Welcome to the Experts Round Table, where we ask a variety of the most knowledgeable Turkish Airlines EuroLeague followers across the continent their opinions on the topics of the day. This week's panel includes: Luca Chiabotti, the long-time expert-in-residence at La Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy; Semih Tuna, from Eurohoops.net Turkey; Antonis Kalkavouras of Gazzetta.gr in Greece; Joe Arlauckas, former EuroLeague champion and Euroleague TV commentator; and Frank Lawlor, Editorial Director at Euroleague Basketball. Check out their opinions on the effects of the first double-round week on the balance of power in the competition.
1. Which team helped itself most in the season’s first double-round week?
After a disheartening loss against Real Madrid the week before, CSKA's reaction was crucial for both the future and present of the team. CSKA first beat Panathinaikos at home and then Efes away, the latter with just 3 turnovers, matching the second-fewest in competition history. After just 4 assists against Madrid, CSKA averaged 19.5 in the two subsequent wins, taking a big step in stabilizing their offense. Each player acknowledges his role, game by game.
When you take down two undefeated teams, as Olympiacos did last week, you've done a lot in my book. First on the road against Maccabi, which seems to me no small feat, although we will find out for sure as the season progresses. Then at home against a dangerous Khimki team that Olympiacos tamed early. All this without Vassilis Spanoulis still. Kudos to Georgios Printezis. Having two great leaders sets Olympiacos apart.
It has to be between the four teams that had back-to-back wins within 48 hours. So it's all about Real, Olympiacos, Valencia, CSKA and Bamberg. I will pick the German team, because they made it without their most experienced player (Nikos Zisis), with new addition Dorrel Wright playing for the first time, but most importantly, because these two victories against Unicaja on the road and against Baskonia at home were their first two of the season.
Brose and Valencia put together two victories in the first double-header week and they are now where they need to be after four rounds of the regular season. Valencia now is under the par with a fantastic 3-1 record. Oddly enough, the schedule gave both teams the same two opponents, Baskonia and Unicaja, both having problems. But for Bamberg, which started the season 0-2, both wins were crucial. It is important that the team's new, pivotal player, Dorell Wright, started his new adventure with a victory.
Valencia vaulted into the conversation about strong playoff contenders last week by lighting up two of its Spanish opponents. Its 17-point road win at Baskonia forced Pablo Prigioni's immediate resignation post-game. Then Valencia avenged its EuroCup Finals loss from last season in a 38-point home win over Unicaja. All this without several players, perhaps three would-be starters, out with injury. Valencia is for real and two double-week wins by an average of 27.5 points proved that without a doubt.
2. Which player made the biggest jump in effectiveness during Rounds 3 and 4?
I am not after a surprise. Having been chosen as the player of the week for sixth time, two of which are in a row, I go with Luka Doncic. He plays the game not only as the team leader, but like a EuroLeague legend. Such maturity on the court is too, too much for a kid at the age of 18. Averaging 37.5 PIR, 27.5 points and even more... It's incredible for a team that has lost the MVP of the last season to have such leadership.
That's easy. Even though he was already killing it, Luka Doncic shocked a lot of people by dominating the double week, winning the MVP as the best performer in the entire EuroLeague for both games, a first. Think of this: an 18-year-old has three of the top five scoring games in the EuroLeague this season so far. And two of those came last week. It's a joy to witness a young guy with as much drive as talent refuse to wait his turn. Doncic is ready, willing and able. Enjoy the ride.
Luka Doncic, no question about it! Even though, Printezis and Milutinov elevated their game to a very high level and helped Olympiacos stay undefeated, the Slovenian 18-year-old phenom did it all! The new leader of Real Madrid scored 55 points (27.5 per game), grabbed 17 rebounds (8.5) and dished 9 assists (4.5) while shooting 59% from the floor and 94.4% from the free throw line. From the beginning of the season, the kid is playing at a such great level that nobody can believe that he is only 18 years old.
It's obvious that Luka Doncic's averages of 27.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in back-to-back games against Milan and Zalgiris mark one of the best performances in the history of the EuroLeague, but other players like Eric Green and Milko Bjelica had performances at the top of their careers. I would like to underline the Giorgios Printezis efforts against Maccabi and Khimki that help Olympiacos to stay unbeaten despite the lack of Vassilis Spanoulis.
Someone taught me long ago that the key to staying fresh in sports writing is to zig when everyone else is zagging (or zag when everyone else is zigging). But not this time! The voracious young Luka Doncic didn't have to make a believer out of anyone who's been remotely paying attention...but he made sure anyway! Those 24 points after halftime in Kaunas, a few thousand kilometers and 48 hours after scoring 27 at home against Milan, were the new truth: this kid wants it all and someone is going to have to work real hard to deny him.
3. Which team comes out of double-round looking the strongest?
After losing important big guys like Randolph and Kuzmic, Real Madrid could have stumbled. Instead, they not only got players who were out of the rotation involved by giving them more playing time, but also kept their winning streak. The well-known saying "What does not kill you makes you stronger" describes Real Madrid as a team. Having such a tough schedule, the Spaniards won both games, which was crucial for their self-confidence.
Time will tell, but of the five top teams, the three best so far – Madrid, Olympiacos and Valencia – are hard to project because they all have important injuries. Based on that coincidence, choosing the strongest between them now is difficult. Looking at the strongest right this moment, though, it might be Valencia, for one reason: it is winning easily without relying on major individual performances. Valencia has nothing to lose, which of course makes it that much more dangerous.
It has to be Madrid and Olympiacos, both till undefeated. So far, Madrid proved able to win everywhere and with every style of basketball –
by scoring 100 points against Milan at home and by limiting Zalgiris to 66 points in Kaunas – even though the team is hurt by significant injuries (Ognjen Kuzmic is out for the season, Anthony Randolph will miss almost a month, and Sergio Lull out into early next year, at least). On the other hand, the Reds are playing still without their go-to guy, Vassilis Spanoulis, and they have the second-best defense among the 16 teams.
Real Madrid came out from the doubleheader week with two "routine" victories for a top team that confirm the quality of the roster at a high level despite the absences of top players like Llull, Randolph, Thompkins and new face like Kuzmic. Madrid did the necessary effort to beat an ambitious Milan at home and played very well on the road in Kaunas. Of course, Luka Doncic played a fantastic basketball but the whole team was ready to support its young superstar. It was significant.
Tough question. If you are talking long-term strength, it's hard to bet against Madrid, just because there is so much experience at work behind the whiz kid. We saw that last week, and even if no one came back from injury, Madrid would remain formidable. But a buzz in my ear keeps reminding me that Vassilis Spanoulis is out there, gathering strength. The defense is in place. Printezis is better than ever. The newcomers are learning the system well. And the king will be along shortly to take the Reds even higher.