We are almost two thirds into the Euroleague season and the picture we are seeing is increasingly clear. Real Madrid and Fenerbahce have distanced themselves from the competition, boasting incredible quality and depth as well as a winning “know-how”. Right behind them CSKA and Efes are looking like the favorites for the Final Four right now, the first trying to find a spark to keep them motivated and the latter showing thirst and conviction to take the next step. The group of surefire playoff teams includes also Olympiacos and Barcelona, both of which feel comfortable in their skin and get the job done when they have to. With Gran Canaria, Buducnost and Darussafaka out of the playoff race, that leaves 7 teams separated by only two victories in for a brutal battle for a couple of playoff positions.
Are you ready for the final lap?
Athlenda Euroleague Power Rankings, pt. 2
1. Fenerbahce Istanbul, 16-2 record (8-1 since the previous ranking)
Fenerbahce works like a clockwork. They execute better than their opponents at any given night and they lead the Euroleague in Offensive Rating playing at the slowest pace among the 16 teams. Zeljko Obradovic’s team solidified their position at the top of the Euroleague and the power rankings as they beat CSKA and Real Madrid to end 2018. They are stacked with talent across the board. Jan Vesely is probably the safest bet to take home MVP honours and Nikola Kalinic is one of the best defensive stoppers in Europe. It’s unclear if they have the highest ceiling in the league, but they certainly are the hardest opponent to beat.
2. Real Madrid, 15-3 record (7-2 since the previous ranking)
It’s almost impossible to pick the best team between Real and Fenerbahce as they have rosters of equal depth and quality. Pablo Laso has also solidified himself as one of the top coaches in the Euroleague. However Real suffered a defeat in their matchup in Istanbul, and their two other losses against CSKA and Olympiacos feel more “real” than those of Fenerbahce. Randolph has been shooting the three with incredible efficiency and has become one of the most versatile offensive bigs in the competition. However, Sergio Llull is still rounding into form, as there is no need for Laso to rush him. Don’t be surprised if they overcome Fenerbahce by the end of the regular season.
3. CSKA Moscow, 13-5 record (5-4 since the previous ranking)
CSKA’s quality is undeniable; nevertheless, they lost 4 out of 9 since the previous ranking. They seem to lack the drive to push themselves game after game, as most of their losses happened in games that were crucial for their opponents to turn their seasons around (e.g. Panathinaikos, Maccabi Tel-Aviv). Then again, they are playing an uptempo style that lends itself to a higher degree of volatility. Another reason for their (relative) struggles has to do with interior defense; both Hines and Hunter are in their thirties and even a small athletic decline can really hurt athletic, undersized big men. They still have two of the most dynamic scorers in the Euroleague. Cory Higgins and Will Clyburn are playing great, scoring 15 points per game apiece, and are driving CSKA to the third place so far.
4. Anadolu Efes Istanbul, 12-6 record (5-4 since the previous ranking)
Anadolu Efes continues to look like a favorite for the Final Four. They are being guided by great coaching by Ergin Ataman and the steady hand of Vasilje Micic. He is not only one of the most improved player in the Euroleague, but a worthy candidate for the MVP as well. Efes shoots the highest percentage from three-point range and the current season confirms the importance of the three-point shot in today’s game; the top four teams in 3p% are the teams that sit atop of the standings.
5. Olympiacos Piraeus, 11-7 record (6-3 since the previous ranking)
David Blatt is getting increasingly familiar with his roster and has found ways to diversify the Reds game. Not one to fear controversy, he doesn’t hesitate to bench Spanoulis if he deems it necessary, and has weaponized Milutinov to an incredible level. The Serbian center was instrumental in decisive victories against Efes, Barcelona and Panathinaikos. Zach LeDay looks like a bargain as a scoring big off the bench. Their defense is the best in the league behind Real and Barcelona, and their record could be even better had they avoided a surprising defeat against the lowly Darussafaka. Can they sneak in the top 4?
6. FC Barcelona Lassa, 11-7 record (5-4 since the previous ranking)
Barcelona is the hottest team in the Euroleague right now, riding a 5-game winning streak. Svetislav Pesic has made the headlines recently stating that “the NBA is not basketball”. His comments have been controversial, but Barca’s performance is not, as they are thriving at a slow pace and traditional interior big men. Thomas Heurtel has steadied his performance and at 29, he is playing the best basketball of his career. The question for Blaugrana is whether they can keep up their good performances in a tough trio of games to end the month, against Maccabi, CSKA, and Olympiacos.
7. Kirolbet Baskonia, 8-10 record (5-4 since the previous ranking)
Velimir Perasovic turned the season around for Kirolbet Baskonia. They consistently win the games against inferior opponents and have improved their disappointing defense. Poirier continues to be a revelation for them and Marcelinho Huertas has perked up lately, a necessary development as Jayson Granger will miss the next three months due to an ankle injury. Baskonia is rumored to be in talks with James Nunnally. A player of his caliber can be their competitive advantage for a trip to the playoffs. Their schedule eases up next month.
