Tuesday, November 01, 2011

A Few Euroleague First Round Observations

The 24 Euroleague (EL) teams have played two of their 10 first round games so far and we wanted to take a look at some things that caught our eye over the first two weeks of play.

GROUP A:

Picked Caja Laboral (2-0) to take Group A and they have looked solid so far. Mirza Teletovic has been one of the top EL performers so far banging down 23 pts vs. Ulker and 22 pts vs. Cantu. Mirza's flawless stroke has been on--50% overall, 6-for-13 from 3pt. range--and he also has done damage posting and iso-ing. Washington Wiz Kevin Seraphin has aided Teletovic by pitching in 10 points in both game.

Some concerns that a very talented Fenerbahce Ulker squad has started 0-2, but keep in mind those losses came to Caja and Olympiacos. Recent NJ Net Bojan Bogdanovic has been a disappointment so far only scoring a total of two points through two games. Though it is hard for Bojan to get consistent touches with Roko Ukic, Curtis Jerrells and Emir Preldzic sharing ball-handling duties. Thabo Sefolosha had a very strong showing for Ulker vs. Olympiacos with 17 pts & 12 rebs.

Olympiacos got tripped up by an underrated Bilbao team on the road in the first week but they picked up a big win vs. Ulker (81-74) last week. Vassilis Spanoulis' aggressive playmaking (22 pts, 7 assts) was the key for Oly. Spanoulis did damage off of ball screens and combo forward Georgios Printezis (21 pts/7 rebs) hurt Ulker on cutting action (Mavs own Printezis' rights).

GROUP B:

CSKA and Panathinaikos (PAO) have been taking care of business through the first few weeks. Both teams have ably utilized their deep rosters to overwhelm their opponents.

Andrei Kirilenko's all-around game has been on display over the first two weeks--tore up Zalgiris with 17 pts, 15 rebs, 5 asts, 4 blks--while Nenad Krstic (double figures both games) has added some scoring in the post. Milos Teodosic and Alexey Shved have pitched in with sharp playmaking.

Not only do they have multiple scoring options, CSKA has plenty of gifted passers. Right now they've have assisted on 47 of their 64 field goals (73%).

Reigning EL MVP Dimis Diamantidis has been in fine form on both ends of the floor--put up 17 pts, 7 assts & 3 stls vs. Unicaja, 8 assts & 3 stls vs. Zagreb. Besides Dimis, PAO has gotten nice input from Romain Sato, Nick Calathes (12 pts in both games), Saras Jasikevicius an Steven Smith.

After a quiet game vs. PAO, Joel Freeland was superb vs. Zalgiris with 21 pts (10-of-17) and 12 rebs. Joel used some nice post moves to score vs. Robertas Javtokas (a tough interior defender). We mentioned before the mobile British big is NBA-ready and would make a fine reserve for the Blazers right now. Joel's inside-out game is similar to LaMarcus Aldridge's game and he could play alongside LaMarcus when needed.

Zalgiris' rough start (0-2) has already led to a coaching change and they might be in danger of falling to 0-3 as they face PAO on Friday. Ty Lawson has struggled to make a big impact so far, but Sonny Weems has been Zalgiris' top scoring option. Not surprisingly, Zalgiris has gotten very little scoring input from their frontline and the rumored pursuit of Chris Kaman (if lockout persists) makes a lot of sense.

GROUP C:

Real Madrid is coming off a nice win (85-78) over a good Milano team last week and has shown they have a ton of options inside and out.

Rudy Fernandez (17 pts vs. Milano, 19 pts vs. Spirou) has been back to his hyperactive self making plays off ball screens, isos, cuts and in transition. Rudy has been knocking down his jumpers and been very active.

Real has had good success running Rudy and Jaycee Carroll off screens. While guards Sergio Llull (Rockets own rights) and Martynas Pocius have also made solid contributions on the perimeter. To add to their embarrassment of riches, Real just added Serge Ibaka to an already talented frontcourt.

Efes suffered a terrible loss at home last week to an inferior Spirou club, 80-79. This could be a very costly loss as Efes does not have much room for error in this tough group.

Efes' SF Tarence Kinsey has been effective in both games (a total of 32 pts), usually relying on his jumper off of spot-ups or screens. Efes' other forward Ersan Ilyasova had a terrific all-around game vs. Spirou (21pts/6 rbs/2 stls/2 blks) which followed another solid game vs. Partizan (10 pts/4 rbs/4 stls/3 asts). Like Kinsey, Ersan's jumper has been his main weapon of choice.

Milano (1-1) lost to Real last week but were able to knock off Maccabi in the first week. Danilo Galinari has managed to reach double figures in both games (12 vs. Real, 23 vs. Mac) and as usual, has found a way to get to the rim leading to 23 trips to FT line over two games. Milano has gotten good minutes from their other SF, Malik Hairston, who had 25 pts vs. Mac and 18 vs. Real.

Nikola Pekovic (11/8 vs. Maccabi, 21/6 vs. Efes) has been a productive force around the basket in first two games drawing fouls (16-for-18 on FT line) at will. However, Pek's physicality has been a negative on the defensive end where he can't stay out of foul trouble--limited to roughly 20 minutes in both games. Cavs draftee Milan Macvan has been solid next to Pek with 14 pts in both games. Macvan's typical heady all-around game has been on display and he has been knocking down his jumpers.

GROUP D:

No surprise Barcelona is having few problems dominating in the weakest group. Barca beat Prokom by 27 and Union Olimpija by 22 last week. Expect Barca to finish the first round with double-digit point differential and only the games vs. Siena should be interesting.

Barca has gotten nice contributions from multiple players (JC Navarro, Pete Mickael, Chuck Eidson, Fran Vazquez). Ricky Rubio's replacement, Marcelo Huertas, has fit in seamlessly, scoring in double figures and dishing at least five assists in both games. Erazem Lorbek (Spurs hold rights) was quiet in Barca's first game, but had his refined skill set working last week connecting on his jumpers and a few short hooks for 20 pts on 7-of-9.

Like Barca, Siena (2-0) should have little difficulty over the next eight games (besides vs. Barca) and a spot in the Top 16 is highly likely. Bo McCalebb continues his assault (either in the open court or half-court) on opposing Euro competition, tossing up 17 points in both games. Bo was a perfect 8-for-8 on FGA vs. Union Olimpija and scored a bunch in transition. Siena just added more offensive firepower next to Bo in the form of Igor Rakocevic, one of the best pure scorers in Europe.

Galatasaray, Unics and Union Olimpija are playing for the last two Top 16 spots. Unics got an key victory on the road over Galatasaray last week that could go a long way to securing a Top 16 berth. Unics were led by two veteran American guards, Henry Domercant (16 pts) and Lynn Greer (12 pts).

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Games of the Week:

Caja Laboral vs. Olympiacos (Wednesday):
Two of the top teams in Group A meet on Caja's home turf. Caja's frontcourt has played well so far while Olympiacos needs their centers to step up.

Real Madrid vs. Maccabi (Thursday): A Group C battle between Final Four-caliber teams. Two teams with a ton of perimeter talent, but would give Real the edge because their frontline has more depth and length.

Armani Milano vs. Efes (Thursday): Another good Group C game between two closely-matched teams. Both teams are similar in that they have talented rosters that have not played together much; a lot of new faces on both teams. A lot of talent at the forward position in this game: Milano has Galinari, Hairston, A. Fotsis, Efes has Ilyasova, Kinsey, Dusko Savanovic.

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