Turkish Airlines Euroleague
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Top 16 analysis, Group F
December 24, 2013
Few Euroleague players ever have been as dominant, at age 22, as Real Madrid power forward Nikola Mirotic. He leads the 2013-14 Euroleague in performance index rating (20.5 per game) and has posted career-best numbers in steals and blocks to go with 15.2 points on average in just 24 minutes per game. Mirotic, the bwin October MVP, also leads the competition in three-point percentage (18-of-28, 64.3%) and most important, kept Madrid undefeated throughout the regular season.
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One of the most fun-to-watch players in basketball, playmaker Sergio Rodriguez spends games providing one highlight after another with his exceptional ball-handling and passing skills. His great court vision and basketball IQ (5.3 apg.) were well known to Euroleague fans before, but now he has added great shooting accuracy, hitting 24 of 44 three-pointerrs (54.5%) and averaging 12.9 points off the bench. At times, it seems that Rodriguez is simply unstoppable.
Real Madrid has fascinated fans, opponents and media with its run-and-gun style and has beaten several regular season records along the way. Madrid had the best performance index ranking average (115.8) in Euroleague regular season history. It also ranks first in assists (20.4) and free throw percentage (84%), second in three-pointers made (10.7) and assists-to-turnover ratio (164.5%) and third in blocks (4.8). Can Madrid keep playing at this level all season?
Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv
The Aussie forward is having a career year across the boards in his first season with Maccabi Electra. Ingles is ranked among the top five in the Euroleague in minutes played and leads his team in rebounds, assists and performance index ranking, while shooting just below 50% from three-point range. His all-round game has been a major part of Maccabi's success thus far, and the team will continue relying on Ingles and the mismatches he creates with his size, versatility and outside shooting..
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Maccabi had a great regular season, but to make a long run in the competition it will need its big man Shawn James healthy. The All-Euroleague center has missed three games so far this season with injury, and despite the team adjusting well to his absence, James's presence is hard to replace. He is among competition's best defenders and intimidates with his shot-blocking skills, but also makes an impact on offense as one of the top offensive rebounders in the game.
DID YOU KNOW?
Maccabi has never missed theTop 16, and its regular season dominance continued this season. For the third time in four years Maccabi finished the group with an 8-2 record or better. Maccabi did it with a well-tried recipe: its top-five defense (71.1 points allowed per game) is based on holding opponents to low two-and three-point percentages. Coach David Blatt's team certainly has all the ingredients to continue its current run of nine playoff appearances in the last 10 years.
Kyle Hines arrived in Moscow this summer as a two-time champ known best for his great hustle and defensive contributions. The "little" big man has taken his game to the next level with CSKA, proving that there is no ceiling to his skillset. Hines ranks among the league leaders in index rating per minute (averaging 28.4 over 40 minutes) and leads his team in field goal shooting percentage, rebounds and blocks. He is among CSKA's top three in scoring, steals and fouls drawn.
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He's 26 years old and a former Euroleague MVP. So even if Milos Teodosic is having a down year scoring-wise, he's not a player to be taken lightly. The combo-guard is averaging a career-best 5.2 assists per game this season and is fearless with the ball in end-of-game situations. A complete offensive force, Teodosic has led his teams to Final Fours in four of the past five seasons and has all the skills needed to carry CSKA to the promised land this season, too.
Playing in what may have been the regular season's toughest group, CSKA ranked among the league leaders in many major defensive statistics. The Red Army club held opponents to 65 points or less in half its games and allowed 80 points only once! Coach Ettore Messina has defensive stoppers, headlined by 2010 Euroleague Best Defender Victor Khryapa, at every position. The ability to shut down opponents could separate CSKA from the rest of the pack in the end.
Galatasaray LIV Hospital
Among the few Galatasaray players who played more than half of the regular season, Arroyo was their leader in scoring (10.3 ppg.), assists (4 apg.), steals (1 spg.) and three-pointers made (1.3 pg.). As the nearly full-time point guard, he also takes on-the-ball responsibility in the sixth-best defense among Top 16 teams. But the biggest stat for Arroyo is his team-best minutes played (29:15), which proves that if someone deserves credit for leading this team through an injury minefield to six wins in the nine games he played, it is Arroyo.
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For one reason or another, the latest being a three-game suspension for fighting, Mensah-Bonsu has never played an entire group phase in the Euroleague. However, in seven career games playing more than 20 minutes, including four this season, his average performance index rating is 23, something few players over the years have sustained through a whole round. If Mensah-Bonsu can come close to that for the entire Top 16, Galatasaray's chances of overcoming a season turned upside down by injuries will rise, too.
If it's true that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger, Galatasaray will be a dangerous Top 16 team. Despite long-term injuries to three starters and a major off-season addition after just four games - and then Mensah-Bonsu's suspension - only six teams did better than Galatasaray's 6-4. Already 17 different players have worn Galatasaray's jersey. The original depth built into the roster by head coach Ergin Ataman has proved strong, but will have to be even stronger now in the Top 16.
