The Step Back

Will Luka Doncic steal the show?


Euroleague is the best non-NBA basketball you can watch this winter. It involves a collection of the 16 best clubs in Europe, battling in a competition that offers all of the excitement of college basketball, played at a higher level. The atmosphere of European basketball is completely unique. Take the regional pride associated with college basketball, mix it with NBA-style rosters featuring former college players and top-level international players from across Europe mixing together, and sprinkle some of the insanity of European soccer fans and WWE-style administration on top. It’s a bizarre world to keep up with if you’ve never done it before, but it’s extremely entertaining.

Last season’s Euroleague season featured a few fun storylines. The most important was the emergence of Luka Doncic, the 18-year old phenom who earned a starting spot for a Real Madrid team that made the Final Four. He’s back this year, and is a potential number one pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Bogdan Bogdanovic emerged as a legitimate star, helping Fenerbahce hit cruising altitude in the playoffs and ultimately winning the title. The new format of the league — a shift away from the UEFA Champions League-style elimination rounds to a more NBA-style 30-game season — was a huge hit, helping to foster consistent intrigue and high-profile matchups every week. The biggest of those was the emergence of a “Race for 8th” that was highly entertaining, as Darussafaka, Anadolu Efes, Baskonia, and Crvena Zvezda all wrestled for control of the last playoff spot over the last 10 games of the season, with it ultimately coming down to a win-and-you’re-in game between David Blatt’s Darussafaka and Zvezda.

As is always the case, though, the summer brought a load of changes to the league, creating what should be a wide open season with as many as five title contenders. The defending champs, Fenerbahce, have to replace Bogdanovic and new Jazz center Ekpe Udoh. Olympiacos overhauled their bench, creating what should be one of the deepest units in the league. CSKA Moscow, Baskonia, and Anadolu Efes all have to replace key players that bounced to the NBA, and the league will miss Milos Teodosic, Shane Larkin, and Cedi Osman dearly. Even Real Madrid is reeling, having to scramble to replace Sergio Llull, one of the league’s biggest stars who unfortunately tore his ACL in a national team game over the summer.

Taking their place should be a mix of new and old Euroleague players who should pick up the entertainment slack. Olympiacos will still rely on the old guard of Vassilis Spanoulis and Georgios Printezis, and CSKA Moscow still has an MVP favorite in former San Antonio Spur Nando De Colo. But a new influx of talent should provide support — former Darussafaka guard Bradley Wanamaker at Fenerbahce, the new Big Three of Kevin Seraphin, Thomas Heurtel, and Adam Hanga for Barcelona, and reigning Eurocup MVP Alexey Shved at Khimki Moscow. Add in Doncic and new NBA imports like Norris Cole at Maccabi Tel Aviv and Brian Roberts at Olympiacos, and the depth of talent should still be high, even without Udoh, Bogdanovic, Teodosic, and Llull.

The new Euroleague season will kick off this Thursday, when AX Armani Milano tips off against CSKA Moscow. Games take place throughout the morning and early afternoons on Thursday and Friday from October to May, making it an easy-to-follow companion to NBA basketball for those looking for that extra fix of hoops. Whether you’re following along again from last season, or jumping in for the first time, we want to prime you for what to expect heading into the year. Let’s go team-by-team to get you prepped for the coming season.

BELGRADE, SERBIA – JANUARY 12: Nemanja Dangubic,

Tier 6 — Home Court Advantage, but not much else

Brose Bamberg

Location: Bamberg, Germany

Coach: Andrea Trinchieri

Last year’s finish: 13th in Euroleague, Won German League

Notable Players (Former NBA Team or NBA Draft situation): PF Luka Mitrovic (Kings draft-and-stash), PG Nikos Zizis, SG Ricky Hickman, G/F Bryce Taylor, PF Augustine Rubit

