Perennial powerhouse Olympiacos Piraeus has added plenty of battle-hardened experience as it seeks to launch a fresh assault for the title for which it was runner-up last season. Heading into his fourth season in charge, head coach Giannis Sfairopoulos has added power and dynamism in the frontcourt with a pair of well-known faces to followers of the competition, Kim Tillie and Jamel McLean. After a handful of EuroLeague appearances with Panathinaikos at the start of his career big man Georgios Bogris will be looking to impress in red and white, while swingman Hollis Thompson heads to Europe for the first time after more than 250 NBA appearances. In the backcourt, multi-talented Janis Strelnieks arrives from Bamberg, and Brian Roberts – whose a former Bamberg and NBA player – adds guile and experience.
There's no doubt about the identity of the leader in Piraeus: Vassilis Spanoulis returns for his 12th EuroLeague season and will continue to be the team's heartbeat, taking responsibility in all crucial moments whether he is conjuring scoring opportunities for himself or his teammates. But he has plenty of help, starting with always-reliable Vangelis Mantzaris, who has now surpassed 150 appearances in the competition for the Reds, 95% of them as a starter. An exciting addition ready to help both of them is Janis Strelnieks, whose high basketball IQ and smooth shooting skills add another dimension to the offense, while Brian Roberts will be a more-than-safe pair of hands to ensure great defense on the ball as well as offensive swiftness and shooting. Experienced swingman Hollis Thompson stands to provide versatility and more deep scoring threat, while youngster Vassilis Toliopoulos will hope for chances to continue his development.
If Spanoulis is one Olympiacos, another is All-EuroLeague forward Georgios Printezis, who comes back for more of his great shot-making and efficiency after one of the best seasons of his storied career. The non-stop energy of Kostas Papanikolaou will continue to play a major role at both ends of the floor, while new arrivals Kim Tillie and Jamel McLean are two more hard-nosed and well-rounded players who will make life extremely difficult for any opponent. More size, hustle and continuity comes from a pair of ever-improving performers who have played under-sung but significant roles in recent seasons, Dimitris Agravanis and Ioannis Papapetrou. And a fearsome frontcourt is further strengthened in the paint, where Nikola Milutinov is back after the best season of his career and veteran Georgios Bogris returns to Greece after three extremely consistent seasons in Spain. All told, this is a frontcourt not to be messed with.
PLAYER TO WATCH
This Olympiacos roster is packed with potential game-changers at every position, but one man who could make a particularly key impact is deceptively under-stated guard Janis Strelnieks. The Latvian's teammates at his former club Bamberg were often left speechless by his sheer range of ability and unshakeable coolness under pressure. The extent of Strelnieks' talents was laid bare during an astonishing performance against Maccabi last season when he had a perfect shooting night of 10 converted field goals with 4 assists and zero turnovers. Strelnieks possesses all the know-how to become a great player, and with the guidance of Spanoulis this could be the year that he breaks through to establish himself as one of the signature backcourt threats in the EuroLeague.
There is an awful lot to like about this Olympiacos roster, starting with the fact that four of the five starters from last season's championship game – Spanoulis, Mantzaris, Papanikolaou and Printezis – have returned for another shot at glory. All six of the new additions are ready to make an immediate impact. Considering the roster's physical and mental power, not to mention intensity all over the floor, it's hard to imagine a more difficult team to play against. Olympiacos will surely once again boast one of the competition's best defenses, while the arrival of Strelnieks and Roberts in the backcourt gives coach Sfairopoulos plenty of firepower. Anything less than a serious challenge for another return to the Final Four would be a major surprise.