The best moment of the week
With less than a minute to go and Maccabi up by a double-digit margin over the multi-million team of Olympiacos, Nokia Arena became the place to be. 11,000 Maccabi fans started to sing from the bottom of their lungs to one of the players on the floor, but it wasn’t any of the players in yellow that had led their team to a huge victory many didn’t believe they could win. It was to a “Maccabi player” who was sitting on the opponent’s bench. Nikola Vujcic heard his former — and current — fans chant the song that followed him throughout his six magical seasons in Maccabi uniform.
Arroyo, Fischer and Brown got a lesson – it takes more than a few big wins to win the heart of the fans in Tel Aviv. Some players leave their team after several years and get a “traitor” label (as some Maccabi fans showed Yotam Halperin in the same game). Some get to redefine the beautiful relationship between fan and player.
The MVP of the week comes from Alba, after Immanuel McElroy reached an index rating of 38 to help his team win at Joventut 79-75 to get very-very close to the Top 16. McElroy finished the game with 26 points, going 10-of-11 from the field, having a perfect night from the line, 3 assists, 4 rebounds, 1 steal and 5 drawn fouls. Other than that single miss, McElroy had a perfect game.
His second Euroleague season has seemed like a roller coaster, without too many ups and downs, just two big moves that makes your stomach itchy. On the road or at home, against strong or weak opponents, nothing had an influence on McElroy’s performance. He kicked off the season with two 20+ index rating games, next was a series of four average games in which he didn’t reach higher than an index rating of 9, and in the last three games he belongs to the top again making 21, 19 and finally 38 index performances.Immanuel following Demond?
In the 2006/07 season, McElroy and Demond Mallet combined to form the backcourt of Rheinenergie Koln in the Euroleague. The later averaged 12.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg and 2.3 apg and the next season had already found a job in the ACB with Joventut Badalona, where he’s still playing. McElroy had 10.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg and 2.8 apg in that campaign, but finished one of the most bizarre seasons for a shooting guard in any league, when his three-point shooting for the entire season was 0-for-4, and to ice the cake added a poor 54.2% from the line.
So Mallet moved on, and McElroy stayed in Cologne. This season in Alba, Mallet is showing a different face, his numbers climbing to 13.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg and 2.4 apg, his free throws percentages climbing to 80%, and the big change arriving from long distance. This season the US guard is holding an average of a single three-pointer made per game and shooting 45%. This week against Joventut, he went 4-of-4 to help cheat the season averages, but considering his season total of only two years ago … Still, the shot isn’t McElroy’s top weapon, but it should be enough for him to follow in the steps of Mallet and find himself with an ACB club sooner or later.
Last point from Badalona. The dispute over the Euroleague multi-year licences is still on, and in a way Badalona’s case is a perfect example for why to support that system.
Last season Joventut played in the ULEB Cup, and when they won that cup became ‘on paper’ the best team outside the Euroleague. In Joventut’s case, in fact, this wasn’t only on paper. That team was Euroleague quarterfinals material and with the right draw, let’s say against Barcelona, could have even played for the title in the Final Four.
That summer they lost Rudy, and since Joventut isn’t one of the richest clubs around they couldn’t replace such superstar with equally quality. The result is this season’s team’s likely elimination before the Top 16, while teams such as Alba Berlin and Fenerbahce Ulker — good teams, but nothing that could have matched last season’s Joventut — advance.
The inability of low-budget teams to maintain a good squad for more than one season, in order to maintain a high level in the long run, is the main reason why the top competition in Europe should have little space for clubs who can stay on top for a short time. The very few who can thanks to local talent, like Zalgiris and Partizan, are the exceptions.
Joventut is in the Euroleague fair and square. They deserve that spot because the Euroleague shouldn’t be a totally closed competition, as single-season bids are the chance for other clubs to gain experience and at some point join the elite group of steady clubs, but the idea to once again base the competition on the results of one single successful season will lower the level and open the door for more Joventuts.
Where we stand – Group A
The only group where all four Top 16 teams are not set, is also the last in which first place isn’t yet decided. Unicaja (7-2) needs a one-point win over Maccabi (6-3) to secure the top spot, but a Maccabi win will complicate things a bit. Olympiacos (6-3) hosts Le Mans and the earth will quake if the Greeks don’t win. With that in mind, Maccabi need to win in Malaga by more than 20 to finish first. Considering only reasonable results, Unicaja can finish 1-3, Olympiacos can finish 1-2, Maccabi 2-3 and Cibona (5-4) will be 4th.
Czech big guy Jan Vesely of Partizan is one of the most promising prospects in Europe. Those following the youth scene knew so even before this season, but Vesely has performed at a level very few young players manage to. This week, the Czech talent marched his team to a 23 point win over Panionios, a win that could be decisive in case of some Group D tie-breakers at the end of the games next week.
Vesely scored only 13 points and had achieved an index rating of 7 in the entire season coming into this game, but against Panionios had 19 points on 6-of-6 shooting inside the arc, 7-of-8 from the line and 10 rebounds on the way to an index of 24. No official record for this, but Vesely, still not quite 19 years old (born April 1990) is very likely the youngest player in Euroleague history to reach a double-double.
The weekly battle goes in the direction of D-Spen who took this week 12-8 against Bluth, to take a 5-4 edge before the deciding week. For the first time this season the US-Israeli shooter started on the bench, and maybe that’s why Dewarick had his best performance of the season. Well, maybe not.
His 25 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 30 index rating game against Avellino took the “Best game of the season” title from Spencer’s previous game against … Avellino. Then he had 26 points and an index of 23. In the other seven games, he didn’t reach 20 points or index rating.
Where we stand – Group B
So Barcelona (8-1) is first, and so far hold the best record in the Euroleague. big kudos! Montepaschi (7-2) will most likely finish 2nd. Even if they somehow lose at Nancy, there’s a 27-point difference in favor of the Italians in the goal difference against Pao (6-3). The Greeks, then, will go third.
The last ticket so far sits in the pocket of Prokom. The Polish, Nancy and Zalgiris are all tied at 2-7. If all win or lose, Prokom has the tiebreaker advantage. Obviously if two teams lose and the third wins, the latter qualifies. Zalgiris holds the advantage in a tiebreaker over both Nancy and Prokom, but the Prokom’s 29-point win over Nancy in week 2 makes the difference in a three-way tie. These three will play against the top 3. Zalgiris will travel to Barcelona, Prokom will play in Athens and Nancy will be the only to enjoy the support of their local fans.
It’s no news some players tend to perform better against their former teams. Add to the list Trajan Langdon, who returned with CSKA to Abdi Ipekci and hit Efes hard. The Duke graduate went 7-of-10 from long distance, and with the entire Turkish side connecting just six times combined from three-point range, it stood out even more. Considering in the first leg Langdon went 5-of-7 against Efes, his total in both matches is a more than impressive 12 three balls at an over 70% rate.