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 Joe Arlauckas, former EuroLeague champ and current game announcer and podcast host; Juan Antonio Casanova, the former long-time EuroLeague writer for La Vanguardia in Spain; Djordje Matic of Serbian newspaper Novosti; Alex Madrid of Eurohoops Spain; and Frank Lawlor, Editorial Director of Euroleague Basketball. Check out their opinions on three key questions after Rounds 2 and 3 of the regular season.
1. Which team helped itself most in the season's first double-round week?
Well you have to think Real Madrid since we see them come back from 20 points down in Milan in Round 2 then returned home to face KIROLET Baskonia and really just outlasted the Basque side. Take into account that after a difficult loss, Milan flew to Athens and laid a beat down on Olympiacos, which made Madrid's week even look better.
Juan Antonio Casanova
Real Madrid. There are no coincidences. Only three teams won both their games in the first double-round week... and they were the three main favorites: Madrid, Fenerbahce and CSKA. When demanding situations arise, the stronger rosters, both in quantity and quality, don't go unnoticed. I choose Madrid because their two opponents were tougher and because of the way they got the wins. In Milan they recovered from a poor 28-13 first quarter and won the other quarters. At home, against Baskonia, they broke a 65-65 tie in the 27th minute with a 30-10 run.
Just three teams were able to overcome the first double-round week undefeated. However, I think Milan took a step forward despite winning only one of the two games. First, they showed that they are capable of competing head to head with the reigning European champion in a clash that they were close to winning. Then they managed to conquer Peace and Friendship Stadium with a performance worthy of praise. It would be strange to me not to see them in the playoffs.
Like table "says", Real Madrid, Fenerbahce and CSKA. They all got two wins each and proved their high ambitions. Maybe they didn't play their best basketball, but in a long competition with 30 rounds, every win is very important for the final positions and for home-court advantage in the quarterfinals. These teams know that well and proved it last week.
Milan. Challenging the champs and going 48 hours later to Piraeus and beating an Olympiacos team that had easily handled two playoff teams on the road was an eye-opener. As a strong psychological reaction to its home loss to Madrid after having led by 15, it was even better. As Mike James said afterward, beating Olympiacos by 24 on the road was a statement win. But the biggest statement was probably heard inside the Milan locker room, when they told themselves that they were good enough to win under any circumstances, no matter the setting or the opponent.
2. Which player stood out the most during Rounds 2 and 3?
You have to take a good look at Milan's Vladimir Micov, who scored 20 in that home loss against Real Madrid and went on the road and dropped 21 in Athens in the 24-point blowout. The duo between him and Mike James can be something that the Italian fans have to cheer about even this early in the season.
Juan Antonio Casanova
Edy Tavares. Continuing the previous point, I find it logical to choose a Real Madrid player. It could have been Campazzo (PIR 44 combined in both games) or Randolph (PIR 43), but I choose Tavares because of his consistency with averages of 9.5 points, 9 rebounds, 3.5 blocks and an 18.5 PIR on those two wins. Plus something that numbers do not reflect: his work on defense. His imposing physique (2.21 meters) and improved positioning on the court day by day forces his opponents to change many shots... or simply not to take them.
I'm going with two big guys who played great last week: Nikola Milutinov (averaged 19 points and 10.5 boards) and Edy Tavares (9.5 points, 9 rebounds and 3.5 blocks). The Olympiacos center, in fact, was the MVP of the Round 2 after leading his team in Vitoria-Gasteiz. It seems that he has finally exploded under David Blatt and will be dominant in the EuroLeague. On the other hand, the Cape Verdean wasn't so important offensively, but his presence on the court changes games. He's the player who has the most impact in the competition right now.
For me, Rudy Fernandez. He is "back", and I'm glad to see him again in a good shape. Rudy is a very important player for Madrid's system on both sides of the court. He helps Madrid find balance in the game. He (and his teammates) made victory against a strong team like Baskonia look easy.
I'll join the crowd and say Edy Tavares of Madrid. He was everywhere in the comeback at Milan and in the commanding follow-up home win by the champs against dangerous Baskonia. A year ago, Tavares joined Madrid and found a home. He had to figure out how he fit then, but was a big factor in their EuroLeague title chase. Now, he looks absolutely comfortable and ready for more. His footwork belies his great size and his passion is evident. The rest of the league should worry.
3. Which player among the statistical leaders are you surprised to see there?
I remember being in Berlin and painfully watching Jan Vesely go 1 for 10 from the free throw line in the championship game against CSKA. It was difficult to watch as an ex-player, but to see that last year he shot 70% and so far in three games this season he has made all 15 of his free throws has made me realize how dedicated this young man is to not only trying to be the best, but also working constantly to better his game.
Juan Antonio Casanova
Nikola Milutinov. Among so many tried and true superstars, the presence of Olympiacos's Serbian center is relevant. He is the top rebounder in the league and the player with the second-highest PIR. His numbers (15.7 points on 70% shooting and 10 rebounds) practically double his two previous personal bests, set last season. He is not really an unknown player, since he has been on the Serbian national team in all categories, but he is a young player at 23 years old, he is progressing, and his limit seems to be sky-high.
I can't trust the good percentages because it's still early in the season. However, I am pleasantly surprised with Vladimir Micov, who ranks fourth among the best scorers in the EuroLeague (18 points per game). He is a great player who has averaged more than 10 points per game the last two seasons, but with Mike James and Nemanja Nedovic by his side, it is not easy to get those numbers. His great shape is clearly related to the Milan's good form.
Maybe most people are surprised with Nikola Milutinov's performances, but I'm not. He is the EuroLeague's best rebounder statistically , but for me, he is not just a rebounder. He is a complete center who knows how to score, rebound and defend. I have been watching him since he was young, and I was pretty sure that it was just matter of time before he would play excellent basketball. And he won't turn 24 until the end of this year!
Good though he has been for a few years, Olympiacos center Nikola Milutinov's second ranking in average PIR was unexpected for me. Back-to-back double-doubles in 48 hours last week, including career-highs of 23 points and 33 PIR on the road, is something few players can imagine doing. He came within a point and a rebound of a double-double in a road win to start the season, too. Olympiacos may have been surprised to lose its Round 3 home opener by 24 points, but Milutinov has nonetheless established himself as a true anchor at the start of the season.