Welcome back to the Experts Round Table, where we ask a variety of the most-knowledgeable Turkish Airlines EuroLeague followers across the continent their opinions on the topics of the day. This week's panel includes two-time EuroLeague winning coach and Euroleague Basketball Legend Dusan Ivkovic; Juan Antonio Casanova, the former long-time EuroLeague writer for La Vanguardia in Spain; journalist Donatas Urbonas of leading Lithuanian website 15min.lt; Lefteris Moutis of Eurohoops; and EuroLeague.net editor Edu Roca. Check out their opinions on three key questions going into Round 25 of the regular season.
1. If you were starting a new team, which EuroLeague player would be your No. 1 choice? Why?
"I think there's a very clear answer this season, because in the EuroLeague you have one young guy who is making a big, big difference: Luka Doncic. For talent at the same age as he is, I can say very simply that I've been lucky to coach many big names. But if I can compare him now, at the same age, with Petrovic, Radja, Kukoc, Divac, Danilovic, Djordjevic... I think none of them was so mature a player at such a young age as this guy Luka Doncic. Why? It's very simple. Creation is the most beautiful part of basketball, and he can create his own shot and create for others. He's also a great rebounder and can defend very well. So, for sure, he's the name I would start my team with."
Juan Antonio Casanova
"Jan Vesely. He's a serious player. He's reliable and 'coachable', tough to guard and with a lot of basketball in his future still at 27. He also likes long-term projects as he's spent four years with Fener already. I think all of that makes him the ideal candidate for a new project."
"I'm going with Luka Doncic. In my eyes, the most important position in basketball is playmaker. And Luka is a perfect creator. He can create good shots both for himself and for his teammates. He can control the tempo of the game and he is great both in transition basketball and the half-court. Also, Luka is a showtime player. Fans just love him, because he brings excitement to the game. By the way, he is growing so fast that despite being only 19 years old, season after season he's becoming a more and more complete player."
"When you start building a team, you want to build your base with players who have talent, the potential to evolve in their career and the hunger to conquer Europe! The born winner, Vassilis Spanoulis, would be an ideal solution to pass on the winning spirit to the other players, the dominant Nando De Colo would provide the team with excellent quality, Nick Calathes would do everything on the court, but the ideal addition would definitely be Luka Doncic. The young Slovenian already dominates Real Madrid’s game, one of the top teams in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague, he has the future ahead of him and he can change the outcome of any game in just a few minutes."
"It depends whether you are planning for the long-term or trying to win it all in the short-term. Assuming you want to win now, I would choose Nando De Colo of CSKA. The biggest games of the season are coming up and De Colo – just like Vassilis Spanoulis – understands the moment. You can count on De Colo all season long; he doesn't have off nights. And when all the opposing defenses are designed to stop him, you can count on him, too. I also like the quiet leadership and determination he brings to his team. You cannot take De Colo out of a game, and that kind of willpower rubs off on teammates. Even now, as a superstar with many responsibilities, he would be a great mentor on any team you wanted to start from scratch."
2. Which EuroLeague team has been the biggest surprise for you this season? Why?
"At this moment we always have two types of surprises, the positive and the negative. The one that is the most positive, as we've said before, is Zalgiris because they have been playing a controlling style of basketball that is very consistent. At this moment it is very, very clear that European basketball has a new name and a big coach now in Sarunas Jasikevicius. Maybe the negative for me is Barcelona. In life, we have to react and learn from mistakes. I think such an experienced team and club as Barcelona didn't react well to last season's experience and for that reason they are the negative surprise. They have some of the same players, like Aleksandar Vezenkov, who showed real talent last year, but now he's nowhere. But there's some problem in the chemistry, I think, and I hope that the legendary Coach Pesic, after winning the Spanish King's Cup, will bring the team along like that the rest of the season."
Juan Antonio Casanova
"Zalgiris, no doubt. The standings speak for themselves. Two years ago it was the worst team in the Top 16. Last year it finished 10th and now it's playing for a playoff berth against, in theory, superior opponents. It's true that its final schedule is tough. The team has shown great progression under Coach Sarunas Jasikevicius, who it seems will repeat his successful playing career now on the bench. His Zalgiris no longer bases its game on threes; it is the team that takes the least shots from that distance. They play attractive basketball, full of risks (with the most turnovers) and also competes until the end (11 wins by 8 or fewer points). Kevin Pangos and Paulius Jankunas are the perfect picture of youth and experience combined."
