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 Matjaz Smodis, a three-time EuroLeague champion; Gur Shelef, a two-time EuroLeague champion who is now a basketball commentator for Sport5 in Israel; Manuel Moreno, the former long-time EuroLeague writer for Sport newspaper in Spain; Semih Tuna, editor of Eurohoops Turkish edition; and Igor Petrinovic, Editor at Euroleague.net. Check out their opinions on three key questions before Round 18 of the regular season!
1. Whom do you consider to be the most important mid-season player signing made by a EuroLeague team?
"I consider both Fenerbahce signings James Nunnally and Malcolm Thomas – to be vital for the revival of their underperforming season. Both are veterans with EuroLeague experience and should be up for the challenge. Nunnally's three-point shooting is of the game-changing variety and Thomas brings the versatility Coach Obradovic desires from his big men to be able to play with the rest of the Fenerbahce frontline. I expect Fenerbahce to round into form with these newcomers playing main roles."
"In some cases, it remains to be seen, while others have already had an instant impact on their teams. But if I had to choose one recent signing that I would do again if that were my team, it's Howard Sant-Roos of CSKA. The defending champs were missing something without Will Clyburn at small forward, and replacing him with an elite defender should prove fruitful as the season heads towards the most definitive games."
"It is not good to sign players after the season starts. It means recognizing that your planning was not good and it rarely guarantees an immediate improvement. Sometimes, however, teams are forced to do it. Injuries (like in Baskonia’s case) or a coaching change invite you to do that conceptually as a new philosophy. Taylor Rochestie joined Olympiacos, Coach Dragan Sakota brought two new players and so did Maccabi despite its good results. But for me, the most decisive signing should be James Nunnally because he is the one in charge of changing Fenerbahce’s dynamics with the team far away from the top teams in the standings. At age 30, coming from the Chinese League and with experience both in the NBA and EuroLeague, including with Fenerbahce, he must be the player that shares the leadership with Nando De Colo in Zeljko Obradovic’s team."
"Howard Sant Roos. CSKA Moscow is one of the least lucky teams in the current campaign. They lost Will Clyburn to the injury at the very beginning of the season and the following injuries did not help them either. They took their time to make a move while getting wins and they made the perfect move on paper. Howard Sant-Roos showed his skills in different competitions and he is addressing directly what CSKA is lacking today. That is why I believe that his signing is the most important mid-season move so far."
"Crvena Zvezda bringing in Vladimir Stimac goes way beyond his 13.3 points and 5.0 rebounds. He immediately became the heart and soul of that team, pretty similar to what he was in each of his previous two stints with his beloved club. He brings energy and passion, on the court and in the locker room, and as a fan favorite, he also involves fans in the game even more. Stimac was just what Zvezda needed, and more."
2. Which team has had the most impressive single victory of the season so far?
"ASVEL beating CSKA at home. The French team has impressed at home on a regular basis with wins over several playoff contenders, which has it on the cusp of the playoff zone. However, the Round 7 victory over the champs was especially impressive. Tonye Jekiri was a monster in the paint, Jordan Taylor was fantastic at point guard and Rihards Lomazs had his best offensive game. It was a special night in Villeurbanne."
"The win by Efes in Barcelona two weeks ago was especially impressive. It was a game for first place in which Efes was without two key starters, center Bryant Dunston and Vasilije Micic. They struggled but found a way to stop one of best teams in the competition on its own court. That marked the middle of a three-game losing streak that Barcelona needs to snap soon, while Efes now looks bound to assure itself home-court advantage in the playoffs. That victory made it more likely than ever."
