In this preview we will cover the following teams in this order: CSKA Moscow, Tau Vitoria, Benetton Treviso, Opel Skyliners, Panathinaikos, Pau-Orthez, Ulker Istanbul, and Unicaja Malaga.
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CSKA MOSCOWby Sadik IlimanIntro
CSKA Moscow is an old, established club in Europe with a long and storied history as the Russian army's basketball team (CSKA=Central Sports Army Club). They were the most dominant team in the former USSR league, winning 23 titles from 1960 to 1990. Since the iron curtain fell they have continued their domination of Russian basketball and have won 11 titles in the last 13 seasons. They are a regular fixture in the Euroleague and also have won four titles here (1961, 1963, 1969, 1971) while making numerous other final four appearances.
There was a period of hard times for this team recently (no domestic championships from 2001 until 2003), but two years ago they busted back on to the European basketball scene with a strong comeback, made possible by an increasingly large budget courtesy of Russian metal giants Interros, led by the billionaire and former Russian cabinet member Vladimir Potanin. CSKA was then coached by legendary coach Dusan Ivkovic and had a very strong roster with players like J.R Holden, Viktor Alexander etc. CSKA made it to the Final Four but lost to eventual Euroleague champions Barcelona in 2003. Last year CSKA was one of the biggest favorites to win it all, and eventually made it to the Final Four once again but lost in the Semi-Finals to Maccabi Tel Aviv (2004 Euroleague Champion). The Team
CSKA is the big favorite in the Euroleague this year. They have assembled a roster which most teams outside of the NBA can only dream of. The team lost frontcourt players like Viktor Alexander and Mirsad TÃ¼rkcan, but easily replaced them with stars like Antonio Granger, David Andersen
and Dimosthenis Dikoudis. Lithuanian national team power forward Ksystof Lavrinovic was signed and then loaned to Dinamo Moscow because of an overload of power players.
Looking at the backcourt of this team we can definitely say that this part is without any doubt the strongest part. The trio Holden-Brown-Granger can decide games easily. This is a power trio with tremendous speed and outside shooting. All of them can contribute on the defensive end too, especially Brown and Granger who are very smart defensive players. The Frontcourt probably is going to be built by the duo Andersen-Dikoudis. Considering that both of them have a nice touch from midrange we can assume that CSKA wants to play with more speed this year.
Moving down the depth chart, you could create another starting five for the Euroleague with the quality of CSKA's bench. Theodoros Papaloukas
will back up J.R. Holden. The Greek PG is very smart on the court and knows how and when to use his players. The experienced Zakhar Pashoutin also will get his minutes. In the frontcourt there are players like Martin Muursepp
and the 7-foot center Alexey Savrasenko
, two quality big man on the European level.
As a team CSKA has tremendous defense, especially when they are playing in Moscow where the intensity is usually at a maximum.
Last, but absolutely not least is coach Dusan Ivkovic. There is no one who can influence his players like Ivkovic. It is questionable whether there are coaches anywhere who are more respected than him.
If you are looking for some weaknesses it will be hard to find anything on paper. A problem CSKA has had to deal with is the Point Guard JR Holden. Holden looks too selfish in certain moments. He often forces too many three pointers and doesn't take advantage of his superior athleticism. Without any doubt he is one of the fastest (perhaps the fastest) players in the Euroleague. As a consequence the offensive system can fall apart. If this happens CSKA has the option to replace Holden with someone like Papaloukas, who is much more of a pure PG. People also criticized this team for not being mentally strong in the clutch, especially considering the Final Four games in the last two years. But we also have to consider that CSKA always lost to the champions in the semis, so they will have the possibility to show the reverse next time around.
The biggest question surrounding this team of Euroleague all-stars is regarding how well these new players will be able to mesh and play as a cohesive unit, and will there be any ego problems as there so often are in teams of this mold? History has shown us that teams like the Lakers, Yankees and Real Madrid (in European football) that are thrown together from the biggest and most expensive players around don't always live up to the lofty expectations of their owners, fans and the media. Will the same thing happen to CSKA? This is just another fascinating story line to follow up on in the Euroleague this season. Important PlayersMarcus Brown
is the go-to-guy on this team. Brown is one of those players with a killer instinct and mentality. He loves to finish in the last minutes of a game and never disappears when his team needs him. He does not have any weaknesses on the offensive end of the floor. He can penetrate and has range out to 8-9 meters (26-28 feet). The key here is the Point Guard JR Holden, though. As mentioned he sometimes has problems playing the right way, although he definitely is a player who can do everything on the court.. Antonio Granger is a special player who also has the ability to lead a team. Though he is more a Small Forward he can easily pull down a double-double on any given night. It really seems that a lot will depend on the backcourt trio. Draft Prospects (by Luis Fernandez)
For such a strong and deep team with lofty expectations and goals, there's little room for young and inexperienced players, but CSKA usually features some prospects in its roster, and this season is no exception. Vasily Zavoruev
might be the one with better chances to receive some playing time, as besides being quite a nice player with a rather mature game for his age, he could fill a shooting role off the bench. Beyond his good stroke, Zavoruev is a nice slasher and in general a kid with great scoring instincts.
Nikita Kourbanov is a 6-7 paint player, very physical, strong, rather quick and athletic. He plays with a lot of energy, fighting for every rebound, and he proved in the European Junior Championship to have a special ability to find a way to score whether facing or backing the basket. The problem is he lacks size and more polished skills to be able to contribute significantly at this level.
