Six teams with 6-2 records have staked a share of first place after eight rounds of the regular season. Here's a review of the key statistics in the competitive Turkish Airlines EuroLeague landscape.
There was no shortage of exciting matchups in Round 8, both on paper and in terms of history. With the Spanish derby, a 2016 Finals rematch, and a half-dozen games between teams on near-equal footing in the standings, the slate was loaded. Even so, one game stood out in a variety of ways as ALBA Berlin scored its second win of the season over Panathinaikos OPAP Athens in a double-overtime thriller at OAKA.
From a tracking perspective, this game had a lot going on. It featured 11 dunks – well ahead of the EuroLeague average of 6.2 per game. It included a 39-point performance from Ioannis Papapetrou over 48 minutes, 53 seconds, which was the fourth highest playing time total in EuroLeague history. It also saw ALBA play 32 possessions of zone defense – often in the form of a box-and-one to deny Nik Calathes the ball – after they had played zone for only one possession all season until then.
Over 50 minutes, ALBA Berlin created just 18 points out of the pick-and-roll, not far off its season average of 19.1 pick-and-roll points per game, which ranks as by far the lowest mark in modern history. In contrast, ALBA's forwards contributed 17 points posting up, which is among the highest single-game marks in recent years and more than double its season average. Ultimately, it was ALBA's ability to find unconventional ways to make things happen at both ends that helped secure the 105-106 road victory.
In that game, Ioannis Papapetrou scored 14 points on spot-up shots within Panathinaikos's half-court offense. Although it's among the most efficient of EuroLeague plays, producing 1.03 points per possession, spot-ups are scarce for many teams. Papapetrou's 14 points eclipsed the season average for two teams. Spot-up scoring is often based more on what kind of shots a team can create – or, in the case of Papapetrou, what a defense is conceding – than it does on any individual's shot-making.
The graph above includes every spot-up possession in the EuroLeague this season organized by the number of points scored and the quantity of possessions used for each player. Just six players have scored more than 36 points on spot-ups this season, which puts Papapetrou's outburst into even better perspective.
Among the league's top spot-up threats, Darrun Hilliard of CSKA Moscow has been the most prolific by a considerable margin, helping his team space the floor with his shooting accuracy. Anthony Randolph – who led the EuroLeague in spot-up scoring last season – is an outlier in the top group with his ability to play center, while Nando De Colo and Maodo Lo sit on the extreme of efficiency averaging more than 1.8 points per spot-up possession.
ALBA has been the EuroLeague's most efficient spot-up scoring team this season, averaging 1.30 points per possession. Khimki Moscow Region ranks second at 1.24 and FC Barcelona third at 1.17. The competition's top spot-up shooting teams often get things done by committee. For example, ALBA's top spot-up scorer has contributed only 23 points on the year, but the German team has seven players who have scored between 12 and 22 points in catch-and-shoot situations within the half-court offense.
James's Isolation Game
As much as it takes a communal effort for teams to score well using spot-ups, several teams still rely on one player to make things happen in isolation situations. That is a rarity at this point in EuroLeague history since one-on-one play is at an all-time low. Just 5.3% of all possessions this season have been isolations – down from 6% last season.
Several players have exceeded expectations in isolation situations so far, but one has been brutally effective. Mike James of CSKA Moscow has scored 1.33 points per one-on-one possession. That's an astronomical mark that's well above the league average for any play type, let alone the 0.84 league-wide average for isolations. A creative force in the EuroLeague, James finds himself surrounded by several of the league's most prolific floor-spacers, magnifying his ability to create separation with help-side defenders occupied elsewhere. Able to rise suddenly for jump shots or hesitate and explode to the rim, James is a novelty at this point in EuroLeague history with his ability to play this way. Alexey Shved it the only other player using more than 3 isolation possessions per game this year.
Looking Ahead to Round 9
There's a six-way tie for first place, and two of those teams will face off against one another this week when Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv travels to take on AX Armani Exchange Milan at the Mediolanum Forum. Currently ranked as the most efficient offensive and defensive team in the EuroLeague, Maccabi has a golden opportunity to ride its current momentum to a valuable road win over a quality opponent. Interestingly, Milan ranks sixth in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but has matched Maccabi's offensive output nearly identically in home games, which should make for an interesting matchup.