Point guards Kostas Sloukas of Olympiacos Piraeus and Mike James of AS Monaco have been among the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague's most high-profile protagonists during each of the last seven full seasons that they have coincided in the competition.
They have also played each other quite often, 12 times in total, with the showdown between their teams on Friday in Round 8 due to become their 13th meeting.
Although they have filled slightly different roles – James as the main scorer and ball distributor for his teams, Sloukas as a master organizer and crunch-time specialist – going into this game, each is undoubtedly his team's leader, the player to whom teammates look for direction in the crucible of a high-stakes EuroLeague clash.
Very often, how they go is how their teams do, as well. And which one of the two gets the upper hand on Friday will add substantial weight to his team's side on the scale of victory.
In seven rounds so far this season, James has shown Monaco, a EuroLeague newcomer, the way to a 4-3 record. The former Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy winner currently ranks third in assists among all EuroLeague players (4.9 per game), fourth in playing time (30:39) and 11th in scoring (14.4 ppg.). Sloukas, a three-time EuroLeague champion, plays somewhat less (22:27) and has lower averages. However, he ranks slightly higher than James in scoring per 40 minutes (18.8 to 18.6 points) even though James has been better per minute in assists (6.3 to 6.1).
In addition to pouring in points and resolving games down the stretch, their mutual ability to set up their teammates is how James and Sloukas bring the added value that makes them much more than scoring threats – and therefore constant concerns to opposing defenses.
In nearly 100 games each since the beginning of the 2018-19 season, they are among the top five players in the EuroLeague in total assists. Sloukas ranks third with 538 assists in 99 games, while James is fifth with 500 in 92. In that span, remarkably, they have excatly the same 5.343-assist average. In this case, on a per-40-minute basis, James is well ahead in scoring (25.1 to 16.7) while Sloukas is less so in assists (8.0 to 7.0).
In their 12 games against each other since James joined the EuroLeague in 2014, Sloukas has a slight edge in victories, 7-5, while James has been the more prolific performer. He has nearly doubled Sloukas in scoring (16.1 to 8.3 ppg.) while shooting better from two-point (51.9% vs. 48.6%) and three-point (37.5% vs. 31.6%) distance. He also averaged 1.0 steal more in those games than Sloukas, who nonetheless has dished more assists (4.8 vs. 3.5).
In their most consequential game, an overtime classic in the 2015-16 semifinals between their former teams, Sloukas was stronger, with 13 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists in 27 minutes for Fenerbahce to 6 points, 2 rebounds and 5 assists for James in 31 minutes for Baskonia.
They would meet again in the next season's playoffs, when James was playing for Panathinaikos Athens. In that series, he averaged 14.7 points, 3.0 assists and 2.7 rebounds while Sloukas was held to 3.7 points while posting 5.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds. But again, Sloukas won that war, as Fenerbahce took the only sweep ever by a team that started the playoffs on the road and then proceeded to win its first EuroLeague title, as well, perhaps suggesting that sometimes assists is the stat that leads to greater success.