Bamberg underwhelmed last year, disappointing with a bottom-quarter finish despite a talented roster led by Italian forward Nicolo Melli. Now Melli, as well as new Pelicans forward Darius Miller, are gone, leaving behind a roster that is probably the least inspiring in the league. This year’s unit was set to be built around former Nets forward Quincy Miller, a legitimate All-Euroleague threat when healthy — but now that’s looking to be in doubt. Without him, they’ll be building a team around a squad of role players — Hickman and Zizis, former capable starters who are now both over 30; Mitrovic, a quirky post-up four with a bit of an injury history; Rubit and Taylor, who have no Euroleague experience; and Maodo Lo and Aleksej Nikolic, young guards of whom a breakout is not just expected, but required. This team does have a couple of advantages — a great home-court atmosphere, and Andrea Trinchieri, the European Brad Stevens, at coach. But those two things couldn’t get a decent roster over the hump last year, and they’ve taken a significant step back this year. Bamberg’s season could come down to what they can salvage off the NBA training camp cut market – but until then, they’re in a really bad spot.

Crvena Zvezda (Red Star)

Location: Belgrade, Serbia

Coach: Dusan Alimpijevic

Last year’s finish: 9th in Euroleague, Adriatic League Champions

Notable Players: C Pero Antic (Hawks), SF Nemanja Dangubic (Spurs draft-and-stash), C Matthias Lessort (76ers draft-and-stash), SG Branko Lazic, PG Taylor Rochestie

Red Star had an even more tumultuous summer than Bamberg, as financial issues rocked the team and forced them to sell off the majority of the core of last year’s team that almost made the playoffs. They were able to rebuild slightly better than the Germans, however, and bring a squad built around high-upside young players to the table. Lessort, Dangubic, Nuggets draft-and-stash Nikola Radicevic, and former G-Leaguers Stefan Jankovic and Nikola Jovanovic will all be core rotation players, giving the club it’s staple stable of young, gritty Serbs with a few other solid prospects sprinkled in. Providing veteran presences will be Antic as a spot-up five, Dangubic, Lazic, one of Euroleague’s toughest defenders, Rochestie, a hyper-efficient scoring guard, and Milko Bjelica, who provides power and touch around the rim. The depth here isn’t great, but they at least will have an imposing frontcourt, as Lessort and Bjelica will control the glass and both an block shots pretty well at this level. Zvezda also brings a phenomenal home court advantage, and is a near lock to knock off some unprepared title-contender at home in January. The ceiling here isn’t that high, though, and it’s hard to see Red Star in the playoff chase again.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY – OCTOBER 01: Bryant Dunston,

Tier 5 — What’s the plan here?

Maccabi Tel Aviv

Location: Tel Aviv, Israel

Coach: Neven Spahija (Former Hawks assistant)

Last year’s finish: 14th in Euroleague, 4th in Israeli Premier League

Notable Players: PF Jonah Bolden (76ers draft-and-stash), G Pierre Jackson (Mavericks), G Norris Cole (Heat/Thunder), C Artisiom Parakhouski, G/F Yovel Zoosman (2018 Draft prospect)

Maccabi are the Knicks of Euroleague — since a title in 2014, it’s been a string of disastrous years for the Israeli club, as ownership meddling and in-fighting has produced a constant stream of coach firings and rosters built around name recognition. Spahija looks to rectify the former, but the latter is the big question here, as a roster that has some decent names may not fit together in a meaningful way. High-usage guards like Jackson and DeAndre Kane pair with Bolden and Deshaun Thomas, who both require the ball to be effective. Then there’s Cole, who we haven’t seen in a role like this before, and who has already suffered an injury. There’s stuff to like here — Jackson and Parakhouski are fun to watch, Bolden looked good in Summer League, Karam Mashour is criminally underrated, and Zoosman has sneaky NBA potential as a long, athletic wing. But the mash-up of the roster, and the threat of ownership axing their *NINTH* coach since David Blatt took the Cavs job because of a random loss in November, are too much to reliably say that Maccabi will improve.

