We are through six weeks of EuroLeague action now and things are heating up. Monaco has won five in a row, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s offense is unstoppable, and Jabari Parker is molding into one of the most versatile scorers in Europe. Here’s a breakdown of this week’s winners and losers. And in case you missed last week’s, here’s a link to that.
EuroLeague Week 6 Winners: Jabari Parker is thriving for Barcelona
Many people, including the person writing this, frowned upon Barcelona signing Parker this offseason. It was an assumption based on reasonable doubt. We doubted his ability to stay healthy, his ability to fit into a squad that had a dramatic summer, and his overall current ability after featuring in only 25 games across the last two NBA seasons.
Parker has wasted zero time in squashing those doubts. He’s averaging 9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in just over 18 minutes per game. In Round 6 against Panathinaikos, he led Barcelona in scoring with 17 points and also a Player Index Rating of 17. In Round 7 against Crvena Zvezda he led the team in scoring again, this time with 20 points. He tied with Tomas Satoransky to lead the team in PIR at 19.
Parker is beginning to establish himself as an elite EuroLeague scorer, and he’s doing so within the framework of Barcelona’s offense as a versatile catch-all threat. He’s fitting around the likes of Tomas Satoransky, Nicolas Laprovittola, Jan Vesely, and others. He is not demanding set plays or anything even close to that. Instead, he is waiting for openings and opportunities to come his way and then capitalizing.
On a limited volume so far, Parker is thriving as a spot-up shooter. He’s shooting 40 percent from three overall on 18 attempts, and of those 18 three-point attempts 15 are spot-up. He’s getting open looks off the gravity of Barcelona’s pick-and-roll game.
Parker’s off-ball scoring profile has been more than spot-up shooting. He’s also cutting and his teammates are finding him. While Parker isn’t the ridiculous athlete he used to be, he’s still very difficult for anyone in EuroLeague to stop at the rim especially when he’s already got momentum, and is even finishing lobs for Barcelona.
Speaking of Parker’s athleticism, he has become a huge threat in transition, at times he's almost a one-man fastbreak all on his own. When teams fail to slow him down early and give him the space to get rim-to-rim he takes advantage of the opportunity and usually ends up with two points.
And finally, Parker is running a handful of isolations and post-ups, but only doing so in situations where it makes sense such as late in the shot clock, with a mismatch, or when it's coming in rhythm within the flow of the offense.
Parker is getting buckets this season, but doing so as an accessory to Barcelona’s overall team success. He’s a match-up nightmare and versatile scorer, utilizing an offensive profile similar to Tobias Harris and Aaron Gordon. If he can keep up this level of play, this Barcelona squad will be Final Four bound and Parker may have played himself into either EuroLeague’s elite or back into the NBA. Neither of those seemed possible at the beginning of the season.
EuroLeague Week 6 Winners: Maccabi Tel Aviv is persevering through adversity
Making any predictions on what Maccabi Tel Aviv’s season will look like when it ends is impossible. The geopolitical conflicts in their country have forced them to play “home” games in Belgrade, Serbia at Aleksandar Nikolic Hall, without fans. One of Maccabi’s greatest strengths any season is their home court, and that’s been ripped away from them.
With all of that weighing on the players, coaches, fans, and entire organization they are still managing to play great basketball. They are 4-2 on the season, with their two losses coming on the road to in-form Valencia and Monaco teams (more on the latter after this).
They beat Partizan and Bayern at home, with only the Partizan match being actually played at home. They also beat Milano and Panathinaikos on the road. How are they succeeding in the face of all the adversity they’re facing? With a modern roster and incredible guard play.
Maccabi leads the league in assists per game with 22.2 as a team. They are second in points per game at 86.3, only to first-placed Real Madrid, and are also second in two-point field goals made per game (22.3), third in free throws made (16.2), and fourth in offensive rebounds (13.3). This is all connected.
It starts with their backcourt, which is finally fully healthy. Lorenzo Brown and Wade Baldwin are arguably the most dynamic starting backcourt in EuroLeague at the moment. Both thrive in the pick-and-roll and isolation and are just as comfortable dishing to teammates as they are scoring themselves. They’re usually joined by Bonzie Colson and Jake Cohen in the starting lineup. Colson and Brown both lead the team with 15.7 points per game. Colson gets his points differently though. He spaces the floor and knocks down open catch-and-shoot threes, cuts into space and uses his athleticism at the rim, and crashes the offensive glass for clean-up opportunities. He’s also comfortable bullying smaller opponents in the post when those opportunities arise.
Cohen and fellow bigs Josh Nebo, Roman Sorkin, and Jasiel Rivero will set screens relentlessly. They have the stamina, body, and talent to do exactly what Brown and Baldwin require to open up the game. Cohen can also help stretch the floor, all of them have good hands and also feast on second-chance opportunities provided by rim pressure from Brown and Baldwin.
The final thing that makes this team hum on offense is that their bench players provide more of the same. Tamir Blatt and Joh DiBartolomeo are both solid pick-and-roll guards and shooters. Antonius Cleveland and James Webb III provide energy and defensive versatility, and we’ve already elaborated on the functionality of their bigs.
On defense, this team is incredibly active and comfortable applying heavy pressure and switching. Colson’s versatility is crucial to their overall scheme. He can pick up the opposing team's best perimeter players whether it's a guard or a wing, and push them out of their comfort zone. He operates as a free safety at times too, which leads to him occasionally getting burned but more often than not, he helps force turnovers which gets Maccabi out in transition where the likes of Brown and Baldwin are lethal.
For now, Maccabi is controlling what they can control. Baldwin is finally healthy, they’re executing on both sides of the ball, and letting the pieces fall where they may. In the face of a season that will be plagued by international crisis, that’s all you can ask for. If they manage to make the Final Four, it will be one of the best stories in the history of this competition.
