There are only two one-loss teams remaining through the end of Round 7. Here's a review of the key statistics in the competitive Turkish Airlines EuroLeague landscape.
AX Armani Exchange Milan and FC Barcelona Lassa survived their matchup with 3-3 teams in Round 7, but LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne claimed a one-point victory over reigning champion CSKA Moscow in the third game between 5-1 and even record teams. Holding the EuroLeague's third-most efficient offense to 0.82 points per possession – well below CSKA's 1.04 points per possession season standard – ASVEL came up big at Astroballe. ASVEL surrendered just 3 points in transition and held CSKA's shooters to 4-for-15 accuracy from beyond the arc in spot-up situations – a far cry from the 8.3-for-19 average that they had managed until that point.
With only 1 blocked shot and just 3 steals, ASVEL was not especially disruptive in the victory, but played with great discipline and a sense of urgency. Forcing a lot of tough shots and doing just enough offensively to score a key win, ASVEL claimed a winning record after one of its biggest home games of the season. It's still early for games to be do-or-die, but as competitive as the middle of the standings will likely be in the later rounds, close wins like this one against a high-quality opponent stand out.
With seven games in the books, the EuroLeague's top defensive teams have begun to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Its top-ranked defense is the main reason that Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv has rattled off five straight wins following two early losses. After having allowed 0.99 points per possession in Rounds 1 and 2, Maccabi has given up just 0.78 points per possession since, in part by forcing turnovers on a EuroLeague-best 18% of all defensive possessions. By managing to contest inside and outside shots at a very high level, Maccabi's defense has been especially disruptive against pick-and-roll ball-handlers, thereby wreaking havoc on the lynchpin of most offenses.
Despite its Round 7 loss, CSKA Moscow's defense has not wavered yet. Its success can be traced to two things: giving up few easy baskets in transition and staying attached to shooters on the perimeter. By allowing opponents just 13.4 catch-and-shoot jump shots per game and a low 42% shooting in transition, CSKA ranks among the very best teams in both categories, which drives its overall defensive success.
FC Barcelona is just a fraction behind CSKA in points-per-possession defense but employs an entirely different strategy. While conceding a high volume of catch-and-shoot jump shots, Barcelona has instead found success by preventing high-percentage shots around the rim. In half-court situations, just 30% of the shots of Barcelona's opponents are finishing opportunities near the basket. That's second-lowest rate in the EuroLeague as of now. The effectiveness of Barcelona's defenders has as much to do with what kind of shots they allow than an ability to challenge shots.
Greg Monroe on the Block
Professional basketball has trended away from post play over the years, due in large part to the lack of efficiency of post touches relative to other actions. Some big men, however, still produce efficiently down low, giving their teams an increasingly uncommon option. Greg Monroe of FC Bayern Munich has provided the best example of how a team can benefit from an exception to that trend.
Monroe has scored and passed at such a high level so far that he is on pace to become one of the best EuroLeague players this decade at generating points out of the post. The 29-year-old, who is playing in Europe for the first time, combines patience with a solid combination of strength and footwork. Steadily posting and re-posting after kick-outs, Monroe's experience shows in the decisions he makes and the speed he tends to play at. The result – his 9 points per game generated from post possessions – is higher than all but five entire teams this season. The last player to produce more points from the low-block was Sofoklis Schortsanitis all the way back in the 2013-14 campaign.
Pure post playmakers like Monroe are virtually extinct in modern basketball, but he produces nearly twice as many points per game there as the next player. By generating 1.17 points per possession in the post, he is showing that there is still a place for back-to-the-basket play in the EuroLeague.
Looking Ahead to Round 8
There's no shortage of exciting matchups in Round 8, both on paper and in terms of history. With a Spanish derby, a 2016 Finals rematch, and a half-dozen games between teams on near-equal footing in the standings, there's plenty to look forward to this week. The most interesting on paper is the matchup between Khimki Moscow Region and AX Armani Exchange Milan. Both teams find themselves at or near the top of the standings early on, sharing a nearly identical point differential and a dynamic talent at the point guard position. It will be fascinating to see how Khimki's Alexey Shved and Milan's Sergio Rodriguez fare in a what figures to be a terrific game – especially when they go head to head.