Anadolu Efes

Location: Istanbul, Turkey

Coach: Velimir Perasovic

Last year’s finish: 6th in Euroleague (lost in QF), 3rd in Turkish League (Lost Finals)

Notable Players: C Bryant Dunston, PF Derrick Brown (Bobcats), SG Erick McCollum (C.J.’s brother), PG Ricky Ledo (Mavericks), F Brock Motum

Efes had a really solid season last year, taking Olympiacos to the wire in the Euroleague playoffs. But they made some questionable moves in the summer, and their roster is going to have some significant issues. Perasovic likes to run up-tempo, creating chaos on defense and thriving in transition. It’s hard to see how this roster fits that, though. McCollum, fresh off a dominant Chinese League season, pairs with Ledo and Josh Adams, all of whom are primarily scoring point guards that like to isolate rather than push. The pieces are still here for a good defense — Dunston, Brown, and Dogus Balbay give the squad three phenomenal defenders, and the addition of Brock Motum will help solidify that — but this is going to be a very difficult offense to watch, as like Maccabi, they lack high-level basketball IQ guys and consistent offensive role players. If Perasovic can fit this squad to his preferred style, they might make the playoffs again. But that’s a hard ask if McCollum and Adams aren’t willing to share, and it’s not hard to see this team finishing in the bottom of the table a year after a great season.

KAUNAS, LITHUANIA – MARCH 02: Paulius Jankunas,

Tier 4 — A couple questions away from the playoffs

AX Armani Milano

Location: Milan, Italy

Coach: Simone Pianigiani

Last year’s finish: 16th in Euroleague, 3rd in Italian League

Notable Players: G Andrew Goudelock (Lakers), PG Jordan Theodore, PF Patric Young (Pelicans), C Arturas Gudaitis (Kings draft-and-stash), SG Mantas Kalnietis

Milano had a disastrous season last year – they were out of contention by December, jettisoned their prized young star, Alessandro Gentile, and didn’t win the Italian League. This caused some wholesale changes in the summer, and the future is looking a little brighter. Leading the charge is coach Simone Pianigiani, a former Euroleague Final 4 coach with Siena, and key signing Andrew Goudelock, who figures to rebound from his disappointing season with Maccabi last year. The roster got a major overhaul, and unlike Red Star and Bamberg, Milano figures to have major depth. The backcourt combination of Goudelock and Jordan Theodore (fresh off a FIBA Champions League Final run with Banvit) figures to give Pianigiani some fun tools in terms of offensive initiation. These two are fairly high-risk, high-reward playmakers, and they’ve also brought in Dairis Bertans to steady the field. The frontcourt also figures to be interesting – Young is an absolute bruiser when healthy, Vladimir Micov provides capable play from the four spot, and Gudaitis appears poised for a breakout as a skilled post-up scorer in his first major Euroleague role. Things could be exciting for the first time in a few years for Milano, as long as they stay healthy and Goudelock rebounds. The likelihood of those both happening is low, though, and that’s why they’re on the outside looking in.

Zalgiris Kaunas

Location: Kaunas, Lithuania

Coach: Sarunas Jasikevicius (Former Warrior/Pacer, Lithuanian National Team player)

Last year’s finish: 10th in Euroleague, Won Lithuanian League

Notable Players: SF Axel Toupane (Nuggets), PF Brandon Davies (76ers), PF/C Paulius Jankunas, PF Aaron White (Wizards draft-and-stash), PG Vasilije Micic (76ers draft-and-stash)

