Euroleague is under new management, Efes are aiming for a threepeat, and there’s a rather different look to the line-up. It’s definitely going to be a unique season in Euroleague if nothing else, writes Emmet Ryan
As ever with the Euroleague off-season there was plenty of drama off the court but we’ve had months to chew over that and we’re all eager for the actual games. We’ll get to the politics, don’t worry, but let’s deal with some actual basketball narratives first.
Threepeats are extraordinarily rare in the top tier of European basketball. There have only been two, ever, and none in the current Euroleague era. ASK Riga from 1958 to 1960 and KK Split (best known as Jugoplastika but they were POP 84 for the last one) from 1989 to 1991.
There have been many close calls as well as eras so dominant it’s just plain surprising that nobody else managed it. Real Madrid won 4 in 5 years from 1964-68 but, sure enough, it was the middle one they didn’t win so that denied them. Varese won 5 in 7 years from 1970 to 1976 but never managed to nab three in a row.
Since Jugoplastika’s threepeat there have been back to back titles for Maccabi Tel Aviv and Olympiacos while Panathinaikos had their extraordinary run in odd numbered years which included 3 in five years where a single even numbered year win would have locked in a threepeat.
That’s what Ergin Ataman is chasing. His Anadolu Efes side has won the last two championships, both in dramatic title games, and may have already done a threepeat had it not been for the prior year being cancelled due to the pandemic. Maybe never won anything though and that will drive Ataman to be able to do what he does best, win something and then say it’s an even better win than we think. Being a maybe threepeat is one thing, being able to claim he was denied a four in a row by the pandemic…oh, give me that version of Ataman.
As a side, Efes remains largely intact. Kruno Simon is the most significant departure but there is talent everywhere. Keeping most of the band together, especially Shane Larkin and Vasilije Micic, is the great achievement of Ataman and the front office. Can they do it? Sure. Will they? Well that’s a much tougher question.
The top of the pile
There’s been somewhat of a post-pandemic arms race in Euroleague and it has clearly been led by Barcelona and Real Madrid. Even with Nikola Mirotic on the sidelines with an achilles injury for the time being, the Blaugrana are ludicrously deep across the board are built for another run towards a possible title tilt. Likewise, Real Madrid look stupidly well stacked and have a new head coach for the first time in a long time. I expect this pair to nab two of the home court advantage slots in the playoffs, indeed either failing to do so would be an upset.
The contenders for home court
After Efes, Real, and Barcelona, there are three teams that look to have the quality required to win enough games for a top four finish. I love Olimpia Milano’s addition of Brandon Davies and a tandem of him with Kyles Hines either swapping out for each other or offering a double-big look is awfully interesting.
Olympiacos, naturally, have a great deal to like about them and will surely be in the home court conversation while the other side likely to have a say in matters is a strengthened Monaco, where the obvious question will be whether they can deliver the regular season consistency needed to get a top four slot.
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The six teams above are all sides I feel very confident about making the postseason. After that, stuff gets wild. If Fenerbahce can get consistency out of a refreshed roster, they should have enough to do it all.
The obvious playoff contender from the Bundesliga remains Bayern and there’s the depth needed to make a postseason run there. That being said, Alba Berlin has won the last three championships in Germany but I just don’t see it translating at this level.
Could there be a big step-up from Serbia? Crvena Zvezda certainly has a roster with playoff potential while Partizan are far from shabby. Putting either in right now seems a bit much. Ruling out both is however just foolish.
Then, of course, there’s always Maccabi Tel Aviv. They’ve looked playoff capable for a few years but turning that into actually making the playoffs is another matter entirely. Making their home court a truly tough place to visit is nothing short of vital.
We’ve briefly touched on Partizan and they are joined by other new teams for this season in the form of Virtus Bologna and Valencia. It feels like it has been forever that everyone is saying to watch out for when Valencia really get going at this level but it seems that we shouldn’t bet too hard on that until their new arena is actually built and there’s real encouragement for backers to spend big.
Virtus returning to Euroleague after a lengthy absence is obviously welcome and, if nothing else, this team promises to have arguably the most exciting backcourt rotations in the whole competition. Partizan being back is obviously a good team and more natural rivalries coming to the big show will always please this corner.
The elephant in the room
The space for all the new sides and a big cause of the playoff race looking rather open is in no small part down to the absence of the Russian sides. Their exclusion is necessary, right, and something this site wholly agrees with.
From a purely basketball perspective, it also adds some interesting dynamics to the season as a whole. There’s no CSKA final four story, which immediately guarantees a fresh narrative even if we already had it last year. Similarly, there’s more room for manoeuvre now for the non-Russian clubs in terms of rearranging the pecking order outside the best of the best and that will offer plenty of drama over the course of the 34 rounds.
The Jordi Bertomeu era is over and now it’s time for Marshall Glickman (acting CEO) and Dejan Bodiroga (chairman) to lead the new era for Euroleague. With interest developing for cooperation from Australia’s NBL and investment from Dubai https://www.eurohoops.net/en/euroleague/1398634/nbl-and-dubai-interest-push-for-euroleague-extension-beyond-europe/ there are positive signs on the financial front. Added to that is a clear hunger from sports fans, not just basketball fans, across Europe to attend more live events in person than pre-pandemic.
The problem is really capitalising on it. The divide between FIBA and Euroleague remains in place and there’s no winner in this fight. The conflict is a divide in resources, both financial and intellectual, that puts an artificial ceiling on the ambitions of both. It was clear at EuroBasket that the sport of basketball is in good health on the continent but that eyes are increasingly being drawn to the NBA.
The one edge that Euroleague and FIBA share is the continued benefit of timezones. For context, when the Bucks play the Warriors this season their respective start times will be 2.30am and 3.30am in Athens, with the former being a weeknight. For Euroleague, the talent is there but even as a die-hard for watching the game on this continent knows that showing NBA relevant links in content I create will improve traffic and not just in the US.
The live event isn’t close to the be all and end all for the modern basketball fan, as YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram have all shown. It is however what can be built off to shape that supplementary content. That should be what the storytelling through different channels and media is shaped around to build more discussion of the sport through the generation of fans coming up.
I’ll get into more detail on this in longer and nerdier articles down the line but, in simple terms, for now Euroleague is far better suited to having as many allies as it can in developing the sport in the eyes of the new basketball fan. FIBA, for all its own obvious challenges, is far more use as a friend than ignored let alone a foe. For now, I just wish we already knew where the Final Four was going to be already.
So who’s going to win it all? Ah yes, back to basketball after that detour. Well I hate to be terribly obvious but here we go with my certain to be wrong prediction of the playoff field.
1. Real Madrid
3. Olimpia Milano
4. Anadolu Efes
I make my predictions fearlessly but also know that I have a record for getting many things wrong. That said, I really hope we get a Milano vs Monaco series, it looks tasty. Now, onto the second biggest pick, my final four pairings…oh no, this is already dull.
Real Madrid vs Anadolu Efes
FC Barcelona vs Olimpia Milano
Don’t get me wrong, those are both cracking match-ups but, ooof, I didn’t pick a single lower seed win in the playoffs. That’s just poor form from me, hopefully my prediction for who wins it all makes it up to you all…
Winner – Anadolu Efes
There’s no more entertaining Ataman than a happy and victorious Ataman. I’m picking the threepeat.