By: Yarone Arbel / @YaroneArbel

Sport previews are what media outlets use to try to explain to their audience what’s ahead of them in the upcoming game/event/season. So far no news, right?

The problem arrives when the result of the upcoming game/event/season is expected. When it’s too obvious what the final score will be. How do we present a totally expected outcome in advance as an interesting thing? How do we keep the audience still curious about something that is already known?

You see, big chief ELA editor thought he was giving me a prize by handing me the champs’ preview, but since he’s an American who just fell in love with the Euroleague a couple of seasons ago, and until then the only European player he could name was Darko (Ed’s Note: Proudly, I agree.), he didn’t figure out how boring it’s going to be to write about Panathinaikos.

If you take a quick look at the last five years there’s only one end result for the 2011-12 campaign of the Greens in the Euroleague. Ironically the only thing that works in a more impressively systematic way is Obradovic’s pick-and-roll play for Diamantidis and a very lucky big guy.

In 2007 they won the Euroleague. In 2008 they were knocked out in the Top 16, finishing third right behind Partizan Belgrade. In 2009 they won the Euroleague. In 2010 they were knocked out in the Top 16 finishing third right behind… Partizan Belgrade. In 2011 they won the Euroleague. Do we really need to discuss the 2012 Pao squad when the end result is so clear?

Ok, ok. Let’s give it a shot.

Greece! Disaster!!! Crisis!!!!! Pao for sale!!!!!!! End of an era!!!!!!!!!

Well, let’s calm down. The beauty, depending from where you’re standing of course, of any financial crisis is that if so many people are poor it means there is tons of money in someone else’s bank account. Even in the poorest countries there are still people with tons of money. Yeah, Greece isn’t the right place to be if you wanna make a big paycheck these days, but Pao is still one of the richest clubs in European basketball. Still a force. Still nobody you want to meet on your way to the trophy, unless you’re Partizan Belgrade and it’s the Top 16. Well, as long as Pao are the reigning champs.

Yeah, the budget was cut. Fine, some players had to cut their salaries to stay. Alright, a couple of big names left. Sure, no huge superstars were landed. Nevertheless! Pao is a power. A house. Pao is a powerhouse!

With the owners in their elderly years and with so many great years behind them, spending big money in crisis times isn’t fun, and looking to sell the club makes sense. Not as long as the Giannakopoulos Bros still stand behind the green power.

When most people expected Barcelona to jump over them in last year’s quarterfinals and win the title back-to-back, looking in the eyes of the great 2004-2006 Maccabi teams, Pao came and proved that an old lady can still be foxy. Pao were the Euroleague’s MILF, winning the wet T-shirt contest over the hottest chick in the bar.

That series was nothing but pure pleasure for a Euroleague fan. A pure pleasure as only a wet t-shirt contest between a MILF and a…OK, overused metaphor. Sorry.

The return of the box-and-one to kill Navarro. The big performance of the club’s future – Nick Calathes. And one, one and very only, Dimitris Diamantidis.

Ah…these four games were worth the whole season…

Go MILF, go!

It’s not easy to mention it but DD is already 31 years old. “Welcome back” Saras is 35. These two basketball masterminds. Two forms of basketball genius. A pair of DNA chains that connected in a perfect way. They weren’t gonna last forever. Having them on the same court this season again is something to cherish. Do not miss a Pao game if you can help it.

OK, where was I?

Let’s talk basketball. A bit.

Last season Pao won the title. This year they’re getting Aleks Maric back after hardly playing last season due to an injury. How scary is that?

Pao is still a team led by Diamantidis, Calathes, and Saras in the backcourt. They’ve still got a pair of scoring aces in David Logan and Romain Sato that will pest your team on defense as well, plus a favorite all-arounder in Stratos Perperoglou.

Panathinaikos is still a team with a lot of beef in the paint with Mike Batiste, Kostas Tsartsaris, Ian Vougiokas, Kostas Kaimakoglou, the aforementioned Maric and the soon to be discussed Steven Smith.

Still the very same oh-so-lethal perfectly executed PNR.

Ah, there’s also this sub-par, inexperienced, big loser of a coach on the bench. Right next to the next Simone Pianigiani some of you know as Dimitris Itoudis.

Do you really want to claim Pao isn’t as scary as before?