Zalgiris comes into the season set up like they were last year — a bunch of Lithuanian domestic players that are highly skilled and heady, with a few young players who have flirted with the NBA sprinkled on top, commanded by one of Europe’s hottest young coaching prospects. This year’s iteration maintains the domestic influence with Jankunas, Edgaras Ulanovas, and Arturas Milaknis, but changes out some of the international talent, adding Toupane, Davies, Micic and White to join former Gonzaga guard Kevin Pangos. This team won’t make a lot of mistakes — they aren’t as athletic or strong as most of their Euroleague opponents, but they will make smart passes, share the ball, and make life hard on you on the defensive end. The big question for them is going to be backcourt play – Pangos is steady but not spectacular, new addition Dee Bost is more of a role player, and Micic hasn’t really proven himself since being drafted by Philadelphia in 2015. How Saras is able to mold Micic, as well as potential breakout candidate Paulius Valinskas, will likely determine whether Zalgiris can emerge from this group and make some playoff noise.

Unicaja Malaga

Location: Malaga, Spain

Coach: Joan Plaza

Last year’s finish: Won Eurocup, 4th in ACB

Notable Players: PG Ray McCallum (Grizzlies), SG Nemanja Nedovic (Warriors), SG Dani Diez (Blazers draft-and-stash), SF Dragan Milosavljevic, C Viny Okouo (2018 Draft prospect)

Malaga is a new entrant to Euroleague, having won Europe’s second-tier cup, Eurocup. They enter with an interesting roster that is high on athleticism and defensive capability but could be lacking in offensive efficiency. A backbone carries over from last year’s team — Diez, Nedovic (who should finally be healthy), Jeff Brooks, and Alberto Diaz, who embody both of those core principles of Malaga basketball. Diaz, Brooks, Giorgi Shermandini and James Augustine will keep them sturdy on defense, and new imports Sasu Salin and McCallum should give an offensive infusion to last year’s Nedovic-led attack that was woefully inconsistent. McCallum in particular is the player to watch here — he has a long resume of G-League success, and he fits the profile of a playmaking, athletic point guard that always seems to do well in this league. If he’s as good as advertised, Malaga could be a playoff team. But the inconsistencies across the roster could limit them a little bit.

VALENCIA, SPAIN – APRIL 05: Bojan Dubljevic,

Tier 3 — Probable Playoff Contenders

Baskonia

Location: Vitoria, Spain

Coach: Pablo Prigioni (Former Knick/Rocket)

Last year’s finish: 7th in Euroleague (Lost in QF), 3rd in ACB

Notable Players: SF Janis Timma (Magic draft-and-stash), PG Marcelo Huertas (Lakers), PF Tornike Shengelia (Nets/Bulls), SG Jordan McRae (Cavaliers), C Ilimane Diop

Baskonia lost a couple of key players over the summer in Shane Larkin and Adam Hanga, but they have an interesting roster for rookie coach Prigioni to inherit. Led by Shengelia and the veteran Huertas, Baskonia should be able to slow the pace down, attack the basket, and play inside-out basketball. Shengelia, McRae, and Rodrigue Beaubois thrive at attacking the basket, and their forward combo of Timma and Johannes Voigtmann, as well as new addition Matt Janning, provide a healthy dose of shooting that was missing last year. Baskonia has decent depth and a lot of options on offense, which should keep them very competitive throughout the season. The proble will be on defense, where Huertas is a traffic cone and McRae and Beaubois haven’t shown any consistency. Ilimane Diop is the league’s most underrated rim protector, but he can’t do it himself, and how Baskonia compensates for their poor perimeter defense will be intriguing. That, plus injuries that will keep Shengelia and McRae sidelined at the beginning of the season, throw enough questions in Vitoria to keep expectations tepid early on.

