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 Euroleague Basketball Legend Ramunas Siskauskas; Juan Antonio Casanova, the former long-time EuroLeague writer for La Vanguardia in Spain; Darko Plavsic, basketball reporter at Sportklub Serbia; Nikos Varlas, Publishing Manager, Eurohoops.net Global; and Frankie Sachs, Editor at EuroLeague.net. Check out their opinions on three key questions this week!
1. What favorite EuroLeague team is your to watch play this season, and why?
I really like watching Anadolu Efes. And it's not because they are leading in the standings right now. They play open basketball which is really nice for spectators to watch.
Juan Antonio Casanova
Anadolu Efes. It wasn't easy to improve upon their splendid last season as EuroLeague runners-up and Turkish League champions - but they look determined to do just that. They have won more games than anyone and at the time of writing, they have won 11 straight games. They are also winning with averages of more than 10 points and they are the best team in twos, threes and free throws. Efes's offense is pure showtime led by a simply unstoppable Shane Larkin. He leads the league in points and PIR with high percentages from all ranges. It's a true pleasure to see them in action, both Larkin and Efes.
It is, definitely, Anadolu Efes. Most of the season they are playing without their most important defensive player Bryant Dunston, but that has not been a problem for them. Their offense is perfect, they move the ball very fast and the duo of Micic-Larkin always has the situation under control. Coach Ataman gives his players the freedom to do what they do best and so far it is a real privilege to watch this team. With Real Madrid, they are favorites for the title.
Anadolu Efes Istanbul! They’re playing the most complete and balanced basketball, something that is proven by their record as well. They have amazing individual talent, which is now combined with excellent chemistry and high levels of confidence. With a formidable duo in the backcourt (Shane Larkin and Vasilije Micic), with solutions in every position, and all this without their best center, Bryant Dunston, for the last 4 months, though now he’s fit again. I've been truly enjoying them and, so far, they look capable of going the extra mile this season and winning the first title in their history.
I respect great defensive teams and can even enjoy watching a defensive masterpiece, but the fun for most spectators, myself included, is to see baskets and the more the merrier. Another thing I enjoy is great passing and eye-popping assists. As a result, the team I enjoy watching the most is Panathinaikos OPAP Athens. Nick Calathes is a master of assists. Tyrese Rice plays with breakneck speed. Jimmer Fredette is a world-class scorer. Georgios Papagiannis is another highlight waiting to happen. With Rick Pitino's playing style, I am always pleased when I get to watch 40 minutes of the Greens.
2. What EuroLeague player has surprised you most this season (in a positive sense)?
Rokas Giedraitis has surprised me a lot. Even though I knew he is a good player, it's not always easy to play in the EuroLeague in your first year. And as a rookie, he is having a very good season!
Juan Antonio Casanova
Devin Booker. The EuroLeague is dominated by consolidated players, but aside from them, I choose this center standing just at 2.05 meters. He has strengthened Khimki's inside game noticeably and that allows the team not to need to depend on Alexey Shved's shots so much. Playing 22 minutes per game, he leads the team in rebounds (5.0 rpg.) and he's improving on all numbers compared to his last season in Munich, which was derailed by an injury. Among the EuroLeague debutantes, I would say Jimmer Fredette (13.6 points with Panathinaikos), but I guess we can hardly talk about a surprise when he was labeled 'the best scorer in the world' by Kevin Durant in 2011 when he was drafted with the number 10 pick in the NBA.
Nikola Mirotic. Not because I had doubts about his talent, but I didn't expect that he can be so consistent in the first season after his return from the NBA. For me, he is the best player in EuroLeague at the moment, with huge basketball intelligence, physical strength and great shooting. He has a big impact on Barcelona's game and his game-winning shots against Valencia and CSKA were amazing.
Shane Larkin and Facundo Campazzo! Larkin is having the best season we’ve seen in recent years on an individual level and it’s great that it is combined with success for the team. What surprises me about Larkin is the way he lets the game come to him and how he almost always finds a way to be dominant when he has to. The guy uses his talent in such a way that, not only is he the MVP of the season, he also makes his team better than all the others! On the other hand, Campazzo, without having the same kind of natural talent, is the toughest and most effective two-way guard in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague, a basketball machine with a huge impact on games. The fact alone that, within two seasons, he became the undisputed leader of a huge team like Real Madrid, is impressive in itself.
At age 33, Othello Hunter is having a career season. He is averaging career bests in scoring (10.2 ppg.), rebounds (6.4 rpg.) and assists (1.3 apg.) in his seventh EuroLeague campaign. Of course, some of those numbers have come from the rise in minutes played due to Tarik Black’s injury, nonetheless one must credit Hunter not only for his off-the-charts production but also for his leadership. He sets an example as a team leader with his work ethic and with his experience as a former champion, too. When a team signs a player in his 30s, it is fair to wonder if he can replicate what he has done in previous seasons. Hunter, though, has thrilled Maccabi fans by taking his game to a new level.
3. In which EuroLeague arena this season would you like most to attend a game?
I would attend every game at Zalgirio Arena! It's a fantastic atmosphere there every time. It is a real pity that when I was a player, there was not this kind of atmosphere like they have now. If I were a player right now, I would like to play in Zalgiris's arena every game :)
Juan Antonio Casanova
Menora Mivtachim Arena. It's hard for me not to call it Yad Eliyahu, but in any case, I choose the historic building in Tel Aviv. Personally, because I experienced many games there and I keep great memories of its phenomenal atmosphere... and of course, the Final Four that Joventut won there in 1994. However, the main reason is that it is, at last, back to where it belongs, where Maccabi belongs, which is among the best after it did not get past the regular season in the last four EuroLeague seasons. That resurgence has turned that arena into a fortress with 12 wins in the first 13 games there.
Belgrade is always fantastic when we talk about basketball atmospheres, so it is difficult to imprese a Serbian journalist with that. But, I need to say that Zalgirio Arena has an important role in Zalgiris's results. The fans are loud, loyal to their team and they have good knowledge of basketball. So, I choose Zalgirio Arena in Kaunas.
There are many arenas I like. I will single out those of Zalgiris Kaunas and Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv. True basketball home courts, with loyal fans that have a pathological love for their team fist of all and for winning second. Which is very important. I admire the fact that the Zalgirio Arena had sold-out nights even when the team had nine defeats in a row. My own number one, though, is Menora Mivtachim Arena or, as I’ve known it since I was little, Yad Eliyahu. The first time I saw a game in that arena was in the spring of 1994 and I still remember the awe I felt. Another reason I’m choosing it is that, before I watch a basketball game, I love to have the opportunity to take a walk on the beach, even if it’s winter.
Especially late in the season with Zalgiris Kaunas making a push to climb into the playoff zone, Zalgirio Arena is the answer. The pregame player introductions by PA announcer Andrius Ziurauskas are worth the price of admission alone! The only drawback to a game in Kaunas might be the winter weather, but with the playoff push coming in the spring, that’s where I would most like to see a game in person.