The previous week's double-round action brought us two coach firings, which meant this week brought two new head coaches in for this season: Ioannis Sfairopoulos for Crvena Zvezda Meridianbet and Gianmarco Pozzecco with ASVEL Basket. Their debuts were both intertwined and overshadowed by two intense rivalry matches which stole headlines for the week. Here are our week 4 winners and losers.
EuroLeague Week 4 Winners: The fans and Rivalry Week
EuroLeague knocked it out of the park by putting the Belgrade derby and El Clasico in the same week. It helps that a lot was riding on both these games as well. Partizan and Zvezda both entered the game with 1-3 records, and their only wins came over winless ASVEL Basket. A win buys either team time, and a loss would make you have to re-evaluate expectations. To add even more to this one, it was Sfairopoulos’ first game in charge of Zvezda.
The weight of expectation delivered us a true classic. Partizan being the home team helped them get off to a flying start. With a crowd of over 18,000 fervent supporters behind them, they jumped out to a 17-2 lead in the first six minutes. Punter and LeDay got the opening two field goals which was critical, the American duo has struggled during Partizan’s slow start to the season.
Zvezda weathered the storm and closed the first period only down 22-13. They kept battling and were buoyed by a strong EuroLeague debut for Yago Dos Santos. The Brazilian guard was one of many new faces for Zvezda this offseason but did not see the floor in EuroLeague play during Dusko Ivanovic’s four games in charge. Sfairopoulos rates the South American pick-and-roll maestro differently and subbed him in only four minutes into the game. He helped give Zvezda a spark and led their fight back in this game.
A Shabazz Napier bucket tied the game at 42 and brought an end to a thrilling first half. For the second year in a row, Zvezda had battled back from a slow start in the Belgrade derby. Would they end this one with another big win over the rivals just like last season?
For the third quarter and most of the second half, it looked that way. Two threes from Dos Santos put Zvezda up 60-50, their first double-digit lead of the night. They finished the quarter up 65-53. Partizan’s offense had stalled out once again, and Dos Santos, Joel Bolomboy, and Adam Hanga were finding buckets at the other end.
Another Dos Santos three put Zvezda up 68-55 with just under nine minutes to go. This game was Zvezda’s to lose, and they ended up doing precisely that. They still led by 11, 75-64, with five minutes to go. Buckets from Alen Smailagic, P.J. Dozier, and Aleksa Avramovic made it a five-point game with three-and-a-half minutes to go, and then an Avramovic three answered a Bolomboy bucket to make it 77-73 with three minutes to go.
Avramovic brought this one home. A steal and a bucket made it a one-possession game, Bolomboy responded, Avramovic responded, then got another steal and assisted a Dozier three to make the Stark arena explode as Partizan took the lead 80-79 with under two minutes remaining.
Nerves settled in for Zvezda. Milos Teodosic, one of the greatest free-throw shooters of all time, was 2/5 from the free-throw line in 40 seconds during the final two minutes. Avramovic buried another three with the scores tied at 80, and Partizan was effective the rest of the way and escaped with victory.
Coming off his strong showing at the FIBA World Cup, Avramovic continues to impress and contribute more on offense. His game has evolved from a pesky backcourt defender with a nice lefty jumper to a cold-blooded scorer who is relentless in all aspects of the game. He’s a certified dawg, and that’s exactly what Partizan needs right now (among some other things).
For Zvezda, new coach, same problems. Dos Santos’ strong performance is a good sign and raises questions about why Ivanovic kept him out of the rotation. However, they let another fourth-quarter lead slip away. This was a problem for them at the end of last season, as is often the case with Ivanovic’s squads due to the Montenegrin’s insistence on long practices during the season.
But we’re early in this season, and the problem persists, even under a new coach. It’s a personnel issue and one we’ll touch on more later.
In another rivalry match-up, El Clasico got underway in Madrid with Real and Barcelona facing off as the only two remaining undefeated teams in the competition. This one was ugly, particularly in the first half. Barcelona was missing Nico Laprovittola and Real was missing Guerschon Yabusele.
