With two of the stingier defenses in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague facing off, scoring could be hard to come by on Friday night in the fashion capital when AX Armani Exchange Milan (8-3) welcomes Olympiacos Piraeus (7-4).
At the same time, two players on whom those teams rely to produce baskets – Milan forward Shavon Shields and his Olympiacos counterpart Sasha Vezenkov – will need to work to reverse the negative trends that have marked their matchups to date.
Shields and Vezenkov both average double figures in scoring while contributing significantly in other aspects to their teams' success this season. However, such high numbers have eluded both in their previous head-to-head games.
Shields is Milan's top scorer this season with 12.1 points per game. He is also averaging 4.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists, both career-best numbers. Indeed, Shields has 32 assists through 11 games after never before totaling more than 50 for an entire season.
One of Shields' important traits is consistency. He has scored 10 or more points and made at least 1 steal in nine of 11 games this season.
Vezenkov has posted double-digit scoring in seven games this season, and in six of them has scored between 12 and 17 points. He ranks second on Olympiacos in three categories, with averages of 11.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 14.1 performance index rating.
The Reds' forward holds an edge on Shields in the latter two departments and has also been far more efficient in two-point shooting (58.5%) than Shields. Meanwhile, the two have fired the exact same number of three-point shots going into Round 12, with Shields knocking down one more than Vezenkov.
Although they figure among the biggest scoring threats for their teams going into this game, interestingly, when Shields and Vezenkov went against each other in the past, they have not scored much.
The only time either player scored in double figures in games against each other was 14 points by Shields when he was playing for Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz in January 2020. In that game in Piraeus, Olympiacos won 80-70 and Vezenkov contributed with 9 points, which is the most he has scored in their head-to-head games.
Wearing Baskonia and Milan uniforms, Shields has posted 5.6 points and 1.8 rebounds playing against Vezenkov and Olympiacos. Shields has made just 39.1% of his two-point attempts and just 2 of 11 triples in their five head-to-heads. A career 38.1% three-point shooter, he has made just 18.2% of his three-point attempts against Olympiacos.
Vezenkov has had even less success in their matchups, although he has played sparingly in them. The Olympiacos forward has averaged just 7 minutes per game in those five contests, scoring just 3.0 points. Vezenkov, who is attempting 9 field goals per game this season, has attempted only 11 total field goals in five games against Shields's teams since the 2018-19 season. Vezenkov's PIR in head-to-head games is slightly higher, but still comes out to an average of just 2.6.
Now, Shields and Vezenkov are poised to put those performances in the past. Playing the best basketball of their EuroLeague careers the past two seasons, the two forwards intend to be the difference-makers for their teams in this high-profile showdown.