The most talented of the three is Yaroslav Korolev
, but also he's the most raw and the least consistent at this point among them. He's a very fundamentally sound small forward, with a wonderful combination of size, athleticism and skills. He has great handles, a nice stroke and good court vision. Korolev has great potential that will unfortunately likely remain in the shadow this season. Expectations
The expectations are very high. After losing important games in the last two years at the Final Four, fans expect the title, considering also that the Final Four will take place in Moscow this season. There are really no excuses this year for CSKA; they have the players, the homecourt advantage for the Final Four and one of the best coaches in the world. Predicition
Let's make it quick: Anything less than the title would be a big surprise.
TAU VITORIAby Luis Fernández Intro
Very few teams have earned so much respect in so little time in the European basketball community lately. We can say Tau Vitoria is a newcomer to the elite. After a couple of decades of only decent results, the team started to show up near the top of the Spanish League in the nineties, playing the finals of the 97-98 season, and therefore getting their first ticket to the maximum continental competition for the next season. The first big success in Europe came when Tau Vitoria reached the Euroleague's finals in 2001 and forced the fifth game of a five-game series against the almighty Kinder Bologna (featuring the likes of Emmanuel Ginobili
, Marko Jaric
, Rashard Griffith and Antoine Rigaudeau
). It was the year when European basketball divorced in two big competitions, the FIBA's Suproleague and the ULEB's Euroleague (the one which later prevailed). The very next season, 01-02, the team wrote a golden page in the history of Spanish basketball, becoming the fifth team to win the domestic league in the nearly fifty years that this competition has been played. These last two seasons, Tau Vitoria has reached the top-16 stage in the Euroleague, giving a good fight to try to get into the final four this last year, while they couldn't get past the semifinals at the Spanish ACB League, mainly because of injuries. The Team
Through those last years of success and European recognition, the big referent of this team, for the good and for the bad, has been no other than coach Dusko Ivanovic. He has brough the best out of many of the players he has coached, and has installed a permanent state of intensity and mental toughness in this team. Not many players can stand his methods. He's said to be extremely demanding, and one of his favorite sayings is: Fatigue doesn't exist. But the results are there, and he's ready to give anyone a run for their money again this year.
To talk about Tau's game, we must start with the great firepower they display down low. Very few teams in Europe can compete offensively in the paint with the crop of Luis Scola
(PF, 6-9, 24), Kornel David
(PF, 6-10, 33), Tiago Splitter
(PF/C, 6-11, 19) and Andrew Betts (C, 7-1, 26). Those guys are ready to outscore any team in the zone. But they will need the help of the perimeter players to open spaces and get room to move inside. And just for that purpose are off-guard Arvydas Macijauskas
(SG, 6-4, 24), who likes to shoot the lights out quite often, Travis Hansen
(SG/SF, 6-6, 26), Pablo Prigioni (PG, 6-1, 27), Sergi Vidal (SG, 6-6, 23) and emerging point guard Jos Manuel CalderÃ³n (PG, 6-3, 23), although those last two players are more slashers than anything. This team's offense is usually very well structured, using many screens and the high post to distribute the ball (Kornel David
is the best man here) and with players cutting to get open shots. If they have the chance to run, they will. Everybody (perhaps except Betts) runs the court very well, deserving a special mention is Luis Scola
, given his role as a power forward and how he loves the breaks. After all, despite Dusko's image of roughness that could make you think about a defensive-minded style, this team has a clear offensive vocation, although never forgetting the defensive effort.
Speaking of defense, Dusko is a fan of the individual defense. You can count with the fingers of one hand the times he has used zone defenses since he arrived at Vitoria four years ago. The truth is, in some circumstances of certain games, this team screams for a defensive change, but I guess this individual-defensive obsession is part of Dusko's big picture of motivation and mental preparation for games. Besides, he also likes to switch players defending screen situations even at the cost of risking mismatches. For this purpose, he has usually played with very mobile big men and, on the current roster, only Andrew Betts doesn't meet this description. But Tau's defense has weak points, one of which is pretty obvious: Arvydas Macijauskas
. The Lithuanian is too easy to beat. Every rival team takes advantage of him. He can be beaten by quickness, or just out-muscled. It will be important for him and the team to sort out this problem. He spent some time last season on the bench for that reason..
Besides, Andrs Nocioni's departure (the MVP of the last Spanish ACB League, and the epitome of Dusko's kind of player) has been theoretically resolved by the arrival of Travis Hansen
. But other issues aside, the former BYU player isn't the power player the Argentinean was (Hansen is more of a guard than a forward), so I think the team may suffer in rebounding. Indeed, there's clearly an open spot on the roster: Tau Vitoria lacks a starting small forward. Arvydas Macijauskas
, Travis Hansen
and Sergi Vidal are all shooting guards, and Roberto Gabini (SF/PF, 6-6, 29), a sort of combo forward, isn't good enough at all for this team.
But the biggest issue this team has to deal with is the health of its players. During the latest seasons, we've frequently seen players getting injured. In almost everybody's minds, the exhausting practices Dusko runs and his lack of consideration with the players' physical condition are the main reasons for such a plague. It's the dark side of a great coach.
But in spite of all those little problems, this is still a very competitive team. And taking into account that this year's roster hasn't anything to do with the one that reached that Euroleague final three years ago, we face the fact that Tau Vitoria has came to the elite to stay. Even without as much economical resources as other powerhouses, a great front office and scouting service allow this club to buy great talent at reasonable prices. A common tactic is to buy bright young foreign prospects and loan them to other smaller clubs waiting for their development. Luis Scola
, Andrs Nocioni and Tiago Splitter
have all followed this path. Draft Prospects
After an only decent season last year, the young Brazilian Tiago Splitter
is ready to step up and become an important piece of this team, and at the same time, make himself a prospect for next year's draft lottery. He's tall, athletic, intense, hard working and a focused kid. His move to the inside game in the last years has been so successful that right now he barely scores from anywhere else, showing a good low post game and a nice soft touch. He could use a mid ranger, though, as he showed in the past he has a good stroke. Important Players
Spurs' draftee Luis Scola
is the main scorer on this team and one of the best power forwards in Europe, hands down. He's a guy you can give the ball to and expect a couple of pretty safe points as reward. Posting up anyone with his footwork and footspeed, or hitting one mid-ranger after another, he's very difficult to stop. This will likely be his last season in Vitoria before begining his NBA adventure, and he will certainly try to leave Spain on a good note.
