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 Dusko Savanovic, former All-EuroLeague selection and last spring's Final Four Ambassador; Manuel Moreno, the former long-time EuroLeague writer for Sport newspaper in Spain; Massimo Oriani of Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport; Semih Tuna, editor of Eurohoops Turkish edition; and Igor Petrinovic, Editor at Euroleague.net. Check out their opinions on three key questions between Round 17 and Round 18 of the regular season!
1. Who is the first EuroLeague player you would sign if starting a team?
Well, that sort of question probably defines who is my favorite player in the EuroLeague right now. I would probably need some great point guard, which means the chosen one is supposed to be a player with great organizational skills, not necessarily a point guard. Players like Nicolo Melli, Milan Macvan, Vladimir Micov... And of course, Nando De Colo, Sergio Llull, Sergio Rodriguez... Players like that bring an idea to the court and provide good results."
Nando De Colo is the most determinant player in the EuroLeague in my opinion. He's a veteran, at 31, but he's not yet on the downside of his career. He offers scoring, efficiency and leadership. I value the player who knows how to put his team on his back when things aren't going well, and De Colo does that for CSKA. There are few EuroLeague players with that characteristic. Maybe Spanoulis and Llull, but De Colo is a surer thing: in 13 of the 17 games until now, he has scored at least 10 points.
Now that Luka Doncic has taken his talent to Texas, I'd have to go with a veteran who can still produce big-time numbers and knows how to win. That's why I'd choose Jan Vesely from Fenerbahce. He's the most-utilized player by coach Zeljko Obradovic, and I believe he knows what he's doing… After all he's only won nine Euroleague titles! If I wanted to go a bit younger, I'd choose Arturas Gudaitis from AX Milan. He was good in his first season when the team was struggling. Now that he has a backcourt with Mike James and Nemanja Nedovic (when healthy), who can open up space inside, he's dominating.
As the back-court players are mainly helpful at ensuring a more dynamic functioning of the schemes, I will go with one of them even though two big men, Jan Vesely and Nikola Milutinov, are both having a fantastic season. I pick Sergio Llull, who can play both guard positions efficiently and is a coachable leader who can improve the performances of his teammates. He couldn't play much last season due to injury, but in the previous season, his individual performance was one of the best I've ever seen in the EuroLeague in a single season, and I had the answer for this question in my mind back then.
To get an immediate impact, while still considering long-term future of the team, my signing might be Fenerbahce point guard Kostas Sloukas. Still young as he turns 29 next week, Sloukas has played in six championship games in the last seven years, winning three titles. An impact player, but also the ultimate team player, as well, he is my team's building block.
2. If you needed one stop to win a game, which defender would you want on the court?
I have to be subjective on this answer. I would definitely choose Dogus Balbay. That guy is able to stop anyone – and I mean, ANYONE – on a basketball court. Of course, there are a lot of great defensive players in European basketball. I like Branko Lazic, who is in the 7DAYS EuroCup right now, or Nikola Kalinic, but I have to be loyal to my own emotions and history, so I am going with my guy, Dogus Balbay!
Without doubt: Kyle Hines. He was already the Best Defender twice before, and this season he's on the road to a repeat. He's a small center at 1.98 meters, but the strength of his legs lets him defend big men as well as perimeter players. He intimidates despite almost always matching up with players who taller, and he comes from the week side to block shots a lot. He's the most complete defender, but if I had to choose to stop in certain situations a smaller player I would use Calathes and if it was a tall center I'd go for Vesely.
I'd definitely want to have Adrien Moerman from Anadolu Efes Istanbul on my team. It would be easy and you could not go wrong by choosing Kyle Hines, since he was crowned best defender in last year's competition, but the French forward has really been a key factor in this half of the court in Efes's great comeback season from last year's finish at the bottom of the standings. He can easily take away the opponent's best scorer in the post and also hold his ground when he has to switch on a smaller player.
The player would have to be able to play defense against guards thanks to his quick feet and defense fundamentals, but also play post-up defense against big men thanks to his size and knowledge of the game. We saw that three years ago during playoffs between Fenerbahce and Real Madrid. Yes, defense is a teamwork. However, if we're the defending team on the last possession, I think Nikola Kalinic from Fenerbahce Beko is the best fit to play defense against each opponent from 1 to 5.
I would have to go with Fenerbahce again, but there are simply few, if any, better defensive players on the continent better than Nikola Kalinic. His size, strength, athleticism and mobility enable him to go against guards, but also forwards bigger than him. Also, his understating of the game as well as his basketball (and off-court) IQ really leads me to believe he is the guy for this job.
3. Which player do you expect to do much better in the second half of the season?
To tell you the truth, and after giving it a long thought, I would choose Marko Guduric of Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul. He is a player who can always play at the level he is right now, at this very moment, but only needs to do it throughout an entire season. He has had his ups and downs, but from my point of view, he is the type of player who can be one of his team's leaders all season long, along with all other great Fenerbahce players like Kostas Sloukas, Jan Vesely, Luigi Datome and all its other superstars.
Shane Larkin. I expect more of Llull – he still is not totally recovered from the injury that kept him off court for almost a year – and even from the always-intelligent Vassilis Spanoulis. But I think the player with the biggest margin of improvement is guard that Anadolu Efes Istanbul brought back to the EuroLeague after a year in the NBA with Boston. Larkin has been important in the first part of the season for Efes with his 8.2 points per game and 33% three-point shooting, but that's below what was expected from him.
I'd have to look first at a team that has not played up to the preseason expectations. So far probably the one that has most underachieved could be Panathinaikos Athens. And the player that more than anyone should be capable to turn his and his team's season around is undoubtedly Deshaun Thomas . So far, he has not been as productive as you'd expect, his scoring down almost 4 points a game from last year when he was with Maccabi. Yes, he maybe has less minutes than he had in Israel, but he's capable of doing much more.
Nando De Colo is having a season where he averages the least amount of points comparing to his last five campaigns. As someone who is used to CSKA dominating the regular season, I think the Russian powerhouse will improve its performance and one of the key elements will be Nando De Colo taking more responsibility throughout the process. Currently, Cory Higgins and Will Clyburn’s shoulder too much of the burden in the backcourt rotation. I believe that De Colo will pull some of their weight in the second half of the season.
This is the season Sergio Llull is supposed to return to his old, pre-injury self, and it has not happened yet. The former MVP is averaging 10.8 points and 3.9 assists, but also playing just 21 minutes per game. With the emergence of Facundo Campazzo, Madrid does not depend on Llull and his heroics as much. But given the fantastic player and true superstar that Llull is, I believe that by the end of the season he will be coming up huge for the reigning champs.