Only two teams remain undefeated after Round 3. Here’s a review of the key statistics in the competitive Turkish Airlines EuroLeague landscape.
In the Round 3 matchup between the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague’s most efficient offensive and defensive units until then, FC Barcelona’s stout defense held ALBA Berlin’s dynamic offense in check to remain unbeaten. By limiting ALBA to only 0.91 points per possession – well below the 1.11 that had ALBA atop the EuroLeague rankings after Round 2 – FC Barcelona shined in what was a surprisingly uneven performance.
What made Barcelona’s defensive a bit unusual was how many points they surrendered in transition. The average EuroLeague team is scoring 8.6 points per game in transition this season, and though ALBA is among five teams averaging over 12 such points per game, on Friday the visitors scored 25 points over 18 transition possessions, which is likely to persist as one of the top single-game marks this season. It’s even more impressive when you consider that Barcelona had allowed only 14 points in transition through the first two rounds. But despite ALBA’s high transition scoring, Barcelona allowed the visitors just 56 points over 71 half-court possessions, including just 6 in finishing situations, another mark likely to hold up for the whole season.
Despite the contradictions for Barcelona in this game, their offense held up more than well enough to earn a win as Nikola Mirotic and Cory Higgins combined to score 40 points in just 24 possessions. The most efficient duo of high-volume scorers in the EuroLeague to this point, Mirotic and Higgins combined to shoot 8 for 11 from beyond the arc.
A lot went right for Barcelona in this game. Ante Tomic shot a perfect 7 for 7; the team forged a +24 rebound differential; and Barcelona controlled the action in the second half. Most important, however, is that Barcelona’s defense passed its biggest early test to continue ranking first in the EuroLeague by allowing just 0.83 points per possession.
Maccabi’s Quality over Quantity
Not all shots inside are created equal. The predictable value of an uncontested dunk compared to a layup on a re-directed drive are worlds apart. The best example of that gap so far this season comes from Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv. Through three rounds, Maccabi has generated just 46 layup or dunk opportunities, third-lowest in the EuroLeague. Nonetheless, Maccabi ranks fourth with 38 makes on those attempts. Maccabi ranks first with 83% accuracy on finishing opportunities, well ahead of all other teams and well above the 59% league average.
Even in a limited sample of games, that shooting percentage inside is remarkable. A big driver of Maccabi’s success how many passes come before those uncontested shots right at the rim. Their wings display excellent timing cutting from the weakside and their guards excel at job making dump passes when drawing help defenders on drives – a big reason why Tarik Black and Othello Hunter have made 20 of 23 in finishing opportunities. While Maccabi has struggled a bit from the perimeter so far, its finishing prowess around the basket has made the team competitive, with an overtime win and two road losses by a combined 7 points to date.
Nikola Milutinov Above the Rim
Many players over the last decade have grown up under the EuroLeague microscope, but Nikola Milutinov is among the most interesting of those cases. Making his debut with Partizan NIS Belgrade at the age of 17 back in 2012, Milutinov has since appeared in 143 games, missing only one season of action, when Partizan competed in the EuroCup. Joining Olympiacos Piraeus ahead of the 2015-16 season, the Novi Sad native has showed steady growth by getting
stronger, improving his timing, and blossoming into one of the EuroLeague’s best big young big men.
Though three rounds, Milutinov not only leads the EuroLeague in total rebounds, but also in offensive boards and overall rebounding percentage, which is based on opportunity rather than volume. He ranks first in dunks with 9 – more than all but six teams – while scoring a career-best 14.3 points per game. Staying extremely active off the ball and running the floor impressively for a true center, Milutinov is making a living by finishing strong and pursuing rebounds above the rim.
The next step in Milutinov’s evolution figures to come at the foul line or in the post, where he still has room to improve. Regardless, his upward trajectory continues to be extremely impressive.
Looking Ahead to Round 4
The middle of the EuroLeague standings are extremely crowded already, with 15 teams having between one and two victories. It will be highly interesting to see which two-win teams can get some separation from the others. Through three rounds, FC Bayern Munich’s +44-point differential makes it more similar to the teams without a loss than to the teams below it, but 41 of those points came in a blowout Round 3 victory. Next, Bayern will face Khimki Moscow Region, which has the league’s second-best point differential among two-victory teams, at -4. Playing at a high level on both ends of the court so far, Bayern will be tested to grab a quality home win against an explosive Khimki offense that does not need clean looks from the perimeter to run hot.