By Sam Meyerkopf @HoopLikeDrazen, Nick Gibson @Euro_Adventures, Rob Scott @robscott33, Rodhig @rodhig7, Emmet Ryan @bie_basketball

Euroleague Adventures and Friends wrap up our 2015/16 Euroleague Previews with good ol’ Group D. If you’d like to know precisely what will happen in the other three groups, then feast thine clicks beneath:

Group A: The Group of Shved

Group B: Dear Dario

Group C: Barcelona or Bust

Brose Baskets BambergBrose Baskets Bamberg

Sam Meyerkopf: This was the first off-season of the new Bamberg regime with Andrea Trincheri and Daniele Beisi making all the decisions.  No longer do we have Chris Fleming, Wolfgang Heyder, and Brendan Rooney putting together those 4-straight BBL winners and producer of many players that have gone on to have big Euroleague careers.

The off-season was interesting but also a bit head scratching.  After locking up Wanamaker and Strelneiks and solidifying the backcourt that was the main reason they hoisted the German trophy last year, they spent a ton of money on a now total one way player in Nikos Zisis.  Bamberg had much success at the end of last season with their three point guard lineups and with all the PG’s possessing good size, but for the money it took to get Zisis you could have filled out the rest of the roster much more evenly.  Then the other big moves were bringing in Nicolo Melli to fit the Italian regime and rookie center Gabriel Olaseni.  Melli is a solid offfensive option but doesn’t clear up any defensive issues the team has and Olaseni has a bright future ahead but he played under 20 minutes a game his whole college career.  So to go from 6/7th man on a decent NCAA team to a center counted on to be the main rim protector for a Euroleague team is a big jump.

Speaking of big jump, though:

Overall this Bamberg team is talented but the talent is just top heavy in certain positions in the roster and there will be a lot of defensive questions throughout the year.  In the BBL of course they’ll be in contention but this seems like a Euroleague regular season and out team.

Bamberg Depth Chart
PG Brad Wannamaker Nikos Zisis
SG Janis Strelnieks Lucca Staiger
SF Darius Miller Karsten Tadda
PF Nicolo Melli Elias Harris
C Daniel Theis Gabriel Olaseni Yassin Idbihi

CSKA MoscowCSKA Moscow

Emmet Ryan: We are going to be worried about the changes. Then CSKA will go 9-1 or 10-0, we’ll think they are getting it together. They will dominate in the Top 16. They will look strong in the playoffs. We will convince ourselves they have learned from all the previous pain. Then CSKA will CSKA.

Nick Gibson: Gone are Andrei Kirilenko, Sasha Kaun and Sonny Weems. AK47 retires to polish his guns and fix Russian basketball (good luck, bud!), Kaun reunites with Cavs Assistant Coach David Blatt and Sonny goes to the Suns. Most teams wouldn’t be able to sustain such a collective loss, and I’m sure plenty of fans are concerned that CSKA are in for a big step backward. ‘Not I,‘ said the blogger.

The midseason arrival of Kirilenko and his ego was nothing short of a big, messy distraction last year and he was not a plus on offense. His absence will necessitate Vorontsevich’s continued ascension toward stardom. He’s just the sort of versatile power forward Itoudis needs to facilitate the offense from damn near anywhere on the floor. Stick him in the corner to pop or penetrate, throw it to him on the elbow and let him survey the floor + make a play, or let him spot up at the top of the key and knock down treys (he made 97-218 or 44% between Euroleague and VTB last season). He’s always a force on the boards and he competes on the defensive end.  There are too many weapons for this to be Andrey’s Team, but the guy has been there longer than anyone-going into his eleventh season and he’s only 28-and an All-Euroleague performance is in his immediate future. CSKA is lucky they got him extended until the Summer of 2017. His profile screams NBA.