EuroLeague Week 6 Winners: Mike James MVP case as Monaco makes it five wins in a row
ASVEL put in their third resilient performance in a row under new head coach Gianmarco Pozzecco but still came up short on the road against French rivals Monaco. That’s five wins in a row for Monaco, who are playing great as a team but look like one of the best teams in Europe thanks to stellar play from Mike James. James finished this one with only 15 points and 2 assists, and an underwhelming shooting night overall, but still made plenty of shots where the level of difficulty seemed beyond comprehension.
James is currently averaging 18.6 points per game, second to only Nikola Mirotic whose Milano side is 2-5. James is also leading the league with 2.9 3-pointers made per game, and fourth in Performance Index Rating at 21. He’s the MVP of the league right now, and ASVEL planned for that accordingly.
They started the game with Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot on him, hoping the French wings size and length would give James some issues. It did, and surprisingly, Monaco stuck to this match-up on the other end which led to ASVEL having Luwawu-Cabarrot post James on a few occasions.
As the game wore on, Paris Lee — who is second in the league in steals per game and one of the best screen navigators in EuroLeague — matched up on James. Tougher to shake than Luwawu-Cabarrot, but not quite as physically imposing. ASVEL consistently met James high and at the level on ball-screens, and would switch and bring help when they felt it was necessary. They threw a lot of different schemes at James and he handled it well, still finding his own opportunities to score and setting up teammates.
Jordan Loyd scored 12 points on a horrendous shooting night — it is only his second game back and he clearly needs some time to find his groove — and Elie Okobo added 16 off the bench. The big performance in their win over ASVEL came from Alpha Diallo, who finished with 21 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 steals and shot 6 of 9 from three.
Monaco is clearly among the league’s elite once again. James is proving capable of beating opponents on his own and when schemes make that a little more difficult for him than usual, he’s getting teammates involved and finding out who’s positioned for a big night. Sometimes it's Diallo, sometimes it's John Brown III, Yakuba Ouattara, Elie Okobo, Donta Hall, or Donatas Motiejunas.
Monaco’s got the best player in EuroLeague at the moment and surrounding pieces that are feasting off of the attention he’s drawing. If they stay healthy, they are bound for another Final Four appearance.
EuroLeague Week 6 Losers: Zalgiris has lost three in a row
After a solid 3-1 start to the season where Keenan Evans looked like he had recovered perfectly from his Achilles injury last season Zalgiris was full of optimism. That’s starting to shift, though. They are now 3-4 and have lost three in a row.
The first two losses were both at home. The first one was a blowout loss to Valencia and the second was a blown fourth-quarter lead against ASVEL, who grabbed their first, and still only, win of the season. In Round 7, they lost on the road to a struggling Anadolu Efes side who were desperate for victory.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong with this team. The talent is there in Evans, Kevarrious Hayes, Rolands Smits, Edgaras Ulanovas, Tomas Dimsa, and others. Brady Manek seems to be adapting well and Naz Mitrou-Long has provided them a good secondary handler.
However, they are tied for second-to-last in assists per game, averaging only 15.9 as a team. They’re fourth from last in free throws made per game, and second to last in offensive rebounds. They are in the top three in 3-point shooting, but that’s it. They are not in the top five in any other relevant team metric.
One pointed weakness that stands out potentially is their perimeter defense. In their Round 7 loss to Efes, they started Evans, Dovydas Giedraitis, Edgaras Ulanovas, Rolands Smits, and Hayes. Evans, and then Hayes, are the two best perimeter defenders in that unit. Hayes, who is a solid defender and fifth in the lead in blocks per game is still not an imposing rim protector. He is good, but not frightening. There’s a difference between the two, and when your perimeter defense is about as imposing as a mouse, that difference matters even more.
Their bench does not address this issue at all. It only makes it worse, Dimsa, Lukas Lekavicius, and Manek are not out there to get stops. Lekavicius is a walking target due to his size. It’s hard to see a solution. So far, coach Kazys Maksvytis has opted for size, hence the playing Hayes, Smits, and Ulanovas together but it is far from a permanent solution. Granted, it doesn’t look like there is a solution with the current roster. For the moment, Zalgiris will have to hope they can outscore opponents, and get back to winning at home at least to get their season back on the right track.
EuroLeague Week 6 Losers: Bologna and Valencia get rocked
A short one here, because sometimes you just have a bad day. Valencia lost to Milano 83-52 on the road, and Bologna lost to Real Madrid 100-74 on the road. There’s no need to overreact to one bad game, especially on the road, but it is cause for caution.
Bologna and Valencia are two teams who still have been playing well above pre-season expectations. Maybe their hot starts are who they really are, or maybe these blowout defeats course correct and send them plummeting back to what was expected of them. You never know, but it’s worth keeping a close eye on both teams.
Valencia’s next two games are Real Madrid at home and Barcelona away, yikes. That could quickly be three losses in a row and a 5-5 record. Bologna’s next two are the Italian derby at home against a struggling Milano side, and away to the OAKA arena in Athens to face Panathinaikos who look like they’re putting the pieces together. A 1-1 split with a tough showing against the Greens should silence any concerns, but a loss to Milano will set them up for a potential dark run that could haunt their end-of-season finish.
EuroLeague Week 6: Lines of the Week
Konstantinos Mitoglou finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds on 11-of-15 shooting from the field. Huge performance in their road win over ALBA Berlin.
EuroLeague Week 6: Quote of the Week
All of the drama between Mike James and his former head coach Ettore Messina
EuroLeague Week 6: Clip of the Week
This Darius Thompson assist might be the greatest lob pass in the history of the sport.