If Scola is the scorer, Kornel David
is the offensive axis. He's the most complete and intelligent man on the roster, the leader in the shadow. He's a do-it-all guy: scores in the low post, from the high post, shoots the ball really well, he's an excellent passer and a blessing for Scola's stat line, he's a good defender, and beyond anything else, a smart and veteran guy who knows the game extremely well.
A terriffic shooter, Arvydas Macijauskas
is one of the most prolific scorers in Europe (second last year in the Euroleague). But he's also a player with serious flaws. His defense is terribly poor. He's clearly a liability for his team, especially if we take into account his coach's love for individual defenses. He needs to be more agressive, to learn how to defend effectively. Besides, he's not always smart enough on offense. Anyway, a number of scoring outbursts during the season is guaranteed.
Jos Manuel CalderÃ³n, the young starting point guard of the Spanish National Team, is in the process of improvement. He's a very athletical specimen, a very good slasher, with a shooting touch that gets better with each day. He's not the best distributor around, but he's improving significantly. Early in the summer, the Milwaukee Bucks made him a two year guaranteed offer that CalderÃ³n turned down. He wants to become an important player in Europe first. Expectations
After a couple of seasons finishing just short of the final four, the hope for Tau fans is to finally reach this stage. I don't think there's really too much preasure in Vitoria, as the team and the fans know where they come from. But they also know the talent they have in their hands, and they will want to see a competitive team at least. Prediction
While advancing to the top-16 round should be a must for this team, even in the very difficult C group, it won't be so easy to reach the quarterfinals. I think they will do it, though, and they will have a legitimate shot to get to the Final Four, although it will be really hard. Anyway, I definitely wouldn't bet my money on that, but no way would I rule it out.
BENETTON TREVISOby Marco FracassoIntro
Benetton Treviso is one of the most important basketball organizations in Europe, and that's somehow surprising considering the fact that the city itself has a population of less than 100,000 people. The reason for Treviso's success not only in basketball, but also in rugby and volleyball, has to be credited to huge investments the Benetton Co., sited just north of the city, allocates to promote sports other than soccer in the area.
Benetton has won all four of its Italian league titles in the last 12 years, starting in '91-'92 with a team led by Toni Kukoc
and Vinnie Del Negro, but this team has yet to win the most important competition at the European level. The Team
The coach is one of the most winning basketball minds in Europe, Ettore Messina. Messina didn't take over in an easy moment, because Benetton had just won its third Italian league title following the guide of current Suns' coach Mike D'Antoni
, a coach loved by the fans that had an opposite view of basketball than him. D'Antoni's was a pure run and gun team, so Messina had a great dilemma in front of him: continue running and taking wild shots, going totally against his own philosophy, or slowing down, stretching defense and controlling the tempo, exposing himself for having tried to change a winning team?
Messina reached a good tradeoff, taking the best of both playstyles, making Benetton a better defensive team without slowing down the offense, leading them to the back-to-back in Italy and a loss against Barcelona in the Euroleague Finals. Like all Messina's teams, Benetton plays with a 9-10 man rotation, keeping a high intensity on defense and saving a lot of energy for the final minutes, when the opponents often run out of gas.
This summer, there have been major changes in the team's roster. Former NCAA champion with UCLA Tyus Edney
left to join Lottomatica Rome, leaving the starting spot to Athens' silver medalist Massimo Bulleri. From the bench will come Paccelis Morlende, drafted in the second round of the 2003 NBA draft. In the SG and SF spots, Maurice Evans
and Guillerme Giovannoni are gone and Ricardi Pittis retired, so the rotation will consist of Santa Clara graduate Marlon Garnett
and Lithuanian and Italian NT starting SFs Ramunas Siskauskas
and Matteo Soragna. Marlon Garnett
is a very streaky scorer, he can miss every shot in the first 3 quarters and then hit everything in the last one. This can happen the other way around, of course. Siskauskas is an excellent shooter and slasher, probably the best acquisition this summer. But does he have the needed winning attitude? He has sometimes looked a step behind Jasikievicius and Macjauskas in his NT in this area. Soragna is a decent scorer, a mediocre ball handler but a great hustler and defender, very dangerous in the passing lanes.
Marcus Goree and Joey Beard came this summer to take Jorge Garbajosa
's and Marcelo Nicola's spots. These last two guys have been a great part of Benetton's latest success, thanks to their deadly and clutch outside shooting and ability to do all the little things to win a game. Marcus Goree has shown a good stroke from the arc but looked like an outside player and didn't dominate inside as expected. Joey Beard has proven to be a great offensive rebounder and a very active player, but will he be able to make the big plays in the important moments?
Denis Marconato, the only player left from the team who won the tile in '97, will still be the starting center. One of the best defensive players in Europe, Denis will score mostly garbage points because of his lack of post moves and his poor hands for catching the ball.
The minutes left will be given to the two youngsters on the roster, Bargnani and Slokar. Draft Prospects
Benetton has recently seen several of their players drafted by the NBA. Thanks to Maurizio Gherardini's, Treviso's GM, connections all over Europe, the team owns the rights to several young players who could become NBA material in the future. Benetton is probably the team that best adapted to the new trend in the NBA draft, making money on buyouts rather then trying to keep the young talents as long as possible.
