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. Which team helped itself most over the two games last week?
"I think the right choice is Olympiacos Piraeus. They suffered three consecutive losses, which is rare for them, and had a losing record. The away win in Germany over FC Bayern Munich was imperative and, two days later, they managed to beat Real Madrid and double their positive results. They broke the champions' long winning streak (13 wins in a row), reacted following the consecutive defeats, their record is positive once again (5-4) and the schedule ahead provides them the opportunity to build a steadier course in the regular season."
"Four teams won both games last week and three of them beat teams at the bottom of the standings. I would like to choose Khimki because it got a key victory on the road in Kaunas, but the injury to Alexey Shved has compromised the good moment of the team. So I choose Anadolu Efes because it showed that it has a big team mentality in a back-to-back situation."
"I think Khimki. Olympiacos, Fenerbahce and Anadolu Efes won two games in a row last week, but Khimki's victories were more important. Last year they reached the playoffs and this year their goal is the same. They lost six of their first seven games. They need that kind of series more than other teams. So after the Buducnost game, they won in Kaunas. It was very crucial. Now that Shved will not play a couple of games, those two wins are very valuable for Khimki."
"My answer is Olympiacos Piraeus. They had lost to Fenerbahce Istanbul in a tough game before the double round last week and it looked like things were not going well. However, they managed to beat FC Bayern Munich in Germany. We all know that Bayern is a tough team to beat at Audi Dome. But the second victory was even more impressive. The Reds won the game against Real Madrid with Vassilis Spanoulis's clutch shots and handed them their first defeat of the season. If they had lost both games, they could have been in a very bad situation regarding their pursuit of home-court advantage, but now they are back on track."
"My first choice would probably be Khimki Moscow Region, but Alexey Shved's injury - one month out with a broken finger - changes everything, so I am going to say Olympiacos Piraeus. Not only did Olympiacos get consecutive wins, but it also managed to become the first team to defeat Real Madrid this season. It was defining week for Coach Blatt's team - Nigel Williams-Goss had his first big scoring night in the EuroLeague, Vassilis Spanoulis hit 5 of 6 three-point shots against Madrid and both players proved they can play very well together. It limited FC Bayern Munich to just 62 points at home, forcing it to shoot with its lowest percentages so far this season. The team was really solid; seven players scored in double digits against Bayern or Madrid, but only two of them - Janis Strelnieks and Zach Leday - did so in both games. Everything went well for Olympiacos; Nikola Milutinov even hit his first career three-point shot after 120 EuroLeague career games."
2. What player is having the best "late start" to the season?
"I'll go with Khimki Moscow Region's Serbian guard, Stefan Markovic, for two reasons. The first is that he matches the question's profile and his ascent was combined with wins for his team. In the first seven rounds, he had scored a total of 14 points, but in Khimki's last two wins over Buducnost VOLI Podgorica and Zalgiris Kaunas, he had 25 points and 8 assists, along with 5-for-8 three-point shooting. The second reason is that, now, with Alexey Shved's injury, Markovic is one of the players who will be called on to take greater responsibilities and step up. So, I'm expecting that his ascent will continue."
"Thomas Heurtel probably needed time to understand his new role after the arrival of Kevin Pangos in Barcelona. After a slow start (7.0 points per game in the first five games, 3-for-11 three-point shooting, 13 turnovers), he has changed his pace and in the last four games, he has scored an average of 13 points with 7-of-9 shooting on threes and only 6 turnovers. He played stellar games at Khimki and against Milan and the partnership with Pangos is working."
"It's a hard question. Thomas Heurtel, Jeff Brooks and Earl Clark day by day play better. They are helping their teams so much. But Rodrigue Beaubois did not start the season very well. After the first two games, he started to take on responsibility. His has shined, especially in the Fenerbahce, Panathinaikos and Darussafaka victories. He also did a great job in the local league. During Shane Larkins's injury, his performance was laudable. I choose Beaubois, but as I said, the other three guys have also played better lately."
"Bryant Dunston. When we look at his performance levels over the years with both Olympiacos and Anadolu Efes Istanbul, we can easily call him Mr.Consistent, so it was weird to see his slow start to the season. But Efes had a lot of new players so it made sense that he would struggle for a while. After the game against AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan, he found his rhythm and started to play like the Dunston we knew. He’s a beast on defense and a reliable finisher on offense. While playing great, he also climbed to second place on the list with the most blocks of all time. Not bad."
"Rodrigue Beaubois of Anadolu Efes Istanbul. He had a horrible start of the season, getting 5 points against Bayern and being held scoreless against Zalgiris Kaunas. Beaubois has been unstoppable since that moment, averaging 16.6 points over seven games and hitting shots from every angle. In his last game against Darussafaka Tekfen Istanbul, Beaubois was scoreless at halftime, but took over after the break, scoring 24 points to make sure his team cruised to an important road win. At age 30, Beaubois is right at the prime of his career and is more than a great scorer; he had a EuroLeague career-high 4 blocks against Panathinaikos OPAP Athens. Even though a lot of players are doing very well for Efes right now, Beaubois provides instant offense and is able to change any game at any time."
3. What player would you most trust to attempt a game-winning shot?
"There are many players in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague who have the quality and character to take on the last shot and score. But, as long as Vassilis Spanoulis is playing, allow me to pick him for these missions. Because simply put, he's the player who has it in his blood. He's the one who has attempted the biggest number of crucial shots in recent years in the EuroLeague and definitely the one who has scored the most of them. For the game-winning shot, you trust someone who has proven he can make it, and Spanoulis is the most characteristic case of a clutch player in the modern history of the league."
"I could choose big stars like Nando De Colo or Alexey Shved... and Milan won two games thanks to Mike James's buzzer-beaters. But I would be very comfortable if my destiny were in the hands of Kostas Sloukas of Fenerbahce. Kostas won a lot of games when he had the last ball, not only for his shots but also with his ability to earn free throws and make them under pressure. For me, he is the worst opponent to face in the last seconds of the game."
"We can write here a lot of names. Sloukas, Spanoulis, Heurtel, Pangos, De Colo, Rodriguez, Shved etc. But again I choose Mike James. This makes three times in a row I think I have chosen him. Last year he did similar things. If we are speaking about this season, James has already won two games, against Khimki and Anadolu Efes. I'd give the ball to him and watch him create."
"Vassilis Spanoulis. This man never gets old. Time and time again he has shown us that he’s one of the best clutch players of all time. He’s so calm, his hands never shake and when there is a crucial shot to be scored, he’s there to make it. He has carried Olympiacos to many huge victories in the past. Even though he’s 34 years old now, his quality remains the same. His step-back jumpers are the deadliest and most unstoppable thing I have ever seen in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. This is why I can blindly trust him to score the game-winning shot."
"Luckily for the competition, there are many good choices, but I am going to go with Nando De Colo of CSKA Moscow. Not only he is a terrific clutch player who has already won games at the buzzer, but De Colo is also the best free throw shooter in EuroLeague history. At the very worst, De Colo can be aggressive, draw a foul and win the game for you from the free throw line. He has the complete package – deep shooting range, one-on-one skills, talent and experience. At the same time, if we are in a Final Four environment and Olympiacos is in it, all my
money would be on Vassilis Spanoulis. The more important the game is, the more probable it is for Spanoulis to make the difference in clutch time. So, either De Colo or Spanoulis."