With Round 24 complete, the playoff picture in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague has begun to take shape. But with only two teams qualified for the postseason as of today, there is still much to be determined and no shortage of interesting topics to dive into as we edge closer to the end of the regular season.
Player efficiency in the 2017-2018 EuroLeague
Since the EuroLeague has been the most efficient scoring league in the world among major competitions this season, a strong argument can be made that it has never had as much offensive talent from top-to-bottom as it does right now.
The graphic above paints a picture of which players are at the forefront of the league's offensive renaissance and, more specifically, which have scored most efficiently within the possessions per game they get in the roles they play for their respective teams. Separating the leaderboards by possession count is a convenient way to reveal the difference between primary offensive options and complementary players, but CSKA Moscow's Cory Higgins appears on both.
Averaging 1.22 points per possession, Higgins is on pace for the most efficient offensive season since the elimination of the EuroLeague Qualifying Round. He is currently a fraction of a point ahead of the mark that Boban Marjanovic set during his 2014-2015 All-EuroLeague campaign with Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade. CSKA is also home to the second most efficient volume scorer in the EuroLeague, Nando De Colo. That showed in Round 24, as Higgins and De Colo combined to score 35 points over just 24 possessions in a 93-73 win over Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv at Menora Mivtachim Arena.
Luka Doncic's standing on this list is notable for a pair of reasons. First, Doncic is by far the youngest player, having just turned 19 on February 28. Only a few teenagers in EuroLeague history have averaged double-figure scoring for a full season and none have matched Doncic's unprecedented combination of production and efficiency. Second, Doncic plays the biggest role of any of the volume players in these rankings this season in terms of possessions per game. The guard has assumed many of the responsibilities left in the wake of Sergio Llull's injury, yet has still managed to score with very high efficiency against players who are often nearly a decade older than him.
What makes Doncic stand out is how rare it is for a player, regardless of age, to play such a big role in the EuroLeague. The graphic above shows that only four players in the entire competition are using over 16 possessions per game this season, one of whom is Sonny Weems, who made his debut for Anadolu Efes Istanbul last week. For reference, the average EuroLeague Most Valuable Player over the last decade has averaged 13.7 possessions per game.
Center Arturas Gudaitis of AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan and swingman James Nunnally of Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul rank as the most efficient scorers in the EuroLeague this season among qualified players, but have reached that point in two very different ways. Almost 90% of Gudaitis's shots in Milan's half-court offense this season have come on dunks or layups in finishing situations at the rim; he ranks prominently in scoring on cuts and rolls to the rim, two of the most efficient actions in modern basketball. Nunnally, on the other hand, attempts 72% of his shots in Fenerbahce's half-court offense from the perimeter and leads the EuroLeague in jump-shooting efficiency, making shots off the dribble from pick-and-rolls and spot-up jumpers at a remarkable rate. His ability to make an impact in his role was apparent in his Round 24 performance for Fenerbahce in their 86-83 victory over Real Madrid at the WiZink Center. Scoring 16 points on just 8 field goal attempts, Nunnally led his team to a hard-fought victory with exceptionally efficient shot making. Gudaitis and Nunnally are both prime examples of players finding great success in roles tailored to their skill sets, as there is a lot more to points-per-possession statistics than just how well a player can put the ball in the basket.
As much as the outliers on the chart above are interesting, what is most notable is how, amid a surge in offensive effectiveness, the distribution of possessions in the EuroLeague is incredibly balanced. In many basketball leagues, offensive efficiency is driven by a few players on each team, but that is not true in the EuroLeague. 70% of the league's players use between 4 to 10 possessions per game, meaning that the rise in scoring efficiency can be attributed both to the league's perceived top talent and the players who fill smaller roles.