On the current roster, 7 footer Andrea Bargnani
(1985) is the player with the highest NBA potential. Andrea has small forward fundamentals on offense, being able to shoot and dribble with a very good first step. He might remind you of a baby-Nowitzki in that. But unlike the German star, he's yet to learn how to rebound and at this point he looks lost when asked to defend inside. He played solid when given minutes in the first weeks of the new season.
Very similar to Bargnani is the second NBA prospect, Uros Slokar
(1983). Slovenian born, Uros has been considered a future first round pick for a long time, but now seems to have lost a big part of his confidence and won't be helped by Bargnani's early success. Important Players
Bulleri is probably going to be the key player for Benetton. He has often been clutch but has to improve at running the team in the half court offense and at creating for the others, something Edney was great at when the team struggled to find the basket. In the first few games, Benetton's results have been strongly correlated with Marlon Garnett
's performances, he has been able to score at will as well as able to shoot his team out of the game. Expectations
Benetton's goal is to win the Euroleague, something they've never been able to do before. They reached the finals twice, losing against Limogues and Barcelona. The basketball world, though, is a bit skeptical about the team because of the major changes made this summer and the loss of players who were considered the heart and soul of the team. Prediction
We don't know at this point how Benetton will perform in the big games. The team is younger and less experienced at the higher level, and usually this is what makes the difference between winning it all or coming close to it.
This season Treviso will for sure reach the Top 16 and will be a strong candidate for the Final Four, but probably it's half a step behind Siena or CSKA for the final win.
OPEL SKYLINERSby Mario RongIntro
The team is located in Frankfurt in Germany and is getting ready for their 2nd Euroleague appearance in club history. Last season (2003/2004) they ended the 7 year championship run of Alba Berlin and won their first league title. The Team
Their style of play is a bit tough to pin down at this point as they just hired a new coach, but it shouldn't change too dramatically as they have just about the same team as they did last year.
With the loss of Mario Kasun
(now with the Orlando Magic) you would think they would have to change their game plan a bit, though not radically as Kasun was a good player, but not anywhere near a go-to type guy in most games. In fact while they did lose Kasun they are replacing him with German National Team Center Robert Maras who missed almost all of last season due to a serious knee-injury.
Frankfurt doesn't really have one unique style of play but are more or less average to good in most aspects of the game without standing out in one single category.
It is likely that they will again play an offensive game and as often as possible try to bring the ball up court fast with PG Pascal Roller and when entering the half-court-offense they will have several options, especially their long range shooters who will likely have to play a big role (Roller, Mattinen, Ellis all shooting over 40% last season) if they want to have any success. Last year they had the 3rd best 3-point percentage in the German league on the 4th most attempts. They can also rely on Chris Williams here who is a typical, modern Forward.
They also have a few quite good big men. Bernd Kruel was acquired just before last years playoffs and quickly became an important factor. He was the reason the team did not lose too much inside-presence with Kasun sitting on the bench with his usual foul trouble (and also a slight injury in the Playoffs).
Robert Maras who got injured after a good start last year (first 9 games; 12 ppg on 66% and 7 RPG) and is now trying to get back into shape. Overall their good frontcourt made them one of the best rebounding teams in the league last year.
Basically this is a team that can play various styles and has a balanced roster with a good frontcourt of Maras, Kruel, Badiane, Williams and Mattinen alongside a good guard-duo of Roller and Ellis.
This is a roster that has an inside presence as well as outside shooting and will look to play some fast-break basketball which is not the worst thing you can do when you have that many young and quick players on the court. Draft prospects
Generally it is quite an interesting team for NBA-scouts, simply because it is an incredibly young team (22.8 years average!) with lots of young developing players from whom some could very well get good minutes. We aren't talking about starting minutes here, as Frankfurt has a solid and experienced staring five, but due to the numerous competitions the team will be participating in (German league and cup + Euroleague) its likely that some will get their chances. I'm not sure anybody even has a shot at being drafted, but they do have several young players in a roster that's not too full of veteran players.
Right now I don't think anyone on this team should be considered a hot candidate for being drafted anytime in the near future, but as said there are a number of young players that may get an opportunity to show something for the Skyliners and others in the daughter team MTV Kronberg (2nd league in Germany).
Malick Badiane was drafted by Houston in 2002 and will stay in Frankfurt for at least one more season. Has shown improvement last year and could get increased playing time this season. Important players
The biggest and most important change in the offseason was at the Head coach position. Instead of Gordon Herbert they are now coached by Murat Didin. He coached several Turkish teams in his coaching career, Ulker Istanbul is one (among others) where he was coaching them in the Euroleague as well. He also coached the Turkish national team from 1984 to 1993 and in the last 2 seasons he coached Vip Rimini in Italy.
The biggest star of the team is Christoper Williams, a 24 year old forward. Before coming to Frankfurt last summer he played for the Sydney Kings in Australia and before that was playing at the University of Virginia. He is a player that creates a lot of mismatches as he is quicker than most 4Â´s and with his 6Â´8 frame bigger than most 3Â´s in the German league. His strength is definitely his ability to drive to the basket where his one on one strength comes into full account. But he's also a great rebounder and good passer, which makes him the most important player in the team.
The floor leader of the team is Point Guard Pascal Roller, who is a great shooter (41% 3 point last season). The 2nd half of that sharp shooting backcourt duo is Tyronne Ellis who hit 41% of his 3 point attempts last year. Center Robert Maras could be an important player as well, but after his serious injury last season we'll have to wait a little even though he has had no problems in exhibition games up to now.
