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 Matjaz Smodis, three-time former EuroLeague champion; Luca Chiabotti, the former basketball expert-in-residence at La Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy; Dimitris Karydas, basketball expert and TV commentator at NOVAsports.gr in Greece; Drazen Kanazir, Editor, Eurohoops Germany; and Andy West, EuroLeague.TV commentator and EuroLeague.net contributor. Check out their opinions on three key questions.
1. Who is your favorite shot-blocker in the EuroLeague?
"My favorite rim protector is definitely Alex Tyus from Maccabi. You can see that he has that defensive instinct in him. His blocks are also intimidating blocks; he strikes a little fear in his opponents. Just with his presence on the court, Maccabi is a much better defensive team."
"The numbers say Tavares and numbers, in this case, don't lie. But my favorite shot-blocker is Alex Tyus, because his blocks are always spectacular and why he exceeded 200 blocks in his EuroLeague career, many of these in clutch moments. In this category, we must never forget Kyle Hines: his blocks are less frequent, but always weigh a lot on the final score."
"The obvious selection here is Walter Tavares of Real Madrid. With an average of nearly 2 blocks per game in the EuroLeague this season is a player who no one wants to find on his way to the rim. The ultimate power under the basket with his blocks is, in essence, a defense on its own."
"The nightmare of every attacking player lives in the capital of Spain and plays his home games at the WiZink Center. The man I am speaking of goes by the name of Walter Tavares and he stands in the middle for reigning EuroLeague champion Real Madrid. Number 22 provides a huge defensive help for Los Blancos and his 2.21 meters most certainly come in handy. Together with his perfect timing, it results in 1.71 blocks per game and a total of 39 blocks so far this season. No one in this league is better in that category. "
"It's a pretty obvious answer, but Edy Tavares is a lot of fun to watch. Many of his blocks don't look that spectacular because he's so tall and therefore has the major advantage of not having to get up too high, but we shouldn't overlook the positional intelligence which allows him to be in the right place to make the block. It's also entertaining to see how many opponents don't dare attempt shots when he's on the prowl because they know there's no point even trying!"
2. Which team will finish fourth and take the last playoffs spot with home-court advantage?
"I think that in the end Olympiacos will prevail and secure that fourth spot. That will shine some bright light and much-needed momentum to their mediocre season."
"Good question. Anadolu Efes has the best record. Barcelona has one home game more than Efes, but will play the decisive game between them in Istanbul. Olympiacos is starting in a lower position, but has the best schedule by far. So... I choose Barcelona for sure if Coach Pesic's team wins in Istanbul. But it will be a close race and we don't ever underestimate the heart of Spanoulis."
"Efes is able to redeem its excellent run with a final rank that will give it home-court advantage in the playoffs. The Turkish team has the greatest possibilities and keeps its destiny in its hands. Efes will still play at home against the two main contenders for the fourth place, Olympiacos and Barcelona. These two games will largely determine fourth place in the final standings. If Efes is able to cover the difference of its 7-point defeat at Olympiacos and do the same against Barcelona it will automatically become the absolute favorite.
"Head coach Ergin Ataman's squad is having a great season up to this point. Anadolu Efes Istanbul has made the Sinan Erdem Dome its X-factor with a 9-2 record in home games. Efes is currently fourth in the standings and the chances are not bad that Krunoslav Simon and company will stay in the top four until Round 30. "
"As I commentate on all their home games for EuroLeague.TV, I have to be loyal and say Barcelona! It will probably all come down to the game at Efes in Round 25, and I believe Coach Svetislav Pesic will come up with a defensive masterplan to allow his team to take that game. After that, Barca finishes the season with three winnable home games in the last four, so I think they will do it. "
3. What EuroLeague player would you want most on your team in a tight race to reach the playoffs?
"The player that I think would make my chances a lot easier is Jan Vesely. He is the one who leads that scary Fenerbahce team. The problems he would cause offensively and his versatility on defense is incomparable to others."
"I would want the fresh blood – at least for this EuroLeague season – of James Nunnally from AX Milan. The former EuroLeague champion is the best addition to the playoff race and he came at the right moment for Milan, when Mike James, a potential MVP of the season, appeared in decline in shooting percentages and basketball choices on the court. Maybe Nunnally will not be enough to get his team to the playoffs because Milan has great problems under the basket after the loss of Gudaitis, but on my team, where I hope everyone is well, it's him that I want."
"There are plenty of capable players who can have the ball in their hands while everything is judged. Real Madrid has a player who can score a decisive basket in a close game. Facundo Campazzo has proved with a lot of buzzer beaters that he is the No. 1 clutch player anyone would want to have on his team and to be trusted with the last attack."
"Derrick Williams of FC Bayern Munich! He is the ultimate success story for the German champion this year and has conquered the EuroLeague by storm. The former NBA star showed his skillset many times this year and is a major factor why Bayern is in the race for the playoffs. The highlight-machine from La Mirada was the Round 12 MVP for a reason and is able to hurt opposing squads in many ways. So far D-Will has an outstanding average of 14.4 points and 4.2 rebounds in 21 games played. "
"It's hard to look any further than Jan Vesely. He gives you so much at both ends of the court; he's an unselfish player and his dominance in the paint makes life easier for his teammates. He's also the kind of player whose energy and enthusiasm delivers an emotional lift both on and off the court, so I can't think of anybody better to make the difference in tight games. "