CSKA has ceased to be a hegemon, Real is eager for revenge. Euroleague season layouts
The Euroleague regular season 2021/2022 starts on September 30. Already on the first day of the game, basketball fans will see Milan – CSKA and Real Madrid – Anadolu Efes. It will be interesting, although separately taken games will not have an impact on the entire championship. We propose to assess the overall balance of power for the upcoming season.
CSKA Moscow, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Anadolu Efes, Milan – title contenders
Only 5 clubs can objectively count on winning the tournament. The main favorites will be the finalists of the last season, Barcelona and Anadolu Efes. Barcelona still have the most famous squad on paper. Nicola Mirotić, Nick Calates, Corey Higgins, Brandon Davis stayed in the capital of Catalonia. Sarunas Jasikevicius’ team did not make any high-profile signatures. Sertach Shanli, Nigel Hayes, Rokas Yokubaitis are not bad performers by the standards of the Euroleague, but nothing more. Point guard Nicolas Laprovittola has joined Real Madrid. It seems that the transfer was made not because of the real need of Barça, but because of the desire to respond to Real Madrid on the signing of Adam Hanga and Thomas Ertel, who represented Blaugrana last season.
It cannot be said that Barça has become stronger. The stars alone will not bring the title. There are obvious problems within the organization. Mirotić was asked to cut his salary by 25%, which the player did not like. In a fundamental confrontation with Real Madrid (83:88) for the Spanish Super Cup, Jasikevicius’ team lost 19 points of advantage during the match. In pure class, Barça will most likely make it to the Final Four. Only at the decisive moment another failure is likely. The victorious culture in “blaugran” is still not built.
Anadolu Efes retained all the key players in the championship squad, with the exception of Shanli. The Turkish center was replaced by the last season MVP of the Adriatic League Filip Petrushev. The 21-year-old center was selected under the 50th pick of the last NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. The young Serb will continue to gain experience in Europe before trying to prove himself in the best league in the world. The main result of the offseason is that Efes kept Shein Larkin and Vasily Mitsich from moving to the NBA. The latter was especially close to moving overseas and even pre-negotiated a contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
It was rumored that Anadolu had given point guard one of the largest contracts in Euroleague history – € 16.65 million over three years. The authoritative portal Eurohoops denied this information. Larkin ($ 3.7 million) and Mitsich ($ 3 million) occupy the second and third places in the ranking of the most expensive basketball players in Europe, still noticeably behind Nikola Mirotić ($ 4.5 million).
The other day, Efes head coach Ergin Ataman said that the club’s budget is € 30 million. The Turkish specialist traditionally complained that CSKA, Barcelona and other financial resources are higher. Complaining about everyone around and praising your team is a characteristic feature of Ataman, to which everyone is already accustomed. Ergin has no particular reason to be poor. Anadolu is almost the most played club in the Euroleague with the strongest backline. Efes will probably make it to the Final Four again. Will you manage to defend the title? Perhaps, but making predictions for F4 is a thankless task.
CSKA a year ago was considered the main dominant force in the Euroleague along with Barcelona. It is not surprising, because the army team included 3 of the 6 most effective players of the season before last – Mike James, Tornike Shengelia and Nikola Milutinov. The situation with James is well known to all. The American was suspended from matches at the end of the season due to a conflict with head coach Dimitris Itoudis. In early September, the army team expelled the player two years before the expiration of the contract. Mike “moved his talents” to the Cote d’Azur and will defend the colors of the Euroleague newcomer “Monaco”, Shengelia at times looked solid, but still was not as dominant as in the “Basque”. Perhaps the second year in Moscow will be more striking for the Georgian than the first. Milutinov missed the second part of the season due to a back injury. Now Serb has recovered and is ready to play at full capacity.
In the summer, the best scorer and Euroleague assistant Aleksey Shved, as well as the attacking defender of Zalgiris, Marius Grigonis, moved to CSKA. The Swede is capable of delivering productivity at the level of James. In addition, Alexey is more focused on playmaking. This is especially important given the fact that CSKA did not sign the much-needed classic star point guard for the team. Grigonis is not a Euroleague superstar, but a very strong attacking option. Let’s not forget about the Euroleague-2019 Final Four MVP Will Clyburn, who has long since recovered from the consequences of the crosses’ injury and is ready to dominate the court. Nikita Kurbanov, Johannes Voigtman, Daniel Hackett, Gabriel Lundberg remained in the team. CSKA. certainly must go to the Final Four again.
Nevertheless, the wards of Dimitris Itoudis were no longer considered the undisputed hegemon, as a year earlier. The James scandal hit reputationally. Although all this may be even for the best. Less hype about being an undeniable dominant force means less pressure on the team. Let Anadolu Efes and Barcelona bathe in media compliments. CSKA can ultimately calmly do its job and reclaim the title of the strongest team on the continent during the Final Four in Berlin. This city is happy for the army. In 2016, Itoudis’ team won the Euroleague in the German capital, snatching victory in the final thriller match with Fenerbahce.
