Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul brings back 11 players from a team that reached its fifth straight Final Four last season – the third-longest such streak in Turkish Airlines EuroLeague history. Despite adding few new names, however, Fenerbahce made as big a splash as any team this summer. That's because former EuroLeague MVP Nando De Colo has taken his exquisite talents to Fenerbahce, as have last season's most spectacular newcomer, power forward Derrick Williams, and experienced point guard Leo Westermann. Fenerbahce also brought home backup big man Berkay Candan and promoted teenage swingman Ekrem Sancakli. Head coach Zeljko Obradovic can call on all the experience, continuity, depth and talent that a coach could want as he tries to lead Fenerbahce to the first EuroLeague title of a new decade.
In De Colo, Kostas Sloukas and Ali Muhammed – owners of six EuroLeague titles – Fenerbahce boasts perhaps the EuroLeague's most experienced backcourt. Even better, their skills complement each other well. All-around scorer De Colo also knows when and how to pass; Sloukas is a perfectly balanced threat to assist or score; and Muhammed can change games with his microwave shooting. With the savvy floor general Westermann and team captain Melih Mahmatoglu to provide defense and shooting, there is nothing this backcourt lacks. At small forward, Nikola Kalinic and Luigi Datome are equally at home on the perimeter or in the post. Kalinic is more of a lock-down defender and driving force, while Datome's all-around scoring is distinguished by a mid-range game that few players can match. And don't forget teenage rising star Tarik Biberovic, a swing forward who played in both games at the last Final Four.
To say that the frontcourt starts, but does not end, with last season's EuroLeague MVP, center Jan Vesely, tells you how deep Fenerbahce goes. Vesely is a born competitor and a constant threat to do something special at either end of the court. But this season, Fenerbahce's opponents will have to pick their poison between him and Williams, who guarantees Fenerbahce even more athleticism around the basket. Williams decided several games in his first EuroLeague season with his unique skillset and big-play attitude. More size and experience at center comes from sturdy Joffrey Lauvergne, who's absence due to injury late last season diminished Fenerbahce's title chances, and from Ahmet Duverioglu, an instant-offense option who starts most games for Obradovic. Fenerbahce will also start the season, at least, with experienced center Vladimir Stimac helping until others are at full strength. Candan, a steady contributor on his previous teams, stands to back up Williams, and budding forward Egehan Arna is also available, but Obradovic will mix his lineups with Datome and especially Kalinic bringing more speed to the power forward spot.
PLAYER TO WATCH
The problem for opponents is that Fenerbahce has too many players to watch, but one they should be most wary of is Williams. While De Colo will certainly have the ball and be dangerous with it, Williams showed last season that he can strike out of nowhere. Despite being new to the league and coming off the bench, he led FC Bayern Munich in scoring, rebounding and blocks and performance index rating. Fans will remember his incendiary dunks and blocks more than his solid shooting percentages and the fact that few power forwards made more three-pointers than Williams. His combination of strength to attack the rim, speed to run the floor, and shooting skill to stretch defenses make Williams nearly impossible to contain. That he does it all without needing to dominate the ball makes him the perfect choice in this category. Opponents had better keep their eye on him at all times – or deal with the consequences.
A team that already knocks at the door of a title each season adding two of the EuroLeague's top performers, De Colo and Williams, has raised the stakes throughout the competition. When Lauvergne was healthy last season, Fenerbahce reached the playoffs sooner than any team in competition history, and now the French center will have Westermann, his friend and countryman, to pair up with. In addition to all the experience in the backcourt and talent across the board, there is Coach Obradovic, whose mastery of the game and the vocation of coaching needs no elaboration. This team has all the makings of a title contender, even in the context of so many other EuroLeague teams getting deeper and more talented in the off-season. And that fact, in the hands of Obradovic, is enough to put Fenerbahce among the pre-season favorites to lift the EuroLeague trophy in eight months.