The 2 key losses were German national team player Robert Garret who was the team's leading scorer in the regular season last year, but struggled in the playoffs, and Mario Kasun
who will be missed but not terribly, especially if Maras can get into his own after the injury. The new faces are 18 year old Point Guard Berent Kavaklioglu from Turkey and 19 year old Mladjen Sljivancanin who is a 6Â´7 forward and was a member of the U20 national team of Serbia and Montenegro at the European Championship this summer. The 3rd new player is 6Â´9 Power Forward Hasan Ãzkan who already played 9 games at the Euroleague when he played for Ulker Istanbul from 1999 to 2002. Last season he played for Tofas Bursa in the Turkish league. Expectations
Considering that Alba Berlin is the German team with the biggest budget and the biggest prestige recentlyâthey had an unbeatable team on the German level for a while-- you shouldn't expect too much from the Opel Skyliners, the level of play in Germany just isn't that high right now. The biggest problem may be the lack of depth in the roster, especially experience-wise with so many young players after the 7th man or so. Prediction
Like said before I don't think they have very good chances this year. They would only be a Top 16 candidate if they had the luck to have all players healthy and also receive contributions from the young players that aren't expected to do so. The starting 5 may very well be good enough to be at least a contender for the Top 16, but the bench definitely isn't. It's not that they aren't talented, but the lack of experience at a high level can't be overlooked.
This season is more or less a season of learning towards a long-term plan to build up this young team to be able to compete on the European level. This year's Euroleague participation is just a bonus in that plan.
PANATHINAIKOSby Dimitris RitsonisIntro
As a three-time European Championship winner during the last decade, Panathinaikos is by far the most successful Greek team in the history of European Cups; and one of the all-time top European teams. They were European Champions in 1996, 2000, and 2002; plus they reached the Final Four 3 more times (1994, 1995, 1998). In Greece, they have captured 25 total Championships, more than any other team. They were especially effective in the 1970s (6 championships in 7 years) and the late 90s-early 2000s (again, six championships in the last 7 years). They are the most dominant Greek team of the last decade, despite living for years under the shadow of Aris, PAOK and Olympiakos. However, last season they could not get further than the Top-16. The Team
Panathinaikos has not fared very well in the last two Euroleague seasons, which can be explained by the confusion caused from the departure of Serbian superstar swingman and legend Dejan Bodiroga. However, this could be the season where Panathinaikos fans can see a return to the final-four. Finally, one player seems capable of producing what Bodiroga originally provided for years: Leadership. And that player is National Team point guard Dimitris Diamantidis
(24 years old, 6-5), who was last year's MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, and has twice paced the league in steals, while playing for the underachieving team of Iraklis (which finished in a surprising 3rd place last season).
Diamantidis is replacing Ariel McDonald and will run the point. He will play the point and use his spectacular driving skills to pull defenders onto him, automatically freeing his teammates and giving them plenty of opportunities to score. However, the most important question for the charismatic guard is if that his playing style seems to be dependent on whether or not his coach will structure the entire team around him. This is a glaring flaw in an otherwise magnificent player, but it is a flaw that has been repeatedly seen when he plays for the National Team, where he does not seem to accept a role which does not involve him leading the team.
More or less, this is going to be the main worry for Panathinaikos. If Diamantidis is capable of stepping up consistently as the leader of the team than Panathinaikos could easily move into the Top-16 and perhaps even try to reach the Final Four again. The perimeter is full of talent, with international shooters Jaka Lakovic (27, 6-3, Slovenia), Nikos Hatzivrettas (27, 6-4) and newcomer Vlado Scepanovic (Serbia, 29, 6-4). Veteran point guard Giorgos Kalaitzis (28, 6-4) can provide solid minutes at the point when Diamantidis needs some rest.
The small forward position is really the weakest one for Panathinaikos, with veteran National players Frankiskos Alvertis (30, 6-9) and Dimitris Papanikolaou (27, 6-7), along with youngster Dusan Sakota
(18, 6-10) providing a pretty soft and raw line. That is the main reason why Panathinaikos coach Zelimir Obradovic is using the three-guard system: they need to be able to defend against a quick tempo offense, and have the ability to shoot from the perimeter.
The front line is led by forwards Kostas Tsartsaris (25, 6-11) and Mike Batiste
(26, 6-9, USA). Off the bench, newly acquired German international Patrick Femerling (29, 7-1, Germany), a starter in the German National team, is bringing size and a nice touch around the hoop. However, Femerling is a poor rebounder. Finally, 39-year old, undersized (6-7) center Darell Middleton is as solid as ever, but cannot provide more than 15 productive minutes per game. Draft Prospects
Sakota will not see much playing time, but he should improve defensively under Obradovic. His stock has fallen as he has been exposed as nothing more than a shooter. Well, at least that is what he has been repeatedly showing us for the past 15 months. In order to be considered more than an average prospect (at best), he needs to learn how to lead the team by using his above average drive and by developing more polished basketball instincts. His perceived athleticism will (and must) improve much this year, as he will have to bulk up too. As mentioned earlier, his playing time should be extremely limited; maybe less than 5 minutes per game, when he even gets the chance to play. Important Players
Diamantidis is the top player, without a doubt, as the entire offense should begin from his hands. While he is the real star of Panathinaikos, internal competition from Lakovic is evident, while Jaka's shooting touch and up-tempo rhythm can stun any defender. All the guards, except Diamantidis whose shooting abilities are limited, can kill any opponent from 3 point range. Tsartsaris and Batiste are very smooth and their rebounding abilities are exceptional. They can both shoot the three very comfortably.
