Almost everything is new for this team. To begin with, Zenit is set to make its Turkish Airlines EuroLeague debut and it strengthened its roster at every position. It brought in four new point guards - Andrew Albicy, Alex Renfroe, Anton Ponkrashov and Dmitry Khvostov; a sharpshooters in Austin Hollins; reliable and experienced forwards - Will Thomas, Mateusz Ponitka, Andrey Zubkov, Tim Abromaitis; and a pair of rock-solid centers with great size and know-how, Gustavo Ayon and Colton Iverson. That's 11 newcomers, more than any other team in the competition, so an adjustment period will be needed to see this team meet its full potential. It kept the same coach, however, two-time EuroCup winner Joan Plaza, so strong defense and good ball movent is guaranteed. Zenit will not be your average EuroLeague newcomer.
Coach Plaza has many options at guard. Dmitry Khvostov, a creative, experienced playmaker, will miss the start of the season due to injury. Even so, Zenit can use twin point guard lineups often. Alex Renfroe is a good passer and ballhandler, and a surprising rebounder for a player his size. He brings out his best basketball playing in transition, just as does All-EuroCup playmaker Andrew Albicy, who took a step forward in his career last season. Albicy was always a good ball distributor with strong penetration skills, but by improving his shooting range - 43.1% from downtown with MoraBanc Andorra in the 7DAYS EuroCup last season - Albicy is now an all-around threat on offense. Anton Ponkrashov is a tall combo guard who can be productive in the low post and from the three-point line. Mateusz Ponitka is expected to play a critical role at small forward, making the most of his aggressiveness, athleticism and determination. Austin Hollins is an intriguing signing, a catch-and-shoot scorer who is a perfect fit for this team. Evgeny Voronov and Vladislav Trushkin will provide intensity and deep shooting range off the bench.
Will Thomas, the 2019 EuroCup Finals MVP, will see most of the minutes at power forward. A great low post player, Thomas is also accurate on his jumpers and is a terrific defensive player, who reads pick-and-roll situations like few others. He is set to play a leading role. Tim Abromaitis is a versatile forward who plays hard on defense and a reliable shooter who thinks team first. Andrey Zubkov is a very talented forward with good post skills and long shooting range, who will need to play with a lot of intensity to earn playing time. Zenit is quite strong at center, with very experienced players, starting with Gustavo Ayon, a two-time EuroLeague champion with Real Madrid. Ayon is a great rebounder, deadly in the low post due to his timing and back-to-the-basket skills. Colton Iverson is a hard-nosed, blue-collar big man always ready to play physical in the paint and try to outpower his opponent. Anton Pushkov offers more size and intensity off the bench and has enough experience to step up if Ayon and Iverson get into foul trouble.
PLAYER TO WATCH
At age 26, Mateusz Ponitka is set to enter the prime of his career in St Petersburg and returns to the EuroLeague for the first time since 2016. He is a left-handed, aggressive swingman with outstanding driving skills, highlighted by a very powerful Eurostep move. Defensively, he uses his high basketball IQ to collect steals and has a sixth sense for long rebounds. Shooting range has always been his only issue, but Ponitka already hit 82.7% of his free throws last season and is determined to add the three-point shot to his very wide offensive game. Experienced, determined and a natural winner, Ponitka is the perfect fit for an ambitious team like Zenit; he has a lot to prove in the EuroLeague and wants to do it this very season. Expect him to take a step forward and become one of the very best forwards in Europe.
Zenit is fully aware of what a great opportunity the club has this season and did not hesitate to sign experienced, talented players to be as competitive as possible. Coach Plaza's teams are well-known for their defense and aggressiveness and that will be the first big challenge for him: turning a collection of great newcomers into a solid team. Most of its players have been EuroCup superstars - Ayon is the only Zenit player to reach the All-EuroLeague team - and are hungry enough to prove their value in the biggest league on the continent. Adjusting to a new playing rhythm and two-game weeks will also determine how good Zenit is this season. If everything clicks, this team has enough talent and experience to beat anyone, anywhere.