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 16 of the regular season!
1. Which team do you think will become EuroLeague champion in Vitoria?
This is a difficult question. I don't like to guess. I think the most likely candidates are the following teams: Fenerbahce, Real Madrid and CSKA. But I don't say that other teams cannot win. I always say that if you play a series, then probably the stronger team would win, but in one game everything can happen.
One of the participants from last season's Final Four in Belgrade, with more possibilities for Fenerbahce, CSKA and Real Madrid, and less for Zalgiris. The standings after the first half of the season reflect reality. The current leaders have the highest chances.
Good question. If I knew the answer to it, I would have already become the title sponsor of the EuroLeague, because I would be fabulously wealthy at betting. At the moment, Fenerbahce looks like a favorite. But since everyone loves surprises, let's put in a dark horse – the fourth team that will come to Vitoria along with Fener, Real Madrid and CSKA.
Tough, tough, tough. Especially since if there's anything that EuroLeague history has taught us, it's that even the most impressive of regular season performances or records don't necessarily translate into a title when all is said and done. Midseason dominators have fallen even in the playoffs and winter strugglers have evolved into champions come May. If I had to choose one team, I'd pick Real Madrid. They play well-balanced basketball, execute with tons of chemistry, receive diverse contribution by lots of players, plus they have many guys who can emerge as protagonists and pull off some heroics, if need be.
"The toughest part of this question involves predicting which team will be strongest in April and May. After all, we must remember that neither of the previous two champions had home-court advantage in the playoffs. My gut tells me CSKA Moscow, despite the fact that it has lost a few games recently. All of its four losses have been on the road and three of them were close games. CSKA's depth is as good as anyone's, and with a pair of EuroLeague rookies (Alec Peters and Joel Bolomboy) in the rotation, CSKA may still be getting stronger. My darkhorse candidate would be Olympiacos Piraeus.
2. Which 5 players will make the All-EuroLeague First Team?
There are a lot of players who can make the First Team. I would say that Mike James, Alexey Shved, Will Clyburn, Jan Vesely and Brandon Davies are my favorites.
Nick Calathes, Alexey Shved, Jan Vesely, Arturas Gudaitis and Nikola Milutinov. All are leaders, or among the leaders, in different categories. Of course, that's hoping that Shved returns to action soon. There are several more candidates like Will Clyburn, Mike James, Tornike Shengelia, Nando De Colo... At times it's not fair, but individual awards depend on the collective result of your team. The players whose teams make the Final Four will have better chances.
Mike James, Alexey Shved, Will Clyburn, Arturas GudaItis, Jan Vesely.
It will all come down to which teams advance to the Final Four, but there are already some players who are making a strong case for a First Team appearance and might find themselves there even if the squad doesn't make it to Vitoria. I'll go with Fenerbahce guard Kostas Sloukas, Anadolu Efes guard Vasilije Micic (my dark horse for the First Team), CSKA Moscow forward Will Clyburn, Real Madrid forward Gustavo Ayon and Fenerbahce center Jan Vesely.
A selection to the All-EuroLeague team rewards not only individual excellence, but also winning, thus I will not name any players whose teams are not in the playoff zone as it stands today, despite the fact that Mike James, Arturas Gudaitis and Alexey Shved are deserving on their own merits. Accordingly, my choices would include a pair of big men in Nikola Milutinov of Olympiacos and Jan Vesely of Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul, forward Will Clyburn of CSKA and Anadolu Efes Istanbul guard Vasilije Micic. Rounding out the list is Derrick Williams of FC Bayern Munich because I speculate that if the German champs finish as high as they are in the standings now, it will be in large part because of the play of their dynamic forward.
3. What player among those 5 will be MVP at the end of the season?
I think it depends a lot on the place of a player's team at the end of the season. At this moment, I would say that Mike James can become the MVP. But if Khimki raises its position in the standings, then Alexey Shved is the most likely candidate.
With the injury to Alexey Shved, the possibilities expand for other players, but we should not forget Khimki's star. The numbers say that the MVP though half a season was Jan Vesely, and I don't discount that he will be there at the end of the season. Mi second favorite, apart from Shved, is Will Clyburn.
Jan Vesely the most spectacular player on this side of Atlantic ocean.
We might have a center winning 2018-2019 MVP and that will be a first ever in the EuroLeague. It's early, of course and playoff performances will be a decisive factor for the award, but the one who's on the steadiest trajectory for MVP among contenders is Jan Vesely. The Czech big man has been playing by far the best basketball of his career, leading Fenerbahce on a 14-1 run halfway through the season, including a club-record 11-0 streak. He's been his team's top scorer (14.9), rebounder (5.7) and second-best passer (2.8), influencing his squad's performances in multiple, and, most importantly, game-winning ways.
Jan Vesely is a world-class talent at the peak of his powers on a team that is currently atop the standings with a two-win margin. He is the clear favorite, in my opinion, to become the first big man named EuroLeague MVP since Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis in 2004, when the award was still decided by statistics only. Naturally, some recent bias plays a factor since the Czech Jet is coming off a brilliant month that earned him the EuroLeague MVP for December award, but there is no reason to think he cannot keep it up. At age 28, this is Vesely's best season and the MVP trophy is his for the taking.