Neither team was shooting well from deep, with Real not hitting a three until Gabriel Deck’s buzzer-beater right before the half. Offense was scarce, with Barcelona dependent on Jan Vesely's mid-range pick-and-pops and a strong performance from Willy Hernangomez off the bench.
Real converted just enough Facundo Campazzo pick-and-rolls and Deck scored nine unanswered points to help Real close the first half on a 12-0 run in the final five minutes.
Real carried that momentum into the third quarter, outscoring Barcelona 23-11 to take a 9-point lead into the final period. Neither Nikola Kalinic nor Jabari Parker could slow Deck down who linked up with Campazzo to spark Real’s offense. Real built up just enough of a cushion to hold off a fourth-quarter flurry from Rokas Jokubaitis and Tomas Satoransky. For Barcelona, they got away from what was working for them.
Sure, Vesely long two’s and Hernangomez post-ups aren’t their most efficient offense. They want to get their ballhandlers off curls and going downhill, they want Alex Abrines flying off pindowns, and to capitalize on mismatches that come from botched communications when teams try to defend this.
But that wasn’t an option in this one. Sure, part of it was that they didn’t have Laprovittola, a big absence no doubt. But it’s also because Los Blancos are an elite team. They’re not going to botch communication defensively, they came into this with a clear plan: if Vesely and Hernangomez can outplay Edy Tavares and Vincent Poirier to power you to victory on the road, we’ll live with that.
That was working in the first 15 minutes of this one! But they went away from it, because it’s not what they want, and it let Real back in this one and gave them energy on the offensive glass that fueled their comeback. In big EuroLeague games like this one, sometimes you’ve got to respect when a team takes away what you want to do and roll with what they’re giving you. Barcelona got stubborn in this one, and it cost them.
EuroLeague Week 4 Winners: Isaia Cordinier and Bologna are 4-1
In another head coach debut, Pozzecco took charge of his first game for ASVEL basket. Two coaches who led their teams to impressive FIBA World Cup performances — Pozzecco with Italy and Luca Banchi with Latvia — faced off in this one. Bologna was looking to continue their surprisingly strong start and ASVEL was looking for their first win of the season.
Bologna came out on top, 87-84, and are now 4-1. No one expected this start from the Italian club. They trimmed their budget this offseason, fired Sergio Scariolo one week before the season began, and their roster appeared to lack any perimeter creation. The reason they’ve been able to upend expectations? Isaia Cordinier.
The 26-year-old French wing is off to a flying start for this season. He’s averaging 11.2 points per game, 4.2 assists, and shooting 43 percent from deep. His offensive game has great variety. He’s scoring as a spot-up shooter, off-cuts, and out of the pick-and-roll. He has a great knack for finding open space, anywhere on the court. His broad skillset enables to him take advantage of this space no matter where it is, and his assist numbers are up without seeing a spike in turnovers while his usage rate is down.
He’s pairing brilliantly with Tornike Shengelia, who’s averaging a career-high 18.4 points per game and shooting a career-best 53 percent from three. Shengelia, like Cordinier, is thriving as a spot-up threat but also gives Bologna options in the post. The two of them play off of each other and their teammates, who are working in perfect sync around their two stars through five games.
With Cordinier’s rise as a perimeter scorer and playmaker, Bologna has two offensive weapons. The rest of their roster gives them options to surround these two. Marco Belinelli and Ognjen Dobric can space the floor. Daniel Hackett and Iffe Lundberg can take pick-and-roll responsibilities, knock down open threes, and be pests defensively.
Alessandro Pajola is a great fit for Shengelia and Cordinier. The 23-year-old Italian is wise beyond his years, particularly as an off-ball player. He’s thriving in spot-up and cut opportunities created by the gravity of Cordinier, Shengelia, and their spacing.
