Just as last year we got our man Yarone Arbel from Israel on BallinEurope, presenting us his unique view on Maccabi. If you have been on BallinEurope and even read some stuff Yarone Arbel sent us to publish here, you will be more than happy to read his preview and expectations he has in Maccabi this year. Yarone is well known as one of the best basketball journalists throughout Europe and we are happy to have him on BallinEurope.
Overall record prediction: 6-4
Very few teams in Europe can make it to three big finals in one season and still consider that season as a huge failure. That was the case with the 2008 Maccabi that managed to lose all three finals, the most aching one was a one point loss to newcomers Hapoel Holon in the Final Four of the Israeli league. That was the first time since 1993 and the second since 1969 Maccabi didn’t win that title. It’s still a debate for some which was the “real face” of Maccabi last year – the team that made it to the Euroleague finals and came 20 minutes from the title, or the team that lost more domestic league games than any other Maccabi team in the history and eventually finished a season with no titles.
For some the 2008 Maccabi was the worst team in a Euroleague finals since AEK Athens in 1998 (and those two are probably the worst ever), but that only shows how strong and unbelievable is the tradition of this club. Walking around the Final Four media center in 2007, trying to figure out from the best specialist and journalists what brought Maccabi to the finals resulted in 99% the answer and it had nothing to do with basketball skills or tactics – “It’s Maccabi…” they said and such answer basically says both everything and nothing.
Welcome to the 2009 version. This is a totally new Maccabi team. In so-so-so-so many ways. First, after more than 40 years, Elite is no longer the Maccabi sponsor. Get used to Maccabi Electra. Next, Moni Fanan, the legendary team manager in the past 15 years, is no longer with the team due to disagreements with other forces in the team. If you were ever at a Maccabi game, home or road, you couldn’t miss a short, mostly bold guy, almost always dressed in black that jumps like crazy on the bench and sometimes even on the court. That was Moni, and one of Maccabi’s symbols is now gone. His replacement is former player and Euroleague champ Gur Shelef, who even as a player didn’t jump as high as Moni did on the bench, which says it all about the totally different approach he brings. With that in mind, it’s time for some real basketball discussion.
On the bench you’ll see a new face – Head Coach Effi Birenboim finally got the most prestigious chair in Israeli basketball. Very few know him in Europe, but in Israel he’s very famous and respected, known only by his first name – Effi. He coached everywhere but Maccabi and his teams were over-achievers many times. A veteran coach who is a real basketball animal. Very emotional and active during the games, with his players but also with the refs. Often you will see him jump on the people in orange, sometimes even “asking” for a technical that would hopefully wake up his players. Most times it works. He has a great sense for his players and for the game. The fact he has never coached in such level would probably stand against him in the first games, and expect Maccabi not to be a great road team this year, as the case is usually with “virgin” Euroleague coaches, but if Maccabi’s bosses will have the patience, they could earn a great coach that until this summer was famous most of all for being the strongest opposition to Maccabi’s dominance in the local scene. Oh, one more thing. Effi is also the only Israeli coach ever to beat Ettore Messina, and who cares it was around 15 years ago.
On court it’s what you won’t see that is the big news. For the first time in six years Nikola Vujcic won’t wear Yellow. The most Israeli foreigner in Maccabi’s history had to depart as he became too expensive for a club that isn’t as rich as many people in Europe think. Yotam Halperin is also gone as well as Marcus Fizer (Still not recovered from his injury last season so Maccabi cut him), Will Bynum, Vonteego Cummings, Alex Garcia and David Bluthenthal.
To take their spot arrived seven new players – Dror Hagag got his first chance in Maccabi and will be the back up point guard. Center Yaniv Green came back after one year in the cold Russian team from Samara. The rest are foreigners.
PG Carlos Arroyo, PF Rodney White, C/PF D’or Fischer, SF/SG/PF Jason Williams and SG/SF Tre Simmons. What they have in common? No Euroleague experience at all (if you ignore three games of Arroyo for Tau back in 2002…). How would that effect them is yet to be known, but it doesn’t sound like a good start.
