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 Euroleague Basketball Legend Ramunas Siskauskas; Vladimir Stankovic, veteran journalist and longtime EuroLeague.net collaborator; Roman Skvortsov, EuroLeague game commentator on Match TV in Russia; Antonis Stroggylakis, editor of Eurohoops global edition; and Frankie Sachs, Editor at Euroleague.net. Check out their opinions on three key questions before Rounds 13 and 14 of the regular season!
1. Who is your favorite off-the-bench game-changer in the EuroLeague this season?
My favorite, again, is Arturas Gudaitis. He goes in of the bench all games and gives for the team a lot. He is playing really good this season, and it seems that it is not a problem for him to start the game of the bench. It is great for the team to have a player, who can give an energy and quality after substitutions.
It's not easy to choose a "sixth man" because European basketball, unlike the NBA, there aren't fixed starters. According to the opponent, coaches choose players who may start but then don't play much in the second half. Looking at the last few games, I see that the best bench scorers have been Derrick Williams of Bayern, the MVP of the Round, Marko Guduric of Fenerbahce, and his teammate Kostas Sloukas. I also have to mention Sergio Rodriguez of CSKA and Facundo Campazzo of Real Madrid. But all these "substitutes" can be starters the next game. If I have to choose one, though, I'll stick with Derrick Williams.
My choice is Cory Higgins. Problems with outside shooting? Call Cory. Need to get into the paint? Higgins is on his way! The leader of the other team is scoring a lot? I think you know what to do. In any unclear situation, rely on Cory Higgins.
Derrick Williams pretty much defines what a game-changer is, from any way you might look at it. He comes off the bench to provide some electric and dynamic play that, most importantly, brings immediate effect for FC Bayern Munich and a mismatch nightmare for opponents. Williams takes advantage of his superior athleticism to dominate, since he often looks unguardable by opposing forwards. He showed that plenty in the wins over Gran Canaria (20 points) and, most recently, Zalgiris Kaunas, against whom he notched a career-high 27 points plus 7 rebounds.
It took a few games for him to find his groove in his first EuroLeague campaign, but since then Derrick Williams of FC Bayern Munich has been everything Coach Radonjic could hope for when he looks to his bench. Williams provides physicality, athleticism and scoring ability, which are all enhanced when he comes in with the second unit against other teams reserves – or starters who are a bit winded. This question nails exactly what Williams is for his team... Since he is third on the team in minutes played, he is clearly not a second stringer, but rather an off-the-bench game-changer.
2. What team has got the most out of a coaching change so far?
I think Maccabi is getting the most from the change. Although they are not in good position in the standings right now, I think that they play better. They won against Bayern, a team which is not easy to play against, and were close to winning against Baskonia. They just defeated Khimki, as well. I think they will be a strong opponent for every team.
If I am not mistaken, four teams have changed coaches since the season began, and the best start on the bench, without doubt, belongs to Victor Garcia in Gran Canaria. He won his first two games, on Milan's court by 86-94 and then at home against Buducnost, 95-85. Apart from the victories, the scoring is impressive, 94 and 95 points.
I believe this is Baskonia, which for the third time trusted its legend to Velimir Perasovich. Four victories in six games against two in seven for his predecessor may not impress anyone in terms of numbers. Let's turn to quality: Baskonia with Perasovic beat Panathinaikos and CSKA at home, and now Maccabi and Gran Canaria away for the team's first three-game winning streak. And Baskonia is beginning to win games late. Impressive, isn't it?
Since Velimir Perasovic took over the helm of Baskonia, the team has a 4-2 record that included a triumph over CSKA Moscow plus a potentially key road victory over Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv. The squad that was once in danger of missing the postseason train now is making a strong case for the playoffs by performing balanced basketball. Its psychology seems to have gone through the roof recently.
All four teams that have made coaching changes have seen improvements to one degree or another, but KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz is firmly back in the playoff hunt after winning four of its last five games, thus the nod must go to this team and its old-new coach Velimir Perasovic. It is noteworthy that since Perasovic has been on the sidelines, his team has defeated two other sides that made recent coaching changes, Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv and Herbalife Gran Canaria, both on the road! If a month ago Baskonia's hopes of reaching the Final Four in its hometown seemed negligible, Perasovic has given Baskonia fans reasons to believe again.
3. What current player is most likely to challenge the EuroLeague single-game record of 41 points (held by 4 players)?
I think that Mike James or Alexey Shved can challenge the Euroleague single-game record. They are very strong individually and if they get hot in a game, they can do that.
Another difficult question. It's been years since anyone scored 40 points. That's not the players' fault. Many are capable of scoring 40 points or more, but because of so many games and trips, coaches have to take care of their stars. Few players average more than 30 minutes any more. I think that Alexey Shved has the biggest chance to score 40 or more. In April of last season, he had 36 against CSKA and missed 3 free throws, playing 35 minutes. With a few minutes more, he can arrive to 41.
I only see two candidates, Mike James and Alexey Shved. Both of them are unconditional leaders of their teams, spend a lot of time on the court, have unlimited access to the ball, and are used to taking about two dozen shots per game. Shved's chances are higher because he attacks more often from behind the arc and does it more effectively than James. What will be an achievement for others is like a normal day at the office for Mike or Alexey.
It's simple math, really, and the answer has to be Alexey Shved. Yes, Mike James has been a scoring beast this season (20.5 ppg.) but while both players make more or less the same number of attempts per game (an average of around 17.6), Shved is the more "pureblood" scorer of the two and simply at another level when it comes to making buckets. Shved can go off at any given time and there's no switch to stop him from taking (and making) shots. He also has the freedom to fire at will, too, so to me he's the only one who can possibly break that 41-point record.
The logical answer might be Alexey Shved, but since the Khimki star is sidelined, I turn to Mike James of AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan, who is as lethal a scorer as there is in the EuroLeague. He has two of the league's top 10 highest-scoring performances this season. What's more, James is surrounded by other talented scorers and his 7.3 assists per game attest to the fact that he will pass the ball if double teamed. To reach 40 points in a game, a player needs to be able to create his own shots, make three-pointers and handle double teams. James, who has scored at least 13 points in 18 straight games dating back to last season, checks all three boxes.