There was a tease from Asvel and Zvezda have their moments but Emmet Ryan has no doubt, the team we all expected is Euroleague’s League Pass team this season and it’s not even close
When I wrote about Milano as a league pass team a few years ago, it required a bit of work for that not good but highly entertaining outfit to deliver. They did, in terms of entertainment if not results.
The 2019/2020 season always had one team that screamed of being the outright favourite for the role and it hasn’t disappointed. Anyone who watched even a little of Alba in 2018/2019 between Bundesliga and Eurocup would have expected them to slot into this role neatly.
Their record stinks, 4-8, but that’s no surprise. Alba’s roster never looked like one that could compete enough over a 34 game slate to even tease a playoff push. It is however a roster that looks like it can compete on any given night with teams far stronger and deeper to ensure more wild nights than most.
Looking at those 8 losses, 2 were within a possession in regulation while a third was an overtime loss. All three of those, Anadolu Efes, Milano, and Fenerbahce, were against teams tipped to make the playoffs. The other 5 have a mix. They all ended in lopsided losses to Barcelona, CSKA Moscow, Real Madrid, Maccabi Tel Aviv, and Olympiacos, but the first three of those were tight as hell at the half.
That’s fine with a league pass side especially when you look at the root causes of how these games go the way they do. Alba is 8th in total offence and 17th in total defence, on average it is about 5 points per game worse than opponents through 12 games.
Given the depth issues, that is probably going to get a lot bigger through the final third of the season but that still gives us another 10 to 12 games where you can expect Alba to hang with teams it is far weaker than on the whole.
The magic begins with Peyton Siva. The former Louisville Cardinal, who had a brief stint with the Pistons, is the ideal fit for the Bundesliga which is an offensively dominated league. He was top scorer in Eurocup last year despite missing a decent chunk with injury and scoring isn’t even why he’s there. The guy just plain dishes, including an 11 assist explosion against CSKA Moscow earlier this season.
Siva is at Alba and not a bigger club essentially because he is competing for a place in the deepest roster spot in Europe. There’s no shortage of good to All-Euroleague quality ball-handlers, Siva is in a mix that’s tough to break through but he’s still clearly on an upward trajectory in his career playing in a system that lets him run the show his way.
In Rokas Giedraitris and Luke Sikma, Alba has two players who have wildly different roles in making things interesting on the floor. Sikma can explode but he’s more of a do your job type of player, not the obvious candidate for ensuring a team is fun. The key thing here is he knows the system Alba uses as well as anybody and gets the flow, he knows when to turn things up and to cool them down. Sikma brings balance to the force.
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Giedraitis is far more conventional in his role on a fun team. The dude is averaging 12.2 points per game, breaking 50/40/90, on a mix on smart shot selection and random what on earth just happened there stuff. That type of player is mandatory for a league pass team and Rokas brings it.
Deeper down the roster, Tim Schneider sneaks into eligibility for the Euroleague Rising Star award and is proving an effective deep threat. Martin Hermansson is outperforming Siva in assists and his inside shooting is keeping Alba relevant longer into games.
Looking at the alternative contenders for the league pass side, it’s a tough situation. In terms of outperforming expectations, both Asvel and Crvena Zvezda are 5-7 and delivering but it’s the manner of both that makes them tough to call as the go-to blind every round.
Asvel started out unbeatable at home but have been a train wreck in road games from the off and now their home form is starting to match it. Zvezda have some good wins but are way too streaky. An awful display can come right out of nowhere and make viewing them unnecessarily tedious.
On balance the one reliable is Alba. You might be disappointed but, more often than not, you’ll get at least a fun half and probably more.