By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen
Real Madrid Is Going To Win Everything
Euroleague, ACB, Copa del Rey; Real Madrid is primed and ready for an amazing season. This has been a few years in the making and this group is not only talented but now very comfortable playing with each other. The point guard reigns will be fully handed off to Sergio Rodriguez who should be expected to challenge for not only the Euroleague assist title bust also the honor of being the best shot creator in the league (he led in per 28 minutes last year). Nikola Mirotic, coming off an ACB MVP season, looks to add the Euroleague version to his trophy cabinet. Marcus Slaughter with proper minutes will be in the Defensive Player of the Year talk. Jaycee Carroll would win a sixth man of the year award if there were one. And almost everyone in the rotation has All-Euroleague potential. While teams like Barcelona, CSKA Moscow, and Fenerbahce have a lot of and possibly as much talent as Real, it’s not nearly as well fit and groomed together as the squad in the Spanish capital. The one question mark that looms over this team is how will Ioannis Bourousis fit. The Greek center had an up and down couple of years in Milano. He was a force last year scoring the ball but provided little help on defense. The hope is that he will be the post scoring threat that Mirza Begic wasn’t and Slaughter really isn’t. If Bourousis can come through then this team goes up even a little notch higher. Look for them to break some Euroleague scoring records and become one of the better teams of the last few seasons.
Unicaja Will Surprise People
Unicaja’s offseason is just what they needed. Instead of trying to bring in another shoot first American point guard and other bad fit pieces, they cleared a lot off the shelves and are starting fresh. The freshness comes with a lot of youth. Zoran Dragic, Mindaugas Kuzminskas, and Jayson Granger are all 1989 born players and will be counted on to be the key perimeter players for Unicaja this season. Also don’t forget about 1996 born Domantas Sabonis who already pitched in with 15 minutes of work in their ACB game this weekend. Dragic, Kuzminskas, and Granger (and Sabonis if he sticks around) could make a special core that can grow and play together for the next few years. Dragic is the all out hustler who broke out at Eurobasket this summer with his determined style of play. Kuzminskas is the super athletic tweener who exploded in a few games for Zalgiris in the second half of last year and looks like the type of modern forward who can guard a variety of positions and loves to attack the basket. Granger is the point guard of the group. He’s quietly been one of the better point guards in the ACB for Estudiantes the last few years and combines length, athleticism, and quickness into an intriguing offensive and defensive combination.
While it looks like Unicaja is rebuilding, they still brought in young players who have already been very successful at other stops. It’s more a rejuvenation. Add around those rejuvenating pieces with hardworking players like Vladimir Stimac, Sergi Vidal, Nik Caner-Medley, and Carlos Suarez and this looks like an exciting and tough minded team that other clubs won’t want to play. Add in Coach Joan Plaza who orchestrated the biggest surprise of the Euroleague first half last year in Zalgiris and this is a team that could be surging come Top 16 time.
Partizan Is Going To Be Everyone’s Favorite Team
It’s year two of Leo Westermann in Partizan. He dazzled us in his ten Euroleague games last year with his vision, creativity, and fun style of play from a point guard of such a young age. Now he has two of his French buddies around for a full season (Joffrey Lauvergne and Boris Dallo) and most of the his other young counterparts are back (Bogdan Bogdanovic, Dejan Musli, Djordje Gagic, Dragan Milosavljevic, Nikola Milutinov, and hopefully at some point, Davis Bertans). Westermann has lob-catching threats (Lauvergne, Milutinovic), Pick and Roll Partners (Musli for the roll, Bertans when healthy with the pop), and two great backcourt mates who are going to fly all over the court whether it be on offense or defense (Bogdanovic, Milosavljevic). Outside shooting is a little bit of a question mark and is needed to provide Westermann some kick-out passing options. Everyone pray for a speedy Bertans recovery. But Pionir will be rocking this season and we all can’t wait to see what Leo pulls out of his bag of tricks this time around.
Maccabi Will Have The Scariest Point Guard Rotation
Ricky Hickman, Tyrese Rice, and Yogev Ohayon. Three point guards, three attackers, and and three ball hawks. All three love to attack you off the dribble and all three will have to be intense on ball defenders to stay in David Blatt’s rotation. Hickman and Ohayon have earned their spots but Rice still needs to prove he can be as tough as needed on defense. Maccabi had the most steals in the league last year and played at a very high pace, often looking for transition opportunities. Blatt gives his guards freedom to create off the bounce on offense as long as they hunker down on defense. Hickman is the best finisher at the rim and toughest on defense, Ohayon is the best distributor, and Rice probably the best all-around scorer. This three headed monster of a position will be the strength of Maccabi and what fuels them on both sides of the ball.
Fenerbahce Has The Coolest Possible Lineup: McCalebb-Bogdanovic-Preldzic-Bjelica-Karaman
Who is playing where? Are there any positions? Who do you guard them with? This is not only the coolest possible lineup in the Euroleague but it’s also probably the most flexible. Bogdanovic can post up, McCalebb can play off the ball, Preldzic and Bjelica can play point guard, and Karaman can guard a four or a five. There’s no need to outlet the ball because everyone besides Karaman can bring the ball up court and start the offense. The different pick and roll combinations along with the constant transition threat makes this a dangerous combination of players. The passing ability of Preldzic and Bjelica is what really makes this lineup special, along with the positional flexibility. And if anyone, I trust Zeljko Obradovic to make this work.