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 Euroleague Basketball Legend Ramunas Siskauskas; Vladimir Stankovic, veteran journalist and longtime EuroLeague.net collaborator; Roman Skvortsov, EuroLeague game commentator on Match TV in Russia; Antonis Stroggylakis, editor of Eurohoops global edition; and Frankie Sachs, Editor at Euroleague.net. Check out their opinions on three key questions before Round 11 of the regular season!
1. What first-time EuroLeague player has impressed you the most this season?
I am choosing Kyle Kuric. He may be in the Euroleague for the first time, but it looks like he has been playing there for a long time. He is one of the team leaders already – and not in a small club, but Barcelona! He is a very good shooter; he can drive. I don't know if anybody was expecting from him such a big role this season, but he is playing very usefully so far.
It's not easy to choose, but after his 42 PIR against Buducnost, I lean toward Zach LeDay of Olympiacos. He's still a young player, just 24 years old, without much experience in European basketball. His solid numbers at university in South Florida and Virginia Tech were even better in his first pro season with Hapoel Galil Gilboa of Israel, where he averaged 19.5 points. Now, his 10.4 points and 4.6 rebounds, plus good shooting percentages, in a strong competition like the EuroLeague, confirm his talent. If someone achieves a 42 performance index rating, it's a clear sign that they have huge potential.
It is definitely Jordan Mickey from Khimki – the man who scored points with his head against Buducnost! On a serious note, Mickey has some reasons (moving overseas, new to European basketball) not to be consistent yet. But game by game, he is becoming more natural with his fit on the team. He gives Khimki energy on the offensive glass, and in recent games, quite a few rebounds. Besides all of that, he already has some chemistry with Alexey Shved, who's injury is bad for Khimki and, especially, for Mickey. However, this is a good chance for Mickey to show the world more of his basketball talent.
Zach LeDay, the most recent MVP of the Round, gets my vote. While his historic performance in Olympiacos's win over Buducnost deservedly got the spotlight attention, let's not disregard the game-winning impact he had in two key and tricky matches for the Reds (vs. Bayern Munich and vs. Real Madrid). But what we should truly take into consideration in LeDay's case is the fact this is just his second professional season and his first playing ball at this elite level. And so far he looks unfazed by that.
It's one thing to join a newly assembled team and – even as a rookie – stand out with impressive numbers. It's another, much tougher thing to step into a well-oiled and winning machine and find a way to make it even better. Alec Peters has done the latter for CSKA Moscow. As a stretch-four, Peters is putting up video game-like numbers in three-point shooting (21 of 33, 63.6%) and opening the floor for CSKA's star guards to penetrate. He has started the team's last five games, during which he has averaged 9.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and a performance index rating of 10.8 in roughly 20 minutes per game. And this might just be the start for the 23-year-old.
2. Which team's position in the standings surprises you most?
The team that has impressed me most positively so far this year is Anadolu Efes. Although they have good players, Efes has made a really big step compared with last season! They are playing good basketball and they are one of the top teams in the standings.
Anadolu Efes, without a doubt. What a turnaround from last season to this! Credit to Coach Ataman, but also to the management that made such good signings. Point guard Vasilije Micic isn't the best passer in the EuroLeague, but he is one of the best players on his team. The numbers tell why this MVP of November is having such a good season: 11.0 points, 5.2 assists, 2.8 rebounds and a 13.7 PIR. Together with Rodrigue Beaubois (13.5 points, 3.6 assists), he is the engine of the new Efes.
I am surprised by Efes (8-2) and Milan (6-4) in a good way. Ergin Ataman, in my opinion, is not the most progressive coach on the continent. Nevertheless, he keeps the situation under control and is going through the regular season with confidence. The decisive moment for Efes comes in the next games, four of which will be against CSKA, Real Madrid, Olympiakos and Barcelona. Speaking about Milan, last season the Italian team got its sixth victory in Round 19, by which time almost every chance to get into playoffs had been lost. This season, Mike James, who finally got to a team where he is the main star, is on fire, and he is responsible for their results. Besides that, I have been a big fan of Simone Pianigiani's coaching talent since he was in Siena. I believe that this team, under his control, has all the chances to fight for a playoff spot.
All the pieces were set for Baskonia to begin the season on a high note and potentially make an early case for being a true Final Four contender: strong chemistry, since they kept most key players from the previous campaign; an All-EuroLeague First Team selection (Tornike Shengelia) as leader; plus burning ambition as extra motivation, since the 2019 Final Four takes place in Vitoria. However, after a statement win in Kaunas over Zalgiris, Baskonia collapsed with two sets of three straight losses that have dropped its record to 3-7. Not what I've expected from them.
It would have been hard for me to envision that through 10 games this season Anadolu Efes Istanbul would be one win outside of first place. Efes came into the season without having made any "sexy" signings and has had a history of underachieving in recent years, even when it had big names both on the bench and the floor. This season there is something different about the team, which is playing harmonious basketball with great depth and scoring at an efficiency we are used to seeing only from juggernauts CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid. As long as this Efes squad remains healthy, there is little going forward that can surprise us now.
3. Who is your favorite passer in the EuroLeague right now?
My favorite passer is Nick Calathes. And this is not because he is a leader in assists in the EuroLeague right now. Maybe he doesn't score so many points, but he tries to find and make situations work for his teammates. He plays for the team!
Tough competition. The statistics coincide with my number one choice: Nick Calathes. He brings together all the characteristics of a great point guard: game direction, assists, leadership, character. I'm happy, too, about the progress of Nate Wolters, who I saw a lot when he played with Crvena Zvezda. Now, with a great former point guard as his coach, Sarunas Jasikevicius, Wolters can become even better.
I might surprise someone, but I choose Nando de Colo. A player whose first option is attacking the basket has, over the last few years, improved his basketball knowledge to a maximum level and can now create magic whenever he wants to. Saying goodbye to Milos Teodosic, we in Moscow missed his genius passes, but not for long. The assists of Nando are on the same level.
No player is more fun-to-watch and at the same time substantial in his actions while sending passes to his teammates than Real Madrid guard Facu Campazzo. He's a joy to behold when he distributes the ball, finds the open man with accurate timing and surgical precision – even when a sea of bodies surround him – and dishes out assists with rapid speed to catch the opposing defense off-guard. And hey, it's no coincidence that he's the top passer (5.1 assists per game) of the second-best offense (90.2 ppg.) in the EuroLeague.
I am a sucker for mercurial playmakers who will take risks that sometimes result in amazing assists and at other times cost ugly turnovers. For me, they bring an excitement to the game that is hard to match. The player who does it more than the rest is Thomas Heurtel of FC Barcelona Lassa. The EuroLeague's all-time leader in assists per game (5.7 apg.), Heurtel has seen his assists drop this season when he shares court time with Kevin Pangos. Nevertheless, when he has the ball in transition with players in motion all over the floor, the feeling that something magical might happen is for me among the most exciting moments in any basketball game.