Valencia Basket

Location: Valencia, Spain

Coach: Txus Vidorreta

Last year’s finish: Eurocup runner up, 1st in ACB

Notable Players: PF Bojan Dubljevic (Timberwolves draft-and-stash), C Tibor Pleiss (Jazz), PG Erick Green (Nuggets), C Latavious Williams (Pelicans draft-and-stash), SF Fernando San Emeterio

Valencia brings one of the potential answers to the star power that left for the NBA this summer — Bojan Dubljevic, the Montenegrin power forward who appears poised to break out as a Euroleague player after a strong Eurocup last year. He’s one of Europe’s most problematic offensive weapons — he can stretch the floor to the corners, is a pretty decent passer and elbow creator, and he’s strong enough to bang with much larger centers under the basket and in the post. Not many teams have one player who can answer for all of that, and his talent bends defenses to allow players like San Emeterio, Green, and Sam Van Rossum to thrive around him. Valencia is going to rely on punching you repeatedly in the paint, and then capitalizing once you start protecting against that — Williams, Pleiss, and Will Thomas join Dubljevic inside, and once they’ve softened you up, the floor should open for the Valencia guards. This is a deep team full of veterans, which generally is a good recipe in any basketball league. The ceiling might not be high, but Valencia should comfortably finish as a playoff team this season on the back of Dubljevic.

Adam Hanga during the Liga Endesa match between FC Barcelona v Baskonia , in Barcelona, on September 29, 2017. (Photo by Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Tier 2 — High-variance playoff teams

Panathinaikos

Location: Athens, Greece

Coach: Xavi Pascual

Last year’s finish: 4th in Euroleague (Lost in QF), 1st in Greek League

Notable Players: C Chris Singleton (Wizards), PG Nick Calathes (Grizzlies), F Thanasis Antetokounmpo, PF Zach Auguste, SF K.C. Rivers

Panathinaikos looks good on paper. Led by Singleton, perhaps Euroleague’s best two-way center, the Greens have a roster full of athletic big men and solid defensive guards that can grind games to a halt. The additions of Antetokounmpo and Auguste give the team more athleticism to join forwards Kenny Gabriel and James Gist, and Calathes is a very solid defender and playmaker that can lock down most Euroleague guards. The big question for Panathinaikos is guard depth — they had constant turnover at two-guard last season, and they don’t have a response to Calathes getting the Ricky Rubio treatment because of his lack of shooting threat. It’s hard to be built through your frontcourt and have a point guard who so obviously isn’t a threat beyond 18-feet, and the early part of the season will be spent finding an answer, whether that’s Lukas Lekavicius stepping into a much larger role than he had at Zalgiris, or a heavy reliance on Matt Lojeski coming off injury. Singleton and Calathes are good enough to carry this team to a high seed — we saw that last year. But this group has enough problems to sort through that they might also end up on the bubble.

Barcelona Lassa

Location: Barcelona, Spain

Coach: Sito Alonso

Last year’s finish: 11th in Euroleague, 6th in ACB

Notable Players: SF Adam Hanga (Spurs draft-and-stash), PG Thomas Heurtel, PF Kevin Seraphin (Wizards/Pacers), SF Rodions Kurucs (2018 Draft prospect), F Victor Claver (Blazers)

Barca was an absolute trainwreck last season – a poor coaching hire and endless injuries capsized their season, their worst ever in Euroleague and worst ACB finish since 1992. So, they too flipped their entire roster, bringing in Alonso from Baskonia to command a squad that will now rely on Heurtel for offensive initiation, Seraphin as a post presence, and Hanga for defense. The versatility of this group will be night and day from last year — Barca now has defensive wings, slashers like Rakim Sanders, and shooters like Aleksandar Vezenkov; They have Seraphin and Ante Tomic inside, and Adrian Moerman to provide a pick-and-pop threat; and former Celtics guard Phil Pressey brings a dynamic attacking presence to compliment Heurtel’s more traditional playmaking. Even their youth stable is back up and running, with Kurucs and Marc Garcia available to sub in and gain further development. The only real question here is rim protection, and Hanga and Sanders can both contribute there. Barca should be back, and this feels like a sure playoff team that can threaten for the Final Four if things gel in the right way.