After playing for seven clubs in the previous two years, it took Justin Dentmon a while to find his footing in Kaunas. But from regular season Round 3onwards, he led Zalrigis to a 5-3 record as the Euroleague's top scorer over that stretch. Now, he's not only entrenched as Zalgiris's go-to guy, but he has proven to be a formidable assist-maker and one of the competition's top threats with games on the line. It's shaping up to be a Euroleague rookie season to remember for this dynamic guard.
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Paulius Jankunas's role may have changed over his decade with Zalgiris, but his importance remains paramount. This season he leads the team in rebounding and steals, two prime "hustle stats". And when your team captain throws himself around that way, you get an entire squad that buys in and is ready to sacrifice for the greatest goal, victory. Keep an eye on the big man, who is on pace to grab his 1,000th career Euroleague rebound during the Top 16.
WHY THEY CAN GET BETTER
A coaching change and injuries made for a far-from-easy regular season for Zalgiris, but new coach Saulius Stombergas dealt with all the challenges well and now the winter break gives the Lithuanian champs more time to jell. Youngsters Kaspars Vecvagars and Tomas Dimsa have taken advantage of their opportunities and are still getting better, while veterans Sarunas Jasikevicius and Ksistof Lavrinovic will provide a steady hand going forward as Zalgiris attempts a playoff run.
The bwin MVP for the month of November, Derrick Brown, is no ordinary Euroleague rookie. Brown has been an often-unstoppable offensive force thanks to his athleticism in transition, smooth mid-range jumper and three-point shooting range. However, his star shines at both ends of the floor as one of Lokomotiv's leaders in rebounds, steals and blocks. At age 26, and with only nine Euroleague games under his belt, there is every reason to believe that Brown is only going to get better.
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Point guard Mantas Kalnietis has thrived with Lokomotiv Kuban and been a key ingredient to the ongoing success of last season's Eurocup champions. His 4.5 assists per game so far this season are on pace to shatter his previous career high, nonetheless Kalnieties is is nearly matching his previous best scoring averages. Kalnietis can play alongside the team's other point guard, Marcus Williams, which only gives head coach Evgeny Pashutin more weapons at his disposal as Lokomotiv marches towards a playoff run.
STRING OF SUCCESSES
Lokomotiv isn't the first Eurocup champ to make immediate impact in the Euroleague. Two of the previous three – Valencia and Unics Kazan – reached the Euroleague playoffs the next season. Among several commonalities, both teams had former Euroleague champs on their rosters. Another thing in Lokomotiv's favor is that Pashutin coached one of those two teams, Unics. Indeed, in the last four seasons, no team coached by Pashutin has finished short of the last eight teams in either the Eurocup or the Euroleague.
Partizan NIS Belgrade
Partizan is a team notorious for unleashing young talents, but alongside them and the guiding hand of Coach Dusko Vujosevic is always a trusted veteran. Dragan Milosavljevic fits that bill. As one of only two Partizan players not born in the 1990s, the do-it-all swingman has been a model of consistency while playing the second-most minutes of any Euroleague player. Milosavljevic ranks among Partizan's top three in performance index rating, scoring, rebounds, assists, steals and fouls drawn.
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Joffrey Lauvergne has attacked the glass with reckless abandon this season, finishing as the regular season's top rebounder with 9.3 per game. After a torrid start – at least 10 boards in each of his first five games – teams adjusted. But so did Lauvergne; he nearly doubled his scoring output from the first seven games (8.7 ppg.) in the last three (15.7 ppg.), during which Partizan won two vital games. As Lauvergne grows in experience and confidence, watch out.
YOU CAN'T TEACH HEIGHT
Coach Dusko Vujosevic must be familiar with the old saying, "You can't teach height," because his Partizan roster is filled with tall, young talents. Not only is Partizan the Euroleague's youngest team, but the tallest – based on average height – too! The lineup got a bit younger and taller following the season-ending injury to Leo Westermann, which made Bogdan Bogdanovic starting point guard and gave Boris Dallo a boost in playing time. With added experience, the future looks bright.
FC Bayern Munich
Malcolm Delaney has played with four different teams over the past four seasons, stepping up his level of competition each time – from college to professional to Eurocup to Euroleague – and thriving along the way. As a Euroleague rookie, Delaney ranked fifth in performance index rating (18.9 per game) as Bayern's regular- season leader in both scoring and assists. Besides his shooting and passing, Delaney draws a ton of fouls and leads the league in free throws attempted and made.
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After having shown great promise as a 20-year-old Euroleague regular three years ago, this ever-improving swingman is doing even better now, averaging career bests in scoring, three-point shooting, free throw shooting, rebounds and assists. Djedovic's importance to Bayern's success can be seen in the box score; his numbers spiked to 15.5 points and 6 rebounds for an average performance index rating of 18 in Munich's four victories. And he appears to only be getting better!
At age 64, Svetislav Pesic is not only the oldest active head coach in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague, but he brings a wealth of experience with him to the job. A Euroleague champ as a player (Bosna, 1979) and coach (Barcelona, 2003), Pesic boasts an impressive resume and has seemingly seen it all. Coaching a team that is as deep as Munich's allows Pesic to pull some tricks from his sleeve and to keep pushing Bayern towards what would be a historic playoff berth.
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