I love this clip from the VTB United official site, which celebrates Andrey’s Defensive Player of the Year honors with highlights of him dunking. Proving once again that it in the VTB, the best defense is a high-powered offense:

As for Weems, he was productive but I doubt anyone who watched CSKA regularly will bemoan his absence. CSKA was more effective with Nando or A-Jax with the ball in their hand, and Itoudis isn’t really a pull-up midrange enthusiast. Demetris Nichols and his 57% three-point shooting return to rep the ‘Cuse and spot up more effectively than Sonny could. And defensively, Weems seems like he should be a game changer but was a little too chill for my liking. Nichols can pretty much do what he did.

And Kaun is terrific. I love him. He knows exactly why he’s out there. Block. Board. Screen and roll. Boom.

But you know what he couldn’t do? Be Kyle Hines. Only one man alive can do that. Stick Hines in there at center with Andrey at the four and you’ve got my favorite frontcourt in Europe.

Throw Joel Freeland in there next to Andrey and suddenly all five positions can shoot the ball. This leaves space for Milos Teodosic to find folks creeping behind the defense, Aaron Jackson to get to the rim and Nando de Colo to kill folks off the dribble like he did all of last season.  And are the Kulagins any good? Not sure about Mikhail. Never been a big fan of Dmitry. But I’m ready to have my mind changed. Coach Itoudis could be the perfect guy to change it.

But we all know why these guys are here: to win a championship. I’d throw them into my Final Four again, and throw up a prayer that they don’t see Olympiacos in May.

Sam: New Season, a few new toys, and basically the same story for CSKA.  When they get back to the Final Four with another stacked roster does Itoudis leave Teodosic in, in the clutch or does he see-saw like last year and ultimately let him make a late mistake again.  Nando de Colo was a freak of nature offensively last year and could again be the best offensive force off the dribble in Europe.  And let’s pray to God with Sasha Kaun now in Cleveland Kyle Hines can get more playing time.  But in the end we know CSKA will be there late in the season fighting for a title but who will be on the floor, what crucial decisions will Itoudis have to make and can they finally get over the hump?

Nick Flynt: Joel Freeland? Really? Alright, we’re all-in, the Army Men are all-in, who could stop him?

CSKA Depth Chart
PG Milos Teodosic Aaron Jackson Mikhail Kulagin
SG Nando de Colo Cory Higgins Dmitry Kulagin
SF Vitaly Fridzon Demetrius Nichols Nikita Kurbanov
PF Andrey Vorontsevich Viktor Khryapa
C Joel Freeland Kyle Hines Pavel Korobkov

Darüşşafaka Doğuş IstanbulDarussafaka Dogus Istanbul

Sam: It’s tough to digest this Darussafaka team just in the context of this season.  This is a wealthy basketball project that will most likely be a Euroleague mainstay for years to come and the roster will put together under the direction of  new GM Mithat Demirel.  Demirel is the one who helped to handcraft those Alba Berlin teams of the past few years where players like Reggie Redding, Jamel McLean, Alex Renfroe, Deon Thompson, Cliff Hammonds and others turned into high level players.  But Demirel was just brought in a couple weeks ago, so the players of this current roster are not his picks but surely he will have his imprint on the team soon enough.

The current Darussafaka roster is very talented but there seems to be too many ‘names’ to me.  High profile players or a lot of Euroleague regulars and not enough role players or grinders.  ELA will forever be a pseudo shrine to Emir Preldzic but the problem is Emir is one of a bunch of boom or bust players.  A key for this team is who will be able to function well without the ball and who will play defense.  Slaughter was a great late grab to fortify some sort of back-line.  The power forward rotation is redundant and doesn’t provide any defense.  A Gordon-Redding-Preldzic lineup is damn intriguing offensively but the question remains if their playing styles fit together.

This is a training wheels year in Istanbul, advancing to the Top 16 will be great but really it’s about finding the usable pieces for next season and beyond as they get used to be being back in the Euroleague.

Emmet: They have a lot of money. They have put together a roster that could make real noise in the TBL playoffs this summer. It’s also one that looks good enough to make the Top 16 and stay in the discussion for a while. Beyond that, it’s hard to know what to make of them.

