Alexey Shved showed why Khimki paid him the biggest bucks but the job is only really beginning writes Emmet Ryan
The Moscow derby was never likely to be a blowout. Khimki have invested far too much to simply roll over in the face of CSKA’s extraordinary roster. Still, with Paul Davis effectively broken and Marko Todorovic not being given real minutes, it didn’t look like the other team in Moscow was playing the smart game against the rulers of Russian hoops.
CSKA’s grip on the VTB League, and with it the image of what we define as Russian basketball, has become Maccabi-esque in Israel in recent years. While the Tel Aviv giants have lost their crown at home and have fallen to Eurocup, CSKA just keep getting stronger. The repeated failures at Final Fours have seen them pour more money in to keep getting deeper everywhere. A sweep in last season’s VTB finals followed by a rush of fresh blood to the roster gave no sign of that abating.
All the while Russia’s big clubs were getting stronger. Those paying close attention always noticed but the wider public still associated Russia with CSKA and little more until Khimki made that big splash in the summer.
Alexey Shved was treading a path well worn by Euros before him. Having made some highlight plays in the Final Four in Istanbul, he headed west to make his name in the NBA. He was the right age to give it a go with Minnesota but after bouncing from the Timberwolves to the Sixers, then the Rockets, and finally the Knicks, it was time to come home. He wasn’t going to ever be the man in America but he could make the big bucks where he originally shone.
The natural expectation, the obvious stop, was CSKA with their insane budget that could cover the total expenditure of a handful of clubs in Euroleague combined. At CSKA he would be a star and they were the type of club that would really pay to have both him and De Colo on the roster. They’d reach a point where Vitaly Fridzon was the fifth guard on the roster, an ultimate level of luxury.
Then Khimki went all in.
Since the VTB League became what it is, they are the only side to have actually stopped CSKA from claiming the crown but that feels much longer ago than it really was now. They were always good and they got better when they prized Tyrese Rice from Maccabi, fresh from his Final Four MVP performance, and Rice duly delivered them a Eurocup crown and a return to the VTB finals but they had to come back against Lokomotiv Kuban and get swept by CSKA. The other club in Moscow was getting better but they couldn’t be taken seriously as contenders.
There are, on a most simple level, many guards in Europe who looked a whole lot more valuable cash wise than Shved did last summer. De Colo is clearly one of them but Shved knew he could command huge money in his home country and Khimki wanted a big splash. The marriage made sense but the payoff? That was another matter entirely.
The regular season for Khimki had high spots and they got the top two finish in their group but only with a 5-5 record. This wasn’t exactly lights out stuff but Shved was heating up throughout. His shooting was good, his aggression in the paint was improving, and yes he was still turnover prone but this was the lightning rod that left Russian three years ago and he had come back with the same energy but ready to lead.
This wasn’t even the first Moscow derby of the season, Khimki had already dropped that in VTB play back in October, but this was the first that most of Europe was paying attention to. The opening game of the Top 16, the perennial Final Four choke artists against the upstart they always owned. More importantly, for Shved at least, it was a real moment in the spotlight. One where he could show what he had become to a wider audience.
Then CSKA went and did what CSKA do around this time of year, they utterly dominated Khimki and the game looked essentially done at the half. While their lead was far from unassailable, it was the type of situation we have seen CSKA get into so many times before this year. They took control with a furious barrage and then pawed away with jabs to prevent any real comeback.
Shved was having none of it. The 28 point explosion from the former CSKA man wasn’t what this was about. The grit, the extra level of fight at the back he didn’t have before, that wasn’t what Khimki paid for. They got all that for sure but they splashed out on him for what we saw in the final minute of this game.
Shved fouls on one end and CSKA score, no problem Shved goes up the other and gets fouled. He nails both. It’s a tit for tat free throw trade off. Shved’s dished 5 assists, he’s got 3 steals, that’s all the padding when it comes to this salary. All of what we call the important stuff, production and the like, is why Khimki wanted a good SG. What they went all in on was the myth of the final minute man. Their guy who they could trust with the final shot, as opposed to beating a team sufficiently so as to not be worried about that. In Rice they already had one, although his partnership with Davis is such that he has become a little too reliant on it, but Shved was the home grown monster.
You know what happens next, Shved nailed it with just 1.1 seconds on the clock and Khimki scored a big one to open the nightmare group in the Top 16. He got the highlight moment, he had us screaming on Twitter as he drove Fridzon into a stutter too far and nailed the running mid-range shot.
Now all he has to do is deliver another 6 or 7 times. Khimki paid for the highlight but they want a whole lot more. This is a team relatively thin up front but with an elite starting back court. They want to ride that to the playoffs. The right bounce there, and they can put two big time guards into a Final Four. It’s a huge leap of faith and logic but when you spend this much sense doesn’t necessarily play a big role.
Editor’s note: Yes this is us formally back. The quiet period is over. We haven’t finished all the behind the scenes work but enough is done for normal service to resume. Our expanded service should be ready come the start of the playoffs.