Real Madrid wants revenge in the new season. Pablo Laso’s charges did not qualify for the Final Four in the 2020/2021 campaign, after which they reshaped the squad. Global rejuvenation of the roster did not happen, although it suggested itself. Of the veterans, only 41-year-old Felipe Reyes retired. Rudy Fernandez, Jaycee Carroll, Sergio Llule, Fabienne Coser, Geoffrey Taylor stayed in Madrid. Although the selection of performers has become better compared to last year. Nigel William-Goss, Thomas Ertel, Adam Hanga, Vincent Poirier and Gershon Yabusele have slightly lowered the team’s average age. Real Madrid are weaker than Barcelona, Efes and CSKA by name, but Laso has been working in Madrid for 10 years and knows how to win. Jul, Fernandez and Carroll have passed the peak of their careers, but they have no experience. Real Madrid are a shadow contender for the title.
Milan reached the Final Four last season. It took four-time Euroleague champion Ettore Messina two years to sort out the mess at the Italian club. In the summer, two of the most useful players left the team. Zack Leday and Kevin Panther quite unexpectedly decided to join Partizan. They were able to adequately replace them. Troy Daniels, Jerian Grant and Nicolo Melli have all played in the NBA. Melli has solid experience in the Euroleague as well. The transfer of the Italian heavy forward was recognized as the best for the offseason-2021 by the captains of the Euroleague teams. The signing of the Panathinaikos leader Konstantinos Mitoglu should also be highlighted.
The aged Sergio Rodriguez, Kyle Hines, Luigi Datome, Malcolm Delaney remained in Milan. On-set extravaganzas are unlikely to be expected from them, but veterans with an exemplary work ethic won’t get in the way of any title contender. Of course, Milan may not make it to the Final Four. Still, there is a certain overkill with older players, the depth of the squad is not the most impressive, the competitors look a little stronger. But if Messina’s team gets into the decisive stage, it will definitely qualify for the title.
Zenit, Maccabi, Olympiacos, Bayern, Fenerbahce, Baskonia – candidates for the playoffs
Zenit last season, unexpectedly for many, made the playoffs and brought the series with Barcelona to the maximum possible five matches. Over the offseason, Javier Pascual’s team has grown stronger. Jordan Loyd, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Conner Frankamp, Jordan Mickey are high-quality newcomers-legionnaires, some of the best possible options, Sergey Karasev and Dmitry Kulagin, have been signed on the Russian market.
The key performers of last year’s line-up are Mateusz Ponitka, Billy Baron, Alex Poytress, Arturas Gudaitis. Zenit is serious about going back to the Euroleague playoffs and breaking CSKA’s hegemony in the VTB United League. The problem at the start of the season may be the loss due to an ankle injury to Shabazz Napier (who nominally replaced Kevin Pangos, who had been in the NBA), who will miss at least a month. Yes, unpleasant, but the absence of Shabazz is not a verdict for the seasonal ambitions of the blue-white-blue.
Maccabi and Olympiacos are former Euroleague giants that have stagnated in recent years. Maccabi failed last season, although in the 2019/2020 campaign, interrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic, Yannis Sferopoulos’ charges looked very confident. Derrick Williams, James Nunnally and Jalen Reynolds arrived in Tel Aviv this summer and will try to return to the Menorah Mivtachim arena in the Euroleague playoffs with Scotty Wilbeckin.
Olympiacos will have to get used to playing without the legendary Vassilis Spanoulis, who retired in the summer. Thomas Walkup, Costas Slukas, Alexander Vesenkov, Mustafa Fall, Tyler Dorsey are the faces of the new Olympiacos. Do not forget about the still useful veterans of Kostas Papanikolaou and Georgios Printezis. The team of Georgios Bartzokas definitely has the potential to compete for the top 8.
Bayern were pleasantly surprised by making their way to the playoffs of the 2020/2021 season. It was not possible to keep all the leaders. Wade Baldwin will continue his career at Basque Country, Jalen Reynolds moved to Maccabi. Head coach Andrea Trinkieri remained in his place, as did the leading players Vladimir Lucic and Nihad Jedovic. Signed by Darran Hilliard, Othello Hunter, Deshawn Thomas and Corey Walden. The composition at Trinchieri’s disposal is more than decent enough to make some noise in the European arena.