8. FC Bayern Munich, 9-9 record (5-4 since the previous ranking)
Bayern Munich is not making the headlines, but they remain in the playoff picture by playing consistent and gritty basketball. Although they rank 7th right now, this can change quickly as they face a brutal 5-game stretch with 4 away games against CSKA, Khimki, Baskonia, and Real Madrid, with their only home game against the first-placed Fenerbahce.
9. Panathinaikos OPAP Athens, 8-10 record (3-6 since the previous ranking)
The Greens decided to part ways with Xavi Pasqual after a disappointing Euroleague performance this season. Their choice to replace him? None other than the controversial Hall-of-Famer coach Rick Pitino, in one of the most remarkable appointments in recent memory. Coaching changes tend to shake things up and boost morale and this is exactly what happened. Panathinaikos beat CSKA in his first game as their coach. However, despite his larger-than-life personality and different approach, PAO’s faces the same issues. The team decided to sign Sean Kilpatrick and Adreian Payne, both good players, but it is unclear if they are the answer to Panathinaikos struggles. It remains to be seen how Pitino will manage with a puzzling roster.
10. Armani EX Milano, 8-10 record (2-7 since the previous ranking)
Armani Milano continues to run and probably plays the most entertaining basketball in the Euroleague, yet the past month they failed to capitalize, dropping out of the playoff picture. James, Micov and Gudaitis form one of the most dynamic offensive trios, but a relative lack of depth and defensive stability hurts Simone Pianingiani’s squad. They have rally until the end of February, as five of their six final games come against five top-six teams.
11. Maccabi Tel-Aviv, 7-11 record (6-3 since the previous ranking)
They have been playing at winning record under the guidance of coach Giannis Sfairopoulos. Their improbable victory against CSKA in Moscow injected a boost of confidence to the team, as they end the month of January with do-or-die games against the teams right above them (Panathinaikos & Baskonia). Johnny O’ Bryant has been more decisive as of late, highlighted by his incredible 32-point performance against Milano. Even though they lack quality wing players, their coach has capitalized on the front-court talent to lead the team to the third-best record in the Euroleague over the span of the last 9 games. They end the month of January with games against Barcelona, Panathinaikos and Baskonia. Two victories there can be a huge leap toward the playoffs.
12. Zalgiris Kaunas 7-11 record (4-5 since the previous ranking)
Despite the reverence for Sarunas Jasikevicius and their great home-court (general managers voted Zalgiris the third most uncomfortable team to play against) as well as a favorable schedule to end 2018, Zalgiris didn’t manage to climb to the upper echelon of the standings. Brandon Davis and Nate Wolters have developed a natural pick and roll chemistry that is the engine driving the team. Having said that, the maddening shyness from three-point range limits their offensive ceiling. Against Fenerbahce, they only attempted six three-pointers as a team. Paulius Jankunas is showing his age and Antanas Kavaliauskas’ injury hurt them a lot. They need reinforcement to make a push for the playoffs.
13.Khimki Moscow, 7-11 record (4-5 since the previous ranking)
Khimki has actually improved without their star, Alexey Shved. Giorgos Bartzokas made the most out of the situation by making his team’s offensive game more rational. Jordan Mickey has picked up the scoring slack in Shved’s absence and during the past few games Dee Bost has been hitting his shots, providing another much-needed scoring option. Talent-wise, they look like the least likely of the group to advance to the playoffs. Nevertheless, Alexey Shved returns and the lessons from his absence might boost the team to do better.
14. Gran Canaria, 6-12 record (4-5 since the previous ranking)
Another team that underwent a coaching change, Gran Canaria made a few surprising wins towards the end of the calendar year, without sacrificing their trademark uptempo style. They have an open rotation with more than 10 guys contributing every night as they juggle ACB and Euroleague duties. The team lacks the high-end talent to be successful in either competition. They are a threat when they hit their shots and should not be underestimated, even though their record makes a playoff position unattainable.
15. Buducnost Voli Podgorica, 4-14 record (2-7 since the previous ranking)
Buducnost parted ways with coach Aleksandar Dzikic, replacing him with former Armani Milano coach Jasmin Repesa. They have also brought reinforcement, signing 2x NBA champion Norris Cole and Goga Bitadze. As they are out of contention for the playoffs, their games are a showcase for the exciting Georgian big man. Signed from the basketball factory of Mega Bemax, Bitadze showed no signs of fear, scoring almost 15 points per contest in 4 Euroleague games so far. He already ranks 12th in the competition in total blocks! They are still a fun team to watch, even if they won’t make it to the next round.
16. Tekfen Darussafaka, 2-16 record (1-8 since the previous ranking)
There is not much to say about Darussafaka as they seem to have given up in the competition. They may surprise a team or two, as Olympiacos learned the hard way. However, they don’t have neither the offensive nor the defensive power to be competitive on a regular basis. Douglas and Evans can always connect for some highlights, but that’s about it from an entertainment standpoint.