With five games in the books, the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague's team offensive and defensive efficiency leaderboards are beginning to take shape.
The 2017-18 EuroLeague season was the most-efficient offensive campaign in modern league history as well as the most efficient season among major professional basketball competitions worldwide according to Synergy Sports Technology. CSKA Moscow paced the competition wire-to-wire as it advanced to the Final Four and finished the season averaging 1.07 points per possession, just off its 1.09 points-per-possession pace from the 2015-16 season—the modern EuroLeague record.
The 2018-19 season is on pace to break last season's league-wide offensive efficiency record and several teams are on pace to break the record for team scoring efficiency as well. Fenerbahce Istanbul is off to an especially strong start, thanks in large part to its remarkably high-level shooting early on. Though the leaderboard for effective field goal percentage, which adjusts for the fact that a three-point field goal is worth more than a two-point field goal, is often dominated by elite three-point shooting teams, Fenerbahce has been far away the top shot-making team by virtue of its success inside. The average EuroLeague team is shooting 62% finishing around the rim in the half court and 44% in post-up situations while Fenerbahce is converting such attempts at 73% and 64% rates, respectively. Its dominance in the paint has propelled its offense—which currently ranks as the league's slowest in terms of pace—to unprecedented heights.
Reigning EuroLeague champion Real Madrid and Anadolu Efes Istanbul are the other two teams currently in position to break the EuroLeague scoring efficiency record and both have a well-established calling-card strategically. Real Madrid's ability to generate high-percentage shots with off-ball action has differentiated it, while Anadolu Efes features the competition's most productive and efficient pick-and-roll attack. In a league operating at the level the EuroLeague has been, it is interesting that its top three teams have achieved a unique level of success by three drastically different means.
Zalgiris Kaunas sits fourth in overall offensive efficiency through Round 5, thanks in large part to the 1.32 points per attempt it has scored on jump shots within its half-court offense. Through five rounds, no team has shot the ball in its sets as well as Zalgiris with Anadolu Efes ranking second by scoring 1.26 points per jumper. To put that early success in perspective, Zalgiris also led the EuroLeague by scoring 1.15 points per jump shot last season and only a dozen teams in recent seasons have finished a year averaging even 1.1 points per attempt.
The final two teams on the current leaderboard, Khimki Moscow Region and AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan, share one key similarity; they are both led by one particularly prolific offensive player. Alexey Shved and Mike James lead the EuroLeague in possessions used per game by a huge margin averaging 26.4 and 21 per game respectively. No other player this season is using over 17 possessions per game. Both teams lean heavily on their dynamic scoring guards, but also have plenty of complementary players who have performed well playing off of them to achieve what they have to this juncture.
As the EuroLeague is in the middle of an offensive renaissance, defensive play has taken a bit of a backseat. Despite that, several teams are on pace to distance themselves from the rest of the pack with their ability to get stops, something that was not really the case last season. A year ago, there were many teams in position to claim the title of the EuroLeague's most efficient defense with Olympiacos Piraeus eventually earning the distinction by allowing 0.96 points per possession.
The landscape atop this year's leaderboard is quite different with two teams separating themselves from the pack. Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow have similarly impressive resumes overall, and digging deeper, also share a few tactical similarities. Both teams struggle to defend in transition relative to the EuroLeague average, but have been sensational guarding in the half court. Their success there has been built on perimeter defense as both teams rank just below average in terms of defending shots around the rim, but excel at contesting jumpers. CSKA leads the EuroLeague allowing only 0.91 points per jump shot in the half court with Madrid just behind allowing 0.92 points per attempt. The opposite is true with regards to fouling where Madrid's low rate is what gives it a margin in overall efficiency.
In contrast, Darussafaka Tekfen Instabul and AX Milan have been slightly less efficient defending overall, but possess far more balanced profiles ranking above average defending all nature of shots. The key characteristic holding them back from joining CSKA and Madrid; Darussafaka and Milan rank 16th and 14th in defensive turnover percentage respectively. As well as they contest shots, they are not as disruptive as their peers on this list.
The same is not true for Panathinaikos OPAP Athens, which has forced turnovers at a very strong 18.4% rate early on. For reference, CSKA led the EuroLeague forcing turnovers on 15.8% of the possessions they faced last season, and only 12 teams in the last decade have posted a turnover percentage over 18% for a full season.
FC Barcelona Lassa rounds out the top six teams in defensive efficiency and currently sits third in turnover rate. However, it has been rim protection that has driven its success. Barcelona is allowing just 48% shooting in finishing situations in the half court and is currently the only team allowing below 53%.