All right, it’s that time again! With hours to go before the 2012-13 Euroleague season tips off, BallinEurope breaks out its first power ratings for the big league.
Whereas normally a disclaimer to the effect of “the following ratings are based on current trending only and are not necessarily based on the overall quality of the teams” runs here, this year BiE’s switching things up a bit. To wit: For this edition of Euroleague power rankings, the teams *will* be run based on BallinEurope’s totally subjective viewpoint. (Mainly because BiE couldn’t figure out what to do with Barcelona…)
Get your arguments ready and read on for this season’s first power rankings, with Official BallinEurope Fearless Predictions™ for the upcoming season peppered throughout. Enjoy the games!
1. Olympiacos Piraeus. The usual reserved spot for the defending champion comes with some justification this year, as Vassilis Spanoulis & Co. show no signs of letting up on their 2011-12 season-ending 22-4 run. In the off-/preseason, Olympiacos’ foursome of Spanoulis, local hero Georgios Printezis, Kostas Papanikolaou and Evengelos Mantazaris suited up for a disappointed Team Greece – all but Mantazaris acquitted themselves nicely, with 50-of-89 (56.2%) overall shooting and Spanoulis dishing out just under six assists per game in three Olympic qualifiers.
No matter: Olympiacos – nearly the same roster as that which ended 2011-12, but with significant additions Dimitrios Mavroeidis and Stratos Perperoglou stormed through the Domreiter Cup as though the Greek League title game were last week. How long can the Reds ride this wave?
2. CSKA Moscow. Check out this frontcourt: Nenad Krstic, Viktor Khryapa, Sasha Kaun, Zoran Erceg, Andrey Vorontsevich. The best in Europe? And with the addition of Sonny Weems, the Red Army will once again be able to fire from anywhere on the court. Then there’s the coaching move of the offseason in welcoming back Ettore Messina … what’s that? CSKA lost three guys to the NBA for 2012-13? Who can tell?
3. Fenerbahçe Ülker. Bo. The Official BallinEurope Fearless Prediction™: McCalebb takes the 2012-13 Euroleague MVP award.
Okay, there should probably be a bit more text here. McCalebb leads a number of offseason acquisitions – including Euroleague veterans in David Andersen, Mike Batiste and Romain Sato – that represented an overall upgrade at essentially every position. After the win over the Boston Celtics, Fenerbahçe fans have got to be stoked: The passing game was crisp, the velocity in the open court shows greater speed and general basketball IQ, and Bo was Bo. Fenerbahçe management might be satisfied with retaking the TBL crown, but the sky’s the limit for these guys.
4. FC Barcelona. What to make of two losses to middling Spanish teams followed by a nicely played win over the Dirk-less Dallas Mavericks? The Blaugrana’s 0-2 start is the first by the club in the Navarro Era and perhaps for the first time since Juan Carlos established himself, Barcelona looks trapped by their own formula. Is this the season that the years of Euroleague-first team-building are getting to them? Maybe it’s time to shed the dogma of so much inside game…?
5. Real Madrid. Now, Los Blancos look like a flashback to Barça, circa 2008. Two losses ‘Stateside belie Real’s excellent offensive showings despite jetlag and size mismatches against the Memphis Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors. Here’s an easy Official BallinEurope Fearless Prediction™: Real Madrid will be the highest-scoring team in the ‘League this season … on whether that would be enough in a late-season or tournament meeting against the monsters of Moscow, BiE won’t hedge, but this team is looking to go far.
6. Anadolu Efes Pilsen. How much does BiE love the reunification of Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar? A lot. And with signings Semih Erden and Jamon Lucas, the biggest question surrounding this team regard Oktay Mahmuti, the former Galatasaray coach now in charge at Anadolu. Of course, with this much talent near career peak, Mahmuti might just sit back and let the former Lakers run the show.
