With a third of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season in the books, it's time to take account of efficiency among the top teams and players.
Efficiency explains a great deal of a team's win-loss record, and even when the numbers do not align perfectly, it often paints an interesting picture.
The graph above plots every team in the EuroLeague based on their offensive and defensive efficiency through the first 12 games relative to the league average. While the placement of some teams, like FC Barcelona, match up perfectly with their win-loss record, others have a more complex relationship. For example, Real Madrid sits side-by-side with Barcelona in the standings at 10-2 even though other teams play better offense or defense. But as is one of only a handful of teams to play at an above-average level on both sides of the floor, an ability to make timely runs has helped Real exceed expectations in the win column.
In contrast, Olympiacos Piraeus has won eight games with an efficiency differential nearly identical to Barcelona's. The reasons for that can be traced to the variance in the Reds' performances defensively. They have allowed 0.81 points per possession at home but 1.04 points per possession on the road – the equivalent of playing like the best defense in the EuroLeague this decade and the worst one this season. The home-court advantage they have at Peace and Friendship Stadium has a massive impact on their efficiency margin.
On a smaller scale, one shot won't move a team's efficiency over the course of the season, but it can be the difference between making or missing the playoffs. William Howard's wild last-second game-winning heave for LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne in Round 12 erased one of his team's least efficient defensive efforts of the season. After allowing a season-high 12 points on put-backs and 19 in transition, ASVEL nonetheless jumped into the top eight of the standings thanks to Howard's heroics.
Among other teams off to notable starts, AX Armani Exchange Milan once again looks like a Final Four contender as one of just five teams posting above-average efficiency marks both offensively and defensively. Milan's efficiency differential sits just ahead of UNICS Kazan and Anadolu Efes Istanbul, each of whom have been superlative on one end of the floor: UNICS with disruptive defensive and Efes with a dynamic pick-and-roll attack. Zenit St Petersburg and Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv round out the top eight as balance has been a separator for teams in the middle of the standings. AS Monaco warrants mention, too, by nearly matching the 0.95 points per possession EuroLeague average on both ends of the floor in its debut campaign.
Conveniently, 24 players in the EuroLeague are using more than 12 possessions per game this season and only the 10 listed above are scoring over 1.00 points per possession. As has often been the case over the last three years, Nikola Mirotic ranks as the league's most efficient scorer. Since returning to the EuroLeague three years ago, he has averaged a remarkable 1.16 points per possession. This season, his stellar three-point shooting and consistency in the post have driven his efficiency to new heights. To put his current play in perspective, no volume scorer has ever averaged over 1.30 points per possession across a full EuroLeague season, though Shane Larkin narrowly missed during the 2019-20 campaign.
Daryl Macon has been a revelation for Panathinaikos OPAP Athens in his fourth professional season, quickly emerging as one of the EuroLeague's most dynamic scorers off the dribble in his debut campaign. While he may not be on Mirotic's pace, he has been historically efficient in his own right. Only Bo McCalebb and Boban Marjanovic scored more than 1.20 points per possession while using over 12 possessions per game this decade.
Isaiah Canaan and Darrun Hillard both got off to hot starts from the field while Tornike Shengelia has rebounded quickly from a shoulder injury that was initially expected to keep him out nearly a month longer than it ultimately did. There are few more established scorers in the EuroLeague than Jordan Loyd, Shane Larkin and Scottie Wilbekin, so their inclusion here is not surprising. The outliers on this list are Chris Jones and Elie Okobo.
Okobo stands out due to his massive usage rate; he is using a league-leading 18.4 possessions per game this season. Only a few dozen EuroLeague players have used more than 18 possessions per game for a full season, and only Marc Salyers, Bojan Bogdanovic, Mirza Teletovic and Mike James have scored over 1.00 points per possession while carrying that kind of burden. Jones, in contrast, is the only second option on this list as ASVEL's offseason acquisitions have formed one of the most intriguing one-two scoring punches in the EuroLeague.
Looking Ahead to Round 13
Round 13 features a rematch of the 2021 EuroLeague Championship Game between Efes and Barcelona, which includes a face-off between the league's most recent full-season scoring efficiency leaders, Shane Larkin and Nikola Mirotic. There's no shortage of intrigue in that matchup but it will be interesting to see if perimeter defense rules the day as it did at Lanxess Arena last May, when those teams shot a combined 12-for-48 from beyond the arc.