a shout out to all those who voted in the BiE poll; you’re gonna love part two for sure; and
apologies for the relative lack of contributions last and, foreseeably, this week. To put it in brief, BiE headquarters is relocating (read: “Os is moving”), but in December things will be again running smoothly here.
Erazem Lorbek got some support from commenters and BiE admits that once again the Barcelona big went underrated on these pages. So BiE didn’t have Lorbek in his top five for Euroleague MVP balloting last season; this nomination should make up for that. While Lorbek’s numbers are generally down in 2012-13, he looks to be rearing back with three consecutive double-digit EL games and could be wearing the Blaugrana colors for some time yet.
The BallinEurope endorsement, however, goes to Sofoklis Schortsanitis. Not only is Big Sofo a fan favorite, not only would Sofoklis be done well in caricature, but can’t you just imagine him squaring off against Sabonis? Vote Sofo.
Despite the possibility of imminent retirement, Juan Carlos Navarro stays on the list. And Bo McCalebb’s there because he’s Bo. And because BiE wants that FYR Macedonia jersey in the logo.
After defending Euroleague champions Olympiacos took care of business in an 85-81 win over Caja Laboral Baskonia last week, Greece-based media outlet Ekathimerini spun their game wrap under the headline “Greek stars gift Reds opening Euroleague win.”
Indeed, last year’s heroes Giorgos Printezis and Vassilis Spanoulis were instrumental in the comeback victory, providing 33 points combined as the team’s high scorers. And Olympiacos management seems light-years removed from their former fascination with overpaying the Josh Childresses of the basketball world by investing in homegrown talent Dimitrios Mavroeidis and Stratos Perperoglou while otherwise standing pat with much of the 2010-11 final roster.
Just one more day (or so, CET) until the heartily-named 2012 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament for Men tips off in Venezuela. BallinEurope continues with previews of the four European qualifiers with an assessment of Greece, a.k.a. Olympiacos and a bunch of other guys.
Roster: Vassilis Spanoulis, Georgios Printezis, Kostas Papanikolaou, Kostas Sloukas, Evangelos Mantzaris (Olympiacos); Ioannis Bourousis, Antonis Fotsis (Olimpia Milano); Nikos Zisis (Montepaschi Siena); Nick Calathes, Kostas Kaimakoglou, Ian Vougioukas (Panathinaikos); Dimitrios Mavroeidis, Kostas Vasileiadis (Gescrap Bilbao Basket); and Michael Bramos (Gran Canaria); head coach Ilias Zouros (Anadolu Efes)
Notable no shows: Dimitris Diamantidis of Panathinaikos retired from national team play, returning that all-important starting point guard role to Vassilis Spanoulis – not a bad trade off this year … also out are Kostas Koufos (Denver Nuggets) and Sofoklis Schortsanitis (Maccabi Tel Aviv) due to injury.
How they got here: In Eurobasket 2011, a hot start saw Team Greece winning five of the first six games, only to drop three of the final five with losses to Russia, France and Lithuania in the placement game. In the penultimate match, however, Hellas put together its best game of the tournament in topping Serbia, 87-77, to earn a spot in these qualifiers.
European basketball fans know that history was made with Olympiacos’ stunning victory in the 2012 Euroleague championship. And so BallinEurope contributor, the self-proclaimed hoops history junkie Uygar Karaca looks back with perspective on the title bid, reaching all the back to the Great Depression of 1929 through the collapse of the Soviet Union and into today’s European Union crises. Whether or not God Himself played a role, the importance of the Reds’ win, as Karaca sees it, is history repeating itself. Gloriously.
This is how things have worked throughout history: From crises emerge heroes. And heroes create the losers. Sometimes underdogs have more advantages simply because they have nothing to lose. It’s not unusual that we see situations like a 10-man football team winning against a stronger side. Sometimes having options confuses minds, creates problems in concentration and ambiguity in methodology. Those who have no real options perhaps have just one way and they become focused on the goal, which brings about greater optimization and efficiency.
I was thinking like this before the match: “If CSKA wins, there will be not many stories but in case of Olympiacos winning, there will be a variety of options in exposing the classical underdog story with many different perspectives. I hope Olympiacos wins.”
The day before the Euroleague final, I was at Abdi İpekci Hall to see some action in the Nike International Junior Tournament. There I saw Stevislav Pesic, also one of the greatest coaches in European basketball, the man who famously brought a European title to both Germany and Alba Berlin, who were real underdogs. I thought that it would be a great idea to take some predictions from him. Said Pesic: “I was not suprised when Olympiakos won against Barcelona, because Barcelona changed its game this year and were somewhat inconsistent throughout the season, whereas Olympiakos improved much compared to the beginning of the season.”