Fenerbahce parted ways with head coach Igor Kokoshkov in the summer, returning to the familiar role of an NBA assistant. The new head coach of Fener is Aleksandr Djordjevic, former head coach of the Serbian national team and Virtus. Nando De Colo and Jan Vesely will continue to play in Istanbul. Achille Polonara, Devin Booker, Pierria Henry – good signings. Fenerbahce is a likely participant in the playoffs, but the team is unlikely to be able to aim for something more. Djordjevic is not Zeljko Obradovic, who has worked for Fener for 7 years and won the 2017 Euroleague. And the lineup has become noticeably less stellar after budget cuts due to the pandemic.
Basque Country lost Pierria Henry and Achille Polonaru, but gained Wade Baldwin. Matt Costello, Landry Nnoco, Simone Fontecchio and Vanya Marinkovic. The Basque club is accustomed to a number of headcount changes ahead of each season. At the same time, the team remains competitive. Dusko Ivanovich’s wards are a strong middle peasant who, with a fortunate coincidence, is able to get into the top 8.
UNICS, Monaco, Zalgiris, Panathinaikos may surprise
These clubs are considered unlikely playoff contenders, but there is room for sensations in the Euroleague almost every season. Zenit and Bayern Munich proved this last spring. UNICS bought a lot in the summer. Lorenzo Brown, Jarrell Brantly, OJ Mayo, Mario Hezonia played in the NBA, the latter two were considered players with star potential and were drafted under the lottery picks. Tony Jekiri, Andrey Vorontsevich, Isaiah Kanaan are far from the last performers by European standards. The new head coach Velimir Perasovich has a deep and high-quality squad, but still UNICS is a newcomer to the Euroleague. The team is not played. Very rarely, someone manages to shoot right off the bat and fly into the top 8. Let’s hope that UNICS will bring a pleasant surprise.
AS Monaco recently signed Mike James, which in itself raises the status of the debutant of the strongest tournament on the continent. However, James alone will not drag the Monegasques to the Euroleague playoffs. Leo Westermann, Donatas Moteeunas and Will Thomas will try to help him in this. It is unlikely that we will see the team of Zvezdan Mitrovic in the top 8, but who knows … Monaco cannot be written off 100%.
Zalgiris, with a minimal budget, made it to the playoffs in 2018 and 2019. In the first case, the Lithuanians even made it to the Final Four, where they took third place. In the offseason 2020, head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius went up to the promotion and headed Barcelona. His replacement, Martin Schiller, has put together an efficient team. Zalgiris fought for the playoffs until the last rounds of the last regular season. In the offseason, the Lithuanians lost Marius Grigonis, but gained Mantas Kalnietis, Janis Strelnieks and Emmanuel Mudiai. Zalgiris will certainly remain an uncompromising rival, which, if one of the favorites fails, may well break into the top eight.
Only the name remained from “Panathinaikos”. The once super-team of Europe has eked out a rather miserable existence for the last couple of years. The scandalous owner Dimitris Yannakopoulos did not transfer the team to the FIBA tournament, although he threatened to do so for a very long time. But he cut funding after the coronavirus pandemic. Pao loses leaders every year, there is a frequent change of head coaches. In 2020, Nick Calates left for Barcelona, last summer, Konstantinos Mitoglu moved to Milan. So far, only Ioannis Papapetru remains loyal to the club. It is unlikely that he, along with Kendrick Perry, Howard St. Ros, Jeremy Evans and others, will lead Panathinaikos to the playoffs. Nevertheless, the insane support of the OAKA arena plays into the hands of the team of Dimiris Priftis. The pandemic has subsided a little, spectators are allowed into the stands. On its site, “Pao” is able to catch some unexpected victories and theoretically can stay close to the top 8 or even fly there if the competitors turn out to be completely indistinct.
ASVEL, Alba, Crvena Zvezda are hopeless outsiders
Nothing shines for the French, Germans and Serbs. Too weak formulations. 17-year-old top prospect of ASVEL Victor Vembanyama is not yet ready to be the leader of the Euroleague club. James Gist, Antoine Djo, Raymar Morgan have decent experience, but they lack talent. The team is led by TJ Parker, brother of legendary owner Tony Parker. TJ does not belong to the elite of the European coaching workshop, so he is unlikely to jump over his head with his charges.
The oldest head coach of the Euroleague, 74-year-old Aito Garcia Renesses, left Alba in the summer. He was replaced by Israel Gonzalez, who previously worked as an assistant. The composition at his disposal will be as weak as that of Renaissa. The selection of performers in “Alba” simply does not correspond to the level of the Euroleague playoffs. Maximum – single upsets of relaxed top clubs.
Red Star signed Austin Hollins, Nikola Kalinich and Aaron White in the offseason. This is too little for Dejan Radonic’s team to fight for the playoffs. In the coming years, “Zvezda” will face difficult times. Starting next season, Serbia in the Euroleague will probably be represented by Partizan, which, after the appointment of Zeljko Obradovic, has assembled a very strong line-up. In their home arena in Belgrade, Zvezda will most likely upset some favorites, but one should not expect any achievements from this team.