At center, Bryant Dunston and Devontae Cacok are more than comfortable setting as many screens as they can, rolling to the rim hard every time, and crashing the glass. Jordan Mickey is shooting 64 percent from three, on only 11 attempts, but so far it's enough to give Bologna a real stretch big option off the bench. Everything on this Bologna roster makes sense currently. They are on the same page in everything they’re trying to do, and that’s evident in their ball movement.
They’re also shooting 42.2 percent from three as a team, the second-best mark in EuroLeague on 27 attempts per game, seventh in the league. What does this mean? While Cordinier’s development and Shengelia’s dominance are notable, their overall team shooting will likely regress at some point. Will they keep finding ways to win when that happens? It’s hard to say. For now, they’re riding the high of their hot start, and rightfully so. We’ll evaluate the shooting regression when it comes.
EuroLeague Week 4 Winners: ALBA Berlin gets their first win
Nothing is expected of ALBA Berlin this season and their entire team seems to know that. We don’t mean that in a negative way. They’ve got a very young core: Gabriele Procida, Matteo Spagnolo, Malte Delow, Louis Olinde, and Kresimir Nikic are all 25 or younger. All of them are seeing decent minutes and getting opportunities to develop and improve. That’s their goal this season. Keep growing this core, lean on Matt Thomas, Sterling Brown, and Johannes Thiemann to help deliver some wins here and there, but mainly prepare for the future.
In an ideal world for ALBA, they can keep these youngsters together for a couple of seasons and watch them develop into a core worthy of taking this team to their first-ever playoff appearance in EuroLeague. Right now, that goal is out of reach, but in Round 5 against Olimpia Milano, we got a flash of what it could look like.
As expected, Thiemann, Brown, and Thomas led the way with 52 of the team's 85 points. But Olinde added 12, Delow had 5 points and 7 rebounds, Spagnolo added 6 assists, and Procida finished with only four points but filled highlight reels with a crossover into an explosive dunk, and a chase-down block on Nikola Mirotic.
ALBA battled for this whole game and got just enough out of everyone to come out on top 85-82 for their first win of the season. Their lack of top-end talent will require stellar team performances to deliver victory, but ALBA has a long-term vision here. Let this group grow together, add a star when they seem ready, and make a push for the playoffs. Going off of how they looked in Round 5, that future is more than possible.
EuroLeague Week 4 Losers: Milano’s woes continue
On the flip side of their Round 5 match-up, Olimpia Milano’s early season struggles continued. There was optimism heading into this season. They added Mirotic, arguably the best player in Europe at the moment, and kept most of their core from last season.
Here’s the problem: their core is aging. Kevin Pangos, Kyle Hines, and Nicolo Melli were EuroLeague stars two, three, and four seasons ago. Put this roster together pre-pandemic and it might be Final Four bound. Now, these three are role players, and they are struggling.
In their Round 5 loss to ALBA, Mirotic and Shavon Shields combined for 55 of the team's 82 points. No one else reached double-digits, Maodo Lo was their next highest-scorer with 7 points.
It took them four minutes to get on the scoreboard in this game. After six minutes, they had more turnovers (4) than points (3). Their perimeter play is mostly abysmal besides Shields, and Lo has been fine but hasn’t delivered the lift they need.
In the fourth quarter, Head Coach Ettore Messina tried to fix this by playing a small lineup of Lo, Pangos, Shields, Melli, and Mirotic. It helped on offense, but ALBA destroyed it on the offensive glass. Olinde and Thiemann grabbed key offensive rebounds and followed with second-chance points that tied this one up at 82 after Milan led 71-59 early in the fourth.
Devon Hall and Pangos then committed an awful turnover out of a timeout that set up Brown to hit a tough runner to give ALBA the lead, and eventually, the victory. Milano are now 1-3, and some of this slow start can be attributed to a tough, road-heavy, opening schedule but their roster is also way too top-heavy. They lost to Pesaro in domestic league play over the weekend, already their second bad domestic loss of the season.
