Efficiency is at premium early on, and here you have a look at some of the players who are getting it done early in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season.
Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul hit the ground running this season, leading the league in three-point percentage heading into the first double-round, but suffered a pair of home losses last week. Their Round 3 matchup with CSKA Moscow featured one of the marquee individual matchups of the season with Nando De Colo facing off with Mike James. De Colo scored 19 of his 21 points on just 11 shot attempts to outduel Mike James, who finished with 14, but it was Will Clyburn that proved to be the difference for CSKA in forcing overtime and then hitting the game-winning points.
Clyburn scored 26 points and converted an and-one layup for that single-point win, then poured in 25 against ALBA Berlin in Round 4 to come full circle on the ACL injury that he had suffered almost exactly one year ago, coincidentally, in a Round 4 matchup with ALBA.
Bouncing back in impressive fashion, Clyburn has started the 2020-21 campaign averaging 1.18 points per possession over 16.5 possessions per game to rank among the most efficient players in the EuroLeague. In a season where efficiency has been hard to come by and with everything that has transpired off the floor since his injury, Clyburn's play to this point has been one of the season's most pleasant surprises.
Early Top Performers
Clyburn is not the only player who has run hot early on. After a slow start, efficiency has picked up to some degree across the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. Even so, as the league corrects back to its typical level of shooting in the face of unprecedented circumstances, the players who have started fast stand out more than ever.
Through four rounds, 34 EuroLeague players have used over 12 possessions per game and 12 of them have averaged over 1.00 point per possession. While players like James at CSKA and Jordan Loyd at Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade deserve special mention as the league's leading scorers, the graphic above displays the league's five most-efficient offensive players to date.
Sergio Rodriguez of AX Armani Exchange is off to the best start of his career to lead the EuroLeague in efficiency at 1.25 points per possession. A decade ago, he had averaged 0.76 points per possession in a rotation role during the 2010-11 season with Real Madrid. Rodriguez evolved rapidly as a jump shooter in his mid-20's, learning to create separation and stop-and-pop with a quick release, both keys to his current hot start. With 27 of his 39 shot attempts this season coming on pull-up jump shots, Rodriguez has shot an aFG% of 73%, giving opposing defenses fits during Milan's 3-1 start.
A EuroLeague rookie last season, Rokas Giedraitis has sustained the momentum he built in his debut with his new club TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz. Turning the corner as a jump shooter two years ago in the 7DAYS EuroCup, the Lithuanian swingman has solidified himself as one of the EuroLeague's most reliable floor spacers over the last two years. An opportunistic off-th-ball scorer, Giedraitis continues to blossom as an offensive player into his late 20's.
As noted above, Will Clyburn has gotten off to an excellent start, especially when you consider he played just 77 minutes last season. What distinguishes him in this group is his versatility. Spacing the floor, running the break, working off the ball inside, and creating offense one-on-one from the perimeter and the post, he has scored steadily in a variety of ways this season. There are few small forwards in basketball who bring the ball up for an isolation situation in a one-possession game in the waning moments of overtime like Clyburn did against Fenerbahce.
Vyacheslav Zaytsev is the most unexpected name on this list. A staple of Khimki Moscow Region's roster for the better part of a decade bookending stints with other Russian clubs, Zaytsev is perhaps this season's biggest surprise despite Khimki's 0-4 start. Having averaged 1.7 points in the EuroLeague prior to this season, Zaytsev has stepped up in the absence of Alexey Shved to thrive in his first opportunity to fill a significant offensive role at this level. Playing the best basketball of his career by a significant margin, the 31-year old has been posting gaudy efficiency numbers for a guard who does most of his damage inside the arc.
The lone big-man in this group, Bojan Dubljevic, continues to punish defenses with his inside-outside scoring prowess in his ninth season with Valencia Basket. His ability to use his size and touch in the post have long stood out, but when he is popping out to make jump shots the way he has lately, he is among the EuroLeague's more problematic match-ups at the center position.
There's a lot of noise in early-season numbers as they lack a degree of predictive value, but in the EuroLeague's 34-game format, a strong stretch for a key player can be the difference between making and missing the postseason. It will be worth seeing how this group specifically fares as each team begins to settle into a rhythm offensively.
Looking Ahead to Round 5
Zalgiris Kaunas welcomes Valencia Basket to Zalgirio Arena this week in a matchup of the teams with the two best point-differentials. Zalgiris has moved the ball and executed late in the clock with great poise this season while Valencia has done an excellent job defending in the half court. That makes for an interesting strength-on-strength clash to determine which of these teams holds its spot near the top of the standings.