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 Round 15 of the regular season!
1. What player impressed you most in December's double-round week?
Jan Vesely had a great double-round week. He impressed me most. Although we know that he is a great athlete and good player, sometimes he stayed in the shadow of other players. Last week, in both games, he shined on both sides of the court.
Jan Vesely. His team is on a 10-game winning streak and his form has been decisive. Against CSKA, he had a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds, and against Buducnost, those numbers were 19 and 9. If he was known mostly for his rebounds and spectacular dunks before, now Vesely surprises us with free throws. From being one of the worst in that department, he has become one of the best, making 59 of 69 for 85.5%. An impressive improvement.
Arturas Gudaitis , perhaps. Milan has been feeling feverish lately, but Arturas continues to be a stronghold of stability. He is useful, effective (11-for-14 from the field in two games), and continues to give his team rebounds. The Italians managed to stop their prolonged streak of losses thanks in large part to Gudaitis.
The levels of dominance that Nikola Milutinov displayed against Barcelona were nothing less than impressive. It wasn't just about him putting up career-high numbers in PIR (36) and rebounds (14), but how he performed on both ends in ways that stats will never show. Milutinov bossed around his opposing bigs to have his way inside the paint, fiercely protected the rim and even stopped the moves of Barcelona's guards when he switched on them. Then, in the Round 14 game vs. Gran Canaria, he showed the diversity of his skills with a career-high 5 assists while once again taking care of business in the low post, with 11 points and 6 rebounds.
He has been impressive all season long, but the two games Nikola Milutinov of Olympiacos had in Rounds 13 and 14 cemented his status among the upper echelon of big men in the league. His monster double-double on the road at Barcelona – and its battery of big men – displayed his strength inside. Just 48 hours later he delivered a career-best 5 assists in a rout of Gran Canaria. He averaged 14.5 points on 66.7% shooting, 10.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.0 block for a performance index rating of 28.5 in those games. Milutinov is unleashed!
2. What team impressed you most in December's double-round week?
Zalgiris impressed me most. They had very tough week, and even though they played without two very important players, they reached two victories. They were down all game in Istanbul against Darussafaka, but they were patient and in the last two minutes broke the game. In Kaunas, they controlled the game, but it was not easy, because Maccabi plays much better now. As Sarunas Jasikevicius said, the most important thing was to survive this week – and they survived!
I am wavering between Fenerbahce and Real Madrid, but I will stick with Fenerbahce, because of the great game it had against CSKA, probably the best of the season so far. There was everything: intensity, quality, comebacks, great morale, spectacular individual play...all the best of the EuroLeague!
Zalgiris and Real Madrid. The Lithuanians won two important victories without two of their starting five players. Madrid has dealt with two motivated teams desperately fighting for a place in the top eight, leaving them no chance?
The defending champions, Real Madrid, and not only because they won both their games, vs. Panathinaikos at home and a really tough Bayern Munich on the road. Butt also due to the offensive spectacle they displayed in these two matches. Madrid averaged 20.5 assists in the two games, and there were moments when their offense looked like an unstoppable juggernaut. Madrid had lots of players contributing, both scoring and creating for each other, and big-time execution when it mattered.
Of the four teams that won in both Rounds 13 and 14, something stood out about Real Madrid's performances; three players scored in double figures in each game and they were different players both times. Only two players (Anthony Randolph and Sergio Llull) managed to average more than 10 points. Madrid overpowered Panathinaikos and bested Bayern Munich by relying on its depth and riding the hot hand. With so many weapons on the roster, Coach Laso has his team primed for greatness because of its team play and the fact that any of the 12 players in uniform can star on any given night. That is impressive to me... and worrisome for 15 other coaches in the EuroLeague.
3. What will be your lasting memory of the EuroLeague in 2018?
My lasting memory will be Zalgiris's third-place finish to the 2017-18 EuroLeague season. Nobody expected that in the beggining of the season, but Zalgiris had a great season with an incredibile ending! I was very happy for them and for all Lithuanian fans. They deserved that celebration, because their support is also incredibile. Zalgiris can be proud of their fans' support and the atmosphere that they bring to the arena!
Aware that I am being subjective, I'll stick with the Final Four in Belgrade. I recognize that my choice is influenced by the fact that the Final Four was held in the city where I came of age as a journalist and that it granted my long-held desire to see a Final Four in Belgrade. But the spectacle also came with great basketball, with Real Madrid showing its class and a great Luka Doncic, who is now triumphing in the NBA, as the MVP. We miss him, of course, but we can be proud that the EuroLeague produces players like Luka.
For me, 2018 is the year of Zalgiris. A sensational breakthrough to the Final Four, the rise of coaching genius Sarunas Jasikevicius, endless sell-outs in Kaunas: All of these color my memories in green and white tones. The Lithuanian club does an important job, too, proving by their own example that money decides some things, but not everything.
Luka Doncic winning everything there is to win in EuroLeague on both the club and individual level. The unprecedented accomplishments he achieved at such a young age, winning every possible individual award, as well as the title, of course, with Real Madrid, will never, ever be forgotten. He's one in a million, of course, and right now you see how he's already the frontrunner for being NBA rookie of the year this season. It was a joy watching him play in EuroLeague and seeing this extremely rare talent in action.
The Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four guest list has many familiar names from year to year, with CSKA Moscow practically a permanent member and regularly joined by Real Madrid, Fenerbahce, Olympiacos, among others. The joy in seeing a proud and historic club reach European basketball's flagship event last spring was special. The celebrations at Zalgirio Arena when Zalgiris knocked off Olympiacos to advance to the Final Four and the celebrations in Belgrade before the semifinals, including seeing the President of Lithuania arrive, were memorable moments.