The Euroleague season is heating up and there have already been impressive results and coaching changes in the competition, as we are right before the games that mark the end of the first third of the season. There have been clear top and bottom tiers, with Real, Fenerbahce and CSKA being surefire playoff teams and Gran Canaria, Darussafaka and Buducnost happy to participate but with no real chances to progress. That leaves 10 teams in a vicious battle for five positions, with no clear favourites. The position in the rankings is a depiction of what each team has done so far, while the comments are also a look at what lies ahead.
The Euroleague Power Rankings, pt. 1
Tier #1: The contenders
1. Real Madrid, 8-1 record
The 2018 champions remain the best team in the Euroleague. They suffered their only loss away to Olympiacos at round 9, in the second game of Llull’s absence due to injury. They are the deepest team in the league, as no player plays more than 23 minutes per game, which shows in the team’s defensive effort. Real boasts the best defence in the competition, anchored by October’s MVP Walter Tavares. On offence, Jaycee Carroll shows no signs of slowing down at age 35, posting his most productive season since 2012/13 in only 18 minutes per game. He is the most fearsome shooter in Europe coming off screens, and he still hasn’t missed a free throw in the competition.
2. Fenerbahce Istanbul, 8-1 record
Like CSKA and Real Madrid, Fenerbahce is a team that values and seeks roster continuity. Zeljko Obradovic’s men work together for years now, and exploit the gameplan to perfection. In that setting, the players can gradually improve within the system and upgrade their roles, to the benefit of the team. See Sloukas’ improvement for example, or how Jan Vesely has worked on his weaknesses to become one of Euroleague’s most fearsome big men. The latest project is Marko Guduric, who is en route to develop from just a scorer with iffy shot selection, to an important asset for Obradovic, shooting with incredible percentages. He recently led the effort for Fenerbahce with 13 points in the last six minutes of the game against Maccabi Tel Aviv.
3. CSKA Moscow, 8-1 record
The conventional wisdom says that defence wins championships, however, the top of the standings in the Euroleague prove otherwise. The top 4 teams are those that boast the greatest offences, all scoring more than 120 points per 100 possessions. CSKA achieves this by playing at a fast pace while taking care of the ball, as they commit the fewest mistakes in the competition. Continuation is key in their case as well. The core of De Colo, Higgins, Hines and the homegrown Kurbanov and Vorontsevich have been playing together for the fourth consecutive season under coach Dimitris Itoudis. This year Higgins has shouldered a greater offensive load, leading CSKA in points, as Itoudis is trying to keep Nando De Colo fresh, playing him under 20 minutes per game. As long as they stay healthy, they are once again a favourite for the Final Four.
Tier #2: Playoff Favourites
4. Anadolu Efes Istanbul, 7-2 record
After years of unsuccessful attempts, Anadolu Efes seems to have built a roster that has both quality and depth. They bet on Vasilje Micic, who had a great season last year under Sarunas Jasikevicius’ guidance, and it’s paying off. He dictates the pace and shoots efficiently, allowing Rodrigue Beaubois to and the bigs to do most of the scoring. They managed a statement victory against Fenerbahce and won convincingly against Panathinaikos. Nevertheless, the month of December will be a real test for them. Efes hosts Real Madrid and travels to Moscow, Barcelona, and Athens to play against Olympiacos. Is this the year they finally face the best teams as their equals?
5. Armani EX Milano, 6-3 record
Mike James finally gets to run a team, and he is performing admirably, being second in the league in scoring and third in assists to the point that Nemanja Nedovic’s absence hasn’t been felt and Armani looks like a favourite to progress to the playoffs. However, the team’s success is not a result of one man, but of a sound team building. The two-star guards are flanked by good secondary shooters, Vladimir Micov provides scoring from the power forward position, and Arturas Gudaitis is coming off the bench as a rare enter sixth man. They play a fast-paced game and shooting a lot of threes, as Simone Pianingiani tries to recreate the style that made his Montepaschi Siena teams so successful.
6. FC Barcelona Lassa, 6-3 record.
What Pianingiani achieves with a fast pace and offence, Svetislav Pesic does with a controlled tempo and stingy defence. Both teams are just a level below the elite performers so far, both in terms of wins and in terms of their production on the floor. Armani EX Milano gets the edge, for now, however, Blaugrana’s record seems more sustainable. They depend less on high-variability factors such as three-point shooting and their percentages should go up as key signings Chris Singleton and Kevin Pangos round into form as we go deeper into the season.
The return of Adam Hanga should improve their defence even more, as he is able to lock down even the greatest Euroleague players. They beat Real Madrid for the Spanish League, keeping them to 69 points. To put it into perspective, Real failed to reach the 70 point mark only twice in 81 Euroleague contest over the last three seasons.
7. Olympiacos Piraeus, 5-4 record
The Reds survived a brutal stretch of three losses (away against CSKA and their arch-rivals Panathinaikos and at home against Fenerbahce) to bounce back with a win against Bayern Munich, before handing champions Real Madrid their first defeat in the competition. Their summer signings Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach LeDay have been wildly inconsistent so far. This puts stress on their ageing stars Printezis and Spanoulis to perform early in the season. The defensive focus has been ingrained to the team’s DNA under coach Sfairopoulos and it’s going to be a while before coach Blatt manages to impart his philosophy into the team. Their schedule eases up in December and their goal would be to be on the brink of the top-3 by the end of the year.
