EuroLeague Week 16 Winners and Losers: Is the Panathinaikos powerhouse back?

With Panathinaikos winning eight of their last 10 games it appears the Greens might be finally asserting themselves as one of EuroLeague’s powerhouses once again and solidifying Ergin Ataman’s ability to build contenders in one summer.

EA7 Emporio Armani Milan v Panathinaikos Athens - Turkish Airlines EuroLeague
EA7 Emporio Armani Milan v Panathinaikos Athens - Turkish Airlines EuroLeague / Emanuele Cremaschi/GettyImages
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The last time Panathinaikos played EuroLeague playoff basketball was in 2019. Rick Pitino was their coach, Nick Calathes was their point guard and star player, and Thanasis Antetokounmpo came off the bench. Real Madrid swept them that post-season, with Luka Doncic predicting the 3-0 sweep, Pitino is now the head coach at St. John’s, and Calathes is at Fenerbahce. 

The Greens' fall from grace since then is almost unfathomable when you remember how dominant a franchise they’ve been historically. They have made 11 EuroLeague Final Fours since 1994 — but haven’t made one since 2012 — and have won six EuroLeague titles with their last win coming in 2011. Some of the continents' greatest players — Vassilis Spanoulis, Dimitris Diamantidis, Sarunas Jasikevicius, and Mike Batiste — lifted trophies for this club. So did Dominique Wilkins! 

But the three seasons before this were nightmares. There was zero direction or alignment. Coaches were hired and fired like seasonal decorations, ill-fitting players were brought in every summer, and Panathinaikos toiled at the bottom of the EuroLeague standings with newcomers ALBA Berlin and LDLC ASVEL Villeurbane. Their home arena — OAKA — was a fortress in the glory years, a terrifying place to play on the road. From 2021-2023, it was a library. Banners hung in the rafters to remind viewers of the history, but no excitement existed elsewhere. 

The cherry on top of all this? Archrivals Olympiacos made back-to-back EuroLeague Final Fours in 2022 and 2023 and captured consecutive Greek League titles for the first time since Spanoulis’ retirement. 

Now, Panathinaikos is back. Ergin Ataman took over this summer as head coach. The Turkish coach brought Anadolu Efes from worst to almost first in his first season on the job and is determined to do the same here, and maybe take things a step further and win the EuroLeague championship. Ataman brought in a whole new squad this summer — which may sound like more of the same for Panathinaikos — but kicked off the summer with the signing of Kostas Sloukas, poaching the silky smooth left-handed Greek guard from Olympiacos and making an immediate statement. 

Jerian Grant, Mathias Lessort, Juancho Hernangomez, and Luca Vildoza were next. The Greens had a new coach and a new team. The start of a new era was here. 

Team

Record

Real Madrid

19-3

FC Barcelona

15-7

Virtus Bologna

15-7

Panathinaikos

14-8

Fenerbahce

13-9

Olympiacos

12-10

Monaco

12-10

Baskonia

12-10

Maccabi

12-10

Valencia

11-11

Partizan

11-11

Crvena Zvezda

9-13

Emporio Armani Milan

9-13

FC Bayern

9-13

Anadolu Efes

9-13

Zalgiris Kaunas

8-14

ALBA Berlin

4-18

LDLC ASVEL Villeurbane

4-18

EuroLeague Week 16 Winners and Losers: How Ergin Ataman brought Panathinaikos back from the ashes

Ataman may have rebuilt this squad in one summer but their success did not happen overnight. The Green’s started the season 6-6 and lost their season opener at home to Olympiacos. The offense was limited to Sloukas and Lessort pick-and-roll with the latter struggling to make any decent reads out of the short roll.  Their defense was disconnected. The talent was there and allowed them to tread water at .500 basketball but that wasn’t what Panathinaikos brought Ataman, Sloukas, Kendrick Nunn, and others in for. They brought Ataman in to soar to the top, and since Round 12, they’ve been doing exactly that. 

Panathinaikos are 8-2 in their last 10 games. They’ve got the best net rating in the league during this stretch, plus-8.0, even ahead of Real Madrid who’s right behind them at plus-7.7. This is led by their defense, with their 107.3 defensive rating third-best over the past 10 games. Their scheme is an interesting one, and there is one caveat. 

Over the past 10 games, opponents are shooting a league-worst 33 percent from deep against them. Panathinaikos deserves some credit for that, but some of it is good fortune. The most interesting statistic is opponent rim frequency. Panathinaikos are allowing opponents to get 20 percent of their shots at the rim, which is the most out of anyone in the league. But they are defending the rim brilliantly, conceding only 1.38 points per shot on rim attempts, second-best in the league. They’re also fourth in opponents' points per shot from the paint, at 0.84. 