They will miss McDonald, who was the team's starting point-guard and is now playing for Dynamo Moskow. However, they are so good in the back-court they can switch to many very complicated defensive schemes, which can lead to easy baskets or more opportunities to shoot their beloved threes. Expectations
Last year Panathinaikos was unable to rise higher than the top-16 teams in Europe. This year Obradovic is simply waiting for one player to take the lead on this team. If they can act like a well-organized squad, and Diamantidis manages to step up as a leader then Panathinaikos will be one of the favorites to get to the Final Four. Otherwise, fans of the sole Greek Basketball Powerhouse left in the world will be very disappointed, especially after the opportunity to play in the Olympic Stadium (18,000 seats). Prediction
They could go as far as Diamantidis can guide them, but he is not alone, especially when you consider that Obradovic is going to alter some offensive systems. Top-16 is the first target, but I think that the real issue is the Final Four. Femerling is the first center who could draw double teams occasionally and (as he is a fine passer) he could help the forwards get easy shots. If they all stay healthy, then the Final Four is not out of reach. Other Comments
They should not face many problems against other Greek teams, and thus the pace of the season might be easier for them to handle, especially compared to other European powers (Italian, Spanish teams and CSKA) who are sometimes playing two difficult teams per week. In Greece, their competition will be similar to the type Macabbi has in Israel. Now, if they can handle their schedule with ease and give playing time to all the players, then they could be in top form when needed: in the second round of Euroleague. If they can manage that, they could recapture the crown!
PAU-ORTHEZby Malek Ait-KaciIntro
Pau-Orthez is the leading French club of the last decade, winning 6 French League titles in the last 9 years. Despite playing each year in the Euroleague, its success has been pretty limited (quarter-finalist in 96,99 and 2001) but it's never easy to beat Pau-Orthez at home. Last year after struggling to qualify for the Top 16 until the very last game, Pau-Orthez stumbled against Efes Pilsen and never was in the race for the Final Four.
Since France has a strict set of laws restricting the amount of money spent it's difficult for French teams to draw the best players on the continent. Pau-Orthez has always had to find young and/or cheap players and then see them leave once they earned/demanded a bigger paycheck. This offseason, Pau-Orthez saw its important frontcourt duo Florent Pietrus and Cyril Julian leave for Spain. The Team
This ball club has always been all about the team concept. The coach, Didier Gadou, played for Pau for 15 years and has kept this tradition strong.
This is almost a brand new team (Frederic Fauthoux,Laurent Foirest, Arthur Drozdov and Johan Petro
are the only members left of last year) and will likely play a passing game using power forward Anthony Lux and Johan Petro
to free up 3 point shooters like Davor Marcelic, Laurent Foirest and Frederic Fauthoux. Mire Chatman has been brought to set up the offense and for his scoring and Arthur Drozdov will be asked to take the ball to the basket and shoot from the perimeter, as well as finding the open man after penetrations.
On the defensive end, Arthur Drozdov will defend the opponents best scorer and Davor Marcelic still knows how to defend well. Thierry Rupert, a shot-blocking machine, will lead an interior defense where Johan Petro
and his big body will intimidate the opposition.
The team lacks some firepower and star-power, but when Laurent Foirest will come back the team will be 2 deep at every position.
The Club started the season with 2 losses in the French League, for the first time in 20 years.
Anthony Lux and center Dzenan Rahimic are not playing well as of right now and the club may regret choosing Dzenan Rahimic over Mate Skelin during the summer.
Potential starting five and back ups:
PG Mire Chatman/ Frederic Fauthoux
SG Arthur Drozdov / Souarata Cisse
SF Laurent Foirest / Davor Marcelic
PF Thierry Rupert/ Anthony Lux
C Johan Petro
/ Dzenan Rahimic Important Players
There is no star player in this team but the team will go where Laurent Foirest can lead it. The silver medalist from Sydney is respected for his good outside shooting, smooth penetrations and his ability to create for others. The other key to Pau-Orthez's success is the duo Dzenan Rahimic / Johan Petro
that will have the honor of defending the paint. Young lottery prospect Johan Petro
has been playing well and has earned the starting spot for now. Arthur Drozdov is starting to show his all-around game, he can score, dish and play good defense. He lacked consistency up until now, but it looks like this might be his year. Davor Marcelic at 35 can still bring good outside shooting and defense. The American duo Anthony Lux and Mire Chatman will play their first seasons of Euroleague basketball and seem to be nice complementary players. Finally, the back up point guard, Frederic Fauthoux, is the soul of this team and the ultimate clutch player. This 3pt specialist has been playing with Pau for 14 years, winning 7 French League titles and 3 French Cups. He likes to shoot from 8 meters (26 feet) out and he makes them regularly. Draft Prospects
In his second year with the pros Johan Petro
is already showing why he is one of the top prospects for the next draft, being ranked 6th on DraftExpress' 2005 mock draft at the moment. He uses his body very well on both ends, earning playing time and the confidence of his coach and teammates. He has already had 2 nice games in the French league with 2 quarters where he was unstoppable on offense.
He still has some trouble with fouls but has improved a lot in this area. His rebounding could be better, but when he plays more then 20 minutes he always gets his 5 boards or more.
Souarata Ciss is in his first year with the pros after showing some promise with INSEP and during the European Junior Championship in Zaragoza. This shooting guard is ready to contribute, but may see little action like Petro last year as the team is loaded with good wing players. He uses his athleticism to be a solid one on one defender and has a nice midrange game. He is never afraid to do his thing on the offensive end. Expectations
Pau-Orthez wants to make the top 16 and already knows that it will be harder than ever in Group C, loaded with potential Final Four candidates: CSKA Moscow, Benetton Treviso and Tau Ceramica. Prediction
Pau-Orthez might not reach the Top 16 this year as the team will fight against Panathinaikos, Ulker Istanbul and Unicaja Malaga for the last two tickets for the Top 16.
