Anadolu Efes Istanbul comes off its best-ever EuroLeague season. After finishing last in the 2017-18 season, Efes bounced back in style, in what it is one of the biggest comeback campaigns in world sport history. Indeed, Efes went from ranking last to reaching the EuroLeague Championship Game, losing against CSKA Moscow. The goal looks simple but it is really tough: go one step higher and lift the trophy.
In Efes's case, no news is good news. Efes made a big effort to keep most of the players who led the team to such extraordinary success - the club went on to win its first Turkish League title in a decade. As such, Efes only added two new players to its roster, looking for depth and deep range in its frontcourt. Chris Singleton arrives from FC Barcelona to offer experience, athleticism and versatility. Alec Peters, a EuroLeague champion with CSKA last season, joined Efes ready to open the floor with his shots from downtown. Even when he is a great shooter, Peters can contribute in many ways, especially on defense. Both players will split minutes with Adrien Moerman at power forward, even when Singleton can offer help at the center spot, too, helping Bryant Dunston and Tibor Pleiss. Efes's backcourt remains intact - Shane Larkin, Vasilije Micic, Krunoslav Simon, Rodrigue Beaubois and James Anderson are all working for head coach Ergin Ataman.
As last season, Efes is set to run its offense through Micic and Larkin, who will see a lot of playing time together on court. Micic, an All-EuroLeague Second Team selection last season, is a modern playmaker, tall, strong, with deep range and outstanding driving skills, able to find advantages in the low post. He has improved his decision-making a lot and has great court sense. Larkin is his perfect complement, a lightning-quick combo guard able to score in many different ways: off the dribble, catch-and-shoot, creating his own shot, driving to the basket. Both of them are really active on defense but if Coach Ataman needs more physicality and intensity, team captain Balbay is ready to come off the bench and challenge anyone. Beaubois will provide instant offense, as his rare combination of quickness, unlimited range and talent makes him virtually unstoppable if he catches fire. Simon is a savvy small forward with very good post skills, deadly from three-point range, and Anderson provides versatility, clutch attitude and a high basketball IQ.
Efes's frontcourt has arguably never been this deep. Peters is a sharpshooter who can change any game with his outside shots. Just as Peters, Singleton can open the floor as stretch power forward but he can also drive to the basket, hit stop-and-pop jumpers and be more effective in the low post. Shot selection is always a question mark - he is a career 44.8% two-point shooter - but Singleton is a natural-born leader ready to help in many ways. Moerman will keep offering rebounding skills, three-point shots, aggressiveness and a team-oriented mentality. Tibor Pleiss is a one-of-a-kind player, with great hands for a player his size (2.21 meters). He runs the floor well and is a great finisher not only around the basket, but with outside shots, even from three-point territory. Dunston is one of the best defensive centers in the competition, with great timing to block shots, a fierce offensive rebounder and a reliable source of easy points down low. Sertan Sanli gives Ataman even more options at center. He is an effective scorer and a solid rebounder.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Even when he didn't lift the trophy at the end of the weekend, few players have dominated a Final Four the way Larkin did in Vitoria-Gasteiz last season. Larkin was just unstoppable, breaking a record for most points in a championship in the Final Four era, with 29. He ended up averaging 29.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists in last year's Final Four. With one more year of experience playing with the same teammates, Larkin can be even better, and that is bad news for the rest of the competition. Deadly in crunch time and enjoying his backcourt partnership with Micic, Larkin is an elite guard and arguably one of the biggest stars in arguably the best EuroLeague campaign of all-time. Expect Efes fans to keep enjoying his drives.
After its great season, Efes aspires to go all the way in the EuroLeague. Efes did not undergo major changes and practically has the same successful team as last season. It will play four of its five opening games at home, too, so a strong start is expected, as the season will definitely get stronger - four of its next five will be on the road, too. Efes has the depth, talent and determination to keep rewriting its own history. For the first time in many years, Efes is seen as a top Final Four contender, and the Turkish powerhouse will have to carry that pressure and those high expectations. In any case, expect Efes to be solid, hard to beat and ready to play fun-to-watch basketball.