Ataman’s squad appears to be intentionally inviting opponents to attack, rolling out a red carpet but sneakily leading them into a trap. Once the opposition gets into the danger zone, they swarm, like yellow jackets burning a wasp to death. 

Their personnel is built for this. Their standard starting lineup of Nunn, Grant, Marius Grigonis, Dinos Mitoglou, and Lessort is big. It's really big, also long, and also quick. Grigonis is 6-foot-6 with an even greater wingspan, Mitoglou is 6-foot-10, and Lessort is 6-foot-9. 

Then, you’ve got Grant. He may only be listed at 6-foot-4 but with his frame and length, he’s proven more than capable of guarding positions 1-4 this season, happily takes on the toughest assignment every night, quarterbacks the defense, and is a joy to watch on that end of the floor. 

In the first clip, Grant reads Partizan’s play perfectly while guarding James Nunnally and intercepts Jaleen Smith’s pass. He looked like a star NFL cornerback on that play, managing to get a steal that makes you both wonder how Smith didn’t see him but then also recognize that you didn’t recognize him either? Only the best of the best do that. 

In the second clip, he’s orchestrating the Greens' entire defense. Keeping matchups manageable, tracking shooters, and not letting Partizan get anything easy. This organization puts Grigonis in position for a pick-six. Grant looks like Draymond Green out there, and completely different player from his NBA stint years ago. 

In the clip, he forces a turnover while covering the bigger James Nunnally in the post. Another example of his flawless defensive versatility. Last season, Dante Exum was EuroLeague’s combo borderline star/elite role player who ended up being a perfect fit for an NBA role player alongside stars Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. Through 22 rounds of play, Grant appears to be that guy this season. 

Panathinaikos’ defense is the key to their success, but their offense has also found its flow. It starts with their guard play. Nunn is proving why multiple EuroLeague teams chased his signature this summer and why all of them were willing to let him wait out the NBA market. No one can guard him at the moment. He gets to the rim with ease and either finishes or draws a foul. He hasn’t missed a free throw in 11 straight games. He’s shooting 37 percent from deep, and when defenders close out too hard he comfortably steps in for a mid-range pull-up. 

There’s also that Sloukas guy. He’s returned to a bench role where he has always been at his best and is scoring 0.9 points per possession in the pick-and-roll (excluding passes) and 0.96 points per possession in isolation. Elite marks for a secondary on-ball threat. Add in his 5.5 assists per game and Nunn and Sloukas have this offense humming, with the personnel around them being perfect fits. 

Grant is scoring 1.5 points per possession in spot-up scenarios this season, which puts him in the freaking 98th percentile of EuroLeague players. He’s also in the 92nd percentile as a pick-and-roll ballhandler and 78th in isolation — on lower volume than Sloukas — but is essentially the best third on-ball option in EuroLeague by far. Grigonis is in the 87th percentile as a spot-up shooter and Mitoglou is in the 54th. Both are also comfortable putting the ball on the floor versus aggressive closeouts. Mitoglou a little less so, he looks like Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez when he drives and has considerably less agility, but he can still do it better than just about any other 6-foot-10 stretch big in EuroLeague at the moment. 

Lessort is no longer struggling in the short roll. He’s regularly making the right reads now, and optimizing the spacing his teammates provide. Opponents are faced with either letting Lessort roll to the rim for a dunk or leaving one of Panathinaikos’ many shooters open from 3. It’s a lose-lose, and that’s why they’ve been winning. 

When healthy, they’ve got Vildoza and Hernagomez off the bench. The two of them bring more size and versatility on both ends of the floor for their position, and Kostas Antetokounmpo has served as a sufficient backup to Lessort, doing a lot of what the French center does, just not as well. There’s nothing wrong with that, that’s why he’s a backup and not a starter. 

Panathinaikos has been playing near-perfect basketball lately and has returned to EuroLeague’s elite. There are no Final Four guarantees for any team that isn’t Real Madrid, but with the way, Ataman’s side is playing and with a top-8 as good as anyone else's they are looking poised to make their first Final Four in 12 years. It’s about time. 

EuroLeague Week 16 Lines of the Week

A 20 and 20 game in EuroLeague is insane. 

EuroLeague Week 16 Quote of the Week

It’s awesome that Chima Moneke went and asked Milos Teodosic for his jersey after the game. If you play against players you idolize, you should do this! 

EuroLeague Week 16 Clip of the Week

After praising Panathinaikos for this entire piece, we have to provide some balance with this poster from the Los Angeles Clippers stash Balsa Koprivica.

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