Arroyo signed the biggest contract in Maccabi’s history – around 2.3 million USD, and he’s going to be the main barometer of the team. He’s the boss, the leader, the man that calls the shots, even if it’s an NBA range 3pt shot out-of-nowhere sometimes in his case. As any Puerto Rican, well maybe other than PJ Ramos, he likes to first of all run, and this is going to be the face of Maccabi this year. When Arroyo and Maccabi will execute their running game it will be difficult to stop them and very nice to watch. When not…things will be a little bit more complicated.
Simmons arrives after two great season in Israel. His experience outside the holy land in Paok and Gran Canarias, weren’t of the good type, and so far he struggles in Maccabi as well, and could be cut soon unless he finds the way to score again. Williams played for Effi in Bnei HaSharon the past two years and will take the spot of Garcia – an energetic player that can play in many positions, not the most skilled around but plays tough with big energy.
Rodney White arrives from China after playing already in ACB and LEGA2 where he most of the time showed some of the reasons that made him a 9th pick in the NBA draft, but his adjustment to Maccabi is slow, and don’t be shocked if White will need to find a new team somewhere around November/December. Fischer was the MVP of the league in Belgium as well as the top rebounder and shot blocker. For the Euroleague he’s a decent back up inside player who can hit the jumper and finish around the rim but shows no post up game. As long as he brings the blocks, rebounds and some points Maccabi would be happy with him.
The ones who did survive from last season are Tal Burstein, who after two years of long injuries, finally opens the season with his team-mates. The everlasting Derrick Sharp, who showed in the semi-finals vs. Montepaschi how dangerous he can still be in his age (37 – 13th season in Maccabi), Esteban Batista who doesn’t seem to be on top of Effi’s favorite players but is still a big force in the paint most Euroleague teams would like to have and two local forwards with a dream to be the first Israeli in the NBA – Omri Casspi and Lior Eliyahu. The first showed already last season his potential but only in few games or short stretches of the game. This year he’ll need to show he has some more offensive tools and more consistency to prove he can be more than a very hard nosed energetic and athletic player. Eliyahu spent most of the past season on the bench and would try to use this one to re-establish his spot.
Expect Maccabi to be a strong home team, and so-so on the road. A team that will try to run a lot and will have difficulties on the set game, when needed to think. Maccabi should easily make it to the Top16, and from there it’s all about the draw. Their legacy should make the difference to bring them to the Top8 and nothing more than that.
In the Euroleague there are four “divisions”. The first contains CSKA, Pao and Olympiacos – these giants can’t afford anything less than Final Four, and if they don’t then it’s earthquake time in European Basketball as it was last season with Pao. The following contains teams that really want to be in Berlin but could still show their face in public in case they don’t – All Spanish teams other than Joventut, Montepaschi, Maccabi and Efes. Two of them won’t make it even to the top eight, and that would be something these clubs can’t bare to imagine. Next are the teams that hope to make it to the quarter-finals but dare to dream of Berlin only if nobody is watching – Roma, Milano, Ulker, Partizan, Zalgiris, Cibona, Joventut. The rest will be satisfied with a Top16 spot.
For the second division, where Maccabi lays, it all breaks down to one cloudy noon after the Regular Season – the Top16 draw. If you get two of the three giants in your group and the parallel group, then your chances to make it to Berlin are close to none. The fourth team in Berlin would most likely come from the series which presents the team that topped the giant-free Top16 group. That would probably be the only “open battle” in the quarter-finals. If your team has a chance to play there depends on nothing but the Top16 draw, and that would be the case with Maccabi as well.
Final Four Participants: CSKA Moscow, Panathinaikos Athens, Olympiacos Piraeus, Montepaschi Siena/Efes Pilsen.
Final Four winner: Ballineurope.com (editor’s note: Thanks man!)
written by Yarone Arbel