Welcome back 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 Euroleague Basketball Legend Theodoros Papaloukas; Luca Chiabotti, the former basketball expert-in-residence at La Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy; Gokhan German, basketball writer and columnist for Fanatik sports newspaper in Turkey; Bugra Uzar of Eurohoops Turkey; and Javier Gancedo, EuroLeague Fantasy Challenge guru and Editorial Senior Manager for EuroLeague.net. Check out their opinions on three key questions before Round 9 of the regular season.
1. What player has been the best summer signing so far by any EuroLeague team?
The question concerns only the first seven rounds and would be interesting to ask again towards the end of the season. Right now, I have to go with Mike James. I'm not going to focus so much on his stats. After all, it looks like he has the absolute freedom to take as many shots as he deems necessary. What I've learned to look at is a team's course. AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan has put James at the wheel. He's the player with the most playing time so far in the league (almost 35 minutes on average), and with him as the leader Milan has a 6-2 record. Based on his role and Milan's results, James is, the signing with the greatest impact so far.
Among the top 10 scorers of the Euroleague now, only three players changed jerseys last summer. The best one is Mike James of Milan. He is changing the destiny of his new team, which has moved from the bottom of the standing to the playoffs race. He is among the league's best players in both points and assists, and he is playing like a franchise player more than in Panathinaikos, where he was the last two seasons. Another big summer signing is Nate Wolters of Zalgiris, but until now his team's results are not as brilliant as those of Milan. I vote James.
We can say a few players: Roderick Beaubois and Adrian Moerman for Anadolu Efes Istanbul, Chris Singleton and Kyle Kuric of Barcelona. But I think that I prefer again Mike James of Milan. He averages almost 35 minutes, 19 points and 7 asists per game. And he had critical shots in several of Milan's victories.
Mike James. After several bad seasons in recent years, AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan needed this kind of player. James knows how to win games, he's a great leader and has many skills on offense. He changed Milan's image immediately, and now they are way better than they have been in the last couple of years. They have started the season with a 6-2 record and James ranks second in both scoring and assists. Their only losses have been against Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow and in those games they came really close to winning. If things continue like this, his name will be mentioned quite a lot in discussions of MVP candidates.
Adrien Moerman of Anadolu Efes Istanbul. To begin with, Efes is 6-2 since he arrived and the club needed 21 games to reach six wins last season. And Moerman is playing arguably the best basketball of his career. He is leading Efes in scoring (12.5), ranks ninth in the EuroLeague in rebounds (6.0) and is fourth in steals (1.50). His performance index rating average has almost doubled to 14.8 since last season with FC Barcelona Lassa. Moerman is 30, right in the prime of his career, and Efes made a sensational move by bringing him in.
2. Which of the week's two coaching changes can have the bigger impact in the short term?
A very tough question. I'm going to go with the Ioannis Sfairopoulos of Maccabi, and I will explain why. Velimir Perasovic is going somewhere familiar, he knows everything about KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz, and he won't have to change the team's style too much, only those details he thinks will make the difference. Sfairopoulos is going to a completely new and unfamiliar environment. He's an expert in defense and the first thing he will do is try to change the level of Maccabi's effectiveness on defense, as their offense is usually their trademark. In this light, I believe that Sfairopoulos is the one who will present a bigger change in the style and overall image of his new team sooner.
It could be easy to say Velimir Perasovic of Baskonia because he knows everything about that that he is coaching for a third time, while Sfairopoulos and Maccabi need more time to understand each other. In addition, the Israeli team is in the middle of a crisis and its big signing, Ramon Sessions, left the team. The next game will be hard for Sfairopoulos, although after the Fenerbahce match, Maccabi will have a nice schedule, better than Baskonia's. But in the short term, it's likely that Perasovic will get the best results.
