Euroleague Final Four: Team-by-Team Analysis
My partner covered the key players to watch at the Euro Final 4 yesterday, today I'll focus on analyzing the teams participating in Berlin this weekend.
All these teams are overflowing with Euro stars (thanks to having generous owners), and all have second strings that could beat most other teams in Europe. Not much separates these four squads, and any team is capable of taking home the hardware. Each team has multiple outside shooting threats, and will look to get up a fair amount of long-range shots.
FC Barcelona meets CSKA Moscow in the first semi of the day, and then followed by the Battle of Greece, Panathinaikos vs. Olympiacos. Team breakdowns follow below:
Semifinal #1: Barcelona vs. CSKA (Fri., 12 pm EST)
Sort of a contrast in styles between the two teams--Barca likes to push the pace while CSKA wants a more controlled atmosphere on both ends of the floor. Though they're alike in that both teams can bury shots from long-range, and have multiple bigs who can float out as well. This game could simply come down to which of these two sweet-shooting teams is hotter from the perimeter. Though, CSKA's superior defensive acumen could likely be the ultimate factor.
Coming off a tough quarterfinal series vs. TAU Ceramica that went the full 5 games, Barca might be considered the slight underdog in Berlin, but by no means are they hurtin' for talent.
Space the floor very well and often like to keep the basket area open. Can put five guys on the floor who can drill from the 3pt. line when they play D. Andersen & E. Ilyasova on the frontline. Barca likes to get out in transition as well.
No surprise Juan Navarro is the linchpin of their offense. Will run him off screens all over the floor, especially baseline screens so he can curl into his patented floaters. Navarro is frequently used in Pick/Rolls, and is especially dangerous running it with Ilyasova. Victor Sada & Roger Grimau will also see some time running the point.
Have three guards--Navarro, Gianluca Basile, & Jaka Lakovic--who can all handle the ball well, and are extremely dangerous shooters on the catch or off-the-dribble on ball screens. Lakovic has been banged up this year but looked sharp in the Quarters.
Former Buck Ersan Ilyasova has been superb this year and is one of the finest young players in Europe. The young Turk is an inside-out threat who's shooting over 40% from deep, and is one of the best rebounders in Europe. Is a tough guard in the many pick/roll situations Barca uses with him, especially lethal paired with Navarro.
Sweet-shooting 7-footer David Andersen gives them another floor-spreader at the 5-spot. They position him on the perimeter often, but he also will get some touches on the blocks because of his effective turnaround jumper.
Orlando Magic property Fran Vasquez has really improved his play this year after struggling with injury. Not particularly skilled on offense but shoots a great percentage getting easy looks rolling off high screens. His combo of long arms & mobility make him a effective rebounder & a terrific defensive presence (1st in Blocks in Euroleague). 7-foot Daniel Santiago provides Barca with another servicable frontline option with decent post play.
The defending champions are appearing in their 7th straight Euroleague Final 4, and rolled thru Partizan in a 3-game sweep in the quarters. A finely-tuned unit filled with battle-tested Euroleague vets, and are led by hot NBA coaching prospect, Ettore Messina. Arguably the best defensive unit of the Final 4 teams, and finished 22-0 in Russian Superleague.
Veteran backcourt is led by two Americans--JR Holden & Trajan Langdon. We all know Langdon can shoot, and CSKA will run him off screens. '07 Eurobasket hero, JR Holden, is not the pure shooter that Langdon is, but has a knack for hitting tough shots in pressure situations.
Greek combo guard Nikos Zisis brings a nice shooting stroke off the pine, though more from the mid-range. Ex-NJ Net Zoran Planinic is one of the better distributors in Europe, but has been dinged up with injuries lately.
CSKA's best all-around player is 6-6 SF Ramunas Siskauskas, whose combo of a quick first step and nice strength helps him draw fouls constantly. Very purposeful on his drives. Can handle playmaking duties, rebounds, shoot from deep, and provides stout defense.
The frontline is led by a pair of Slovenians, Matjaz Smodis & Erazem Lorbek. Smodis is a multi-skilled big with nice post moves, passing skills & shooting range. Smodis has been struggling with injuries the last few years, but seemed to regain some of his mojo vs Partizan. E. Lorbek has really emerged this year, and is shooting the ball great this year. Somewhat like Barca, can put five deep shooters on the floor together thanks to Lorbek's & Smodis' range
Vik Khryapa gives Messina an underrated jack-o-trades option who will fill in the holes with boards, steals, blocks, assists & versatile defense. Former Maryland standout Terrence Morris is another valuable asset on the frontline who has shooting the ball well & crashing the glass this season.