Darussafaka Depth Chart
PG  Jamon Gordon  Ender Arslan
SG  Reggie Redding  Manuchar Markoishvili
SF  Emir Preldzic  Serhat Cetin  Metin Turen
PF  Luke Harangody  Milko Bjelica  Erwin Dudley
C  Marcus Slaughter  Semih Erden  Oguz Savas

Dinamo SassariDinamo Banco di Sardegna Sassari

Nick Gibson: When Christian Eyenga and Brent Petway are your forwards, the ball will be dunked ferociously, and often. Add a healthy Joe Alexander (asterisk…more below) and Jarvis Varnado and that equals a lot of bounce. The rim will be well protected and bodies will be flying, and that alone should make trips to Sassari no fun for the opposition.

While their defense should be imposing-has to be imposing, rather-things could get messy on the offensive side of the ball. I respect David Logan’s career and abilities but I am afraid of giving him too much freedom and too many shots, so the onus is on Marquez Haynes to kickstart and coordinate Sassari’s attack. Haynes is also the only guy on the team capable of dribbling into the teeth of the defense and creating for others without a screen, so they’ll have to play much more slowly when he’s not on the floor. Rok Stipkevic is a steadying presence on the bench but Lorenzo d’Ercole and Giaccomo Devecchi are not Euroleague caliber role players. Prove me wrong, fellas.

And after an injury-addled couple of years, Joe Alexander resurfaced with the Santa Cruz Warriors last season and then made a December leap to Tel Aviv, where he shot the ball well (41% from deep) and looked more lithe than I thought he would  during the Top 16. Although he was a non-factor during Maccabi’s playoff loss to Fenerbahçe, Joe had done enough to attract some Summer offers and stuck around the Euroleague for another go. Time will tell if he can be a steady contributor but he’s a smart, skilled player with size so why not? He just needs to stay healthy. That’s always been a big if. A lot’s riding on that if in Sardegna. Too much.

But when Joe’s right, Joe’s tight.

Emmet: Great to see them win a great Italian Finals series, loved the Italian playoffs this year. They just look hopelessly outgunned in this group. I wouldn’t be shocked if they fall to Bamberg both times.

Sassari Depth Chart
PG Marquez Haynes Rok Stipkevic
SG David Logan Lorenzo D’Ercole Matteo Formenti
SF Christian Eyenga Giacomo Devecchi
PF Brent Petway Joe Alexander Brian Sacchetti
C Jarvis Varnardo Denis Marconato

Maccabi Tel AvivMaccabi FOX Tel Aviv

Sam: Maccabi took out the pay book a little bit this off season and made some big moves.  My favorite young big on the market was Mbakwe and he is destined to follow in the lines of Shawn Jones and Alex Tyus.  Either this season or next he has All-Euroleague potential.  This Maccabi team is stronger than last year but most importantly, they needs to stay healthy.

The big additions in the backcourt were Farmar and Rochestie.  Both players are obviously supremely talented offensively but what will their roles be in a Maccabi team that has scoring weapons throughout the lineup?  Rochestie should be able to fit better, even though he had full offensive freedom and the ball a lot in Russia last season, he looked really pesky in some of their international warm-up games and should have an energy/offensive role. Farmar is a bit more of a question mark as he has been a ball dominant diva of sorts in other Euro stops, so even though he is very talented for this level, he needs to fit in.

And judging by pre-season games, Bender should have a role, especially in order to keep Smith and Randle fresh for games later in the season.  Arinze Onuaku was a very late add and currently has a three-month deal.  Onuaku is one of the strongest players on the planet and even with limited Euro experience he should have an offensive impact in the paint with is strength and finishing ability.  This Maccabi team seems like only a fringe Final Four contender right now but their are so many big pieces to integrate that mid-season we’ll have a much clearer picture about their ceiling.

Emmet: I love Mbakwe as an addition, not just for the talent. He’s the type of energy player who can change the pace and knows how to help a fallen champion. Add in the fact that he’s rather good at basketball and I can see this being a really positive move for both sides.

