ELJ’s “Key Five-And-One” Playoff Preview: CSKA Moscow (2) vs. Baskonia (7)

nando-de-colo-cska-moscow-eb16

Onto part two of the ELJ “Key Five-And-One” Playoff Preview. If you missed out on part 1, check it out here, as I look at the key five players to the Real Madrid-Darussafaka series.

Now, let’s take a look at the 2-7 matchup between CSKA Moscow and Baskonia Vitoria-Gastiez.

Milos Teodosic

Nando de Colo is the more polished player and scorer, but nobody is probably more important to his squad than Milos. When Teodosic is humming, swinging the ball around to open men, and hitting it from deep, you can almost guarantee a CSKA win, as has been the case on frequent occasion the past few seasons.

Teodosic leads CSKA in minutes per game at 29, and is also their leading assist man at 7.2 apg. Additionally, he also scores 16.1 ppg and has a PIR average of 17.5. While the latter mark is second to de Colo, Milos has gotten to his high marks mostly coming off the bench, as he has started only six games this season (mostly in de Colo’s absence, when he was out for a little bit in the middle of the year due to injury).

De Colo has been a consistent force, especially on the scoring end, and it is expected that de Colo will get his during this series. But nobody controls or orchestrates the CSKA offense more or better than Teodosic…and that has its positives and negative (though mostly positive). Teodosic has a flair for the dramatic, and can make beautiful passes and assists look effortless. At the same time, he can also turn the ball over with just as much ease, and his defensive effort can wane on occasion. Considering Baskonia has some high-effort guards in Shane Larkin, Jaka Blazic and Rafa Luz, Teodosic can’t lose his concentration in this series, as Baskonia will make him and CSKA pay if they allow Baskonia to score in transition off of turnovers.

But the bad news for Baskonia? Look below

34 points, 10 assists and a ridiculous 43 PIR in 112-84 beatdown of Baskonia in Round 9 in Moscow. Considering the first two games will be in Russia, I’m sure Baskonia is hoping they don’t see that Milos again in the playoffs.

James Augustine

Augustine comes off the bench for CSKA, much like Milos, and he may not be their best big (you could argue for Kyle Hines or Nikita Kurbanov). However, the CSKA newcomer has been a bit of a polarizing figure this year for the Moscow-power, and his performance in this series could not only determine a Final Four spot, but perhaps whether or not they repeat as Euroleague champs.

Coming over from a Khimki Moscow team that barely missed the Euroleague playoffs a season ago, Augustine has put up good numbers: he leads the team in rebounds at 4.5 per game and he is averaging 5.8 ppg on only 16:28 mpg. However, the biggest question mark with Augustine has been defense, as he has a reputation of getting exposed in the pick and roll or outmaneuvered in the block by more skilled post players in the Euroleague. This is a huge issue considering Baskonia’s depth and talent in the frontcourt. Will Augustine be able to handle Johannes Voigtmann, Ilimane Diop, Toko Shengelia, or Kim Tillie, who all do different things from the post position? Augustine has been inconsistent this year, but he has risen to challenge in big moments before, as evidenced by him hitting this big game winner against CSKA a few seasons ago.

CSKA utilizes their posts in many different ways, but without a doubt, they will need a prime Augustine in this series. If he gets brutalized on the defensive end by Baskonia’s weapons, it will put even more pressure on Milos, Nando, and the CSKA perimeter to have an even bigger series on both ends of the floor.

Adam Hanga

The Hungarian forward is most likely going to the NBA next year, probably following in the steps of former teammate Dairis Bertans who left to play for the Spurs at the conclusion of the 2016 campaign (the Spurs also own Hanga’s rights). It is fitting that Hanga may play with the Spurs next year, as Hanga is almost a “lite” version of San Antonio star Kawhi Leonard. Hanga is an incredibly athletic, defensive oriented wing that can nearly guard anyone on the floor, and when he’s on offensively, he can carry this Baskonia team to victory more often than not (much like Leonard with the Spurs).

Hanga has improved his offensive game from a year ago, much more comfortable as a scorer than he was during their Final Four campaign in 2015-2016. This year he put up a line of 10.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 2.3 apg, good for a 13.5 PIR average, the third-best mark on the team (behind Shane Larkin and Johannes Voigtmann who both had a PIR average of 14.9). That kind of triple-slash potential, along with his defensive prowess may have Spurs salivating that Hanga is indeed a Hungarian version of Leonard. But, Hanga’s scoring prowess can go hot and cold from game to game. He is only shooting 33.3 percent from beyond the arc and around 67 percent at the line, and he can be a “ghost” on the offensive end in some games, as evidenced in Round 30 where he scored only 6 points and put up a PIR of 3 in a crucial loss to Zalgiris that made them drop to 7th in the playoff standings.

But he’s also capable of games like below against Barcelona, where he put up 14 points, 3 assists and had a PIR of 21.

Which Hanga is going to show up? If the good, Leonard-esque Hanga does, Baskonia’s chances of pulling off a legendary upset, and making a return to the Final Four, will look a whole lot rosier.

Shane Larkin

Larkin’s first year with Baskonia has for the most part been a success. After relying on the two-headed combo of Darius Adams and Mike James a season ago, Baskonia took a flyer on the former Brooklyn Net and University of Miami star. So far, Larkin hasn’t disappointed: he is averaging 13.1 ppg, 5.7 apg and is tied for first on the team in PIR average at 14.9 (with Voigtmann). And with little depth at the point position (Nico Laprovittola and Rafa Luz offer some good things and effort, but are probably average to slightly below backup options), it makes sense that head coach Sito Alonso has relied so heavily on the first-year guard (29 mpg, a team-high).

