence from the EuroLeague, but nobody expected it to be 0-4 against teams that are not main candidates for the trophy.
There are a few candidates, but I'll choose Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv. This team wants to turn the corner from staying in close games to winning them, and waiting beyond Round 5 in Barcelona might mean starting the season 1-5, since Real Madrid visits Tel Aviv next. With six of its first eight games away, Maccabi has excuses for being 1-3 now, but what it needs most is another win, and soon, to prevent a drop in confidence. A statement win on the road against another team seeking its way back to prominence, Barcelona, would be just what the doctor ordered.
2. Who is the best "under-the-radar" player you've seen?
Back to Khimki again here. Jordan Mickey had a big day in Milan last week and looks to be gaining the confidence of his teammates there. If he continues that type of efficiency (12 of 15 from the floor), the combination of him and Alexey Shved can turn this team into the Baskonia story of last season.
Juan Antonio Casanova
Adrien Moerman. I have searched for players who do not have the spotlights on them just because they are superstars, but who are main contributors on teams with winning records. And I choose the French big man from Anadolu Efes (3-1 after upsetting Fenerbahce in the Istanbul derby). Moerman is averaging 13 points (with a 58% in two-point shots and a 42% in threes) and 6.8 boards (19 of them in the last two games). He was a great signing for a team that is looking at the playoffs right now.
Probably Sasha Vezenkov. I had high expectations for the Bulgarian forward when he arrived in Barcelona and, after two disappointing seasons, he seems to have regained his confidence thanks to David Blatt. Vezenkov has played three good games in the EuroLeague already and is averaging 9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in just over 17 minutes on the court. Also, he ranks 11th in PIR per minute, above players like Toko Shengelia and Alexey Shved. We should keep him under the radar.
Rodrigue Beaubois has been the main protagonist in every Anadolu Efes win so far.
I'm going with center Micheal Eric of Darussafaka. I love rebounders and he's at 8 per game and climbing. Plus he is averaging 12.5 points and has a handful of blocks, too. He's doing all that in less than 20 minutes, which is why he's ranked fourth in the league in per-minute PIR. This is considerably more than he showed last season despite winning the 7DAYS EuroCup trophy, so kudos to Eric for stepping it up against elite competition.
3. What single statistic, either team or player, has impressed you most?
Well I am going with the obvious here and the scoring has gone up huge this season, but looking at Real Madrid scoring at a pace of 96 points per game is pretty impressive. It is not just the scoring, but it's the way they make it seem so effortless at times. That's what makes them the obvious favorite to repeat as champion.
Juan Antonio Casanova
I am impressed by CSKA Moscow's consistent output on offense in the fourth round: 26 points in the first quarter, 26 in the second, 28 in the third and 26 in the fourth, despite having only eight players who scored in the game. They also featured 67% accuracy on twos and a 48% on threes to win in Gran Canaria, a tough court where Barcelona lost. It's no surprise that the opponent could not keep up; they went from 29 points in the first quarter to 14 in the last.
When he made just 1 of 10 from downtown last week, Alexey Shved's magnificent three-point shooting percentage was ruined. Still, I have to admit that I was impressed when, for example, the guard had more triples scored than five EuroLeague teams after the second round. He has made 22 so far, with a success rate of 40%. Everything shows that he will easily beat the record of three-pointers scored in a year (107). A record that he established last season.
I am no stats lover. I never was. But if I need to choose, I will say Jan Vesely. Who saw him, before the start of the season, at the top of the PIR rankings after 4 rounds? He is a great rebounder, great under the rim, but Fenerbahce is THE team...
It kind of went unnoticed, but in scoring 102 points in Round 3 against Gran Canaria, Panathinaikos made a club-record 37 two-point shots . In the last 17-plus years since the EuroLeague's inaugural 2000-01 season, no team has topped that figure and only one – Nizhny Novgorod in 2014-15 – has matched it. Keith Langford made 8 of 11 twos that night to lead the Greens.