I think that Velimir Perasovic makes an impact quickly, because he worked for Baskonia twice before and was the coach when they made the 2016 Final Four. He knows the club, he knows the city. He knows the system of Baskonia. On the other hand, a new adventure awaits for Ioannis Sfairopoulos. He was successful at Olympiacos, coming after Dusan Ivkovic and Georgios Bartzokas. He kept up almost the same system, a team built around Vassilis Spanoulis that likes to play half-court basketball. But Maccabi plays a totally different kind of basketball, so I think he will need time to adjust, and the team to adjust to his philosophy.
I believe Velimir Perasovic, because the Croatian coach already knows how to be successful at KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz. He has shown this multiple times in recent years. In my opinion, his game philosophy is a perfect match for Baskonia's current roster. He can get the most out of his squad and Baskonia fans will certainly support him more than other coaches. Also, he already knows some players, like Jayson Granger, from previous appointments, so that will make his adaptation period even shorter. On the other side, Ioannis Sfairopoulos has to make a lot of changes in Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv. I believe he will have some success in the future but, since we're talking about the short-term, I'm sticking with Perasovic.
I would say Velimir Perasovic, because not only does he know Baskonia better, but he took the Spanish powerhouse to Final Fours in 2006 and 2016. With the next Final Four coming to Vitoria, Baskonia has decided to go for the head coach that knows the club better than anyone. He was successful as a player, winning a Copa del Rey and a Saporta Cup titles in the 1990s, and 'Peras' has also been one of Baskonia's best coaches in recent history. Most Baskonia players know him – for instance, Jayson Granger played for him in Efes – so he needs less adjustment than Ioannis Sfairopoulos at Maccabi.
3. What player do you see as the biggest or most difficult mismatch in the EuroLeague?
Perhaps my choice is unusual because I'm not going to go with a guard or a big man. I'm going to reward Will Clyburn! When we talk about mismatches, we refer to an advantage either in height or in speed. I believe that almost all of his opponents, when they match up against CSKA Moscow's forward, have a problem when it comes to both his speed and his size. He's a pain in the neck, both on defense and offense, for any opponent. He's very involved in the game, he goes after every rebound and contested ball, and he does everything with an athleticism that is at the level of the NBA. As a consequence, he's a very tough matchup for any rival forward.
In a competition like Euroleague full of stars and powerful, athletic, fast players, I like to think of it differently and I choose Vlado Micov of Milan. He has a wonderful basketball mind and skills, but he seems too slow, poor athletically, and not so quick with the ball to make the difference on the court. However, he is the third-best Euroleague scorer and he has so many offensive solutions that it is practically impossible not to let him shoot, even though he seems to play in slow motion. He is the Dejan Bodiroga of today. Of course, he is 33 years old and he is playing too much, so fatigue could stop him. But when he has fresh legs, he is unique.
I will say Nikola Kalinic of Fenerbahce. He like a 'joker' for Zeljko Obradovic. He can play any position from 'two' to 'five'. I remember that three years ago he played as a center – and was very successful – in the playoff series that Fenerbahce won against Real Madrid. After that, Obradovic used him at the 'five' position several times again. He can defend tall and small guys. He can play post-up with small guys defending him. And he can drive to basket when tall guys guard him. I think he is the answer for this question. At every position, he does a great job.
Jan Vesely. The guy is a walking – sorry, flying – mismatch! Think about this: Vesely is incredibly athletic, he is 2.13 meters tall but just as fast as most quards, and his energy is always at the highest possible level. In addition, this season he has improved his shooting, which makes him even more dangerous on both ends of the court. In my opinion, he is the best big man in the league right now. Fenerbahce Istanbul and Zeljko Obradovic must be pretty happy to have Vesely Airlines on their side!
It has to be Toko Shengelia of KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz, arguably the best power forward in Europe. He has the complete package: size, speed, great ballhandling, aggressiveness and deep range. He can face his opponent six meters away from the basket and drive past him, and use his post skills to dominate a smaller opponent. He is a great pick-and-roll player, too. Moreover, Shengelia has a high basketball IQ, which makes him look for the right choice all the time. He is also Baskonia's first option and his teammates' trust make him even more dangerous.