"Obviously, the biggest surprise of the season is Zalgiris. They're playing the best basketball since 2004 when the unstoppable Arvydas Sabonis was only one Derrick Sharp three-pointer away from the Final Four. The funniest thing is that nobody expected such results. For example, even Sarunas Jasikevicius was very careful about his team's chances before the season. Even the players are amazed, but at the same time, they have started to believe in themselves even more and they're ready to go further. Because of Saras, Zalgiris finally is a team to respect."
"Very few people would have expected that five games before the end of the regular season Anadolu Efes Istanbul and FC Barcelona Lassa would occupy the last two positions in the standings as the unpleasant surprises of this season. However, an even greater surprise is the fact that Zalgiris Kaunas is still a strong contender for a spot in the top four, firmly in the top positions in the standings. From the beginning of the season, the talk of the EuroLeague was about when Sarunas Jasikevicius's team was going to run out of steam. And yet! The Lithuanian champs don’t have a big budget or fancy names on their roster, but they have been more than consistent, earning everyone's applause, having suffered two defeats in a row only once during the season."
"I'd have to say Barcelona, and in a negative way, of course. I think it's just in the nature of things that a big team has a bad season every now and then, but I wasn't expecting Barca to have two slow seasons in a row. They signed a good coach and good players over the summer to start a new project with big ambitions and, again, somehow, it just did not work. It doesn't help that it is such a demanding club in an environment with pressure, and that makes it that the time needed for mid-term projects to start delivering is not always granted. I have to think that next season will be different, but I also thought that last year... We'll see what they come up with."
3. Which EuroLeague player forces opposing coaches to make the most adjustments?
"In terms of adjustments and reaction from a coaching standpoint, for sure it's Vassilis Spanoulis. From one side, you have his quality. From another, you have his experience. From a third, he's a pure winner. You can do everything to keep him under control for 39 minutes, and then he just steals the game right in front of you. That's why he is the one who forces most coaches to adjust to him."
Juan Antonio Casanova
"I'd go with Nando De Colo. The duo formed by him and Sergio Rodriguez marks the high level of the CSKA team, and stopping both is paramount to keep the team from winning this EuroLeague. It won't be easy. The Frenchman, a totally mature player at 30, forgot his shyness off the court as soon as he steps onto it and has taken on even more responsibilities after the departure of Milos Teodosic. De Colo has turned from great player to rock-solid leader. He's a constant headache for defenses because he conducts the game, he's fast (a problem for a bigger defender), shoots from long range and makes use of his 1.96 meters to penetrate (a problem for a smaller defender)."
"I don't want to sound boring, but my choice is Luka Doncic again. First of all, Doncic's size and skill make him a matchup nightmare. You must make adjustments on defense because he can dominate his opponent in the low post, but at the same time, he can beat bigger and slower opponents with his first step or lightning-quick step-back three move. Also, he is very valuable in switching on defense. His versatility on both ends of the court makes him a perfect weapon in changing the flow of the game."
"Dealing with the opposing team's best player usually involves a different plan, especially if he can do a lot of things on the court and can influence the outcome of the game not only through scoring, but also through creating. Spanoulis is such a player, Alexey Shved decides most of Khimki Moscow Region's attacks and Calathes is Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens's driving force. However the player for whom the most adjustments are made is Luka Doncic, thanks to his prolific game. Rival coaches have a special plan for him and they usually have prepared one and two and perhaps three different alternatives, because they know that he usually reads the game at the beginning and he can adjust accordingly."
"As basketball evolves, players tend to get less pinpointed to a specific position, making it harder for coaches to plan defensive strategies against them. If I had to choose a current name, I think it would be Toko Shengelia. He is a mobile, versatile big man who can act like a classic center in the paint, and all of a sudden you have him shooting from the outside, dribbling almost like a guard and then going to the low post again. I am sure that having a plan ready for him is no easy task for any coach in the league, not mentioning that if you focus too much on him, the rest of his teammates can take advantage of that!"