Inside the Playoffs: CSKA Moscow vs. Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade

Apr 11, 2016 by Print
Inside the Playoffs: CSKA Moscow vs. Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade

CSKA's historic offense

CSKA Moscow has one of the best offenses in Euroleague history. Its 92.08 points per game this season is a record, to date, just ahead of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s 92.04 from the 2004-05 season. CSKA is also on pace to break the record for most total points scored in a single season, held by Real Madrid, which scored 2,656 for an average of 85.7 in the 2013-14 campaign. CSKA's 20 assists per game are the third-best average all-time, too. In the Top 16, CSKA not only ranked first in points scored (92.8 ppg.), which is the best all-time for that phase, but also in two-point (56.3%), and three-point (43.1%) shooting accuracy. During one stretch, CSKA scored at least 90 points in seven games in a row. It also reached the 90-point mark in nine of its first 11 games. CSKA has been especially impressive in the Russian capital, where it starts this series against Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade with home-court advantage. Since a home loss to Unicaja Malaga in Round 5 of the regular season, CSKA has scored at least 90 points in every home game and seven of its last eight wins there have come by double-digit margins.

Nando and Teo

CSKA broke the all-time Top 16 scoring mark with 1,299 total points, a record CSKA set last season. And big credit for that goes to CSKA’s backcourt duo of Nando De Colo (19.7 ppg.) and Milos Teodosic (16.5 ppg.), who are first teammates to be a season’s best two scorers, too. Both really increased their production during the Top 16, with De Colo’s 21.0 points plus 4.9 assists and Teodosic posting 18.4 points and 5.4 assists. Teodosic made the most three pointers (2.9 per game) and third-most free throws (5.0) in the Top 16, and De Colo was second in free throws made (5.5) and fifth with 2.2 threes. De Colo also ranked among Top 10 in two-pointers made (4.5), and has scored at least 12 points in every single game he played this season, which not only helped him earn February MVP honors, but speaks volumes of his scoring ability. Nando and Milos secured their place in history as arguably the most-productive backcourt duo of all time. For instance, CSKA had another great backcourt scoring pair in Marcus Brown and J.R. Holden more than a decade ago. Across 22 games in 2003-04 season when they reached the Final Four, Brown posted 18.7 points on 38.2% shooting and dished 4.2 assists, while Holden had 14.2 points by making 2 triples per night, and had 3.8 assists. The following season, Maccabi’s duo of Sarunas Jasikevicius and Anthony Parker had a fantastic campaign en route to winning the Euroleague title. In 24 games, Parker averaged 18 points on 47.6% three-point shooting, with 5.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2 steals per night, earning season MVP honors, while Jasikevicius orchestrated the team to its second consecutive Euroleague title with 15.7 points and 5.3 assists. However, all of above mentioned players averaged at least 31:42 minutes on the floor. On the other hand, Teodosic and De Colo put up all their numbers despite both being outside top 15 in minutes played, neither playing more than 28 minutes. Still, they were oh-so-close to becoming only the second pair of teammates to average 20+ points in the Top 16, something only Marko Tomas and Jamont Gordon did with Cibona Zagreb in the 2009-10 season.

Big men, big depth

CSKA is a big team, with its smallest player being point guard Aaron Jackson at 1.93 meters. Its front line is eight-men deep, and all of them have played at least five games in the Top 16, in part because most of CSKA's frontcourt players missed portions of the season with injuries. But, when all healthy, it's an impressive group. Forward Nikita Kurbanov, and undersized big man Kyle Hines are the only two who played in each Top 16 game. Hines was the team's third-best scorer in the Top 16 with 10.9 points, and Kurbanov grabbed more rebounds than any of his teammates (71 for an average of 5.1 per night). Andrey Vorontsevich has been a key contributor with 9.7 points on average, while stretching the floor with 48.1% three-point accuracy, and pulling down 3.7 rebounds. Starting center – when healthy – Joel Freeland posted 6.1 points and 4.1 boards in the Top 16. And Victor Khryapa – in six games after his return from one injury and before being out with another – led team in rebounds(5.3 rpg.) and also scored 6.8 points. The frontcourt depth continues with Demetris Nichols, Pavel Korobkov and Ivan Lazarev, all ready to contribute. On the other hand, Zvezda is not as deep, but has plenty to say in the trenches, too. Maik Zirbes and Vladimir Stimac are its centers, with Zirbes enjoying a career- season, averaging 13.0 points on 62.9% two-point shooting and 6.3 rebounds. Quincy Miller is the top-scoring forward in the competition with 14.2 points per game and Marko Simonovic has been lethal from downtown, knocking down 1.7 triples per night on 42.7% accuracy. With team captain Luka Mitrovic back from an ACL injury he sustained after the opening week of the regular season, Zvezda gets an additional boost in the paint on both ends of the floor.

