The Reds have made a couple of notable mid-season additions, as well as one just before the campaign got underway.
Petrusev signing shows Olympiacos has one thing in mind: glory
It’s fair to say that Olympiacos Piraeus has experienced a few turbulent months. In fact, from the moment Real Madrid’s Sergio Llull broke the hearts of Reds’ fans by hitting a game-winning jumpshot in last season’s Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Championship Game, it felt like everything that could go wrong at Peace and Friendship Stadium did go wrong.
First up was the shock announcement that Kostas Sloukas, whose missed jumper at the buzzer saw Olympiacos fall to Real, was moving to the club’s archrival, Panathinaikos Athens. Then, although less surprising, was the confirmation that Sasha Vezenkov, the 2022-23 EuroLeague MVP, had decided to head to the NBA and join up with the Sacramento Kings.
Good news, with a caveat
Admittedly, there was good news sprinkled in over the summer, such as the returns of Nikola Milutinov and Nigel Williams-Goss to Olympiacos, in addition to the arrival of Luke Sikma. There was also the signing of Ignas Brazdeikis towards the end of training camp, which added another body to Georgios Bartzokas’s rotation.
However, the injury bug hit the Reds big time in the early part of the EuroLeague season. In fact, in the first 10 rounds this season, the following players all missed at least one game due to injury: Brazdeikis (two games), Sikma (five), Williams-Goss (four), Moustapha Fall (one), Shaquielle McKissic (nine) and Milutinov (two).
The picture is changing
As we head into Round 11, though, things look rather different. Although Williams-Goss is still sidelined with a leg injury, the majority of Coach Bartzokas’s players have now recovered, with Milutinov playing in Round 10 and McKissic being active for that 89-72 win against Zalgiris Kaunas. There are two shiny signings for Olympiacos fans to get excited about, too: Naz Mitrou-Long and Filip Petrusev.
Indeed, no club has been more active than Olympiacos in the market in recent months, with the club wrapping up three signings in the past three months, including two in the last seven days. Following back-to-back Final Four appearances, losing in the semifinals in 2021-22 and the championship game in 2022-23, there’s no way that the Reds want to miss out on a trip to Berlin, Germany, next May.
On November 21, Olympiacos once again returned to Zalgiris and paid the buyout clause for one of its players, having lured Brazdeikis to Piraeus just a few months before doing the same with Mitrou-Long, but the guard will not be able to play in the EuroLeague until January.
For Petrusev, it is a different story. The 23-year-old center proved himself to be one of Europe’s most promising players during the 2022-23 EuroLeague season, averaging 10.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and a 12.6 PIR in the jersey of Crvena Zvezda Meridianbet Belgrade, and he is ready to play right away.
Petrusev is another weapon for Olympiacos
Now, arguably only Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul’s center trio of Johnathan Motley, Georgios Papagiannis and Sertac Sanli comes close to Olympiacos’s triad of Milutinov, Fall and Petrusev. What’s more, it appears as though there has been a move towards this way of building a roster, most likely with one team in mind: Real Madrid.
Much of Los Blancos’ success in recent years has been built around the dominant play of three-time EuroLeague Best Defender Walter Tavares, while Vincent Poirier, the 31-year-old’s backup, would start for probably 80% of the teams in the EuroLeague.
The duo of Milutinov and Fall is a good pair of centers to throw at Tavares and Poirier, who will come up against Olympiacos at a packed-out Peace and Friendshup Stadium on December 5, but the addition of Petrusev into the mix brings the possibility of Coach Bartzokas having a ‘5’ who can shoot from deep.
Last season, for example, Petrusev went a decent 20-of-57 from three-point range, good for a 35.1% mark. Compare that to Milutinov and Fall and the difference is stark, as Milutinov has made 2-of-5 threes in 208 games and Fall has never attempted a shot from behind the arc in 117 appearances.
Yes, Petrusev can also handle himself inside, but the Serbian big man could end up being a joker card up Bartzokas’s sleeve if Olympiacos and Real come head-to-head once again in the latter stages of the season.
Typically, Tavares and Poirier prefer to camp in the paint, so having Petrusev on the floor gives Olympiacos a respectable weapon from distance, meaning Real’s pair of centers must come out and try to defend him. That should spell good news for the Reds’ cutters, who could find themselves with easy looks at the rim.
Petrusev is versatile, too
Although he spent most of his minutes at the ‘5’ last season, Petrusev has the qualities needed to function well at the ‘4’, too. Olympiacos currently has second-year player Alec Peters performing at an MVP level at the power forward spot, with the American having done an excellent job of replacing Vezenkov, as well as a ‘4’ who has the playmaking ability of a guard in Sikma.
But, Petrusev allows for a twin towers-style lineup with either Milutinov or Fall at the ‘5’, which should give Peters and Sikma a chance to rest or even slip to the ‘3’ if needed. By being able to play inside and out, Petrusev’s versatility is likely to cause all sorts of problems on the opposition’s scouting report on a night in, night out basis.
So, the start to this season has been a bit up and down for Olympiacos, but the Reds have now won three games in a row and find themselves with a 6-4 record, good enough for fifth place in the standings.
With Petrusev now in the building, Mitrou-Long available from January and the club’s injury crisis starting to subside, the only way is up for Olympiacos as it chases its first EuroLeague title since 2013.