After winning the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague last season for the first time, the task at hand for Anadolu Efes Istanbul management was a simple one: keep the band together for another run at the crown. Only one significant contributor got away and he was replaced by a rising star, ensuring that Coach Ergin Ataman has what he needs to work his magic again.
The pairing of EuroLeague MVP Vasilije Micic and Shane Larkin has sparked debate already as to its place among the best backcourts in EuroLeague history. Defenses are at a loss when looking at the two who can each light it up from downtown, drive to the basket and set up their teammates. The instant offense of Rodrigue Beaubois adds another wrinkle and ensures that there is always world-class firepower among the Efes guards. When defense is needed, Dogus Balbay is called on. A physical presence, Balbay is an energetic ballhawk who frustrates opponents. After making his EuroLeague debut last season, point guard Erten Gazi will try to carve out a larger role off the bench. At age 36, swingman Krunoslav Simon is still going strong. Simon is the consummate team player and a perfect part in Coach Ataman's system because he finds the right spacing, makes his shots, moves the ball well and never gets flustered. The always dependable James Anderson thrives in his role as a joker off the bench who can impact the game on both ends of the floor. Bugrahan Tuncer provides the team with an extra shooting weapon off the bench.
Chris Singleton proved once again last season that he is a man for big moments by exploding for 26 points and 8 rebounds in Game 5 of the playoffs against Real Madrid. However, when he plays a smaller role, Singleton is still of great importance thanks to his defense, ability to stretch the floor and his experience. Rugged power forward Adrien Moerman is a tough rebounder and a superb shooter. Do-it-all big man Filip Petrusev was the ABA League MVP last season and is the only significant addition the champs made this summer. Dangerous facing the basket or with his back to it, Petrusev has a complete offensive arsenal and will be a threat at either frontcourt spot. They are joined by Yigitcan Saybir who appeared in only two EuroLeague games last season and at age 22 could be in for a larger role. Tolga Gecim rounds out a deep selection of options for Ataman at the '4' spot. Efes also has two veteran natural centers with very different games. While all-time shots-blocked leader Bryant Dunston is smaller and relies on athleticism on both ends, Tibor Pleiss stands 2.21 meters and uses his length to intimidate on defense and sink shots on offense.
PLAYER TO WATCH
If there is a question mark on the reigning champs' roster, it revolves around Filip Petrusev, whose talent is simply unquestioned. Even though he turned 21 late in the season, Petrusev led the ABA League in scoring and performance index rating, was second in rebounds and third in blocks. He likely won’t be the top dog at Efes, but Petrusev came to win and improve his game by playing with champs. How quickly he develops chemistry with the likes of Micic, Larkin and co. will determine how much impact Petrusev has and how quickly. When they have it all figured out, Petrusev will be a player to watch.
The schedule-makers didn't do Efes any favors as it starts the season with three of its first four games on the road and will play two Final Four teams in that span. There is little reason to fear a slow start for Efes, as it brings back nearly the entirety of last season's champion roster, but a rocky start could change things. However, all signs point to Efes making a run at its third straight Final Four and as it tries to become the first team to successfully defend the EuroLeague crown since 2013.