The first of many changes in the Greek capital comes on the bench, where the departure of Head Coach Rick Pitino has led to the appointment of the experienced Argyris Pedoulakis, who took Peristeri to the Greek semifinals last season and now returns for his third coaching stint with the Greens. Panathinaikos has strengthened its backcourt with the arrival of former EuroLeague champion Tyrese Rice, high-scoring guard Jimmer Fredette and experienced playmaker Ioannis Athinaiou. Pedaloukis brought powerful forward Ben Ben Bentil with him from Peristeri and a trio of Americans will provide more muscle in the form of Wesley Johnson, Rion Brown and Jacob Wiley, who made a few EuroLeague appearances for Herbalife Gran Canaria last season.
The offense will again be orchestrated by All-EuroLeague playmaker Nick Calathes, who can be relied upon to set the tempo and create plenty of easy scoring opportunities with his fabulous range of passing. Rice, who was the Final Four MVP when he inspired Maccabi Tel Aviv to the title in 2014, will lessen the playmaking load on Calathes and also take on some of the scoring responsibility. Another serious shooting threat comes from Fredette, who debuts in the EuroLeague after dazzling for Shanghai and leading the Chinese league with 36.9 points per game last season. Veteran Nikos Pappas returns to add his exciting brand of shot-making. Athinaiou provides a safe pair of hands to spell Calathes from the bench to complete the backcourt.
The biggest body in the Panathinaikos roster is Georgios Papagiannis, who will look to take another step forward in his development after becoming an increasingly important player as last season progressed. There will be high expectations for new signing Johnson, who is heading to Europe for the first time after nine seasons in the NBA with six different teams. Former Olympiacos forward Ioannis Papapetrou provides a strong blend of scoring and rebounding, and the well-traveled Brown is another versatile player who enjoyed a strong campaign with Promitheas Patras last season. Three-point specialist DeShaun Thomas also remains and can play either forward spot. Veteran Ian Vougioukas adds more presence and guile in the paint, and Coach Pedaloukis knows all about the capabilities of Bentil after they worked together last year at Peristeri. Dinos Mitoglou and Wiley offer more size inside to complete a strong frontcourt unit.
PLAYER TO WATCH
It’s no great revelation to state that Nick Calathes will be the key player for Panathinaikos again this season. The pass master has enjoyed two spectacular seasons as his team’s undoubted leader, earning back-to-back selections on the All-EuroLeague First Team, breaking the single-season assists record two years in a row and becoming the first player in more than a decade to record a triple-double. Calathes appears to be getting better and better every year, reveling in his responsibility of taking the team on his shoulders. Now he will be eager to follow up his inspirational performances by taking Panaithnaikos to the Final Four for the first time since 2013.
The success with which a revamped backcourt comes together will go a long way towards deciding whether Panathinaikos can cement a position in the top half of the standings. Calathes orchestrating and Fredette firing bombs with the added dynamism of Rice certainly looks like a great combination and the Greens could be among this season’s higher-scoring sides. The new signings in the frontcourt also have a big part to play and if Johnson’s proven pedigree can be transferred to the European stage, this could become a memorable season for Panathinaikos.