With the new Euroleague season nearing, BallinEurope is once more break down each of the teams individually on 16 consecutive days in the run up to tip off. As with last season, we’re going in reverse order from the opening round of games. Today it’s the turn of Crvena Zvezda and we take a look at one of the less heralded signings of the off-season. Mathias Lessort was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round of the NBA Draft this summer, his first season in Belgrade could be the making of the Frenchman
Last season really couldn’t have gone much better for Mathias Lessort. He posted lovely numbers on a decent Nanterre team, picked up a winners medal as Nanterre won the FIBA Europe Cup, and then got drafted by a NBA team that really seems to like young guys. Just when things looked like they couldn’t get any better he’s landed in Belgrade with a club that has picked up a reputation as having a culture that makes players really want to buy in from the off and deliver.
That’s not bad but things got even better for Lessort when Zvezda announced the signing of Pero Antic, the type of 4/5 player who Lessort can learn a whole bunch from about building your game from an unheralded level in Europe and turning it into being relevant in the NBA. Admittedly Antic only really had one good season in Atlanta but his chance of even getting to the big show looked infinitesimally small for most of his career. That, plus the addition of gun happy Taylor Rochestie on the outside means the situation really couldn’t get much better for the Frenchman.
Of course landing in a good situation brings with it the expectation that you will actually make the most of it. Lessort simply has to be a sponge for information from the off in Belgrade and he needs to find the balance between patience and confidence. Zvezda have brought him in because they believe he can do a job but Zvezda’s game works because everyone buys in. Mentally, that’s a big challenge for Lessort as a youngster but one he has shown signs of being able for. It promises to fascinating first season in Euroleague for the Frenchman.
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Coach: Dušan Alimpijević
Arena: Aleksandar Nikolić Hall/Kombank Arena, 5,878/18,386
Last season in Euroleague: 16-14, 9th
Last season in ABA Liga: 25-1, won finals
Who’s new? Pero Antic (Fenerbahce), Dragan Apic (FMP), Dejan Davidovac (FMP), James Feldeine (Panathinaikos), Stefan Jankovic (Erie Bayhawks), Nikola Jovanovic (Westchester Knicks), Marko Keselj (Oostende), Stefan Lazarevic (FMP), Mathias Lessort (Nanterre), Nikola Radicevic (Real Betis), Taylor Rochestie (Lokomotiv Kuban)
Who’s gone? Stefan Jovic (Bayern), Luka Mitrovic (Brose Bamberg), Deon Thompson (Burgos), Marko Guduric (Fenerbahce), Charles Jenkins (Khimki), Borisa Simac (Mega), Aleksandar Aranitovic (Partizan), Ognjen Kuzmic (Real Madrid), Nate Wolters (Utah Jazz)
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Put any other badge in Euroleague on this team and the departures vs arrivals on this team could only be described as catastrophic. The run Zvezda had over the previous two years eventually led to a lot of guys getting some really good moves. The adjustments to the roster however point to some intelligence, with the squad looking to find collective improvement rather than going with straight up replacements. Dušan Alimpijević has brought over three guys with him from FMP who all look likely to play roles for him in shaping up the new look of the side.
The biggest change in that look will be size. This is a very big roster with Rochestie the only man listed below 6’4″ and 10 players on the roster clocking in (at least on paper) at 6’8″ or higher. Do not expect a small-ball game out of Belgrade this season. Zvezda will do what Zvezda does, find a way to play smart ball and get the Ws they aren’t meant to get. It’s going to be hard to match the prior two years but it’s tough to see the drop being all that big.
Fearless prediction: 12th. At the lower end of our mass scramble for the playoffs, this year’s range goes from 6th to 13th, as close as Zvezda came a year ago we eventually saw how reliant they were on one or two key pieces being healthy. That’s likely to prove the case again this year.
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