"In such a balanced, spectacular competition as the EuroLeague, it is not difficult to find brilliant games and spectacular wins. The best teams have lost against teams who were theatrically weaker, and the weak teams have shown they can win anywhere. Personally, I was shocked by the way CSKA Moscow beat FC Barcelona at Palau Blaugrana. It was a lesson on how to play as a team, on offense and defense, showing a mental strength that made the difference even clearer than the final score, 67-96. That day, in Round 11, the Moscow-based team was able to limit its former player, Cory Higgins, to just 4 points and 4 shots attempted, when 8 of its players scored at least 8 points. Dimitris Itoudis gave a coaching exhibition, just as his players did on the ball from the first to the last minute."
"Barcelona vs. Anadolu Efes. Efes showed what they are capable of and have nothing to prove to anyone. And yet, big wins are always a big deal and they won against one of their biggest opponents on the path to the title away from their home. The recent win against Barcelona was quite a way to show that nothing they achieved so far was a coincidence. Just a reminder: They got the win without Vasilije Micic and when Coach Ataman was ejected with his team trailing."
"For me, it is still CSKA Moscow's 29-point road beating of FC Barcelona in Round 11. The defending champ was coming off a pair of losses and facing the then league-leading and in-form Barcelona, which was surely a tough task. However, it turned into a one-way street. Whether it was scoring 96 points on the road against Barcelona, or holding Barcelona to just 67 points at home, or simply winning on the road at Palau Blaugrana – any way you look at it – it was an impressive performance."
3. Whom do you consider to be the EuroLeague's most-improved player this season? (A player who is not a first-timer in the EuroLeague.)
"There are so many worthy choices. DeShaun Thomas is playing great for Panathinaikos. Jake Cohen has stepped up for Maccabi recently and played a major role. But the way Facu Campazzo has become the 'man' for Real Madrid this season gets my vote. He is playing roughly the same amount of minutes as last season, but generating a world of offense with better shooting and more assists. Campazzo has also been remarkably consistent with a performance index rating in double figures in all but two games."
"Scottie Wilbekin of Maccabi certainly was a solid player in his first three EuroLeague season, having debuted for two of them with Darussafaka and come to Tel Aviv last year. But so far this season, he is the most reliable player on the best Maccabi team we've seen in a few years. With close to the same minutes as last season, he is averaging 3.4 more points for a total of 16.3 and has nearly as many three-pointers made (62) as in all of last season (65). Most important, as Maccabi has cycled through injury problems, he remains a constant, which every team that contents for something big must have."
"The first half of the regular season has allowed players to consolidate a status which was beyond any doubt, like De Colo, Larkin, James, Mirotic, Micic, Shved or Calathes. Other consolidated players, like Llull or Spanoulis, still need to show their best version, but I believe that the player who improved the most is Nikola Milutinov of Olympiacos. The Serbian center has played more than 25 minutes on average and is the competition’s top rebounder at 8.7 per game. He came from Partizan Belgrade’s youth teams and averaged 6.0 rebounds per game with that team in the 2014-15 EuroCup. Milutinov is in his fifth season with the Greek powerhouse and has confirmed the expectations that most coaches had. They have seen him as a difference-maker for a few years already and now, he definitely is."
"Sertac Sanli. We have not seen Bryant Dunston in action since November 7, which means that Anadolu Efes has had to play without one of the EuroLeague's best defenders for more than two months. In the meantime, Sertaç Şanlı and Tibor Pleiss got some chances that they would probably not otherwise and the Turkish international has especially used that chance in a great way. Recording career-high numbers in main statistical categories for three weeks in a row, Şanlı's contribution cannot even be measured only by the stats. Şanlı has improved a lot and he is truly at another level right now."
"Janis Timma's performances in the EuroLeague are finally on par with what he has done previously in the 7DAYS EuroCup and domestic competitions. The 27-year old Timma entered this season with EuroLeague career averages of 5.9 points and 1.8 rebounds and this season he is posting 13.4 points and has been everywhere for Khimki Moscow Region with 2.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.4 steals. He knocks down 3.1 three-pointers per game, which ranks third in the league and all combined is the reason he is just outside the top 10 in minutes played. Great improvement, but not really a surprise."