In the interests of complete transparency – hey, somebody in Hungary should aspire to such – BallinEurope today presents the outcome of a heavy Euroleague basketball-watching habit plus several hours of intense thought: Namely, the five names that went onto BiE’s media representative’s ballot for 2011-12 Euroleague MVP.
Since there’s no way the chosen quintet will make anybody completely happy – even though surely the top seven or eight (depending how you feel about certain American imports in Lithuania) individual performances in the 2011-12 ‘League would surely be agreed upon by the great majority of Euroleague fans – BiE will explain the thought process behind the vote and show the initial list of 25 from which the five players receiving points were winnowed. (Bonus: YouTube clips, natch.)
In backwards order, then…
• Toughest omissions – Henry Domercant, Erazem Lorbek and Sonny Weems. Each was so emblematic of their teams in 2011-12, with Domercant and Weems veritably carrying their clubs at times to unexpected Euroleague success. Unics Kazan got attention early in the regular season with a few monster performances by Domercant – including the amazing 30-point, seven-rebound show against Montepaschi Siena in the opener – but Bad Henry actually became more consistent and more well-integrated into the Kazan offense as the team’s season progressed.
Weems kept the overachieving Zalgiris Kaunas afloat – and more – after Ty Lawson returned to the NBA post-lockout, plus gets bonus points for performing among the more YouTubable in European ball. Keeping Weems off the ballot were a couple of off-games in the Top 16 round which may have ultimately kept the Greens out of the semifinal round – and the man did turn over the ball the second-most frequently in the EL, too…
Most notable about FC Barcelona – even more so than in previous years of title glory – is the team’s incredible defenses. Lorbek has controlled the paint on D to make the Blaugrana’s zone traps even more effective and together with Pete Mickael has been triggering fast breaks off the boards while playing in all 19 Euroleague games. Plus, what if someone had told you at season’s beginning that the leading scorer for 2011-12 on Juan Carlos Navarro’s team would be the big Slovenian?
Tough to leave off this expectation-scattering trio, one and all…
• 5. Nenad Krstic, CSKA Moscow
After not exactly fitting into the Boston Celtics after an ill-advised trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder late in 2010-11 and reading the writing on the wall vis-à-vis the player lockout, Krstic may have been the first NBA refugee headliner to sign in Europe. And whoa, has the investment paid off for CSKA Moscow. In Krstic, the Red Army has the ‘League’s no. 1 in accumulated performance index rating, no. 2 in average PIR and no. 5 in points scored – with a shooting percentage of just under 64% overall. A big man among the big men at Moscow, Krstic had to get on the ballot.
• 4. Bo McCalebb, Montepaschi Siena
• 3. Dimitris Diamantidis, Panathinaikos
• 2. Vassilis Spanoulis, Olympiacos
BiE swears that with each coming year, the playmaking guard becomes even more disproportionately important to European and/or international success. Case in point, these three guys in 2011-12; first, the statistical highlights for each:
McCalebb – 16.9 points per game on 61.3% overall shooting, 2.6 apg, 1.3 spg, 17.29 average PIR
Diamantidis – 11.3 ppg, 4.9 apg, 1.5 spg, 17.00 PIR
Spanoulis – 16.5 ppg on 49.7% overall shooting, 3.9 apg, 0.8 spg, 16.37 PIR
Bear in mind all are in the top five in average index rating behind a couple of dudes on CSKA Moscow and that none of three have missed a single game for their teams – now who do you choose? The reputed “fastest man in Europe” and Euroleague top scorer who can lead break after break though doesn’t have the best eye for the open teammate (Gee that’s kinda 2003-04 Kobesque)…
…or the more-than-sum-of-parts guy who just happened to chase last year’s EL MVP bid by leading the league in assists and three-pointers made plus added priceless veteran leadership of a three-time champion…
…or do you go with BiE’s selection from among the three, i.e. the “rock in the middle of that roster … on whom all the Reds could rely” with a career year on the only surprise in the Euroleague Final Four?
• 1. While deciding among the 2 through 4 and 5 through off-ballot positions was difficult, the top choice was the opposite. Yes, BallinEurope went for that most polarizing (only the basketball gods know why) player of 2011-12, Andrei Kirilenko of CSKA Moscow.
Forget what you may think about his consistent-if-not-mindblowing tenure with the Utah Jazz and the virtual all-star squad CSKA management set him up with in the 2011 offseason: The AK-47 has had a monster year. His average PIR of 24.07 per game played is more than 19% better than the nearest competitor (Krstic) – such a mark is currently the 15th best for a single season in the modern era and would be the highest by any player advancing past the regular season since Anthony Parker for Maccabi back in 2004-05. And while he’s “only” ranking seventh in ppg at 17.0, he’s tops in rebounds and blocks plus no. 2 in steals, making him the sole player even close to the top 10 in those four statistical categories.
