This Needs Fixing: Fenerbahce Ulker And A Lack Of Creativity Problem

By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen

Fenerbahce Ulker has had a disappointing Euroleague Regular Season after starting the first game of the year with a big win vs. BC Khimki.  After a few losses and a narrow squeak by Mapooro Cantu to make it to the Top 16, they have to take a long hard look in the mirror and change quite a few things if they want to advance any farther.

What Needs Fixing: It starts in the paint.  While there are some backcourt and wing problems, they still have Bo McCalebb and he can cover up a lot of weaknesses in those areas.  Especially after McCalebb’s most recent explosion (19 points) against Cantu were he looked quicker than he has all year.  Mike Batiste, David Anderson, Oguz Savas, Ilkan Karaman, and Emir Preldzic when he plays the four spot, round out the front court.

Batiste played terribly against Cantu, playing his lowest minute total of the season, and his addition by subtraction out of the lineup my have gotten Fenerbahce over the hump.  As good as his career has been, he seems incredibly slow and old right now. His normal silky offensive touch around the rim has also vanished. Savas will be used in spotty minutes when there is a smaller center he can body and until Anderson re-discovers his outside shooting stroke, it’s pretty limited minutes for him too.

Karaman is a bright spot and an extremely long and active defender.  If he can shore up some spacing and shooting issues on offense, Fenerbahce has a guy they could really stick at either post spot.

Preldzic overall has produced pretty positive offensive minutes at the power forward spot.  I really enjoyed the way Coach Simone Pianigiani used him in the Cantu game.  He was subbed in twice for a total of 17 minutes, one five minute stretch in the first half and one 12 minute stretch in the second half to close out the game.  Preldzic (10 points, three boards, two steals) was fresh when Cantu was tired and his offensive spark and quick decision making continually fooled Cantu.  This is one part of the lineup, roughly 18-22 minutes of Preldzic, Pianigiani may have finally found what Euroleague scientists have been looking for years for, the Preldzic playing time tipping point.

Beyond the big man problems this team truly needs to find some sort of identity.  They are a bad rebounding team and not very strong on defense.  They lack offensive depth and if McCalebb isn’t getting to the bucket and drawing defensive attention, everything starts to look flat.  To me there are two lineup ideas that are really intriguing that Fenerbahce hasn’t used a lot yet but could help change this teams complexion.

Bo McCalebb-Romain Sato-Bojan Bogdanovic-Emir Preldzic-Ilkan Karaman

This is a smaller lineup but still very long.  A lot would come down to how comfortable Karaman could fill in at center and how Preldzic could play off of him.  In a Euroleague era where smaller, longer, more athletic, and usually defensive oriented centers like Kyle Hines, Marcus Slaughter, Joey Dorsey, Stephane Lasme, and Shawn James reign supreme, Karaman has a chance to be very good.  The trick with the names listed above is not only are they great rim protectors, but they are all agile enough to move around as help and hedge defenders, while being reliable finishers on the other end.  In that type of role Karaman could flourish, asked only to do so much but letting his athleticism roam free.

The advantage Fenerbahce seems to have on offense is when McCalebb, Bogdanovic, and Preldzic are all on the floor together.  Sure this might lead to some defensive shortcomings but the trade off is necessary.  Looking at In-The-Game’s Shots Creation Chart we see that Fenerbahce is right below CSKA Moscow for the top spot in the small forward category.  Shots Created (unassisted FG’s (excl. putbacks) + assists) is a measure of how much offense an individual creates purely on his own.  With Bogdanovic and Preldzic garnering most of those minutes and leading to this production at small forward.  These three create the most shots by far on the Fenerbahce roster.

A Bogdanovic/Preldzic wing combo would seem logical but would only increase their exposure on defense and Preldzic seems more comfortable going up against slower but bigger power forwards instead of shorter but quicker small forwards.  Another problem with this is, as I’ve stated previously, is the lack of big men playing well right now.  To slot Preldzic at power forward keeps Sato or Omer Onan on the floor instead of a so far, ineffective big man.

With three great offensive creators on the floor and two solid defenders (Sato and Karaman), this lineup is not only balanced but extremely flexible.  Sato and Bogdanovic are basically interchangeable on the wing.  Preldzic runs offensive sets all the time freeing McCalebb to go off the ball and look more for his scoring.  In this lineup every player besides Karaman can bring the ball up the floor and fast breaks can be started immediately.

Going up against Barcelona, Khimki, and Maccabi in Group F you might need to play some more traditional bigs but Olympiacos, Besiktas, Caja Laboral, and Montepaschi Siena all have run out increasingly smaller lineups this season.  Besiktas is almost always small, Olympiacos too (although Kyle Hines makes up for a lot).  This is a time to adapt.  Try going longer, more athletic, and faster.

