The action keeps on coming with the first two-round week of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season, giving some fast starters the chance to maintain momentum while early strugglers will look to jump-start their seasons. Here are the biggest stories to look out for.
Is Milan's renaissance for real?
The last few years have been tough for AX Armani Exchange Milan, with the men from the Italian fashion capital failing to reach the playoffs since 2014. But a summer signing spree has prompted fresh optimism and proven performers such as Kyle Hines, Luigi Datome, Malcolm Delaney and Shavon Shields have already shown they are great acquisitions by leading their team to a 2-0 start.
Perhaps the most encouraging statistic to arise from Milan’s opening two games was the fact that last week’s victory over LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne saw the team win all quarters for the first time in the EuroLeague in… four years! That suggests that Coach Ettore Messina’s men are quickly developing the consistency which will be required to maintain a place in the playoffs positions this season.
The next step in Milan’s quest towards excellence comes with Wednesday’s road game against an Olympiacos Piraeus (1-1) team which also has high spirits after a strong derby win over Panathinaikos OPAP Athens last week. Either Olympiacos or Milan will have their spirits further lifted by the end of Wednesday’s game and we should get ready for an intense encounter in Piraeus.
Fenerbahce and CSKA set for showdown
Five teams are heading into the first two-round week of the season with perfect 2-0 records: Zalgiris Kaunas, Zenit St Petersburg, Valencia Basket, Milan and, last but by no means least, Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul. New Fener coach Igor Kokoskov has enjoyed a strong start to his life in European club basketball, with his team overcoming Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade in the season opener before claiming a morale-boosting derby victory at Anadolu Efes Istanbul in Round 2. Now, though, comes another major challenge with a visit from the current champion, CSKA Moscow (1-1), on Wednesday night.
Kokoskov is overseeing a revamped roster containing several new faces, but the win at Efes, in particular, suggested the team is coming together nicely with summer signings Lorenzo Brown, Dyshawn Pierre and Edgaras Ulanovas all making solid contributions. But the best player for Fenerbahce over the first two games is established star Nando De Colo, who has averaged 16 points, 5.5 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals to show he is still as good as ever.
Heading into his second year with Fener, De Colo needs to become the leader of the team more than ever and playing a big role to defeat his former club CSKA on Wednesday would be a serious statement of intent.
Barca and Panathinaikos looking for bounce-back
The relentlessly competitive nature of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague is shown by the fact that eight teams possess a 1-1 record after the first two rounds. Among the teams looking to improve that stat this week is FC Barcelona, which suffered a shock narrow loss against Zenit last week and will now attempt to bounce back with a tough trip to face unbeaten Valencia on Wednesday.
Last season’s corresponding fixture was a nail-biter decided by a stunning game-winner from Nikola Mirotic in the final seconds. Barca could well need their star forward to be in top form once again for Wednesday’s game at La Fonteta because Valencia has started the season looking like it means serious business with wins over Real and ASVEL.
After that, Barca finishes the week with a home game against another team looking to improve on its current 1-1 record and bounce back from a disappointing loss last Friday: Panathinaikos OPAP Athens, which will also hope to give Barca point guard Nick Calathes a tough first game against his former club.
Can Maccabi's new frontline overpower its former?
Though Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv comes off a road loss at CSKA Moscow in which it led by 5 points in the fourth quarter, there were bright spots for the club to build on. Maccabi returned most of last season's roster with the biggest additions coming in the frontline in the signings of Ante Zizic and Dragan Bender. The Croatian duo showed a lot of promise in their time on the floor in Moscow, both individually and as a unit.
This week when the Israeli champs face FC Bayern Munich, two of the men in the paint that Zizic and Bender must contend with are players who broke into the EuroLeague with Maccabi. Jalen Reynolds did so last season as a mid-year injury replacement. He averaged 5.7 points and 5.3 rebounds over 12 games in a reserve role behind Othello Hunter. Malcolm Thomas's first European stop came with Maccabi in the 2012-13 season, when he posted 4.4 points and 2.8 boards in 15 games.
Like all players visiting a former club, Reynolds and Thomas will be eager to play at their best in Tel Aviv, where their length and strength on the frontline alongside JaJuan Johnson and Leon Radosevic will be a test for Zizic, Hunter and Bender. The battle in the paint will go a long way toward determining which of these two 1-1 squads heads into their Friday games with a winning record.
Scoreboard check needed in Berlin?
The person in charge of the scoreboard at ALBA Berlin's Mercedes-Benz Arena may want to double-check that everything is in working order before the local side hosts Anadolu Efes Istanbul on Tuesday. The last two times these teams met, balls sailed through the nets early and often. Efes swept their season series last season by eking out a 106-105 overtime win in Istanbul and an 86-99 victory in the German capital.
Although Efes is without last season's top scorer Shane Larkin, he also missed Efes's Round 26 victory in Germany last season. In fact, Efes should have all of its scorers from that game in uniform on Tuesday. ALBA has undergone more of a roster overhaul than Efes, but it will have most of its prime contributors from those games back led by Luke Sikma, who posted 15 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists in Istanbul and backed that up with 9, 7 and 8 at home. Niels Giffey also shot well in two games against Efes, while Marcus Eriksson and Peyton Siva each excelled in a single game and missed the other to injury.
With both teams entering the season with 0-2 records and each averaging just 70 points per game, it would not be a surprise to see them fall back on what they know best for another fast-paced, high-scoring affair. In which case, it's best to make sure that all the bulbs in the scoreboard are in working order.