Welcome back 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 two-time EuroLeague winning coach and Euroleague Basketball Legend Dusan Ivkovic; Juan Antonio Casanova, the former long-time EuroLeague writer for La Vanguardia in Spain; journalist Donatas Urbonas of leading Lithuanian website 15min.lt; Lefteris Moutis of Eurohoops; and EuroLeague.net editor Edu Roca. Check out their opinions on three key questions going into Round 25 of the regular season.
1. What is the last opponent you would want your team to face in the playoffs?
"It's hard to say now, but as always, we can expect some big surprise. At the moment, though, it's the teams playing for a long, long time with big experience in the EuroLeague and the playoffs that you have to worry about. CSKA, for sure, as they've already qualified. And I think Fenerbahce, too. Coach Obradovic will have them playing at their best. We can't forget they lost two big players, Bogdanovic and Udoh, who was the key to their defense, from last season, but I think generally things are working for them. And for sure, we have Olympiacos, but they are a little up and down. The most positive surprise for me is Zalgiris; they are very, very competitive. And we can't forget Real Madrid, even with so many injuries. But for sure, CSKA and Fenerbahce look like the toughest to beat in the playoffs."
Juan Antonio Casanova
"Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul, because this is a team that stops other teams from doing what they like to do. Each team coached by Zeljko Obradovic grows during the season and improves its performance in decisive games, in which defense is critical. Right now, it has the brightest streak in the EuroLeague, with eight wins in the last nine games, and will have the home-court advantage in the playoffs. In the last two seasons, Fenerbahce eliminated Real Madrid and Panathinaikos 3-0 score, allowing just 67.3 points on average."
"Many players and coaches say that this year's EuroLeague is an unpredictable beast. We have seen so many examples, like Barcelona beating CSKA Moscow despite being 15th in the standings right now. But in my eyes, the last opponent you want to face in playoffs is CSKA. No team is perfect this season, but CSKA is the closest to perfection. They have a deep and balanced roster which produces the best offensive numbers, which are far better than their closest opponent. They also have the second-best defense in the whole EuroLeague and there's no reason why they should stop in the playoffs."
"CSKA Moscow, without a doubt. Since the 2004-05 season, when the playoffs were instituted, they’ve only been absent once; they’ve appeared in 12 series and have won all of them! In a total of 40 games, they’ve only lost eight times and, in fact, they’ve only had to play a do-or-die game three times… So, any team knows that their future against CSKA is bleak. And, judging from the way CSKA look this season, it’s going to be difficult to change their 100% success rate."
"This one is easy to answer actually. The answer is Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul. All Zeljko Obradovic teams are a nightmare to face in a series. It seems that he has a special touch to deal with playoff series - his run of Final Four appearances, 16 since 1992, says it all really - and to add insult to injury, his team this year is the defending champ, so I would not want to be in the shoes of the coach that will have to face Zeljko and his guys in a best-of-five series next month. He always finds the opponent's weakness and punishes it like nobody I have ever seen."
2. What EuroLeague player would you choose to get a life-or-death rebound for you?
"The rebound is a very, very important part of the game, no question. Some players always control them, even if it's not a team philosophy, but because the player likes to get double-doubles. I remember Walter Berry in PAOK 25 years ago said to me, 'Coach, give me two minutes more, I need 2 rebounds more.' And immediately after one offensive rebound, he missed and got another, and he had his double-double in about 10 seconds. And then he asked to sub out! Very funny. Now, that would not be so possible because each EuroLeague game is very important, which is a big difference from the NBA regular season, when you don't see one player going to the offensive boards. At this moment, like a player and a fighter, though, I am sure that Kyle Hines is still one of the best to get a rebound your team needs."
Juan Antonio Casanova
"Tyler Honeycutt. This was not easy at all. I was looking for a player who was a reliable rebounder, but able to grab really decisive boards, the ones that count to win a game. I discarded many big men – most of them because their team will not be in the playoffs, like James Augustine, Arturas Gudaitis and Ante Tomic – and chose a 2.03-meter forward. The explanation behind it is that his rebounding average (4.3 rpg.) has risen to 6.7 in the six games which Khimki has won by double digits since he returned to the team, with which he won the EuroCup title in 2015."
"There are so many good rebounders in the EuroLeague, so it's so hard to pick one. But if I didn't have any other choice, I would choose Thomas Robinson. It's great to see him back on the floor after the injury. Even if his first two games after the injury were difficult and his regular numbers dropped, he is still the best in EuroLeague in defensive rebounding rate, overall rebounding and defensive rebounds per 40 minutes. It's a hard choice, but I trust the numbers and Robinson's enormous athletic abilities."
"There are many excellent rebounders this season in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague who combine athleticism, good timing and positioning. When, however, a rebound can decide everything, you want to have a player who has all of the above, but also lots of passion, so that they will grab the rebound. And Jan Vesely is perhaps the best player one can have to jump and grab that rebound."
"Kyle Hines. His rebounding numbers might not be at the top of the list, but he is consistently contributing from under the glass, and his size and mobility make him a great asset to have in the middle of bigger men than him. And don't forget about his vast experience in decisive games either. If I was a coach, Hines would be one of the players I would trust in most situations."
3. Who do you consider to be the toughest EuroLeague scorer to stop in the clutch moments?
"Vassilis Spanoulis is for sure one of the best players that I ever coached: very professional, big personality, big fighter. He is untouchable for me, and unstoppable for many of the teams he plays against. Even injuries do not stop him. I think with his experience and personality, he is the clutch player at the end of the game who is the toughest, still."
Juan Antonio Casanova
"Jaycee Carroll. He is surely a surprising choice, but all elite shooters – not counting frontcourt players – have had some problems. Doncic lowered his overall performance, Shved only hits 40% of his shots, De Colo and Spanoulis have not played major roles in close finishes... so I am taking Real Madrid's shooting guard, a streak shooter with the quickest release in the competition. Especially if you need a three-point shot - he has a 45.5% shooting percentage from downtown in the EuroLeague and 54.9% in the Spanish League."
"Despite being 35 years old and making only 13% of his threes in fourth quarters this season, Vassilis Spanoulis is still a nightmare for every opponent who is guarding him. His sneaky moves, huge experience and natural killer instinct is something which might throw out the window all these missed shots in first three quarters and make it just a different story in a clutch time. Spanoulis still has it and I haven't seen other EuroLeague players emerge in this category yet."
"The greatest clutch scorer in the EuroLeague in recent years has been Vassilis Spanoulis. The games Olympiacos Piraeus has won with his shots are so many that his name is now a byword for the term 'clutch.' As the season progresses and games become more and more critical, Olympiacos's leader goes into 'clutch mode,' always willing to take responsibility at the most crucial moments of games. However, he doesn’t always have in mind to score, even though he has the instinct of a scorer, but he always looks out for the good of the team, as everyone can recall from the 2012 EuroLeague final."
"Fortunately, in the EuroLeague we get to enjoy several players who can stay as cold as ice when it matters the most. However, the exhibitions I have seen by Vassilis Spanoulis are astounding, to say the least. When he has the laser-focus determination to get the ball in the basket, he simply does it, even if the odds are against him and his team. And, as he has shown with his partner in crime, Georgios Printezis, on more than one occasion, Spanoulis doesn't shy away from sharing the ball in hot moments if that means that the Reds are going to win."