We are getting close to the end of the Euroleague Regular Season, so here are some questions looking back on the season so far.  To help us answer these questions we have Simon Jatsch and Rodhig from In-The-Game.org, Savas Birdal from Eurostep.net and Sam Meyerkopf from this very site.

What is the Euroleague’s Best or Most Unique Pick And Roll Combo?

Rod: Emir and Bjelica. It’s more pick and pop than pick and roll and more of a starting point for Fenerbahce’s offense than a combo (i.e. a two-man game that produces assisted field goals), but still, it’s so cool to watch. Fener have slowed down considerably over the past few weeks, but the appeal of their positional revolution has not faded away. Prelzdic and Bjelica are at the epicenter of this futuristic brand of basketball.

When the Serbian forward moves at center and Emir plays at the perimeter, Fener turn into an offensive juggernaut, scoring 160 points per 100 possessions. Yes, the 53-possession sample is too small. And yes, this number says very little about how this duo performs on the other end of the floor (hint: it’s not as impressive). But those numbers reflect the efficient beauty produced by the synergy of two gifted ball handlers in the context of the most frequently used action in modern basketball.

Simon: Although arguably not the most talented pick and roll combo (that would be Huertas-Tomic), I really like the Kalnietis-Hendrix duo. This is a role tailor-made for Mantas – coming off the bench, a couple of extra ball handlers at his side to give him time off the ball, freedom to push the ball and run early pick and roll with a couple of super finishers.

He’s fed Hendrix for nine field goals and three trips to the foul line. Hendrix can finish above the rim and has shown composure and court vision on the catch: looking for the extra pass has pushed his assist percentage to second in the center rankings, right behind Tomic.

Savas: To which extent a pick and roll combo could do damage not only depends on the select two players, but also the three guys who surround them. Fener’s small lineup of Preldzic, McCalebb, Bogdanovic, Bjelica and Kleiza has been super efficient, which leaves me no choice but to pick the pick and roll duo of Preldzic and Bjelica. Best thing about a pick and roll involving the two? You can reverse the roles and go with either one of them as the ball handler or the screener.

Sam: Huertas and Tomic.  When running at full strength, this is the best pick and roll combo, they just don’t always get the opportunity.  Marcelinho Huertas has always been a wizard in the PnR, jumping up in the air around a pick and in that moment it’s almost impossible to figure out if he’s about to shoot a floater, hit his roll man, or if he spotted an open shooter ready to fire away  Rolling with him is Ante Tomic, the best offensive center in Europe.  The extra wrinkle Tomic brings that many other centers don’t is his keen passing eye.  Tomic has three entries in the Top 10 assist connections for centers this year.

So while skill wise this is the best PnR duo, with Tomic’s minutes limited and Huertas limited in his creativeness and ability to go free hand on offense by Coach Pascual, we don’t see it happen nearly enough.

Who is the Most Underutilized Player of the Regular Season?

Rod: Also known as The Marcelinho Huertas Question.

Now that Rakim Sanders is finally getting consistent minutes at power forward, my pick would be Zoran Planinic. Oktay Mahmuti has a lot of reasons for playing one of last summer’s flashiest signings only 20 minutes per game: the Croatian guard’s defense is suspect; his backcourt partnership with Jamon Lucas – Efes’ most important player – limits both players without helping the overall efficiency of the team; and Planinic seems to constantly get into foul trouble.

Still, Efes are a mediocre offensive team, who could definitely use Planinic’s trademark creativity on the low post, a skill that doesn’t seem out of place Mahmuti’s playbook. The lack of depth could also hurt the playoff odds of the Turkish side. Dogus Balbay and Birkan Batuk have been working hard on defense, but their shooting woes make proper spacing a rather complicated task.

Efes are one of the richest teams in Euroleague, but they simply can’t afford to have Planinic play such a limited role.

Simon: Ante Tomic. Yes, Pascual has a deep front court rotation at his disposal. But here’s a super-skilled European center in his prime who (and so his team) could certainly use four, five extra minutes added to his current season average of 22.

Same goes for the poor man’s Kyle Hines, Johan Passave-Ducteil of JSF Nanterre. Did anyone else see him push the ball down the floor in transition and finish with a smooth finger role against Barca? Ridiculous!

Savas: Sergio Rodriguez. El Chacho has 22 Euroleague point guards ahead of him in total minutes played this season, yet he ranks fifth in assists per game. On a historically great offensive team, S-Rod is doing the most damage he can in under 20 minutes per game, but one could easily make an argument that he deserves the starting point guard job in Spain’s capital.

Sam: Mindaugas Kuzminskas.  Last year in Zalgiris, under the same coach Joan Plaza, Kuzminskas had a breakout second half of the season as an attacking forward.  He averaged 9.6 points and 4.2 rebounds in the Top 16 and finally looked to have found a role.  Plaza and Kuzminskas moved to Unicaja together and the thought was that the athletic tweener would continue his ascension.  But Unicaja has tons of depth in their front court, forcing Kuzminskas to mainly play the wing or small forward position and always next to two other bigs in the lineup.  With someone who needs space and the open court to thrive, Kuzminskas is put into more roles as a ball handler or shooter, where he is not maximized.  He’s a finisher more than a creator.

This year he’s averaging 4.0 points and 1.3 rebounds.  Little have we seen of his patented put back slams, slashes from the wing, and little flick shots in the lane.  Whether this is more a question of Kuzminskas getting comfortable in his new surroundings or Plaza’s utilization of him, the success last year he enjoyed in Zalgiris has yet to be seen in Malaga.

Weirdest Stat

Rod: Barcelona, CSKA and Galatasaray are among the bottom five teams in three point shooting percentage. It’s not completely inexplicable – CSKA are running out of stretch fours after the departure of Zoran Erceg in the summer and the rough start to the season for Viktor Khryapa. Barcelona are missing two elite shooters in Erazem Lorbek and Brad Oleson, while Kostas Papanikolaou has not been getting the wide open looks that he was used to in Olympiacos. Galatasaray’s seemingly endless injury trouble hurt their shooting, among other elements of their game, as Jamon Gordon and Manuchar Markoishvili are no longer around to light it up from beyond the arc.

But based on their roster and my own extremely reliable eye test about the quality of their attempts, all three teams should be doing a lot better. And they probably will, as long as their creativity takes a hit. Yet another reminder that this is a long season. And that not much fuss should be made over early returns.

Simon: Option 1: Galatasaray’s 29,4 expected win percentageThey’re 5 and 3, yet their offensive and defensive rating indicate they are playing more like a 2-6 or 3-5 team. They can thank three heavy losses to Olympiakos (twice) and Unicaja for that.

Option 2: Sonny Weems is still 1 for 23 on jump shots from the right side of the floor.

Savas: Official figures are never disclosed with European teams, but it is pretty much certain that CSKA leads the old continent in spending by some ridiculous distance. Having acquired pricey players to an already more than strong core, it is natural Messina is expected to form an offense which is “a bit” better than 13th best in the league. Teodosic and Pargo’s clash for the helm pushed CSKA further down in offensive efficiency, who could manage to maintain a below average 104.5 points per 100 possessions figure in its first eight games.

Sam: This is pretty simple, Kyle Hines hasn’t played in CSKA’s five most used lineups.  That sounds insane.