They are.

Still… the view of Partizan’s back. Third place. Top 16.

Can’t break tradition.


Biggest Acquisition: Well, as usual, not much is changing on Pao’s roster. The last-minute addition of Jasikevicius, someone I’d take on my team to a Final Four even at the age of 82 (his, not mine. Actually both.), is a good candidate. The last-second departure of Shermadini, that ensured this year we won’t have to see the big Georgian registered for Greek league games while Saras sits behind the cheerleaders, certainly adds weight for this pick, but since Pao will fall in the Top 16 behind Partizan Belgrade, who needs Saras for the Final Four, right? If so, then let’s focus on the more critical acquisition.

David Logan arrived from Caja Laboral to cover for the departure of Drew Nicholas. Why is Logan so critical? First, because we just discussed why Saras isn’t and the other options are the great Steven Smith, and the sensational Alexandros Kyritsis. Second, because in Pao’s system there was always one automatic three point bomber. One that was supposed to keep the defense VERY focused when the ball goes in to the big guys Batiste or Maric/Pekovic/etc. or the other lethal PNR stars. After two seasons of shooting 33% with Prokom, Logan tickled the 40% mark last year in Vitoria. Why is it important? Take a look. Last season Nicholas had 9.8 ppg with 2.0 hits inside the arc per game on 43.6% and 1.7 three pointers on 41.5%. Logan had 10 ppg with 1.7 hits inside the arc in 43.4% and 1.7 three pointers in 39.8%. Similar enough?

Biggest Loss: The departure of Nicholas is big but Logan should be able to cover for that in the shooting and the defense. Size is still a difference but all in all Logan fills the gap. Now the loss of Antonis Fotsis is different. Fotsis was always a “rebel”. He left Pao at an early age to go to the NBA. Then he came back to the Greens for one year before moving to Real Madrid for two seasons, then three years in Dynamo Moscow(?!?). Certainly not the typical Greek superstar that stays around the hood. Perhaps because Fotsis was never a Diamantidis or a Theo. Not even a V-Span.

Good chances Pao fans will find out this season how much they miss him. Because Fotsis is very important and not only because he brings a dimension that is very-very critical these days in European basketball – the shooting power forward. To that, add the fact that Fotsis is doing other stuff too, and quite well actually. He’s a fighter, he defends, he rebounds, he blocks, he hardly takes bad shots (76.1% 2FG last season), he’s got his character and he’s a winner. For some of that, Pao can look toward the everlasting and always-a-pleasure Tsartsaris and Batiste (once healthy), but who’s going to fill in for the 27 three pointers in 38%?

Keep reading.

Swingman: OK, so this might contradict the “Biggest Acquisition”, considering the importance of the mentioned departure, but if someone can be a Fotsis (cover your ears) it’s Steven Smith. Yeah, his road to the big stage is quite unique. After playing for Rieti, Kolossos, Nahariya, Oldenburg (sacked in mid-season) and Panelinios he landed in…Pao. But don’t be quick to judge. Pump your chest if you can name in one second the last two European teams Batiste played for before Pao (Biella and Charleroi). Smith can shoot it. He can rebound. He’s athletic. Can he be Fotsis? Big freakin’ question and the answer to that could make the difference.

Best Drinking Buddy: Maric is Aussie. Always a classic drinking pal, right? Well, sorry. I’m not up for a drinking buddy. I wanna p-a-r-t-y! And for that… there ‘s no competition at all. Married or not. Fresh daddy or not. You won’t finish a night out with Saras without the clock striking 7 am and three blood transfusions in the rearview. You know how it’ll start, but how it will end is less predictable than his no-look passes.

Drink Of Choice: Ummmm….everything?

Most Likely Not To Be Hit By A Coin/Lighter/Chair/Stone/9mm at the Peace (ahem…) and Friendship (ahem!!!) A rena: Alexandros Kyritsis. Say who?!?

Prediction: Well, after keeping them inside for so long, glad it’s finally time to reveal my thoughts. Will probably go with…ummmmm….third place in the Top 16 right behind Partizan Belgrade? So boring…

Yarone Arbel is a basketball scout/consultant /kind of a big deal. That’s why ELA pays him the big bucks. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend following him on Twitter @YaroneArbel. Seriously, don’t do it.