Baris Ermis-Bo McCalebb Backcourt

When playing for Macedonia, where he’s been quite effective, Bo McCalebb would play in a dual point guard backcourt with Vlado Iliveski a lot.  In this setting Iliveski is the true point, charged with getting the ball moving around in the half court, hitting open threes, and ingrained in a pass first mentality.  McCalebb becomes lethal, focused on beating his defender in any capacity he can and finding his own shot.  Bo McCalebb in his heart of hearts is a scorer.  Once in a groove, he can find branches of scoring opportunities for teammates off of his drives.  He thrives in this role.

Ermis gets the pick here because well, until Fenerbahce adds someone else, he’s the other point guard option.  Averaging ten minutes a game Ermis has looked rarely for his own shot but instead played very, very much within his role as a passer and hopeful ball stopper at the top of the key on defense.  Also giving McCalebb breathers when he’s out of gas.  But why not try them together?  Something that has been tried for a grand total of zero minutes this season (Thanks to In-The-Game for uncovering that stat too).  McCalebb is small but can defend most other shooting guards out there.  Juan Carlos Navarro, Vassilis Spanoulis, Vitaly Fridzon, David Logan, and other Group F shooting guards while very lethal scorers, are not of dominant size to take advantage of McCalebb in that way.

Finding a scorer like McCalebb more opportunities is crucial.  If bottled up, move him to the wing and let him operate coming off a screen rather than bringing the ball directly up the court.  Getting McCalebb moving at scoring champ levels is mandatory, as we saw in the Cantu game, for Fenerbahce’s livelihood.

Could They Bring Someone In: There have been rumors about possibly bringing in sweet shooting forward and former Euroleague champ Antonis Fotsis over from Milano now that they are knocked out.  But I’m not sure at Fotsis’ age if he’s agile enough on defense to be a piece Fenerbahce needs.  He would help but not sure that move alone is enough.  Finding a more flexible and agile front court player (Alex Tyus?) or another offensive creator in the backcourt (Jaka Blazic?), would be my preference. Fenerbahce could really use some sort of extra push.

Top 16 Outlook: Since they’re in Group F they have a shot, be it real slim, of making it to the Playoffs.  The home games versus Khimki, Besiktas, Caja Laboral, and Montepaschi Siena will be crucial.  Drop more than one of those and things might get ugly quick.  This team has talent and if they actually were able to flip the switch and change how the parts interact with each other they would be a true contender.  But we haven’t seen much hope of that and for now, unless change comes quickly, we are stuck with a shallow pool of talented pieces still trying to figure out how to play together as other teams gel for deep season runs.

12 thoughts on “This Needs Fixing: Fenerbahce Ulker And A Lack Of Creativity Problem”

  1. Great stuff.

    I’ve been lobbying for Karaman at C for quite sometime now. I think he can evolve into a better pnr defender than the rest of FBU bigs and help his team pick up the pace.

    As for Emir, while the 4/5 pnrs worked pretty well down the stretch vs Cantu, I’m not sure it will be as effective against teams with more athletic centers. I’d like to see him in a ball-handling role, freeing up Bo and basically helping move the ball around. Then again his inconsistency might make him a somewhat risky choice for that role.

    In any case, a three-point shooting PF could make things less crowded in the paint. Then again, David Andersen could do that.

    1. Rod many thanks for the comment. Awesome feedback. And maybe instead of Ermis you put Preldzic at the 1 with Bo at the 2. Why not play to Emir’s strengths? You have some really interesting pieces (Preldzic, Bo, Karaman, Bogdanovic) on this team that can be moved around the board. Why not try some new moves?

      And the thing about playing Karaman is the rest of the Fener big are so slow. Like unbelievably slow. They can’t move. Karaman can and really well actually. Put the players you have in the best positions for them to makes plays.

      But really I want to see the tempo picked up and yes, Bo free-ed up more. You have Bo McCalebb on your team and you aren’t a thriving offense. That means you’re doing something wrong. He doesn’t always need to attack post top of the key dribbling. Vary it up, get a team off-guard and off-balanced for Bo drives. With unique talents like him and Preldzic, they need to find more instances where they can play off each other.

      Transfer market will be interesting. Fenerbahce already put so much money into this team, might as well go spend for another good piece. I just don’t want another old dude. Anderson, jeez, fading too quickly.

  2. Hello guys,

    Thanks for the good read.