Maccabi Depth Chart
PG Yogev Ohayon Taylor Rochestie Arad Harari
SG Jordan Farmar Dagan Yavzuri
SF Devin Smith Sylven Landesberg Itay Segev
PF Brian Randle Guy Pnini Dragan Bender
C Trevor Mbakwe Vitor Faverani Arinze Onuaku

Unicaja MalagagUnicaja Malaga

Sam: Unicaja has made a really interesting and balanced roster.  They were a killer ACB team last year and a mediocre Euroleague team.  At one point Unicaja was leading the ACB more than halfway through the season but were 0-5 in the Euroleague Top 16.  So here’s to believing in a more balanced season in Malaga.

Hendrix-Vazquez is a super veteran and defensive inside duo, Vazquez with the rim protection and Hendrix with the interior strength.  Thomas-Diez are both very versatile offensive options who can really stretch the defense at the four.  Kuzminskas is in for a breakout season after really coming on for Lithuania at Eurobasket and now in his third season in Spain.  If Kuzminskas can take a jump like another energetic force Zoran Dragic once did in Malaga, he could propel himself into one of the most dangerous wings in Europe.  At 6’9″ with the ability to defend both forward positions and turning into a high level slasher, Kuzminskas needs to show consistency possession to possession and make his long range jump shot just a couple tads more respectable.

In the backcourt, Markovic is the defender and ball mover to keep things flowing, Jackson will be their go-to play creator, Smith is their knockdown shooter, and the x-factor is what can Nedovic produce.  This team doesn’t really have a true traditional playmaker or really a star player but Jackson should be much more comfortable in southern Spain and they did a good job mixing offense and defense throughout the roster.

Rodhig: They don’t really have a prototypical pick and roll guard and didn’t fully address the shooting inconsistencies that plagued their previous campaign, but this is an athletic team which can really bring Plaza’s aggressive defensive approach to life. If their rotations improve and take away open threes, they could surprise some people. It would also help if they didn’t play their best basketball of the season in December.

Unicaja Depth Chart
PG Stefan Markovic Nemanja Nedovic
SG Edwin Jackson Jamar Smith
SF M. Kuzminskas Carlos Suarez Mo Soluade
PF Will Thomas Dani Diez
C Fran Vazquez Richard Hendrix German Gabriel

ELA Group Predictions

Nick: CSKA, Unicaja, Maccabi, Darussafaka. Maybe this isn’t the most daring pick. Maybe I should trust Bamberg’s track record of picking up gold off the scrap heap but, as Slam warned, there’s a new regime there now. Maybe I should take a leap of faith and trust that Sassari’s leapers will make life Hellish enough on offenses to squeeze through to the Top 16. But you know what? It’s a good time to be a Turkish GM. Money talks, and Turkish Lira scream. I’m going with the shiny new guys.

Sam: CSKA, Maccabi, Unicaja, Darussafaka. This may be the tightest fight for fourth with CSKA, Maccabi, and Unicaja all Euroleague mainstays with solid rosters and certanties to advance.  Newcomers Darussafaka, Sassari, and Bamberg will be in a tight battle but Bamberg has too many questions marks so early and Sassari brought in players that fit their system but the talent doesn’t match the crew they had last year.  Darussafaka has too many boom or bust players and not enough true role players but I’ll take their talent and fit over the others.

Rob: CSKA, Unicaja, Maccabi, Bamberg. I’m not in love with Bamberg right now, although I don’t want to be overly swayed by one loss to newly promoted Giessen. But I’m not just assuming that a Daçka squad that’s been thrown together is necessarily going to be better than them. I trust Trinchieri to go with Miller at the four and Theis at five when it matters. I just about trust Zisis to be able to pull the defense out of position enough to let Strelnieks bomb from deep. If you’re not detecting much enthusiasm for the pick, it’s because there isn’t any, but I think their defensive shortcoming are outweighed by Daçka’s (enjoy your new job, Marcus!)