After an action-packed opening week there are plenty more big games in Round 2, which is guaranteed to see at least three teams maintain perfect records after head to head clashes between last week’s winners. Here are five storylines to look out for.
Marathon man Williams to kickstart Fenerbahce?
With big men Jan Vesely and Joffrey Lauvergne both missing the start of the season through injury, new Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul signing Derrick Williams did his very best to help his team by achieving a rare feat in the Round 1 loss at Real Madrid: he spent every second of the game on the court, becoming just the third player to reach 40 minutes of non-overtime game time since 2016 (the other two were also in 2019… do you know who? Answer at the end of this section.)
Williams and his Fenerbahce teammates are on the road again this week, looking for a first win of the season against another team which suffered an opening day defeat: Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade. The Serbian champs’ first home game back in the competition was always bound to be played in a passionate atmosphere, but the circumstances of the game – considering Fener’s Serbian connections and the need of both teams to grab a first victory – will make this an occasion not to miss at Stark Arena.
So, did you know the other two players to play the full 40 minutes this calendar year? They were Adrien Moerman for Anadolu Efes Istanbul against FC Barcelona in the playoffs and Nemanja Gordic for Buducnost VOLI Podgorica against Fenerbahce. Top marks to anyone who got both correct!
ASVEL aiming for Greek double
Perhaps the most eye-catching performance of the opening week was LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne’s crushing victory over European heavyweight Olympiacos Piraeus, with the French champion cruising to a convincing 82-63 victory in its first EuroLeague game for a nearly a decade. And this week will see ASVEL attempt to claim a quick Greek double by defending its home court against Panathinaikos OPAP Athens.
One player who could give ASVEL inside information on how to stop Nick Calathes and co. is center Adreian Payne, who played 16 EuroLeague games for Panathinaikos in two separate spells over the past two seasons before moving to Villeurbanne in March – with the timing of his move allowing him to achieve the unusual double of winning a domestic cup in one country (Greece) and a domestic league in another (France) in the same season. Payne, though, will not be familiar with many of the visiting roster after a summer of change at Panathinaikos, which enjoyed promising debuts from exciting new backcourt duo Jimmer Fredette and Tyrese Rice during last week’s opening night win over Crvena Zvezda. Will the new men in Green keep Panathinaikos 100%, or will ASVEL claim another big Greek scalp?
Hilliard and CSKA to continue fast start?
One of Round 1’s least surprising statistics was Mike James marking his CSKA Moscow debut by scoring 20 points in a comprehensive victory at Valencia Basket: from a player who averaged 19.8 points per game in the course of claiming last season’s Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy, that was merely par for the course. More unexpected, though, was the fact that James was outscored by another new arrival in Moscow: Darrun Hilliard, who netted 5 of 9 three-pointers en route to a total of 22 points. That was a new career-high for the American guard, whose best scoring night during his 34 games for KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz last season was 19 points and he never scored more than three triples in a game during his time in Spain.
If he maintains that form, the James-Hilliard one-two punch will take some stopping, and the next team attempting to do is FC Bayern Munich, which heads to Moscow on Thursday after a morale-boosting win over AX Armani Exchange Milan on opening night. Bayern is an ambitious team with high hopes of bettering last season’s 11th place finish. There would be no better way for the German champion to make a serious statement than by shackling James and Hilliard to claim a shock road win over the reigning EuroLeague champ.
Khimki or Baskonia to stay perfect?
Two more teams looking to make it two wins out of two this week are Khimki Moscow Region and Baskonia, which go head to head in Moscow on Friday. Khimki’s challenge will once again be powered by prolific scorer Alexey Shved, who is fully fit after an injury-disrupted 2018-19 season, but the Round 1 win over Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv showed that he will receive plenty of support from several exciting new signings such as Jonas Jerebko, Stefan Jovic, Jeremy Evans and Janis Timma.
Attempting to stop Khimki’s Shved-led offense this week will be a Baskonia team that mustered the best defensive effort out of all teams in Round 1, restricting Zalgiris Kaunas to just 58 points in a dominant road win. With Toko Shengelia and Ilimane Diop joined this season by Micheal Eric, Achille Polonara and Youssoupha Fall – who made a remarkable 5 blocks on his debut last week – Baskonia possesses plenty of big bodies to force opponents to try their luck further away from the basket. Fortunately for Khimki, shooting from deep is never really a problem for Shved.
Barca’s new era to keep rolling?
Along with James and Hilliard, another high-profile summer signing to make a fast start in Round 1 was Nikola Mirotic, who recorded 24 points – more than any other player in the opening week – 4 rebounds and 2 blocked shots to inspire FC Barcelona’s impressive road win at Anadolu Efes Istanbul. With Brandon Davies, Alex Abrines, Cory Higgins and Malcolm Delaney also onboard, the Catalan club has constructed an all-star roster with more than enough talent to return to the Final Four for the first time since 2014. Barca’s next chance to build momentum comes on Friday night at Zenit St Petersburg, which is aiming to bounce back after suffering a heavy loss at ALBA Berlin last time out.
Under the leadership of former Unicaja Malaga coach Joan Plaza, Zenit has built an experienced roster containing several players who regularly went up against Barca with their former teams, such as Gustavo Ayon (formerly with Real Madrid), Will Thomas (Unicaja and Valencia), Colton Iverson (Baskonia) and Alex Renfroe, who played for Barcelona in 2016-17. So those Zenit players and their coach know what it’s like to play against this Barcelona… but this particular new-look Barca might be a very different proposition.