    If I had to give my opinion, I would say that Fenerbahce is a very good team (not team as a group of players, but as talented individuals). Also they have a very good coach, in my opinion the best after Obradovic, Ivkovic and -perhaps- Messina (yes, I don’t like that guy very much, and I believe he is very overrated).
    I would be more optimistic about that teams future, I believe they will most probably find a way to open the doors of Top 8.
    And also, I believe that David Andersen hasn’t been at his best, but he will improve. I think he still is the player he used to be, and still has at least 2-3 years at this level. It should be said that Bo McCalebb has played some games with a minor injury (no need to mention how this can affect a player with such explosivity) so he also is going to be better for the next round.

    As a conclusion, I think Fenerbahce is going to be much better compaired to it’s previous games.

    My main concern is about Mike Batiste. I don’t think it’s fair to say that his level now is due to his age. After all he still was on top last year, and once again was in the all-euroleague team. Of course he seems to be somewhere else while he plays, and this is something he has to deal with himself, but Simone Pianigiani has some work to do as well: creating the right offensive positions for Mike (come on, he is by far the best player for pick&roll in Europe and not one single guard in the roster has given him the chance to show this). My question to you guys is if Batiste can be any better, or is it a player that is hardly ever going to be anything else but a role player with low minutes? Also, after parting ways with JR Bremer, Fener is said to be interested in buying a new player. Kaukenas (even though the rumors were Denied by Zalgiris officially) still seems to be an option. The latest rumors include Shelden Williams. Which option do you think is more crucial at this stage (I believe this will be related to the question about Batiste).

    Thank you once again,


    1. Tom thanks for the comment, very interesting points of view, appreciated. I’m a little bit worried about Coach Simone in Fenerbahce. He loves old, experienced players but the old guys on Fener have been playing awfully. Great coaches can adjust, let’s see if he can.

      I know McCalebb is injured but speaking about his injuries as a problem is tough to elaborate on. He will or won’t be healthy and Fener has to play no matter what. Seems he gets hurt every year now so wish Bo the best of health for the rest of the year.

      As far as Mike Batiste goes I’m really worried. Yes Batiste is great as a rolling/finishing big off the PnR but he hasn’t done that at all this year. He was never a versatile player, just really good at what he did. So I’m not sure why he’s being asked to do so many different things this year that put him in a bad position. Also seems he was out of shape for the Regular Season so hopefully he’s played off some of that off season fat. He’s salvageable, Pianigiani just has to understand he can only be used in a limited role and if stretched it will fail. We’ve seen it fail.

      Transfer wise looks like Fener is between a rebounder, shooting 4, or offensive creator in the backcourt. Even though the bigs have been real bad, another ball handler to take pressure off Bo (less injuries) and open up the offense I think is the move. Then they could at least hang their hat on one strength, back court scoring, and have a reliable part of their team. Two new additions doesn’t seem so bad.

  3. Fener reminds me in their season of the Celtics so far. Older frontcourt with a younger, lethal guard [Bo/Rondo]

    I think Fener needs to bring in a 3 or 4 that can really score. Have the bigs concentrate on setting screens and rebounding plus clogging the lane.

    They still have a really good coach and they have Bo so it is feasible for them to get out of this group, but they do need to step it up a notch

    1. Tripkovic is one of my favorites but I won’t be biased here. He is in every sense a shooter. And in an even more specific fact, a 3 point shooter. Not much of a defender, rebounder, passer, or finisher. He spaces the floor with his shooting and sometimes his fire can change the course of games. But this is a guy who has played with three different teams in three years in the ACB. He missed all of last year with an injury. So between 10-20 minutes a game, more if he’s on, and playing next to a very good passing and defending point guard who can get him the ball in catch and shoot situations, Tripkovic can thrive. Asked to do more is when problems occur.

      Fenerbahce needs in my opinion 1. Rebounding 2. Defense 3. Another Offensive Creator. Tripkovic only helps one of the three and it’s the third need. And the thing is Fener has guys who can score, just not a lot of guys who can create offense for others. Even McCalebb in his game looks for his own offense first. Really Preldzic is the only guy who is better at creating for others than himself. Tripkovic makes shots, he creates offense for him, Fener needs a more team offense encompassing effect.

      He will play the 2, subbing in for Bogdanovic who he has extremely similar skills to him but is just better. So where does Fenerbahce upgrade? It make the thin rotation longer. Might he change a Euroleague game or two with his shooting, sure. But over the long haul of the season this was not that add that changes Fener’s fortunes.

      If he can really stroke it’ll open up more room for McCalebb to operate, get bigs 1-1s which pray to god they can take advantage of and pull another potential rebounder away from the basket to contest his shot. He’ll do that all really well as a specialist. He’s a piece, a super role player. So he can help Fener, just not in that many ways and I’m worried expectations might be too high as their mid-season pickup.

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