Welcome back to the Experts Round Table, where we ask a variety of the most knowledgeable Turkish Airlines EuroLeague followers across the continent their opinions on the topics of the day. This week’s panel includes Joe Arlauckas, former EuroLeague champ and current game announcer and podcast host; Juan Antonio Casanova, the former long-time EuroLeague writer for La Vanguardia in Spain; Dimitris Karydas, basketball expert and TV commentator at NOVAsports.gr in Greece; Antonis Stroggylakis of Eurohoops.net; and Frankie Sachs, Editor at EuroLeague.net. Check out their opinions on three key questions this week!
1. What team impressed you most in opening week of the EuroLeague season?
There were so many things to be impressed by in the first week. There is no doubt that the win by Barcelona in Turkey let the league know that this team is here for real. And the CSKA win in Valencia was not surprising, but the way they won in such a tough place to open the season has to say something to the rest of the competition.
There were several teams that started off strong this season. I think the most impressive victory made by Baskonia not only because they managed to get it away from home but because they managed to get it in Zalgiris’s house! A road win that could have — at the end of the regular season — a big effect for two very ambitious teams with similar goals.
Juan Antonio Casanova
CSKA Moscow. ALBA Berlin and ASVEL Villeurbanne celebrated in style before their respective crowds in their return to Europe’s top comeptition. but the biggest exhibition of the opening round was CSKA Moscow. The defending champs won by 25 points on the court of Valencia, the last 7DAYS EuroCup champions. CSKA dominated from beginning to end, starting the game with a 2-11 lead in 3 minutes. The shot a splendid 17 for 31 from downtown, with two newcomers, Mike James and Darrun Hilliard, dedicated to proving wrong whoever thought CSKA had lost its perimter offense.
The trip in Valencia could’ve been a tricky 2019-20 debut for CSKA Moscow but the reigning champions simply picked it where they left it in the previous season. It was a “take no prisoners” affair for Dimitris Itoudis and his players, who put on the court an offensive festival with some truly impressive effectiveness to pretty much dismantle any resistance from the 2019 7DAYS EuroCup champs. And, hey, don’t forget that we are talking about a CSKA squad that renovated most of its backcourt during offseason.
“Impressed” is a relative term. I interpret it as which team (or player) essentially outperformed my expectations. There were several, chief among them FC Barcelona winning against Efes in Istanbul and ALBA Berlin beating Zenit St. Petersberg with its top playmaker sidelined. But my choice is KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz, which not only defeated Zalgiris Kaunas in front of a packed house at Zalgirio Arena, but also did so with two important members of its backcourt (Jayson Granger and Nik Stauskas) out. Youssoupha Fall made his presence felt, Shavon Shields played a fantastic all-around game and Baskonia showed just how stron it can be this season.
2. What player impressed you most in opening week of the EuroLeague season?
The return of Nikola Mirotic was pretty impressive because he showed that he’s a threat from all over the court.
Nikola Mirotic. The biggest transfer of the summer and the one with the biggest hype has begun to pay off for Barcelona. In the road win against Efes, Mirotic had 24 points and 4 rebounds in less than 25 minutes, showing from day one that he is the player who will make the difference this year.
Juan Antonio Casanova
Jeffery Taylor. Real Madrid-Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul was the first big duel between these two clear aspirants to the title. Along with the rhythm and assists Madrid got from Facundo Campazzo — incidentally, one of the 12 World Cup finalists playing in the EuroLeague! — the contribution of Jeffery Taylor was key to keeping such a prestigious victory in the Spanish capital. He did it on both ends of the court: affirming his reputation as an extraordinary defender against Nando De Colo (who had 22 points but 7 turnovers); and making a near-perfect 5 of 5 two-pointes and 3 of 4 threes.
It felt good watching Khimki Moscow forward Anthony Gill return to action after he missed most of 2018-19 with injury problems. It was a pleasant comeback for him and his team, as well, since he contributed heavily to Khimki’s win with an impact that went beyond his fine numbers (18 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 0 turnovers, team-high 22 PIR). Gill was extremely beneficial for Khimki in every single second of the 23:37 he spent on the floor, creating scoring situations for himself and for his teammates and being a constant thorn in Maccabi’s side.
Among the players who impressed the most were Landry Nnoko of ALBA Berlin, Darrun Hilliard of CSKA Moscow, Tonye Jekiri of LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne and Janis Timma of Khimki Moscow Region, but my choice here is Luis Scola of AX Armani Exchange Milan. Even though his team lost, Scola is my choice for the combination of his production and the fact that he did so less than a week after joining the team! At age 39, Scola led his team in scoring (17 points), performance index rating (17) and – amazingly – three-pointers made (2) and was second in minutes played (28:30) and rebounds (6). What a debut!
3. Which team do you pick now to go all the way and win the title?
I think it’s too early to call after just one round. The greatest part of this competition is it’s a weekly battle of survival. And there is so much basketball yet to play. I still like Fenerbahce, even with their loss to Madrid. They are severely shorthanded now. Add Jan Vesely and Joffrey Lauvergne to Derrick Williams and that frontcourt could be dominating. But if Mike James fits in as easily as he did in Round 1, then CSKA has a real chance to repeat.
This is the question of a million dollars. Maybe of 2 million after just one round behind us and another 38 or 40 in front of us. An enormously risky prediction, but I think the time is coming for Zeljko Obradovic to win his 10th career title. And the second one with Fenerbahce . This is my early (way too early) pick for this year’s winner.
Juan Antonio Casanova
Fenerbahce. This one isn’t easy to choose. The 2019-20 EuroLeague doesn’t just have more teams, but better ones. There are at least four who would surprise nobody if they became champions: CSKA, Real, Barcelona and — Fenerbahce. I’ll take the Turks. Because they are always at the top, although last year injuries hurt them. Because they have a complete roster, while lost Marko Guduric and Nicolo Melli, but got De Colo and Derrick Williams, and kept Kostas Sloukas, Ali Muhammed, Nikola Kalinic, Luigi Datome, Jan Vesely, Joffrey Lauvergne… And because Zeljko Obradovic has not won for two years in a row.
Real Madrid has all the attributes that make them favorites in an early prediction for the next EuroLeague champion. They kept the bulk of their 2018-19 core and only made very few quality additions, thus they can pride themselves on possessing enviable chemistry, a major advantage over other teams. They have many players who are certified of being able to step up big time in crucial games and emerge as leaders and others who can potentially assume that role, if needed. They combine youth and experience in a roster of many strengths and no apparent weakness. It’s early, but the 2015 and 2018 champions look slightly one step ahead in the race for the 2020 crown.
It is still so early, but I’ll bite. CSKA Moscow is, of course, a main candidate as the champ. And it opened the season with an impressive road win at Valencia Basket. Real Madrid is also a top contender after holding off Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul in Round 1. In the end, my gut tells me that FC Barcelona will go all the way. No team strengthened itself more over the summer and Barca opened things with a bang, with Nikola Mirotic, Malcolm Delaney and Brandon Davies shining in a road win at Anadolu Efes Istanbul. Remember, this team has a mid-season addition built in with Thomas Heurtel recovering from injury. All of that makes Barcelona my favorite to win it all.