We skipped a EuroLeague Week 7 column due to the publishing of our first EuroLeague and International Basketball Big Board of the season. If you haven’t checked that out yet, you should. Now, let’s get back to some interesting EuroLeague observations after 10 rounds of play.
EuroLeague Week 8 Observations: Quantifying Baskonia's and Panathinaikos' upturn in form
In Dusko Ivanovic’s first game in charge, Baskonia’s improvement was prominently on display. They were disciplined and organized and that was enough to scrap a home win against Partizan. That wasn’t impressive overall, but winning three in a row after that was. Baskonia’s fourth Dusko fever dream finally came to an end in a Round 10 77-75 loss to AS Monaco. So how much better has Baskonia been under Ivanovic compared to Joan Penarroya?
They improved from 17th in net rating (-11.3) to 4th (7.8). This has been driven by drastic improvements on both ends of the floor. They were also 17th in offensive rating (105.3) and improved to seventh (116.9). Their defensive rating of 109 is good enough for fourth in the league for rounds 6 through 10.
Baskonia has slowed the game down, dropping from league leaders in pace for rounds 1 through 5 (75.8) to 7th (71.2). They’re also sharing the ball better — improving from assisting on 19 percent of their baskets per 100 possessions (14th) to 23 percent (tied for fourth). Additionally, they are leading the league in frequency for above-the-break three with 34 percent of their shots coming from there under Ivanovic. In short, the poetic terms of discipline and organization that get associated with Ivanovic translate to a slower, more controlled game, better ball movement, and better shot selection. So far, that’s been enough to turn the table on Baskonia’s outlook for this season.
Baskonia is not the only team thriving for the past five rounds, Ergin Ataman’s Panathinaikos has won four in a row and is currently tied for fourth with a 6-4 record. Not bad after a somewhat dire 2-4 start.
Their improvement has largely been driven by their offense. Their defense moved from average to good - 109.6 defensive rating (7th) in Rounds 1-6 to a 108.2 defensive rating (4th) in rounds 7-10. That improvement may not seem massive but it makes a significant difference. A top-four defense is a Final Four defense. A top-seven defense is a play-in defense. Those are different classes entirely.
On offense, things have notably gotten better and sparked this four-game winning streak. Panathinaikos' offensive rating in Rounds 1-6 was 107.7 (14th), but 123.9 (4th) in Rounds 7-10. This has been driven by higher-quality shots, plain and simple. Their frequency of attempts at the rim has risen from 14 percent (eighth) to 20 percent (first). They’re shooting 39 percent from 3, a notable improvement from 36 percent, their corner 3 frequency is up from 4 percent (ninth) to 6 percent (second).
How are they getting better-quality shots? Ball movement, thanks to less Kostas Sloukas hero ball, has opened the game up for everyone. Their percent of assisted field goals per 100 was 17 in Rounds 1-6 which put them in dead last at 18th. They’re now at 24 percent (fourth) in Rounds 7-10, and they are valuing the ball more down from 14.8 turnovers per game to 11.5. The Greens have moved away from their worst traits and embraced their best. Recently, they’ve looked like Final Four material.
EuroLeague Week 8 Observations: Virtus Bologna is not an underdog anymore, they’re just a dawg
Following a Round 7 annihilation at the hands of Real Madrid, there were genuine concerns about whether or not Bologna would go plummeting down the table. They had performed well above expectations to that point, and a 24-point loss is the type of result that can send an entire team crashing back to reality.
But it turns out Bologna’s reality is that they’re a damn good team. They bounced back with a Round 8 win in the Italian Derby over Milano, pushed Panathinaikos all the way on the road in Athens before coming up short in Round 9, and then beat Fenerbahce at home in Round 10 without Isaia Cordinier.
In our season preview, we predicted Bologna to finish 17th, and said the following: Maybe we’ll regret this one, but odds are we’ll regret a lot of our predictions here so who cares? Obviously, we regret that prediction. The reasons we cited were Luca Banchi not having enough time to prepare for the EuroLeague season, Tornike Shengelia’s unproven status as an offensive leader on a quality EuroLeague team, and their lack of a perimeter scoring threat.
Well, it turns out Banchi doesn’t need much time to get his teams humming to his tune, Shengelia looks unstoppable at the moment — executing baseline spins and dunks on anyone opponents put in front of him, and Isaia Cordinier is a straight-up baller.
This roster is also very well-rounded. Iffe Lundberg is still good at basketball! Believe it or not, the Danish point guard can still hand with Europe’s best in bursts. His team-high 19 points against Milano in Round 8 led the way for their derby victory.
Their geriatric core of Bryant Dunston, Daniel Hackett, and Marco Belinelli provides a little bit of everything. Defense and rebounding, steady ball-handling and offensive orchestration, and shooting. Even at 37 Belinelli is still one of the best movement shooters in Europe.
Alessandro Pajola is a young and intelligent jack-of-all-trades guard who can fill in wherever he’s most needed on any given night and of course, they’ve got their dawgs: Jaleen Smith, Awudu Abass, Devontae Cacok, Ognjen Dobric, Achille Polonara, and even Hackett and Dunston fall into this category. We didn’t even get to Jordan Mickey, who has been a solid stretch five off the bench this season.
Bologna has almost everything: they’re tough, smart, and skilled. But that Round 7 loss to Real Madrid serves as a reminder that they’re probably still a step below being a true contender. If Bologna’s current form holds through December, they need to consider going all-in and adding another perimeter scoring threat. Players can transfer between EuroLeague clubs during this period — such as Kyle Guy and Tyler Dorsey who currently seem out of favor at their respective clubs — or they could look at someone still on the market, such as Daulton Hommes. Bologna is the shock of the season so far, and it looks like they will stay on that path.