ULKER ISTANBULby Sadik IlimanIntro
Ulker Istanbul is a long-year Euroleague team that has yet to find success there. If people speak about Ulker trophies they refer either to the Turkish President's Cup or to the Turkish league championship from a few years ago. Last year's team was a major disappointment in Euroleague play. Players like Rentzias, Kutluay, and Traina were signed, but that was not enough to compete. During the season, the club fired coach Tolga Ãngéren and brought in successful Turkish coach Ergin Ataman, but it was already too late to turn the season around. Ulker made it to the Top 16 but then won only once (over Maccabi). Ulker is left in a critical situation this year following some important decisions. The long-year American duo Booker and Blair were released, and Rentzias was lost to Siena. The biggest loss of all is that of Turkish star Ibrahim Kutluay
to the NBA. Coach Ataman admits: We changed our philosophy. The current roster indicates a team that will emphasize fighting and defense, while offensive roles will be divided. Ulker will not lean on a star or duo for its scoring. The Team
The club's first signings are from Lithuania. Ulker brought in center Eureljus Zukauskas and small forward Saulius Stombergas. The point guard position was filled by signing Kerem Tunceri away from long-year club Efes and, just a few days later, resigning Virginjus Praskevicus, who already played for Ulker but had been released. Losing Kutluay was a big shock for the club, but another surprise could fill the shooting guard position: former Toronto Raptor Dion Glover
signed a one-year contract.
It will be interesting to see which strategies Ataman will use, especially at the offensive end. Ulker will expect scoring from its perimeter players like Stombergas, Erdogan and Glover. Also crucial to their success will be the contributions of starting frontcourt Zukauskas and GénlÃ¼m. Both have improved their offensive games, and given that Zukausfas in particular is a very good passer, it would be right to incorporate his inside-out game into the offense. These two also have the potential to be one of the best defensive duos in the Euroleague, which would be a huge change from recent history. The biggest weakness of this club has always been defense. Ulker wasâand I stress the word wasâa team which was focused more on run and gun play than set play. This style cost them a lot on the defensive end. Having Zukauskas and GénlÃ¼m up front could allow Ulker to dominate the boards and even man-to-man defense. If that's not enough, backup center Fatih Solak is going to play a huge role this year. After riding the bench last year Solak shined playing for Tanjevic and the national team, especially at the defensive end. The backcourt, too, is not looking bad. Kerem Tunceri is known as one of the best defenders at his position in Europe, as is backup Tutku Acik. It is doubtful that Stombergas will join them in that intensity, but if their upgrades translate into improved team play there is a strong chance Ulker's defensive problems could disappear for the first time.
Projected depth chart
C: Zukauskas/Solak Important Players
Who is going to be the leader? The arrival of Glover should provide an easy answer to this question. Glover is going be the key for Ulker. They need him especially when playing difficult games at Moscow, Ceramica, and Treviso in the very tough Group C.
Stombergas, too, could play a big role. The Lithuanian forward has considerable experience in Europe and will not disappear when his team needs him. Of course, a lot will depend on point guard play. Tunceri and Acik are both superior passers whose priority will be to create open shots for the likes of Glover, Stombergas and Erdogan, but the pair will have to look for their own scores, too. Draft Prospects
Ulker has a number of interesting prospects. Ersan Ilyasova
returns to the team after being rented out to Yesilyurt. He has shown definite NBA potential, as well as real development, in games for the Turkish cadet team. The forward handles like a guard, is a great rebounder (especially at the offensive end), and has three point range. It remains to be seen whether Ataman will use him in the Euroleague, but looking at his potential and versatile abilities, it would be a mistake to leave him on the bench until the end of the game. Although Stombergas starts at small forward and GénlÃ¼m at power forward, there should be time enough for Ilyasova. Stombergas is not that young anymore, so Ataman might use the luxury of Ilyasova to keep Stombergas fresh for crunch time. He'll have to get his minutes there, as he is behind Erdogan and Glover at shooting guard. So for now the small forward position suits him best, but if he also can show some aggressiveness under the basket he has a chance to prove himself able to help at power forward in the Euroleague, especially considering his rebounding ability.
Another prospect is center Oguz Savas
. Savas has a wide and very strong body. He can score inside and rebound but has to improve his defensive skills. He is not fun to watch and not too athletic, but he finds ways to be very effective under the basket. We can easily say that he is the smartest center in his age group. He has a very high basketball IQ. It will be hard for him to play in any Euroleague games because the team has Zukauskas starting and Fatih Solak as a great back up. Solak, for his part, is a more developed Savas. He has made great strides, especially with his shot. Savas has a good chance to play in the Turkish league, and he would even get into some Euroleague games if Ulker is coasting against Group C opponents, but that is a dubious prospect. Expectations
Who knows what to expect of Ulker? Ulker management insists their target is the Final Four. But the team just recently broke into the Top 16. Ulker faces the hardest group in Euroleague. Overtaking the likes of CSKA, Benetton, and Tau for a top spot in this group is a tall order. More likely, they will be fighting for fourth place with Panathinaikos and Unicaja. The team must win its home games in Istanbul. Prediction
Ulker again will make the Top 16, but it they have an awfully hard road to the Final Four. Nothing is impossible. A lot will depend on how the quickly and effectively the team adapts to its new philosophy.
UNICAJA MALAGAby Luis FernandezIntro
Unicaja Málaga was created in 1992 by the merging of two basketball clubs in Málaga, Caja de Ronda and Mayoral Maristas. Placed in a city where basketball is very popular (Unicaja's attendance success during the last ten years is incomparable anywhere in Europe), the new team quickly placed itself among the Spanish elite, reaching the ACB League Finals in the 1994/95 season, and then matching that achievement in the 2001/02 season. In Europe, the biggest success for Unicaja has been winning the Korac Cup in 2001, a sort of minor Continental competition. Unicaja has played in the Euroleague four times in total, three of them being in the past three years, without ever getting past the top-16. Last season, the team couldn't qualify past the initial group stage. The Team
There have been winds of changes recently for Málaga. After being coached for several years by legendary Serbian coach Bozidar Maljkovic, the team went through changes last year that ended with the arrival of Sergio Scariolo mid-way through the season after the poor results Unicaja was obtaining. After a great second half season, Scariolo has been allowed this summer to build the team he wanted. The result is an almost completely renewed Unicaja that features enough good pieces to reach for the very top.
