Welcome to the Experts Round Table, where we ask a variety of the most knowledgeable Turkish Airlines EuroLeague followers across the continent their opinions on the topics of the day. This week's panel includes: David Carnicero, EuroLeague announcer for Movistar Plus in Spain; Theo Papaloukas, two-time EuroLeague champion and Euroleague Basketball Legend; Vladimir Stankovic, veteran journalist and EuroLeague.net longtime collaborator, Drazen Kanazir, Author at Eurohoops.net; and Javier Gancedo, Senior Editorial Manager at EuroLeague.net. Check out their opinions on three questions about the competition at the halfway mark of the regular season.
1. Which five players do you have on your midseason all-EuroLeague first team?
"Sergio Rodríguez, Nando de Colo, Luka Doncic, Toko Shengelia and Kyle Hines. "Chacho" is doing better and better and his current numbers are better than in the season he was named MVP. Nando de Colo is a lock - effectiveness, generosity and clutch. Luka Doncic is the MVP until now, the most decisive and spectacular player - Wonder Boy! Shengelia has the best footowork in the whole EuroLeague. Kyle Hines, the undersized giant, is the soldier that every coach wants to have and my choice at center until Gustavo Ayon comes back."
"It is always hard to choose between so many good players! Based on the players’ individual performances and the results of their teams, I’m going to go with Nick Calathes, Nando De Colo, Luka Doncic and Jan Vesely at the ‘5’ position. As for power forwards, I believe that Tornike Shengelia and Georgios Printezis both deserve to be on the list. But I am going to go with Printezis because, despite their many problems, Olympiacos Piraeus is very high in the standings."
"Luka Doncic, Nando de Colo, Alexey Shved, Toko Shengelia and Vladimir Stimac. There is overbooking at point guard, but Doncic, De Colo and Shved can play in a couple different positions. Shengelia has been Baskonia's best player until now, while Stimac always plays with great heart."
"We are halfway through the season so, when asked about the five best players, you have to think about their impact on the team. Luka Doncic is a no-brainer since he’s leading Real Madrid in the absence of Sergio Llull. He is joined by Sergio Rodriguez and Alexey Shved, who are both among the top 10 passers. We shouldn’t forget Paulius Jankunas, who is a big reason for Zalgiris Kaunas’s success. The last spot is taken by Tornike Shengelia, who leads Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz both in points as well as rebounds."
"Nick Calathes, Luka Doncic, Nando De Colo, Paulius Jankunas and Jan Vesely. Calathes is Panathinaikos's true leader and is having a huge season. Doncic and De Colo are must-have choices at both guards - Doncic has been just unstoppable and De Colo is also posting great numbers. I am going with Jankunas at power forward, who earned December MVP honors and led Zalgiris to a 10-5 record. As for Vesely, he is having a career-best scoring season and improving in a lot of aspects of the game."
2. After all the recent upsets, which team in the bottom half of the standings has the best chances to clinch a playoffs spot?
"The two teams with the best chances to rally in the standings and make it to the playoffs are FC Barcelona Lassa and Valencia Basket, but I believe only Barcelona will be able to do it. With 15 games yet to play, Sito Alonso's team needs three more wins than the eighth-ranked team and has enough talent to get them. Heurtel, Ribas, Hanga, Claver and Seraphin are a starting five that has nothing to envy from anyone else's. Navarro, Tomic, Koponen and Moerman are players you can trust off the bench. Moreover, they finished 2017 with a road win against Khimki, breaking a nine-game losing streak away from Barcelona."
"All these years we’ve seen many teams have big streaks, either with wins or defeats. I think FC Barcelona Lassa – even though they have a pretty tough schedule up ahead and are three wins away from eighth place – have the roster, the quality and the tradition to get the best record in the second phase out of all the teams that are out of the playoff spots. Whether they will manage to win a spot also depends on the results of the teams that are higher in the standings!"
"I don't see many playoffs candidates other than the current eight. Baskonia and Unicaja have possibilities. I don't think that teams currently with six wins or less can make it to the playoffs unless they go on a long winning streak, which is not very probable in such a balanced EuroLeague."
"The race is pretty close but it looks like Unicaja Malaga have found their rhythm after a pretty rough start with seven losses in the first 10 games. The Spanish team has won four games in a row now, including victories against Khimki Moscow Region and Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv, who are only one win ahead. With a healthy Nemanja Nedovic, Unicaja can climb up the rankings and keep the playoffs dream alive."
"Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz. The team is 7-8, but won seven of its last 11 games since Pedro Martinez became its head coach. It has a little bit of everything and will play eight of its last 15 games at Fernando Buesa Arena, including four of the last five, which could be critical. Shengelia is a EuroLeague superstar, Granger and Huertas a great point great duo; the team is deep around the baskets (Voigtmann, Poirier) and has firepower (Janning, Timma, Beaubois). This should be a playoff team, hands down."
3. Which player do you expect to do much better in the second half of the season?
"Adam Hanga. In order for FC Barcelona to rally in the standings and make it to the playoffs, it needs Hanga's ignition. The Hungarian forward has not kept getting better as expected after his last two years in Vitoria. He is still one of the best defenders in Europe, but should be more important in Barcelona's offense, get more shots and more responsibilities. I believe it is a matter of time until we see this happening and Hanga's importance, both for Barcelona and in the EuroLeague, will not stop growing in the second half of the regular season."
"Without much thought, I am going to say Vassilis Spanoulis! He missed 10 games because of his injury and I am sure that as time passes and he gets into a rhythm, he will increase his performance levels and his impact on the team. I know how hard he works and that he always has great motivation and demands a lot of himself, so the only thing he needs to do is stay fit and healthy."
"Kevin Seraphin showed great potential and I think he do even better. Brad Wanamaker can also do more and better, just like Georgios Printezis. Dejan Davidovac of Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade just needs more experience to confirm his talent. Victor Claver of Barcelona barely played in the first half of the season according to his talent level."
"On Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul there are many guys who can hurt your defense. One of them is James Nunnally, who is always capable of putting up big numbers for his squad. The American forward has already scored double digits nine times and has an average of 10.7 points per game. In his second season in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague, the former Italian League MVP has doubled his numbers in those categories and he continues to improve."
"Derrick Brown of Anadolu Efes Istanbul. He has been troubled by injuries until now, which limited Brown to just 8.8 points and 1.4 rebounds in five games. Since head coach Ergin Ataman joined the team, however, Brown has been seeing more playing time and already had a very good game - 21 points, 29 PIR - against Brose Bamberg. Expect him to be Efes's most important frontcourt player from now on, sharing the team leadership with playmaker Errick McCollum, another player who Coach Ataman trusts the most."