Yes, Kirilenko missed five Euroleague games and yes, CSKA went 5-0 in that run, but BiE dares say that no single player in the 2011-12 EL became the center of focus every minute he’s on the floor the way that this season’s prospective MVP did – four player-of-the-week awards should prove it.
This season, Kirilenko rules. Let the comments begin.
The top 25 players, as BiE sees it for 2011-12, were the following.
Vassilis Spanoulis, Olympiacos
Dimitris Diamantidis, Panathinaikos
Bo McCalebb, Montepaschi Siena
Henry Domercant, Unics Kazan
Juan Carlos Navarro, FC Barcelona
Milos Teodosic, CSKA Moscow
Jaycee Carroll, Real Madrid
Devin Smith, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Omar Cook, Emporio Armani Milano
Marcelinho Huertas, FC Barcelona
Andrei Kirilenko, CSKA Moscow
Sonny Weems, Zalgiris Kaunas
Nikola Mirotic, Real Madrid
Mike Batiste, Panathinaikos
Marko Banic, Gescrap Bilbao Basket
Viktor Khryapa, CSKA Moscow
Bojan Bogdanovic, Fenerbahce Ulker
Pete Mickael, FC Barcelona
Richard Hendrix, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Felipe Reyes, Real Madrid
Nenad Krstic, CSKA Moscow
Erazem Lorbek, FC Barcelona
Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Giorgi Shermadini, Bennet Cantu
Luka Zoric, Unicaja Malaga
The 2011-12 Euroleague Final Four field is now filled, as Panathinaikos’ cliffhanger of an 86-85 win against Maccabi Tel Aviv last night sets up a May date with the monsters of CSKA Moscow in Istanbul.
(And now, a slight bit of horn-tooting. Note a few Official BallinEurope Fearless Predictions™ made good, i.e. Dimitris Diamantidis as player of the game and a fairly close call of the final score. Yeah, yeah, BiE knows the drill from White Men Can’t Jump: “The sun even shines on a dog’s ass some days. Anyone can win the lottery.”)
While the bookmakers see the Greens as relative longshots – former Euroleague sponsor Sporting Bet has CSKA at 3/4, FC Barcelona at 12/5, PAO at 4/1 and Olympiacos at 11/1 – one compelling bit of history should be firmly in the minds of the favorites: Since 2001, Panathinaikos has played in five EL Final Fours and they’ve won four, including those three taken in the past five years.
Game highlight clip, a look at the last five seconds of game time, an obligatory YouTube of the OAKA crowd and official league writeup follow.
With the last 2011-12 Euroleague Final Four spot to be decided in tonight’s climactic game five between Panathanikos and Maccabi Tel Aviv, BallinEurope takes a look at some recent prognostications by experts and observers – plus a modicum of analysis as to how well some have done. O, and of course, the official BallinEurope Fearless Prediction™ for the game…
At least in terms of the Greek side, Gershon appears dead on: After tormenting Maccabi in the game one win, Saras was indeed crucial in PAO’s stay-alive game four win. Oftentimes sharing the floor with Diamantidis, the pair went 7-of-13 for 25 points. DD racked a nice 19 performance index rating but Jasikevicius was at his best for the nth time in his long championship-laden career in orchestrating the half-court offense.
Going into what is certain to be a cliffhanger of a Euroleague Playoffs game one between Panathinaikos and Maccabi Tel Aviv, Sofoklis Schortsanitis is outwardly calm – this despite the way Big Sofo and teammate Richard Hendrix were thoroughly beaten at their games by the Greens in last season’s Euroleague championship.
Added to this is the fact that, bizarre as it sounds and due to his no-show for FIBA Eurobasket 2011, tonight’s game at OAKA represents Sofoklis’ very first court appearance in his home nation since joining Maccabi for 2010-11.
Over at Greece-based Eurohoops.net, yesterday was posted a nice interview with already-legendary former head coach Pini Gershon. Gershon in Europe is mostly known for his establishment of Maccabi Tel Aviv as a European basketball powerhouse, with Continental titles taken in 2001*, 2004, and 2005 (*actually a FIBA SuproLeague title in that strange season of two European club champions), plus a brief and respectable turn with Olympiacos in the late ‘00s.
Making him a local hero in Bulgaria was his guidance of the national team into Eurobasket 2009, particularly the underdog side’s upset over Team Italy in qualifiers to advance. And Gershon earned his 15 minutes of ESPN Sports Center fame after earning an ejection in October of that year during an exhibition game between Maccabi and the New York Knicks.
Nowadays, Gershon is in a state of retirement but naturally is still keeping up with the game. In the Eurohoops interview, much space is devoted to Gershon thoroughly sounding off on a couple series in the Euroleague’s elite eight tournament round. Most telling are two prescient points on individual performances; this stuff should probably be taken seriously.