Last season, its first full campaign in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague, Zenit St Petersburg made history by reaching the playoffs before getting ousted in the maximum five games by eventual runner-up FC Barcelona. Now, the bar gets a little higher and the task gets a bit more difficult, as coach Xavi Pascual aims for more success.
Zenit has a new man to run the offense in Shabazz Napier, an explosive playmaker who can score plenty himself and will have a lot of scoring punch around him. The team loaded up on players who can score in bunches, starting with Jordan Loyd, who ranked third in the league last season with 17.3 points per game. Zenit also added shooting ace Conner Frankamp and reunited with scoring guard Sergey Karasev, while swingman Dmitry Kulagin gives Zenit another capable scorer and versatile option on the wings. That is all in addition to sharpshooter Billy Baron, who enters this season with a streak of 29 games with at least one three-point shot made. Denis Zakharov gives this team depth on the perimeter, while young playmaker Andrey Toptunov and swingman Igor Volkhin will be looking to maximize their likely limited opportunities.
Zenit has one of the deepest frontcourts headlined by a trio of big men in Alex Poythress, Arturas Gudaitis and summer addition Jordan Mickey. Poythress and Gudaitis have been a productive pair of centers and now are joined by Mickey, who ranked seventh in scoring, sixth in rebounding and was the third-best shot-blocker last season. Anton Pushkov makes this a quartet of experienced options inside, surrounded by versatile forwards in Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Mateusz Ponitka. Both players are capable of going on scoring runs and are big contributors on the glass. Andrey Zubkov is a classic power forward who is entering his seventh EuroLeague season.
PLAYER TO WATCH
In addition to a half-dozen veteran signings and players with EuroLeague experience, Conner Frankamp is neither. The 25-year old scoring guard is in his third professional season, but first in the EuroLeague and is itching to prove himself on the elite level after conquering domestic competitions. In the past two seasons, Frankamp averaged 20.9 points in the Greek League and 15.7 points in the Spanish League. Though he boasts unlimited shooting range, Frankamp is also adept at getting to the basket and with all eyes on his backcourt mates Loyd and Napier, it will be interesting to see how Frankamp punishes any opposing defense foolish enough to leave him alone.
Judging by the summer signing activities, Zenit looks determined to get back to playoff contention and avoid being dubbed as a one-year wonder. The club not only addressed its depth both inside and on the perimeter, but added a half-dozen very capable scorers, including Loyd and Mickey - two of the top seven from last season's scoring rankings. Guided by Coach Pascual, who has won it all and has a knack for leading teams to the playoffs, expect Zenit to be a significant factor and a serious contender once again this season.