Khimki Moscow

Location: Moscow, Russia

Coach: Georgios Bartzokas

Last year’s finish: Eurocup quarterfinals, 2nd in VTB League

Notable Players: SG Alexey Shved (Timberwolves/Knicks), PG Charles Jenkins (76ers), PF thomas Robinson (Kings/Nets), SF Tyler Honeycutt (Kings), SF Stefan Markovic

This Khimki team is going to be fun. Shved is one of Europe’s most dynamic scorers, with never-ending confidence and unlimited range. He’s been paired with two of Europe’s better defensive players, too — Jenkins and Honeycutt can pair to defend the opposing team’s two best scorers, and they’re both fantastic team defenders as well, constantly making havoc plays and able to switch most offensive sets. Throw in a mix of intriguing former NBA players like Robinson and Sergey Monia, and the bruising Dmitry Sokolov tying it all together, and this seems like a balanced team that should be a weekly staple on the TV schedule. The question is whether it will all come together — Shved teams have done a great job of looking imposing and then bottoming out early in recent years, and there’s real questions about how the team will get offense when the ball isn’t in Shved’s hands. But Jenkins, Honeycutt, and Robinson should work well for Bartzokas and help make this team an imposing defensive squad, which should be enough for a playoff bid. If they can get the offense figured out, though, this is the roster of a Final 4 team.

ATHENS, GREECE – SEPTEMBER 20: Vassilis Toliopoulos,

Tier 1 — The Title Contenders

Real Madrid

Location: Madrid, Spain

Coach: Pablo Laso

Last year’s finish: 1st in Euroleague (Lost in Final 4), 2nd in ACB

Notable Players: G Luka Doncic (2018 Draft Prospect), C Gustavo Ayon (Magic/Hawks), PF Anthony Randolph (Warriors/Timberwolves), PG Facundo Campazzo, C Ognjen Kuzmic (Warriors)

Llull’s injury sucks, certainly. But Madrid probably still has enough talent to be considered a Final 4 favorite. Doncic is already one of Euroe’s best pick-and-roll guards, and if he makes another leap at 19-years old, he can provide enough punch to compensate. Madrid hasn’t hung him out to dry from an initiation perspective — Fabian Causeur from Bamberg and Campazzo from UCAM Murcia are both capable ball-handlers, and they give Real three legitimate primary creators who are solid to generational talents at passing. That works well for Pablo Laso, who loves set plays and will use those three to spring their arsenal of role-playing wings and forwards =- Randolph, Jeff Taylor, Jonas Maciulis, Jaycee Carroll. The one-two punch of Ayon and Kuzmic at center also helps — Real lacked toughness and a real post weapon when Ayon sat last season, and the burly Serbian Kuzmic should instantly provide an anchor and bail-out option for Madrid’s lethal bench units. Llull is a legitimate star, but when this team is cooking, it’s because they just have more options than anyone else – all of those options are here, and if Doncic continues on his development trajectory, this team should punch a ticket to Belgrade for the Final 4. That’s a lot to ask of a kid who just got a driver’s license in February, though, which is why I think they’re the most vulnerable.

Fenerbahce Dogus

Location: Istanbul, Turkey

Coach: Zeljko Obradovic

Last year’s finish: 5th in Euroleague (Won title), won Turkish League

Notable Players: PG Brad Wanamaker, C Jan Vesely (Wizards), PF Jason Thompson (Kings), F Nikola Kalinic, F Gigi Datome (Pistons/Celtics)

