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.