8. Panathinaikos OPAP Athens, 5-4 record
Despite an identical record with Olympiacos and convincing victories against them in November in the Euroleague and the Greek Basket League, the Greens fall behind them in the ranking. Their losses have been ugly, and they have yet to play against the competition’s top 3. Their ineffectiveness from the three will not continue for the whole season. They are a whopping 7% below league average, which also speaks of their shot quality. Coach Pasqual cannot generate easy shots for them and they frequently resort to isolations. Lacking a really elite go-to scorer and a creative hub behind the mastermind Nick Calathes makes their offence predictable. Will a normalization of their percentages be enough to lift them higher up the standings or is an addition necessary? December will provide the answers.
Tier #3: Darkhorses
9. Zalgiris Kaunas
Zalgiris is probably the unluckiest team in the competition, as they keep losing close games, leading to their negative record. The Greens are an incredibly well-coached team and try to play on a controlled pace but having two inexperienced ball-handlers in Walton Jr. and Walkup makes life difficult for Sarunas Jasikevicius, at least until Leo Westermann plays better. They also shoot by far the fewer three-pointers in the league and this doesn’t help their overall offence. Still, Wolters and Davis form a very potent duo and they have quickly developed a nice pick and roll chemistry that fuels Zalgiris’ offence. It might just be a matter of working out the kinks or one of the guards stepping up before Zalgiris becomes as hard to beat as the last year’s team.
10. FC Bayern Munich, 4-5 record
The numbers present FC Bayern as a playoff team that deserves a better record. However, the stats are skewed due to their 46 point demolition of Darussafaka. FC Bayern is ultimately exactly the team to beat in the competition. They are no match for the elite, losing easily to CSKA, Fenerbahce, Olympiacos and Efes and comfortably beating the teams below them (and that is why Panathinaikos loss against them is so damaging for the Greens). Bayern has an interesting mix of competent players, but asking Derrick Williams to lead a Euroleague team in his first season overseas is a tall order. They are proof of the serious work going on in the club and German basketball as a whole. They are, however, still a year away from being a really threatening team.
11. Kirolbet Baskonia, 3-6 record
The newly-appointed coach Velimir Perasovic is far from a stranger in Vitoria. He played for Baskonia in the 90s and coached the team for two stints; from 2005 to 2007 and during the 2015/16 season leading them to two Euroleague Final Fours. His main effort will be to bring identity and stability in a team with no clear game plan. The loss of Patricio Garino for a month hurts their depth on a very important point of the season. Perasovic could certainly use some reinforcement in the perimeter. Vildoza is not ready to lead a team and Marcelinho Huertas has really slowed down in his age 35 season. An underrated part of their struggles; Johannes Voigtmann went from a revelation to borderline unplayable. He shoots just 1/13 from three after a 58% season last year, and that cramps up the spacing for Baskonia.
12.Khimki Moscow, 3-6 record
As if the rough start to the season was not enough for Bartzokas’ team, they lost their superstar to injury. Alexey Shved has been scoring 25 points per game, attempting a staggering 12 shots per game from three-point range! To put it in perspective, the second leading scorer in the Euroleague is Mike James with 19 points per game and the third is Cory Higgins with 16. His injury is a major blow to their already diminished chances to progress to the playoffs. Now coach Bartzokas will turn to players like Stefan Markovic and Charles Jenkins, both returning sub-par performances until now, to step up and fill the void. Hopefully, the team can regroup and improve their mediocre defence.
13. Maccabi Tel-Aviv, 1-8 record
It has been a rough season for Maccabi Tel-Aviv, who invested heavily this summer in Scottie Wilbekin and NBA players Johnny O’Bryant and Tarik Black. Their investment hasn’t been paying off, as they started the season with close defeats before going downhill from there. The defensive potential never became reality, and it led to the firing of Neven Spahija. The signing of Ramon Sessions proved short-lived. Maccabi Tel-Aviv appointed former Olympiacos coach Giannis Sfairopoulos as their new coach. They hope for an improved defence so they can regroup and make a push for the next stage. If victories don’t come soon, Maccabi will join the also-rans in the tier below.
Tier #4: The “Participation Trophy” teams
14. Gran Canaria, 2-7 record
Losing Clevin Hannah for 6 weeks ended any hopes the team from the Canary Islands had for a top-8 finish. However, it was never a realistic goal for this steadily good Eurocup team in their first Euroleague appearance. They are playing a free-flowing, fast-paced game that is certain to entertain anyone who watches. Beating Barcelona was a highlight for their season. It’s interesting to monitor (Philadelphia Sixer’s draft pick) Anzejs Pasecniks’ development throughout the season. Coach Salva Maldonado’s team is worth a look if you happen to catch a game of theirs.
15. Buducnost Voli Podgorica, 2-7 record
Buducnost made the headlines the past week stopping CSKA’s unbeaten record in a historic night for the Bosnian team. Coach Aleksandar Dzikic tries to be competitive with an offensively limited roster with Jackson and Clark being the main options. The Frenchman and the team as a whole have been incredible from three-point range, winning two of their last three games by bombing away from deep. Nonetheless, it was Clark’s improvement that fueled their resurgence. They lack dribble penetration and being unable to get close to the rim means no easy points for them. They shoot the fewest free throws by a wide margin and only 43,5% in two-point field goals – the same percentage as their threes. Their shortcomings are obvious, but they are a rugged bunch and coach Dzikic is resourceful. Buducnost is not a team to be underestimated, and CSKA can attest to that.
16. Tekfen Darussafaka, 1-8
The third Turkish team of the competition proves not to be cut out for this level. Their only victory came in round 2 against Buducnost and now they are on a 7-game losing streak. Michael Eric and Jeremy Evans provide good production, but players like McCallum, Kidd and Diebler struggle against Euroleague defences. Caki’s team can’t stop anyone on defence, therefore they can’t find a win even when they are rolling offensively. They don’t have Gran Canaria’s verve or Buducnost’s fighting spirit, so they rank last in the rankings.