The defending champs weren’t immune to the changing tides of a European summer, as they lost Bogdanovic and Udoh to the NBA. In their place, Wanamaker, Thompson, and Serbian guard Marko Guduric will join Fenerbahce’s role player core. The Turkish side thrives on lineup versatility, provided primarily by a trio of swingmen — Datome, Kalinic, and James Nunnally fit together well, and all three can anchor small-ball lineups around which the rest of the roster can succeed. Datome’s shooting, Kalinic’s ball-handling and defense, and Nunnally’s slashing all provide flexibility that allows Obradovic to get creative with how they’re going to attack. Surrounding these three are Vesely, one of Europe’s most vicious pick-and-roll threats; Kostas Sloukas, an underrated playmaker; Bobby Dixon, a pint-sized veteran microwave scorer borrowing pages from the Jason Terry playbook; and Melih Mahmutoglu, a Turkish wing who is good for a mind-bending performance once every 5-6 games. How Wanamaker and Italian power forward Nicolo Melli fit into this group determines whether the champs can repeat. Both are coming off solid seasons being the guy for worse teams, and Wanamaker in particular might need to adjust his high-usage play style to fit into this team context. But by far, Fenerbahce has the best coach in Europe in Obradovic — he will likely figure out a plan to get these two well-utilized in the program. Even if they start slow, this will be a dangerous team come playoff time.

CSKA Moscow

Location: Moscow, Russia

Coach: Dimitris Itoudis

Last year’s finish: 2nd in Euroleague (Lost in Final 4), 1st in VTB League

Notable Players: SG Nando De Colo (Spurs/Raptors), PG Sergio Rodriguez (Blazers/76ers), C Kyle Hines, PG Leo Westermann, SG Cory Higgins (Bobcats)

CSKA Moscow is the most stable entity in Euroleague this year. Even though they’re losing Milos Teodosic, this team has retooled in a way that sets them up to be a pretty close approximation of last year’s unit. To replace Milos, CSKA imported Sergio Rodriguez from the NBA, and his return should go a little better than his Sixers tenure. Chacho is a fantastic Euroleague playmaker, able to shoot off the dribble, pick spots out of the PNR, and power open floor offensive play. He’s joined by Leo Westermann, a combo guard who can provide a defensive boost and flexibly play on and off ball next to either Rodriguez or De Colo, 2016’s MVP who is one of Euroleague’s most efficient scorers. This trio is joined by the usual suspects, a group of versatile, switchy forwards that finish the looks prepared by the guards. Higgins and Will Clyburn will help provide ball-handling, Andrey Vorontsevich is one of the league’s best shooters, and Kyle Hines and Nikita Kurbanov anchor the defense. This is going to be a very close to what CSKA usually is, which is a top-four team that makes the Final 4. However, excepting 2016, they haven’t been able to do much more than that, and have been more of a regular season success than legitimate title contender.

Olympiacos

Location: Piraeus, Greece

Coach: Ioannis Sfairopoulos (Former Rockets assistant)

Last year’s finish: 3rd in Euroleague (Lost Final), 2nd in Greek League

Notable Players: PG Vassilis Spanoulis (Rockets), PF Georgios Printezis (Spurs draft-and-stash), PG Brian Roberts (Hornets), C Nikola Milutinov (Spurs draft-and-stash), PF Kostas Papanikolaou (Rockets)

Olympiacos has one of the best defenses in Euroleague, and they pair that defense with two of the mainstays of the league over the past decade. Olympiacos has won two Euroleague titles and had three runner-up finishes since 2010, and Spanoulis and Printezis have been a part of all of those teams. The combination of Spanoulis’s tough shot-making and Printezis’s bulldog presence on the low block and defensive end is a hard stop for most teams, and their depth surrounding these two is far more imposing than what they had present last year. Most importantly, they’ve added some offensive support for when Spanoulis is on the bench, a more frequent occurrence in his advanced age. Roberts and former 76ers forward Hollis Thompson were added to provide some shooting support, and Janis Strelnieks gives them more ball-handling to complement Spanoulis on the ball. The main question for them this year is rim protection – they need to replace Khem Birch, now with the Orlando Magic, and are going to be heavily reliant on Milutinov, who is still only 22-years old. But Sfairopoulos has a great defensive system in place, and this team will always compete on that end. They might even have a consistent offensive threat this year, which they’ve lacked over the past two seasons. This might be one of the last few rides of Spanoulis, and with the changes they’ve made supported by the fire of the old guard, this team should capitalize on the changes made throughout the league to be considered the frontrunner.



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