Something new is brewing in Istanbul this season, where Anadolu Efes is preparing for the new season with only a select few back from the squad that progressed to the EuroLeague playoffs last year. The few returnees – included among them Coach Velimir Perasovic – are joined by an intriguing batch of newcomers, led by the battle-hardened knowhow of Krunoslav Simon. Other arrivals with prior EuroLeague experience are Birkan Batuk, who returns after one season away, and big men Brock Motum and Vladimir Stimac. They are joined by a trio of EuroLeague rookies from the United States: Ricky Ledo, Josh Adams and Errick McCollum.
Backcourt continuity comes from the reliable Dogus Balbay, who is entering his seventh EuroLeague season with Efes and will use the experience of more than 100 games in the competition to help the new arrivals settle. Another man familiar with his surroundings is prolific scorer Errick McCollum, who previously played for fellow Istanbul side Galatasaray and starred in that team’s EuroCup 2016 EuroCup triumph. McCollum averaged 18.1 points during that glorious campaign. The man chiefly tasked with getting the ball into his hands will be new point guard Josh Adams, who averaged 4.2 assists last season – his first as a professional – for Avtodor Saratov in the VTB United League. More scoring comes from two talented swingmen: Krunoslav Simon has averaged at least 10 points in each of his five EuroLeague seasons, while the well-traveled Ricky Ledo was the scoring champion in last season’s Turkish Super League with 21.1 points for Yesilgiresun Belediye, including 3.1 triples per game. Young Turks Ogulcan Baykan and Onuralp Bitim complete the backcourt.
Efes’s frontcourt will be led by the team’s best two performers last season in terms of index rating: powerful big man Bryant Dunston and dynamic forward Derrick Brown. Both were fundamental in the march to the playoffs, with Brown’s energy and versatility dovetailing perfectly with the no-nonsense rim protecting abilities of Dunston, who was named to the all-EuroLeague Second Team after claiming more offensive rebounds than any other player in the league. Dunston is joined in the paint by new arrivals, with rebounding specialist Vladimir Stimac’s physical approach contrasting with the finesse style of Brock Motum, who is an excellent long-range shooter and converted 46.2% of his three-point shots for Zalgiris Kaunas last season. The versatility of experienced Birkan Batuk will prove very useful, while young Berk Demir will hope for the opportunity to make his EuroLeague debut.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Derrick Brown exploded onto the EuroLeague scene with a superb season for Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar in 2013-14, when many of his 13.9 points per game were show-stopping, rim-rocking slam dunks. Although Brown is still more than capable of producing those highlight-reel plays, he is now a more mature performer and, at the age of 30, fully embracing a leadership role. Last season he did a lot of everything, ranking among the team’s leaders in points, assists, rebounds and steals while spending the second-highest number of minutes on the floor in the entire league. Brown’s winning attitude and all-around skill set make him very much an example to follow, and he will be the pounding heartbeat of a drastically remodeled team.
In truth it’s difficult to know what to expect from Efes this season considering the almost total transformation of the team. But Coach Perasovic has a happy habit of finding a winning formula and he has plenty of potential to work with here. Dunston, Stimac and Motum form a versatile trio in the paint, Brown is guaranteed to cover the whole court, and the scoring potential of newcomers Ledo, McCollum and Simon means Efes shouldn’t be outgunned often. The schedule has provided a very tough start, with games against Real Madrid, Fenerbahce and CSKA Moscow in the opening four weeks of the season, but it would be no surprise to see a late rally once Perasovic has time to assemble all the pieces to his puzzle.