Historically, the grueling Turkish Airlines EuroLeague schedule makes it difficult for the league's top players to maintain hot starts. This season, there appears to be more than one significant exception.
Real Madrid broke out of its three-game losing streak in improbable fashion, handing Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv its first home loss of the season. Allowing only 0.84 points per possession at home – well ahead of the EuroLeague-best 0.91 points per possession they have allowed overall – Maccabi presents a unique challenge at Menorah Mivtachim Arena. Mustering 0.98 points per possession, Madrid scored 30 points on 20 attempts finishing at the rim in half-court situations to overcome a less-than-stellar shooting performance on the perimeter. Climbing into a three-way tie for second place in the standings at 16-6, Madrid kept pace with the group of teams angling to earn homecourt advantage this postseason ahead its double-round pairing against two sub-.500 opponents in Rounds 23 and 24.
In Madrid's Round 22 victory, Anthony Randolph scored 19 points over 13 possessions to turn in another stellar performance on the offensive end. Synergy Sports Technology has tracked every EuroLeague game for the better part of a decade and, more often than not, the players that get hot early in a season have a hard time sustaining their efficient play through the end of the season. Of course, the league's top players are difficult to keep quiet consistently, but the challenges associated with playing a team for the second time, the amount of scouting teams have done, and the fatigue of a long season have inevitably caught up with the league's top players, usually around the new year. Randolph is one of several players bucking that trend this season.
The table above displays the competition's 10 most efficient players who are using either five to 10 or more than 10 possessions per game. Through Round 12, Anthony Randolph was scoring 1.19 points per possession. That number has increased for him over the subsequent 10 games. Jimmer Fredette has similarly risen his level of play, jumping into a top-three slot after averaging 1.11 points per possession through the first months of the season.
Ahead of them both, in a tier by himself, is Shane Larkin, whose efficiency is identical to what it was at the end of November. Larkin's 1.32 points per possession will not just shatter every EuroLeague efficiency record but are also propelling Anadolu Efes Istanbul in the standings. Larkin has he repeatedly comes through with sterling performances to lift Efes late in games, even as the team manages injuries to multiple contributors. At this point in the season, many of Larkin's numbers are absolutely staggering. He's shooting an eFG% of 90% in catch-and-shoot situations, including 110% when left open; 66% in the pick-and-roll; and 63% around the rim. Larkin's numbers would be astonishing for a five-game stretch, let alone an entire season. Efficiency among the league's more dynamic players tends to rise in jumps and not linearly, but Larkins's current pace defies expectations. Theo only three previous players to post more than 1.20 points per possession were centers who only barely eclipsed 10 possessions per game, while he is at 16.4 on average.
Three other high-volume players at very different points in their respective careers are on pace to break the 1.10 points per possession barrier – which is an incredible accomplishment in its own right. Giorgios Printezis, at the age 34, is in the midst of his best shooting season since 2009. Nando De Colo's 1.10 points per possession is identical to the pace he set when he was named EuroLeague Most Valuable Player in 2016, albeit on an extra possessions per game. Steadily improving in the 7DAYS EuroCup over the last several seasons, Rokas Giedraitis
continues his rise up the leaderboard, solidifying himself as one of the competition's best small forwards in his first EuroLeague season.
Things have changed dramatically on the other side of the graphic, showing players who use between five and 10 possessions per game. Trey Thompkins, Anthony Gill, Melih Mahmutoglu, and Sertac Sanli, who were all listed back in Round 12, have fallen off their early pace, though slightly. Vladimir Lucic is the only player to rise significantly over the last 10 rounds on that list, and with a few extra possessions at the same efficiency would join the high-volume list in third place, between Randolph and Fredette.
Looking ahead to Round 23
In one of the can't-miss games of the regular season, CSKA Moscow welcomes Anadolu Efes Istanbul to Megasport Arena in a rematch of last year's championship game. CSKA got the best of Efes in that matchup, 91-83, to secure its second championship in four seasons. Efes has improved on both ends of the floor this season and this game figures to provide an interesting glimpse into where these two teams stand ahead of potential rematch in Cologne.