To start with, there's a nice balance between the backcourt and the frontcourt, the perimeter threats and the paint menaces, the distributors and the executers, the defenders and the scorers, with some veterans, some youngsters, and a good core of experienced players near the peak of their careers. Pepe Sánchez (PG, 6-4, 27) is in charge of running the show, with J.R.Bremer (SG, 6-2, 24) as his backcourt mate to compensate for his lack of scoring. The forward position is well filled with Walter Herrmann (SF, 6-8, 25) and Jorge Garbajosa
(PF, 6-9, 26). Garbajosa is a versatile power forward who likes to step outside and shoot the three pointer, and Herrmann is a scoring small forward who also can play near the basket. Zan Tabak
(C, 7-0, 34) will add size and take care of the low post. From the bench, a good bunch of nice players like scoring PG Carlos Cabezas (PG, 6-1, 23), defensive minded SG Berni Rodríguez (SG, 6-6, 24), skilled veteran Stephane Risacher (SF, 6-8, 32), athletic and defensive-minded Florent Pietrus (PF, 6-8, 23) and also the athletic and intimidating Fran Vázquez (C, 6-10, 21). This makes up a very reliable ten-men rotation.
Offensively, with as great of a passer as Pepe Sánchez is, everything should be easier. And if you add the very intelligent Jorge Garbajosa
to the mix, there should be no excuse not to play good and fluid fundamentally sound basketball. Defensively they should be quite strong. Herrmann might be the worst defender on the roster, but they are all pretty solid in that department. We'll again see the tactical richness Scariolo puts in practice during the games, which includes a number of different zone and mixed defenses in an attempt to try and confuse and block the rival's offensive game.
But again, this is a new team. Only Herrmann, Cabezas, Rodríguez and Risacher were in Málaga last season, so many of those guys are playing together for the first time, and they will need time to know each other and understand each other on court. The very poor start of the season in the domestic ACB League is highlighting that. It remains to be seen how they merge together, although the ingredients seem to be the right ones, and the cook Scariolo, a great one. Draft Prospects
Fran Vázquez is a product of Unicaja's younth teams, and was loaned to Gran Canaria for the past season. He has come back to Málaga highly improved, stunningly in terms of physical development and also more mature in terms of skills. There are very few players anywhere in Europe with his combination of height, wingspan and athleticism (and now also strength). He can be really intimidating defensively, but also has enough offensive weapons to score some points. He will be the first big man off the bench, and he will be doing his best to get into the first round of the NBA draft next summer as one of the top automatically eligible 1983 prospects around. Pavel Ermolinski
(PG, 6-7, 17) and Kaspars Berzins
(PF, 6-11, 19) have made the team, but they will likely see no time at all on court. It's just an investment for the future, although I wonder if it wouldn't have been better to loan them to other teams, just to gain experience playing consistently. Important Players
Pepe Sánchez is one of the best distributors currently in Europe, as he has proved with his national team so many times. After his disappointing NBA adventure, he will have the chance to establish himself as a big star back on the Old Continent. While always benefiting from a nice defensive level, the biggest question mark about him is always his limited scoring punch. But this team has enough scoring options to not worry about that. Jorge Garbajosa
is back in Spain as a big star after four great years in Treviso, Italy. He's every coach's dream player. He fully understands the game, he's smart, a good passer, can play on the low post, hit the three-pointer, penetrate, play good defense, read the passing lanes extremely well, play a leadership role... It's not strange every major Spanish team (and some European powerhouses like CSKA) was fighting to get him. With Unicaja he will have to assume even more responsibilities than he had with Benetton.
After suffering through devastating personal tragedies and enjoying some bright moments at the Olympics, Walter Herrmann will try get back to the level he showed in Fuenlabrada a couple of seasons ago. There he flourished as the first offensive option, and last season he didn't seem to fully adapt to a new situation in a team like Unicaja where he has to share the spotlight. Anyway, he's quite an athletic small forward, with great slashing abilities (his big hands help him to finish successfully in very difficult situations) and deep shooting range, although he should work to become more consistent on his jumper and more effective on defense.
J.R.Bremer continues the tradition for many European teams of signing small American guards. He played some nice games with the Boston Celtics, and although he's lacked consistency so far, he shows a good stroke and some other skills, also being able to switch over and play the point if needed. He will be one of the key pieces of this team. Everybody expects a big scoring contribution out of him. He will have to deal with this pressure. Zan Tabak
will add experience, size, intimidation and low post scoring to this team. Looking over the rest of the roster, he's the perfect player to complete this team. He's a true professional and a good contribution out of him will be required to get some success, both on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Given his age, the injuries might be a risk. Expectations
The Euroleague's drawing hasn't done any favors for Unicaja Málaga. This team has failed to make the top-16 the last couple of seasons, and the fans expect to at least reach that point this year, although it won't be easy. The team has also spent quite a large amount of money and the front office wants good results. There will be some serious pressure on them. Prediction
I think Unicaja is for sure one of the best 16 teams in this Euroleague, but the group where they will playing is really a tough one: CSKA Moscow, Tau Vitoria, Ulker Istambul, Panathinaikos and Benetton Treviso will also be fighting to clinch one on the five direct spots to the top-16 (the best sixth of the three groups can make it too). There will be little margin for error, and considering how the team has started the season in the domestic competition, they better get ready as soon as possible. This is a tough call, but I think they will advance to the top-16. If they get there, with the team's more seasoned players meshing and knowing each other better at that point, I wouldn't dismiss the possibility of getting the quarterfinals, while the Final Four seems to me a very long shot.