There are some lineups we would like to see them try, particularly more lineups featuring Mirotic and Johannes Voigtmann. Both players have decent size and are comfortable putting the ball on the floor. With their lack of quality point guard play, they should take advantage of that. Have them screen for each other, play five out, or play Hines alongside them and try to dominate the backboards. This is one of the few interesting wrinkles they have at their disposal and given their lackluster start, they might as well try it.
EuroLeague Week 4 Losers: Milos Teodosic needs to take a backseat
We touched on this in our season preview, but it’s time for EuroLeague legend Milos Teodosic to take a backseat. Not out of the rotation! He still has plenty to contribute at the EuroLeague level, but his game and role need to adapt. In their Round 5 match-up with Partizan, he finished with 9 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds but was a minus-8 on 1/7 shooting from the field. He also missed key clutch free throws down the stretch that opened the door for Partizan to complete their comeback.
He had similar struggles in their Round 3 loss to AS Monaco and in both games, he was a regular weak point in Zvezda’s defense, as he has been throughout his career. He had a target on his back, and hiding Teodosic has always been a challenge but it used to be one worth facing because, on the other end, he was one of the best guards in Europe. That’s not the case anymore. Mike James, Elie Okobo, Kevin Punter, Aleksa Avramovic, and even P.J. Dozier are better two-way players. So are plenty of other guards.
The solution is simple, Teodosic needs to change his game. More field goal attempts need to come off of movement and spot-ups, and less from isolation and pick-and-roll. Napier and Dos Santos are better than him at the latter shot types, and with the former, he can work alongside them and open up the floor for everyone. A new-look Teodosic could give Zvezda a new outlook on the season. More of the same will keep them battling for the play-in.
EuroLeague Week 4 Losers: Joan Pennaroya is Baskonia’s scapegoat
Baskonia is bad. There’s no other way to sum them up. Codi Miller-McIntyre and Nico Mannion are nowhere near the level of Darius Thompson or even Pierria Henry. Markus Howard cannot be the team's best scorer AND also be tasked with running the offense. Tada Sedekerskis is their only reliable two-way wing at the moment, and their center rotation has been largely disappointing except for when they go small with Chima Moneke.
Their roster is full of injuries at the moment. They dressed only nine players for their Round 5 loss to Panathinaikos and Moneke, who’s not really healthy, was one of them. Eight players were at their disposal at the weekend as well where they lost to Andorra, 85-68, in Liga ACB play.
The injuries don’t help, but this roster is not a EuroLeague-level roster, simple as that. It’s not even a high-quality ACB roster at the moment. So while Pennaroya was sacrificed to the basketball gods this weekend, these problems are beyond coaching.
Dusko Ivanovic has been brought back for his fourth spell in charge of the Basque club and the structure he brings will help them squeeze out a couple more victories, but this team needs more talent. If they’ve got the budget, they need to look at the market over the next month and make some additions.
They need a real point guard, a wing scoring threat, and an energy big man at minimum. They need to add these threats to open the game back up for Howard, who is one of the best scorers in Europe. Use that to create more open looks for Vanja Marinkovic and Tadas Sedekerkis, and hope that Moneke can get healthy soon and stay healthy. If he does, give him more minutes. He’s been the lone bright spot in their embarrassing start to the season.
If no additions are made, it doesn’t matter if they stay healthy or make a million coaching changes. A prime Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan couldn’t lift this squad out of the rut they’re in. They need to retool, and they need to do it now.
EuroLeague Week 4 lines of the week:
Nikola Mirotic finished with 30 points and 12 rebounds in their loss to ALBA Berlin. He’s doing everything he can to carry this team.
EuroLeague Week 4 quote of the week:
“He’s the best shooter I’ve ever seen in my life.” - ASVEL’s always passionate and new head coach Gianmarco Pozzecco to… Mike Scott. Yes, that Mike Scott!
EuroLeague Week 4 clip of the week:
Zach LeDay is always hyped for the Belgrade derby.