Francesco Cappelletti rounds up week two of Euroleague action, defining PAO, two ways to adapt to moving up to the big league, and the basketball school in Moscow.
We are PAO
In the first week in Milano, Panathinaikos seemed unhappy to play and only a great fourth quarter by Vassilis Spanoulis allowed the Greens to win a dangerous match against a team Zeljko Obradovic doesn’t consider a rival for the first place in Group D. In week two, arriving in Athens was a Khimki team nearly able to beat Real Madrid in its first Euroleague game, guided by European gold medalist Sergio Scariolo. One, two plays: Then it’s just time for Panathinaikos to kill former Green Robertas Javtokas and his teammates.
After 10 minutes, Khimki was down 28-14; going forward, the discrepancy increased further, shooting a team so much longer and qualitatively better than other presumed contenders. Surely, OAKA is not the desired place to debut on the road in Euroleague; anyway, the Russians lost by 35 points, a difference Scariolo didn’t think could happen between his squad and Pana. Obradovic used all 12 of his players – only Nick Calathes didn’t score – and gave us an idea of its potential inside-out game. Near the basket, Nikola Pekovic was unstoppable, even when he drove to the left side by balling with the right hand! Dear coaches, don’t look, and above all else: Don’t teach this! Dimitris Diamantidis had a monster box score (22 points in 25 minutes, four assists, 33 ranking) marred by only one bad shot.
If Barcelona looked amazing in game one at Istanbul, game two showed Panathinaikos is still the team to beat, favoured by a level of experience and a reciprocal knowledge none has, not even Barcelona.
A common feeling
Some Euroleague clubs don’t have the gobs of money to build a team “for” Euroleague, so they adapt to the most competitive championship in the world; other clubs prefer to spend for two or three huge names to supplement the confirmed group of the previous season. It often happens that the latter cases must early set aside those important expensive acquisitions, relying on their long-term players considered less notable at the beginning. This is the story of Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius and Armani Jenas Milano.
The teams’ stories intertwine: Vilnius sold Marijonas Petravicius to Milano (over Chuck Eidson to Maccabi) and confirmed the same roster of their excellent season last year, adding a youngster in Aron Baynes and a redemption-needy Bojan Popovic. At first sight, Vilnius doesn’t seem elite-level but is already 2-0, thanks to victories over Efes Pilsen Istanbul and Entente Orleanaise; these haven’t come in a spectacular way, but due to a solid group which has upped its performance. Martynas Gecevicius, Donatas Zavackas (Imagine there was no space for him in Udine three years ago!), Arturas Jomantas, and Milko Bjelica: These players are the reasons why Lietuvos could win more Euroleague games. Don’t judge them individually, but consider them as one rock-solid piece.
In Milano, there’re some similarities. When newcomer Morris Finley gets out of control, or Alex Acker doesn’t score, or the same Petravicius can’t be decisive because coach Piero Bucchi forces him to charge and charge – never seeing the basket – or Stefano Mancinelli shows his inabilities that blocked his move to Baskonia in the past, what remains to Milano? Answer: its Italian core. Against Panathinakos, Massimo Bulleri tried to win the game by himself when he understood he was the only player able to penetrate; in the winning match against EWE Oldenburg, Mason Rocca and Marco Mordente were fundamental in taking over a result uncertain until the second half of the fourth quarter. While Lietuvos Rytas is property of Gecevicius & Co., up until now Milano is the Italians’ land. In the end, what they just had is better than what they bought.
We all knew CSKA Moscow reduced its budget, however, before Matjaz Smodis definitively broke his back, we considered the Russians one of the contenders. The same goes for Caja Laboral Baskonia, Efes Pilsen Istanbul and Olympiacos. After two games, maybe we have to change our position. CSKA Moscow looks like an esteemed school with famous teachers (i.e. J.R. Holden, Ramunas Siskauskas, Trajan Langdon) called in to show the young schoolboys the basketball ropes. I mean, they know they can’t reach Final Four, so the order is to make the local products.
Up to now, the most accurate kids are Dmitry Sokolov and Andrey Vorontsevich, while Victor Keyru, Sasha Kaun and especially Anton Ponkrashov need private lessons. It was emblematic, in the lost against Roma, to see Ponkrashov collecting turnovers and making wrong choices while Zoran Planinic (22 points in 30 minutes) sat on the bench. Caja Laboral has recovered one of its injured players, Lior Eliyahu, but is not yet convincing. As they did in Roma, when Lottomatica went on a 21-0 run that closed the game, Caja Laboral runs the risk of losing again in a very similar way against Maccabi Tel Aviv.
David Blutenthal and his threes opened a 14-0 run going into the last quarter, and Baskonia called on Tiago Splitter to help save a situation that became very dangerous. There’s still much confusion between players and their hyerarchies: It’s not an accident Fernando San Emeterio is at the moment the best guard, and Mirza Teletovic alternates between nice and embarassing performances. When Walter Hermann is ready, Dusko Ivanovic will have a further problem.
Olympiacos collapsed in the first tough game of the season: no defense, no team attitude, Unicaja Malaga had an easy job on beating the Reds, and Aito could enlarge his rotations. I think Von Wafer used for 13 bad minutes is a luxury Olympiacos couldn’t admit, but apart from him, there are a defensive identity and a strong out-of-Athens mentality to search: Is this too big a challenge for Yannakis?
Efes Pilsen confirms the impression aroused in Vilnius: This time, Ergin Ataman modified the order, putting Mario Kasun aside Kaya Peker in the starting five, to pair the strength Partizan has in the paint. The experiment failed a bit, because the Turkish team was incredibly slow in executing with two big men together on court and needed Charles Smith and Igor Rakocevic’s fast-break points to beat a team endowed with a way of playing so far from Euroleague standards.
Finally, Emir Preldzic! Bogdan Tanjevic blindly believes in him, but after a disastrous opening game against Barcelona, many thought the Slovenian was a (beautiful, intriguing) project destined to fail. Against Asvel, there was his trademark on the basket – penetration ending with a great pass for the Omer Asik dunk – to force overtime, and on a lot of initiatives good for the team. Have we found a top player again? … Montepaschi Siena shined even with Ksistof Lavrinovic sidelined. David Hawkins just connected with Simone Pianigiani’s way of thinking, that’s the best news … Swine flu hasn’t stopped Maroussi, victorious at Lubiana with seven available players and 32 points by Matt Walsh … Ettore Messina can smile: Darjus Lavrinovic has the Euroleague best average ranking (40) and it’s simply unthinkable what he could do with Felipe Reyes next to him…