Khimki Moscow Region returns to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague with star power on both the court and the bench as the team has loaded up for a fifth try this decade at meeting its long-held goal of reaching the playoffs. The newcomers start with head coach Georgios Bartzokas, a former EuroLeague champion who also made the Final Four with another Russian team just two seasons ago. Also new to Khimki are ultra-experienced point guards Stefan Markovic and Charles Jenkins, veteran scorer James Anderson, promising perimeter threat Anthony Gill, and a trio of seasoned big men in Andrey Zubkov, Malcolm Thomas and Tyler Honeycutt, who is coming back after having played recently for Khimki. They amount to a super jolt of talent that makes Khimki deep and diverse enough to think big going into the long EuroLeague regular season.
The star power at Khimki starts with the virtuoso Alexey Shved, who was MVP of last season's 7DAYS EuroCup and is a multi-level threat whenever he is on the court. He will get made-to-order complementary help from Charles Jenkins, an ace defender who has the most steals per minute of any EuroLeague player over the last four seasons, and from Stefan Markovic, who is nothing less than the EuroCup's all-time assists king, not to mention second all-time in steals in that competition. With those two specialists at work, there should be plenty of openings for James Anderson, who can slash or strike from long distance, and for the veteran warriors Sergey Monya and Egor Vyaltsev, who have long bled Khimki yellow. With so much expertise and experience, Khimki truly covers all bases in the backcourt and can throw different looks at opponents depending on the situation.
Deep as Khimki is on the perimeter, there's a solid queue of well-traveled big men, too. Tyler Honeycutt returns after a year away in which he was the EuroLeague's third-best rebounder and a highlight waiting to happen. He should fit in seamlessly with former frontcourt teammates Marko Todorovic, Dimitry Sokolov and Ruslan Pateev, who will be making a return of sorts, too, after he spent much of the last season injured. Another player coming back to the EuroLeague is Malcolm Thomas, who has left a trail of solid all-around numbers wherever he has played. The final key newcomer is Anthony Gill, who gives Khimki another athletic big man. The frontcourt can go small and still dominate the boards or bring out the bangers when needed, offering the kind of flexibility needed to win in the EuroLeague.
PLAYER TO WATCH
He wears No. 1 for a reason. At age 28, Alexey Shved has accomplished plenty already – from becoming a EuroLeague champ at a young age to being the EuroCup's MVP and leading scorer last year, and a whole lot in between. Now in the prime of his career, Shved is looking to lead Khimki to its greatest heights yet, and he will have more help than ever with which to do so. With strong backcourt partners to defend and distribute, plus a bevy of rebounders to finish defenses and rack up possessions, Shved will not have to do it all, which should let his unique talents show even more. Rebound-and-run is the perfect game plan for Shved's smooth open-court skills, and his running mates will learn to love his passing ability. Ideally, opponents won't know whether a shot, a drive or a pass from Shved will hurt most, making Khimki a dangerous team to face in crunch time during close games, when he is sure to have the ball.
For a club that has missed the playoffs twice on tiebreaks and once more by a single victory since 2010, this new opportunity in the EuroLeague has one very clear goal. The good news is that Khimki returns with the talent, depth, experience and coaching to make a serious run at the playoffs. Yes, the club and some players must adjust to the new 30-game format and monthly two-game weeks, but that's why the roster is so deep. More important might be its first three games, at home against Valencia Basket, Zalgiris Kaunas and Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade, the kind of teams Khimki likely has to beat at home to keep its aspirations and confidence high before the big names and long trips start coming non-stop. Coach Bartzokas seems to have a hard-working team built around a pyrotechnic star. The key for Khimki may well be starting strong and making a fortress of its home court.