Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv made a lot of roster changes over the summer and enters the 2021-22 campaign with a more athletic and more experienced team. Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos leads a deep, competitive roster ready to fight for a playoff spot.
Scottie Wilbekin is once again Maccabi's backcourt leader. An all-around scorer with unlimited shooting range, experience and great determination, Wilbekin should have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line. Maccabi signed two EuroLeague newcomers to help Wilbekin in the backcourt. Keenan Evans was one of the best players in the Israeli League last season, ranking fifth in scoring (18.5 ppg.), third in assists (6.4 apg.) and second in steals (2.1 spg.). Kameron Taylor is a tall, versatile swingman who is aggressive on defense and uses his physicality to help on the boards. Coach Sfairopoulos looked for more athletic players and Taylor definitely fits in. Team captain John DiBartolomeo is an experienced guard and tenacious defender with a high basketball IQ, which has made him a fan favorite in Tel Aviv. Yiftach Ziv is a talented, aggressive guard looking to leave his mark in his first season in the competition. A product of the club's youth department, Ido Ben Harush adds depth t the backcourt.
Maccabi brought in very experienced players around the baskets. Derrick Williams is an explosive power forward with outstanding athleticism, who can open the floor with his three-point shots, run like a guard in transition and ignite Maccabi fans with his high-flying dunks. Jalen Reynolds returns to Maccabi after a great season with FC Bayern Munich in which he averaged 13.6 points and 5.8 rebounds over 39 games. He scored more two-point shots (222) than any other EuroLeague player last season, with great effectiveness (59.8% 2FG). EuroLeague champion James Nunnally is an elite three-point shooter (48.5% career 3FG) who also plays hard on defense and knows what it takes to be successful in the competition. Big man Jake Cohen is also back after a season in Spain. He offers reliable shooting, rebounds and experience. Ante Zizic is an excellent offensive rebounder and a great finisher around the basket. He runs the floor well for a player his size. Versatile forward Angelo Caloiaro should play a critical role at both ends, while Oz Blayzer and Roman Sorkin round out a deep, versatile frontcourt.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Maccabi is already Derrick Williams's fourth EuroLeague team, after previous stops with FC Bayern Munich, Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul and Valencia Basket. Williams has all it takes to be a superstar in the competition. He is the kind of energy player that brings his team's fans into the game with his highlights. An outstanding dunker, Williams can play above the rim, finishing alley-oops and bringing fans to their feet with his high-flying blocks. He needs to improve his three-point shooting (34.7% career) to become a bigger threat, but playing for Maccabi and its trademark fans can only mean good news for Williams. Expect him to take a big step forward. At age 30, he is right at the prime of his career.
Two years ago, Maccabi had a 19-9 record when the 2019-20 campaign was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many saw Maccabi as a Final Four candidate last season, but it ended up 13th with a 14-20 record. By signing athletic players who know the competition well like Nunnally, Reynolds and Williams, Maccabi has made sure it will be very competitive from the start of the season. If Evans and Taylor step up and adjust to the EuroLeague level right away, Maccabi should have all it takes to be competitive against anyone, anywhere. Having an experienced coach, a very physical team ready to fight for 40 minutes and of course, some of the best fans in the world is a combination that should work really well.