The first round out of the bye week was one of the wildest ever in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague, with eight road teams winning by an average of 12.3 points per game, making now a good time to reset expectations.
The middle of the standings is chaotic at this point with four teams tied for the eighth and final playoff spot. Khimki Moscow Region's win over AX Armani Exchange Milan ensured that gridlock in Round 25.
In a nine-point win that lifted Khimki up to the 11-victory mark – even with Milan, Olympiacos Piraeus, and Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul – there were plenty of keys to point to, whether it be Jonas Jerebko's double-double, Stefan Jovic's efficient scoring, or Alexey Shved's playmaking. The timeliness of Khimki's performance offensively is what stands out the most on paper, as they poured in 20 points over the 14 possessions that they used with the shot clock under 4 seconds. Averaging 9.9 points over 12.5 possessions per game entering Round 25, Khimki had been averaging 0.79 points per short shot-clock possession, just below the EuroLeague average. Their shot making in key moments had not been especially impressive on the year, but six players contributed to the 1.43 points per possession they scored to shrug off some of Milan's best defensive efforts and secure a win in Round 25.
Zalgiris Kaunas also scored a key win in Round 25 over KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz. Now, the team's record (10-15) is beginning to match the efficiency margin it had built thanklessly over the first half of the season. Limiting Baskonia's pick-and-roll combinations to just 4 total points, Zalgiris mustered one of its best defensive efforts of the season. Looking ahead, Zalgiris and Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade – the two teams sitting at 10 wins – still have the most mismatched point differentials in the EuroLeague relative to their current placement in the standings. Zalgiris, at +60, is better than the six teams ahead of it in the standings. That should make for an intriguing late-season storyline to follow as the playoff picture figures to get extremely crowded.
Top teams in offensive, defensive efficiency
With all the turmoil that took place in Round 25 and only nine games remaining on each team's schedule, this seems like a good time to reflect on which teams have held steady to this point.
The graphic above lists the top five EuroLeague teams in points per possession scored on offense so far this season. Conveniently, these are also the only five teams averaging more than 1.00 points per possession, though many others are close. The number of teams in play for a spot on this list is staggering as the EuroLeague average sits at 0.98 points per possession this season. That puts Anadolu Efes Istanbul's success in perspective. Efes sits 0.07 points per possession above second-place Real Madrid – the same margin that exists between Madrid and 13th-ranked Milan! With 11 teams averaging between 0.98 and 1.03 points per possession, teams other than Efes have had a more difficult time differentiating themselves offensively than they have had in recent years. The number of teams in that range sat at just five last season, seven two years ago, and three back in the 2016-17 campaign. The EuroLeague is historically deep with quality offensive teams, part of the reason why the standings are so crowded and why so many teams are capable of scoring improbable road wins.
The defensive efficiency landscape is much different than the offensive one this season. There is no gap at the top of the rankings and, in stark contrast to the offensive side of the ball, there is a steep drop-off after these five teams and Efes, which sits a fraction of a point behind Madrid. Of the six teams in the top cluster, only Zvezda has not risen above the logjam in the middle of the standings. Elite defense has been a clearer differentiator of this season's top teams than offense, but balance between the two has been perhaps an even bigger key.
Only two teams appear on both lists: FC Barcelona and Madrid. However, Efes's outlier offense and proximity to the leaders defensively puts them on pace to eclipse both of those team's efficiency margins – the difference between points per possession scored and allowed. Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv is sandwiched between them by that standard, as well, falling into the large group sitting just behind Barcelona's offensive pace.
Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see if any of the team's in the middle of the rankings on either side of the ball can make a run towards those listed on this graphics. Valencia Basket fits that description but started their upward trajectory early. Even so, there is still plenty of time for teams to rise and fall as the postseason looms.
Looking Ahead to Round 26
There is a game for all tastes in Round 26 as CSKA Moscow takes on FC Barcelona in a battle of top-three defenses while Real Madrid and Panathinaikos OPAP Athens face off as top-three offenses. At this point, every game in the middle of the standings effectively matters double when looking towards the postseason, and the most obvious example of those types of stakes in Round 26 comes in Zalgiris's matchup with Milan. Zalgiris has won seven of its last 10 games, and this one presents an opportunity to climb firmly in the playoff picture against a Milan team that has lost six of the last seven, but has a prime chance to put the breaks on that slide while separating itself from a close pursuer.