7. Caja Laboral Baskonia. BiE’s dark-horse pick. You gotta love the international roster the Baskonians have cobbled together: Andres Nocioni of Italy, Maciej Lampe (Poland), Tibor Pleiss of Germany, Thomas Huertel of France, Nemanja Bjelica of Serbia and Brad Oleson of the USA amid four Spaniards led by Fernando San Emeterio, he of the killer 2011-12 season.
You gotta love the addition of Taylor Rochestie, whose magic led the way in a fantastic 10-0 run by Team Montenegro in Eurobasket 2013 qualifers.
And you gotta love the way they’ll be tested tonight in their EL opener at the home of defending champs Olympiacos. Unless you’re a Baskonia fan, BiE supposes…
The old guard/wait and see
9. Maccabi Tel Aviv. Panathinaikos management’s reaction to Olympiacos’ success was extreme this offseason, with a total roster makeover and a coaching switch from legend to unknown quantity (Argiris Pedoulakis, most recently of Peristeri and with no experience in Euroleague play).
Such a massive reshuffling of the deck is nothing new for Maccabi, but judging from a pair of preseason showings, this team has yet to gel – and the early exit of Pops Mensah-Bonsu has got to be a bummer.
BiE would suspect that David Blatt will find some way to make things work in Tel Aviv, and by sheer names alone, both these teams will hardly wash out … it’s hard to imagine a very long run for either in 2013, however.
The (relative) surprises
10. Zalgiris Kaunas. What happened to Mad Vlad? Did Žalgiris’ own Scrooge have a “Christmas Carol”-like awakening this summer? Yes, the flamboyant owner threw money at his problems, but with an eye to his club’s glorious past, he did so cleverly. Back to the homeland are the Lavrinovic Brothers and Rimantas Kaukenas, the latter seemingly geared up for one or two last glorious runs. Romanov has spoken highly with regard to what he’s seen with Joan Plaza’s interaction with the players early on – now if only he can stay a little patient. Remember the Ghost of Basketball Future, Vladimir…
11. Alba Berlin. Wait, hear me out on this one. Sure, aside from Nihad Đedović and possibly Deon Thompson, Alba’s offseason signings don’t seem like much, but fans have got to enjoy the homegrown talent serving as core bunch for the team: Guys like Lucca Staiger, Heiko Schaffartzik and Sven Schultze. Familiarity and teamwork will get these guys some wins; a decidedly weak Group B will get them a few more.
Fighting for fourth place in group
12. Emporio Armani Milano. Group of Death? Forget the top-heavy D, all question marks beyond the Red Army and Blaugrana. Group A seems tempting to ascribe the label to, with its traditional powerhouses (PAO, Real Madrid, Fenerbahçe) and steadily-developing sides (BC Khimki, Cantù), but nah. It says here that Group C is bringing the five of the top 12 into the competition – and someone’s gonna have a legitimate gripe when, say, Unicaja and/or Beşiktaş advance at 4-6.
13. BC Khimki Moscow region. BC Khimki was another relatively quiet team in the offseason, with coach Rimas Kurtinitis apparently happy with a hand that includes Sergey Monya, Vitaly Fridzon, Zoran Planinic and Matt Nielsen – and why wouldn’t he be? Official BallinEurope Fearless Prediction™: Khimki overcomes Cantù for the no. 4 spot in a tough Group A.
14. Partizan Belgrade. Youth again leads the way for the Black-and-Whites and some swell young talent there is indeed. Bogdan Bogdanovic developed nicely last season and picking up Drew Gordon, Dejan Musli and Leo Westermann just before potential breakout seasons was prescient indeed. As for the return of Dusko Vujosevic after a couple years of downtime, what needs to be said? The informal Fearless Prediction™ here reckons that Partizan will just get better as the season goes on; these guys could be very dangerous in the quarterfinal knockout round.
15. Mapooro Cantù.
16. Besiktas JK. Two more who-can-tell teams. Here’s the additions in an exhausting Cantù offseason as encapsulated by the Euroleague official website: “a new-look backcourt featuring experienced Pietro Aradori, talented newcomer Jerry Smith and combo-guard Jonathan Tabu … power forwards Jeff Brooks and Alex Tyus. Active big man Marco Cusin adds much needed size and muscle, while promising swingman Andrea Casella and on-loan guard Jakub Kudlacek add more depth to the perimeter.