Take care of the ball very well, solid on the boards, shoot 40% from deep, and maybe most important, are probably the best defensive team in Berlin.
Semifinal #2: Panathinaikos vs. Olympiacos (3 pm EST)
This one should be a raucous affair especially with the amount of Greek fans likely to travel to Berlin. Olympiacos finished 1st in Greek League with a 25-1 record, only loss to Panathinaikos. Pana leads the season series 2-1 this year, but Josh Childress was absent for the Greek Cup Final. These two insanely deep squads are pretty evenly matched, and this game is a toss-up.
Extremely deep squad returning to the Final 4 after winning the title in '07. Handed rival Olympiacos its only loss in Greek League play, and won 2 out of the 3 meetings between them this year.
Coach Obradovic uses a heavy diet of pick/rolls which is a no-brainer when you have three of the top playmakers in Europe with D. Diamantidis, V. Spanoulis, & S. Jasikevicius. Also, will showcase some UCLA type sets and some double-high post sets with either of his 3 great points directing the show.
Saras is a danger to hit 3 pts. on ball screens or deliver precision passes, while Spanoulis is more inclined to dart to the basket, and draw fouls. Spanoulis is not a great standstill deep threat, but is quite dangerous as a mid-range pull-up shooter. Former Maryland standout Drew Nicholas gives this team more offensive firepower on the perimeter, and has played well down the stretch of the season
Painted Area favorite Dimis Diamantidis continues to be a defensive monster (recently took home his 3rd Euro Defensive MVP), but has been more assertive on the offensive end this year, something we've been pleading for the last few years. Dimis was huge in their Greek Cup victory over Olympia in February.
PF Mike Batiste primarily does his damage rolling off high P/Rs, usually finishing with a two-handed flush. The young stud from Montenegro, 6-11 Nikola Pekovic is a physical beast in the interior, who is effective on the block. Wily vet Kostas Tsartsaris gives them a nice defender who can guard multiple positions. PF Antonio Fotsis can float out to the 3pt. line & is an underrated athletic finisher, but lacks assertiveness, and might give you very little.
Do have some issues with turning the ball over, and actually are a subpar rebounding squad. And these two things could be a difference maker considering not much separates these four teams.
Another obscenely loaded Greek team back in the Final 4 after an absence of a decade. Will face rival Panathinaikos for the fourth time this season.
Though it seemed he was losing a step over the last few years, Theo Papaloukas has had himself a pretty impressive season back in his home country after great success with CSKA (led Euroleague with 5 apg). Pick/roll genius creates easy shots for his teammates, and has shot the ball surprisingly well from the perimeter.
Besides Papaloukas P/R action, Olympiacos will incorporate some handoffs into the offensive mix. Also, look to set up Nikola Vujcic in the post, as well as 7- foot Ioannis Bourousis. Bourousis is not very quick, but is crafty around the basket and will hit the glass.
Josh Childress has slowly bounced back from mid-season surgery, and has struggled offensively. The key in this game might be if Childress defends Diamantidis. Diamantidis led Pana to a big Greek Cup win vs. Olympia in February, but Childress was sidelined for that game. And if defensive ace P. Vasilopoulos can't go because of lingering injury, Childress could be the best bet on Dimis.
I feel Forward Giorgios Printezis was a nice pickup by Toronto because he's a nice athlete who can play both forward spots. Often will seal into quick post-ups in the offense, and can attack off the dribble where he loves to finish with his left hand. Makes quick, decisive moves all the time & goes hard to the glass.
Israeli combo guard Yotam Halperin will handle the ball when it's not in Papaloukas' hands, and provides Olympiacos with its best shooter. Ex-Temple star Lynn Greer might be their best pure scorer, and Coach Giannakis will allow Greer to use his quickness in iso situations. The young Serbs, Milos Teodosic & Zoran Erceg, could see some time with Teodosic running some point, and Erceg's a danger to crash the glass.
Can't spread the floor as well as the other Final 4 teams especially when they play Papaloukas & Childress together. Though their numbers look good, they're the weakest outside shooting team in the Final 4; Halperin & Greer need to be located but can test the others, especially if Vasilopoulos can't go. Jannero Pargo & Sofoklis Schortsianitis are on this squad but not sure they will see much time--kinda indicates Olympiacos' deep roster.
Sometimes I've noticed that they have a hard time distinguishing who should be getting the ball in pressure situations. It's like they have too many options, and can't decide if Childress, Greer, Papaloukas, or even Printezis should be getting the ball. Sometimes it seems like the roles are not clearly defined. Maybe I'm blowing a few small instances out of proportion, but something to look for if this game goes down to the wire, like it should.