Sergio Llull is hardly a fresh face at Real Madrid, but the iconic guard is effectively a 'new signing' for the club after missing practically the whole of last season through injury. The same applies to powerful big man Ognjen Kuzmic, who signed last summer from Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade, but managed less than 10 minutes of action before suffering a season-ending injury. One genuine new arrival is Gabriel Deck, a forward who joins from San Lorenzo de Almagro, which he led to the FIBA Americas League championship and was named Grand Final MVP. The roster is completed by Slovenian guard Klemen Prepelic, who first appeared in the competition with Union Olimpija Ljubljana in 2012 and last season shined in the 7DAYS EuroCup with Levallois Metropolitans, for which he averaged 15.7 points per game.
After the frustrations he endured last season, 2016-17 EuroLeague MVP Llull will be eager to make up for lost time by resuming his role as backcourt leader and his return to action goes a long way towards compensating for the departure of last season's MVP Luka Doncic. The teen sensation’s place will be filled by a compatriot, with the scoring potential of Prepelic – who exceeded 20 points in four of his nine EuroCup games last season – adding a new dimension to an already potent offense. Another player with a key role will be Facundo Campazzo, who proved himself to truly belong at this level last season by averaging 4.5 assists per game. Versatile Fabien Causeur is also ready to become an even more important cog in Laso’s wheel after concluding a promising first season at the club with an excellent contribution at the Final Four, and the dynamic shooting skills of evergreen veteran Jaycee Carroll – who is entering his eighth season with the club – will continue to excite Madrid fans. With the tough defense and outside scoring of Jeffery Taylor and the never-say-die attitude of swingman Rudy Fernandez, it’s clear Los Blancos' backcourt will offer a bit of everything once again this season.
Madrid’s backcourt is arguably the most loaded in Europe, with Laso able to call upon an awesome array of proven talent. One of those players, however, will feel he has plenty to prove: Kuzmic was sidelined for nearly the whole of last season, and will now be eager to make his mark. The giant figure of Walter Tavares was signed partly due to the injury sustained by Kuzmic, and the Cape Verdean's place in the mix is assured after he quickly became an influential member of the team. A different approach comes from Anthony Randolph and Trey Thompkins, who both possess the ability to dominate the paint and provide a steady stream of points from mid and long-range. The vastly experienced Gustavo Ayon is another big man with a versatile skill set, especially with his ability to distribute the ball, while the addition of Deck’s scoring and rebounding should also prove valuable. Youngster Santi Yusta could be given more opportunities to develop, and at the other end of the age scale remarkable captain Felipe Reyes will attempt to turn back the hands of time for yet another season.
PLAYER TO WATCH
With such a familiar roster at coach Laso’s disposal – 11 of the 12 players from last season’s championship game are still at the club – there won’t be many surprises in store from Real Madrid this season. One player who could really start to shine, however, is Fabian Causeur. The French swingman was steady during his first season in Spain, playing in every single game and averaging 18 minutes on the floor. But his true ability really came to the fore in the most important game of all, as he scored a team-high 17 points by making all 3 of his three-point attempts in the championship game victory over Fenerbahce. With a Doncic-shape hole to be filled, Causeur possesses the experience, know-how and all-around ability to become a key performer for Madrid and his eighth EuroLeague season could well prove to be his best yet.
Would anyone bet against Real Madrid making another serious run at the title this season? Largely the same group of players has been crowned continental champions twice in the last four years, and further continuity comes from Coach Laso, who will be desperately hoping to avoid the kind of bad luck with injuries his team somehow managed to overcome last season. One slight concern is the age of the roster, with six players heading into the campaign over the age of 30, but there should be enough options at Laso’s disposal to prevent burnout during the latter stages of the season. All told, it would be no surprise whatsoever to see Real Madrid back at the Final Four in May.