Playoff inexperience vs. playoff experience

The Turkish Airlines Euroleague Playoffs are not familiar territory for Zvezda players. Tarance Kinsey is the only player on the team that has appeared in the playoffs, and that was with Fenerbahce Istanbul back in the 2007-08 campaign. He averaged 9 points, 2.5 steals and 2 rebounds in two games of a best-of-three series loss to Montepaschi Siena. Meanwhile, CSKA players have plenty of playoff experience. The team, which has made it to the Final Four 12 of the past 13 seasons, used 14 different players during the Top 16: only four of them never played a playoff game. Among those four, Joel Freeland is in his fourth Euroleague season and getting ready to make a playoff debut, while Cory Higgins, Dmitry Kulagin and Ivan Lazarev are all Euroleague rookies. Victor Khryapa leads the team with 26 appearances in the playoffs, Milos Teodosic has 24 and Andrey Vorontsevic played in 20 Euroleague playoff games. The list goes on with Kyle Hines (18), Aaron Jackson (17) and Nando De Colo (9). The rest of the players have combined for 19 more playoff appearances, which totals 133 among CSKA players - compared to Zvezda’s 2.

Serbian grown talent

This is the first Euroleague playoff appearance for Zvezda, but there are many signs that this could be just the beginning of things to come for this club. The team's roster, by far the youngest of all playoff teams, features seven players 23 or younger. Swingman Marko Guduric (21 years old), point guard Nikola Rebic (21) and big men Marko Tejic (21) and Borisa Simanic (18) are all homegrown players. Captain and power forward Luka Mitrovic (23) is in his fourth season with the club and small forward Nemanja Dangubic (23) in his second, while point guard Vasilije Micic (22) arrived prior to the Top 16. Veteran guard Branko Lazic (27) and center Vladimir Stimac (29) also grew up with Zvezda, and Marko Simonovic (30) is in his second stint with the team. In addition to the players already on the roster, there are more young talents coming up. Zvezda junior's will make its sixth consecutive appearance at the Euroleague Basketball ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT Finals. In each of the last two seasons, U18 Crvena Zvezda has reached the title game, beating Real Madrid to win the tournament in 2014 and losing to the same opponent last year. This season, during the ANGT qualifying tournaments, Simanic was the MVP of the ANGT Belgrade and guard Aleksandar Aranitovic, currently on loan on-loan at Mega Leks, was MVP of the ANGT Rome. The future looks bright for the red-and-white.

Huge roster changes gave results

As many as 19 different players have appeared for Zvezda in Euroleague play this season. In part, tht's because of injuries, in part to give young players a chance, but also because of huge roster changes the team went through during the regular season. The first was the injury to team captain Luka Mitrovic, followed by the departure of big man Sofoklis Schortsanitis after only two regular season games, and the acquisition of their replacements – forward Quincy Miller and center Vladimir Stimac. During the regular season, Zvezda also brought back point guard Marcus Williams, but he did not remain long and departed along with guards Gal Mekel and Ryan Thompson after the regular season. The roster holes created by their departures were filled by point guard Vasilije Micic and swingman Tarance Kinsey, who were Zvezda’s latest two additions that settled the roster ahead of the Top 16. It is easy to argue that the pick-ups have given the team a huge lift. Miller is averaging 14.2 points and 5.8 rebounds in his rookie season, while the veteran Stimac contributes with 6.9 points and 5.1 rebounds in 15 minutes off the bench. Starter Kinsey netted 9.2 points in Top 16 action, and back-up playmaker Micic has been worth of 6.2 points on 41.4% three-point shooting, and 4 assists.