As for the FIBA Eurochallenge/TBL champions: “From top to bottom, virtually everything about the Besiktas JK Istanbul [for 2012-13] is new. Starting with head coach Erman Kunter and going through the majority of the roster, there has been turnover. … There are those that have played for Kunter before, like Randal Falker and Patrick Christopher; those that have played for Besiktas in the past, like Muratcan Guler and Cevher Ozer; and those that are veterans of both Turkish basketball and the Euroleague, like Curtis Jerrells, Gasper Vidmar and Tutku Acik. Experienced forwards Damir Markota and Vladimir Dasic complete a list of 10 newcomers meant to mount a Euroleague challenge…”
Both teams look decent on paper, but as they say, the games are played on hardwood. Wait and see…
17. Montepaschi Siena. After years of publicly fretting about finances, Siena GM/mastermind Ferdinando Minucci may have a legitimate gripe in 2012-13. Unfortunately, much of the blame will ultimately be placed on himself. The Bizarro Fenerbahçe, the perpetual Italian champs *downgraded* at nearly every position, forgetting recent tradition in declining to re-sign David Andersen, Bootsy Thornton and Nikos Zisis plus coach Simone Pianigiani along with losing Shaun Stonerook to retirement. And now the ball is in Bobby Brown’s hands; your own Euroleague power rankings will reflect your feelings about the man.
18. Unicaja Malaga. Some interesting signings were undertaken by Malaga this offseason, but isn’t something of a leap of faith required on the likes of Earl Calloway and James Gist? Wasn’t there a reason why normally veteran-favoring Barcelona let Kosta Perovic and Fran Vazquez go? Again, such serious turnover may require the “wait and see” attitude, but a 1-1 record back home including a one-point win over mediocre FIATC Joventut is food for thought.
19. Lietuvos Rytas. Like rivals Žalgiris, L. Rytas accentuates the Lithuanian talent, most markedly with the addition of Florida State University-educated Deividas Dulkys. But whereas the Greens have Lavrinovices and Kaukenases, L. Rytas has Seibutises and Buterleviciuses. Some nice foreign additions were made as well in Janis Blums and Nemanja Nedovic, but in general this team feels like it’s still a year away from the upper echelon of the EL.
Not this year
20. Brose Baskets Bamberg
21. Asseco Prokom
22. Elan Chalon-Sur-Saone
23. Union Olimpija
24. Cedevita Zagreb. Of these teams, perhaps only Bamberg can head into the season with optimism: At 21 years old or younger, Philipp Neumann, Maik Zirbes and Daniel Schmidt have a reasonable chance to prove themselves viable Euroleague players. Excitement (if not necessarily team-first mentality) has arrived with Latavious Williams, while Bostjan Nachbar and A.J. Oglivy could form a sweet duo – if the latter can stay off the injury list. Unfortunately for them, they’re stuck in the talented Group D.
As for the others, Asseco Prokom and Elan Chalon are way too thin of roster to compete late. Union Olimpija saw a bit of a revolving-door roster this offseason, acquiring players from mid-level clubs in Greece, Poland, Slovenia, France, Italy and Belgium, making them this year’s ultimate no-name team in the big league (and maybe even in the Adriatic ABA).
Finally, there’s Cedevita Zagreb. On the “Euroleague Bonanza” edition of the “Taking the Charge” podcast, co-host David Hein pushed hard for an answer to the question of “Which team will fare worst in the first round?” After a look at the Cedevita roster – and a glimpse at the dread Group C – surely this side is mostly likely to earn a goose egg in round one, furthering the mystery of current Croatian basketball: How can the national teams and overall player development be so good and the professional clubs so trapped in a universal graveyard spiral? Ah, if only those dreams of Dario Saric had come true…