CSKA Moscow was the team I covered since before the season, so I have to go with it again now that the Final Four is approaching. Ettore Messina has once again put together a team that can win the supreme title, but this season, the task of winning the cup looks a bit more challenging than the years before.
In fact, Moscow started their dominance really only during the quarterfinals when they blew away a young but strong Partizan Belgrade team in just three games. The absence of Theo Papaloukas has not really been felt this season in money time, as J.R. Holden and Ramunas Siskauskas are now the absolute leaders of the team. Together with Matjaz Smodis, they form a trio that is unmatched on the Continent in terms of offensive potential and knowledge of the game.
Holden is still taking the PG role without being a real distributor, but his high-level speed and ball handling make him a tough player to guard. Additionally, his shot seems to be falling again and his long distance attempts netted a career high 39% this season despite a poor percentage during the playoffs.
The former Bucknell guard gets relayed by the newly arrived Zoran Planinic, who may be considered as a little disappointing — at least he disappointed me in fantasy ball by not contributing the points I needed to win. Nikos Zisis is slowly coming back as well and could be the guy to stop Juan Carlos Navarro in the semifinals.
Trajan Langdon will be the silent assassin from behind the arc to break the zones or come off nice plays for a catch-and-shoot three-pointer. His scoring will be crucial against Barcelona in the semis as CSKA needs the necessary firepower to overcome Xavi Pascual’s team.
Langdon will get support from Victor Khryapa on the wing; Khryapa’s role is more defensive-athletic but the former Chicago Bull will not miss too many open shots. In fact, he has the highest two-point FG percentage on the team at 66.7%.
Finally, MVP candidate #1 is on the other wing in Ramunas Siskauskas and his all-around basketball skills. Siska took over the crunch time and title-winning job in Europe that was held in recent years by Sarunas Jasikevicius and Papaloukas, and can currently be considered the best basketball player in the Euroleague.
While I had some doubts about the CSKA inside sector before the season, the results have proven me wrong throughout the year. But still, especially against Barcelona, CSKA may miss some centimeters in the paint as there is no more Alexey Savrasenko to do the dirty work. Terence Morris is doing this job pretty well, however, while Erazem Lorbek is present to connect the back to the basket moves at a nearly 60% rate. But the inside sector relies essentially on the variability of Matjaz Smodis. The Slovenien power forward will be the player that Barcelona may have the most trouble guarding, as his offensive potential is incredibly diverse.