EuroLeague Week 8 Observations: Olympiacos is prepared to contend for the EuroLeague championship once more
Despite their loss of star power over the summer and some early injuries due to their initial lack of depth, Olympiacos is still sitting at 6-4 and tied for the fourth-best record in the league. The scoring punch they lost with Sasha Vezenkov’s departure to the NBA has been replaced by Alec Peters (more on this later) and Isaiah Canaan. Both players have more than doubled their points per game compared to last season.
The playmaking loss of Kostas Sloukas has been distributed amongst the entire team thanks to what EuroLeague aficionados have dubbed Bartzokas Ball. Regardless of who’s on the team, Georgios Bartzokas clubs will space the floor, constantly be on the move, and zip the ball around the court as they please. They force the opposing defense to be on top of their game 100 percent of the time and the slightest of missteps will be punished. Overall, this is a squad that plays for each other and has the perfect mix of players who are highly self-aware - know what they’re capable of on the court and what they aren’t — with a sprinkling of irrationally confident guys like Canaan and eventually Shaquielle McKissic.
Their round 9 win over Red Star Belgrade was a perfect example of what they’re capable of when they’re on their A-game, even when they’re missing some key guys. With Nikola Milutinov sidelined, their only center available was Moustapha Fall and he stepped up and had a big game.
Not just as a low-post scorer and vertical threat, but Fall was thriving in the short-roll. Others have likely highlighted Fall’s decision-making in the past but he flexed it at full force against Red Star, making them pay for what was questionable pick-and-roll defense. Seriously, why are they playing hedge-and-recover on Thomas Walkup AND Michalis Lountzis pick-and-rolls?
When Fall had to rest, Bartzokas used two different non-center lineups. In the first half, he went with Lountzis, Giannoulis Larentzakiz, Ignas Brazdeikis, Alec Peters, and Luke Sikma. With Peters having a lights-out performance — 28 points on 9-of-15 shooting and 6-of-6 from the line — it worked a charm. Olympiacos was only plus-2 in these four minutes but given Red Star’s strong play up to that point, it was a blessing. Fall checked back in with just under four minutes to go and his team down five, and they went plus-6 to close the half and take a one-point lead into the break.
In the third quarter, Bartzokas went with Walkup, Canaan, Kostas Papanikolaou, Peters, and Sikma to rest Fall with two minutes to go. They were again, plus-2 to close the quarter, which gave them an 11-point lead heading into the final quarter.
Olympiacos may not have the star power of seasons past, but they have great depth in talent that they’ve only expanded on over the past two weeks — adding Naz Mitrou-Long (who won’t be EuroLeague eligible until 2024) and Filip Petrusev. Bartzokas has a lot of different ways to set his teams up for victory, and that’s where he’s at his best.
EuroLeague Week 8 Observations: Is this the EuroLeague era of scoring forwards?
The previous two players to win the EuroLeague MVP award were Nikola Mirotic and Sasha Vezenkov. These two forwards put an end to guards and wings winning four of the previous five EuroLeague MVP awards. So that begs the question, is this the era of scoring forwards?
For starters, three of the five leading scorers in Europe are forwards: Mirotic, Shengelia, and Dinos Mitoglou. Additionally, most of the other teams in the top 8 have forwards either leading them in scoring or among their team leaders. Real Madrid has Gabriel Deck and Guerschon Yabusele, Barcelona has Jabari Parker, Olympiacos has Peters, Baskonia has Chima Moneke, and Fenerbahce has Nigel Hayes-Davis. Monaco is the only outlier, with their scoring dominated by their guards and perimeter players.
A big reason for this success is likely the versatility in scoring that these players bring. Mirotic, Shengelia, Parker, and Moneke are comfortable in the post, facing opponents up, stepping out to the perimeter and even isolating against opponents. This makes guarding them, particularly 1-on-1, almost impossible. Put a strong forward on them to contain them in the post and they’ll pull them out to the perimeter and blow by them. Use a quicker wing and they’ll bully them in the post.
Even the likes of Mitoglou, Peters, and Moneke have evolved into multi-dimensional scorers. They’re all capable of spotting up, and for Mitoglou and Peters that’s where they’re at their best, but they also are finding success as cutters, in transition, and of course, in the post. Having a forward who can punish opponents in a multitude of ways is a clear recipe for success in the modern EuroLeague era.
Mirotic and Vezenkov have spearheaded this over the past couple of seasons, and now Mitoglou (17.29), Peters (16.3), Moneke (16.4), and even Shengelia (16.9) are averaging career-highs in scoring. Their teams are reaping the benefits, and laying a model for success across the league.
EuroLeague Week 8: Lines of the Week
Round 8 - Shane Larkin finished with 25 points and 4 assists on 10-of-17 shooting in a big win over Monaco.
Round 9 - The Olympiacos duo of Moustapha Fall and Alec Peters in their win over Crvena Zvezda. Fall finished with 14 points, 14 rebounds, 7 offensive rebounds, and 4 assists. Peters finished with 28 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists.
Round 10 - This one is a tie between Mike James' 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists in a big road win over Baskonia and Maodo Lo’s 32 points on 6-of-7 shooting from 3 in a blowout road win over Crvena Zvezda.
EuroLeague Week 8: Quote of the Week
Alex Abrines airs some dirty laundry on Sarunas Jasikevicius.
EuroLeague Week 8: Clip of the Week
Real Madrid might beat the Pistons and the Wizards in a best-of-7-series right now.