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 Dusko Savanovic, former All-EuroLeague selection and 2018 Final Four Ambassador; Luca Chiabotti, the former basketball expert-in-residence at La Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy; journalist Donatas Urbonas of leading Lithuanian website 15min.lt; 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 this week!
Who is your favorite EuroLeague player that you hadn't seen before this season?
"One player who has really surprised me... I have seen before, of course, I knew about him, but I am going to say Maodo Lo of FC Bayern Munich. I think he is a player we should pay attention to because he is comfortable with the way he is playing right now. I think that every basketball fan and especially every coach loves a player who is always at the same basketball level, with no ups and downs. Maodo is still a young player; he is doing great at age 26. I think he will be playing at an even higher level very soon. The best part of his career is still ahead of him, in the next six-seven years. That is definitely my choice."
"A star is born in Euroleague: the debut of Usman Garuba of Real Madrid, 17 years old, will be remembered for years... In the category of the new big names, Jimmer Fredette of Panathinaikos is showing an easy transition from NBA/China basketball to the EuroLeague, but Nik Stauskas of Baskonia also impressed me, especially considering the future: he had a slow start in Europe, but in the last two games he's showed that the EuroLeague could be a perfect fit for his game."
"My favorite EuroLeague rookie is Greg Monroe. I think he is a great fit for European basketball and he started to deliver from the beginning. Now he is the seventh-best EuroLeague player by performance index rating. Monroe is a dominant figure in the paint. I like how he attracts the defense and how he can pass the ball. Munich and Greg had a tough schedule. I expect him to be even more efficient and his team to win more games against less powerful opponents. Bayern surprised me with a good selection of NBA imports for the second year in a row."
"There are a lot of great Turkish Airlines EuroLeague rookies right now, so it's hard to decide, but I’m going to say Greg Monroe from FC Bayern Munich. He has amazing skills that led him to become a lottery pick. He has enough experience, he knows the game very well and physically he is so strong. His offensive repertoire is quite extensive. He can score from the post and also from mid-range. Compared to his career so far, his passing skills improved a lot this season with Dejan Radonjic's system, which makes him more dangerous. It’s really interesting to see where he will carry Bayern this season."
"Tonye Jekiri of LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne. He has surprised me a lot. Not only he is an excellent rebounder, especially on the offensive end, but Jekiri can score in many ways and is rarely out of control. Doing the things you do well is mandatory for any big man and Jekiri rarely breaks the script. He powers the offensive glass looking for second-chance points, can hit the outside shot, especially from the elbow, and has a nice set of post skills. Right now, Jekiri is the only player to average a double-double (10 ppg., 10.4 rpg.) and ASVEL is 4-3 with four home wins."
What team will win the season's first "Clásico", Real Madrid or FC Barcelona?
"As far as El Clasico is concerned, I think that Real Madrid is in a much better situation to win this game. They have been playing well lately and this is El Clasico, the big game between the two Spanish powerhouses. Everything is possible, always, but if you look at the complete picture and the basketball quality that both teams are displaying, Barcelona trails Real a little bit. Real has played much better and they are in better shape, so I will say Real Madrid, for sure."
"There are three reasons to favor Real Madrid: the home court where Real has yet to lose a game this season; Real needs to win more than Barcelona after three losses on the road; and Real is more accustomed to playing such important games than Barcelona in recent years. El Clasico is not predictable and Barcelona's team this year is much better than in the recent seasons, but since EuroLeague moved to the current format, Barca has never won in Madrid."
"That's a tough one! Before the season, I would have said Real Madrid will win this one. But their sluggish start has left me in doubt. However, Real Madrid is back on the winning path. They remain perfect in the Spanish League and meet Barcelona in a better position now than a few weeks before. I believe the fans will help Real to protect their home court. No matter what was the history before, these games are always special. I go with Real in a close game."
"What a great matchup between two historic clubs and powerhouses of the EuroLeague. It will be a very tough game, for sure, but I believe Real Madrid has a small advantage over its rival. FC Barcelona is dealing with a lot of injuries right now, which has reduced its rotation depth, whereas Los Blancos have one of the deepest rosters in the EuroLeague. The core of Madrid's roster knows each other very well, as they’ve been playing together for years. In these kinds of games, this could be the key. Plus, from a defensive perspective, they can match with Barcelona very well. Finally, they have the home-court advantage, which will give them a boost if necessary."
"I will have to go with Real Madrid. First, they play at home, which is always a plus. Second, both teams already played at WiZink Center this season, in the Spanish SuperCup, and Real prevailed 89-79 behind an outstanding Facu Campazzo. This is where the next Real advantage comes: Barcelona is still without Thomas Heurtel and Kevin Pangos. Malcolm Delaney and youngsters Lea Bolmaro are the only playmakers available, even though Pau Ribas may return against Real. Campazzo and Sergio Llull have good chances to dominate the game tempo and lead Real to what would be a big win."
Which player will make the difference for your winning team in El Clásico?
"I think it is a cliche answer, but teams like Real and Barcelona don't have a player who can surprise. Everybody knows each player's capabilities and what they can do on the court. If I have to choose, I will give a very standard answer: I will go for Sergio Llull or Jaycee Carroll, as you cannot leave him open for even 2 seconds. Any player you pick will be a player with a high level. Anyone can make the difference, but I am going with Llull or Carroll."
"The question is: who can stop Nikola Mirotic? Of course, Real needs to play a great game as a team to beat Barcelona, but I think that Anthony Randolph will be the key player for Real and he has to play better than in previous games this season. But he needs big help from the other guys, starting from Gabriel Deck and, why not, from Usman Garuba for a few quality minutes of freshness."
"Anthony Randolph has to bring his A-game. He must not only set the tone for the offense, but also limit Nikola Mirotic as best as possible. I believe Randolph will take the Nikola Mirotic challenge seriously."
"Since I picked Madrid as the favorite, I’m going to go with their leader, Facundo Campazzo. After a fantastic season and a very busy summer, he looked a bit tired between the second and fifth rounds, but he has started finding his rhythm again lately. When he plays well and works his magic on the court, Madrid looks like a well-oiled machine that can beat anyone in the league. Apart from his amazing offensive skills, he’s a great on-ball defender who can put a lot of pressure on rival guards. Playing against him is a mental battle as well. So I believe that, against Barcelona, he will carry his team to victory."
"I am going to go with Anthony Randolph of Real Madrid. Stopping Nikola Mirotic will be the hosts' number one priority, as Barcelona runs a lot of plays through him. It takes much more than stopping Mirotic, of course, but that would be a first step towards winning the game. Mirotic rarely faces power forwards with Randolph's combination of size, mobility and wingspan. It is no surprise that Mirotic had a season-low 13 points in Barcelona's only EuroLeague loss - against AX Armani Exchange Milan - this season. If Mirotic plays well, Barcelona usually wins, and it is up to Randolph and Gabriel Deck to try to stop him."