Larkin is explosive, competitive, and not afraid of the moment. That was evident in Baskonia’s 79-78 win over CSKA at Fernando Buesa where Larkin not only hit an ice-cold go-ahead shot with about 30 seconds to go, but also stole the ball on the defensive end to seal the game. If you look at the clip below, it’s impressive how Larkin commanded the moment on the offensive end with the swagger and confidence of a Euroleague veteran.

Considering CSKA’s strength is in the backcourt, this series will be a challenge for Larkin. In addition to de Colo and Teodosic, Aaron Jackson and Cory Higgins are also solid perimeter players who undoubtedly will try to make Larkin’s life difficult on both ends of the court. Larkin has had mixed results against CSKA as well: despite hitting the game winner, he only had a PIR of 8, and for the most part was neutralized until the game’s closing moments.

That being said, this will be Larkin’s first taste of the postseason as a professional, and it’ll be interesting to see if Larkin can rise to the moment like he did at times in the Euroleague regular season. Considering Baskonia’s lack of options at the point behind him, the Basque club’s Final Four future may heavily depend on Larkin’s adjustment to the playoffs.

Toko Shengelia

Voigtmann may have the best numbers of any Baskonia big, but no post player is more important to this squad than Shengelia. The Georgian missed some time during the middle of the season to injury, and in that time span, Baskonia swooned, going 1-5 in Shengelia’s absence from Round 18-23. When Shengelia returned to the lineup in Round 24, Baskonia finished 5-2, and saved a playoff spot which looked in dire shape after a Round 23 loss to Anadolu Efes.

Unlike Voigtmann or off-season pickup Andrea Bargnani, who has missed most of the year due to injury (a blessing in disguise since Bargnani was such a defensive liability), Shengelia is a physical, rugged back-to-the basket post player. Yes, Shengelia can step back and hit the occasional three. However, where Shengelia really flourishes is in the blocks, as he is physical and crafty on both the offensive and defensive end, and gives this Baskonia team a sense of toughness that they miss when he’s not on the floor.

His physicality was on full display, as you can see in the video below, in a crucial Round 27 game on the road against Brose, and Nicolo Melli, an All-Euroleague-caliber player. Shengelia put up a line of 16 points, 12 rebounds and a PIR of 22 in a 96-71 victory in Bamberg that helped Baskonia secure a spot in the postseason.

Toko is playing some of the best basketball of his career this season with Baskonia, and they will need him to continue this hot stretch to take advantage of CSKA’s lack of depth in the frontcourt.

Series Wild Card: CSKA’s Backcourt vs. Baskonia’s Frontcourt

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This series will be a contrast between two very different teams: CSKA has incredible depth in the backcourt with Milos, Nando, Jackson and Higgins, but they really lack a true go-to guy in the post; Baskonia on the other hand has so much versatility in the blocks, with rim runner Diop, the physical Toko, and Voigtmann and Kim Tillie who can beat you inside and out, but they lack playmaking beyond Larkin and Hanga.

So the question is, who’s going to give first?

Who wins this series could hinge on which of those two aspects cracks first. What if Nando shoots poorly? What if Milos is turning the ball over and giving up points off turnovers? What if Voigtmann is neutralized and made a non-factor? What if Toko gets in foul trouble?

My gut says Baskonia’s frontcourt is more likely to crack than CSKA’s backcourt, but we won’t know for sure until the games begin April 18th. As a fan, I’m pulling for Baskonia, but they’re going to need the frontcourt to be in full force to have a chance to return to the Final Four.

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4 thoughts on “ELJ’s “Key Five-And-One” Playoff Preview: CSKA Moscow (2) vs. Baskonia (7)

  1. Πάτε καλά; April 15, 2017 / 8:00 am

    Baskonia presented the typical ups-and-downs of a rebuilding team. They found two good guards such as Larkin and Beaubois to replace James and Adams but unfortunately for Baskonia. none of them has the ”personality” to take the big shots and win difficult games, in contrast with their previous pair in the frontcourt. Against the most well-trained Euroleague team (CSKA), I doubt that they can claim more than one win. CSKA when it comes to a 5-series match is unmatchable by any team in Europe (and I include Real Madrid).

    What is makes the matter worse for Baskonia is their playing style: Against CSKA in order to have any chances, you should play hard and tough in defense, go to low-pace basketball and make a good finish so as to …drown CSKA into their typical last minute insecurities.Tillie and Shengeila could be extremely helpful against the big ”4”s of CSKA, providing scoring abilities and protection above the rim that could make the difference in a low-mistake, low-possession basketball. But Baskonia cannot do that, since they are (traditionally) an one-way team; up-tempo and only up-tempo. Consequently, this is a particular bad match for Baskonia since they do not have the accumulated talent to beat CSKA to an up-tempo game.

    ps. Rumour has it that Hanga next year will be either in Barcelona or NBA and Larkin is already flirted by many richer Euroleague teams. Aaah, the old good Karejeta…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pierre Marie Corbacho April 15, 2017 / 1:57 pm

      Yeah, I don’t see Baskonia pulling this out either. Beating CSKA three times in a series is a task, especially considering how well balanced CSKA is. Itoudis is just a big-game coach who always has his team prepared in series where they know they are the better team (Final Four a little less so, but they exorcised some of those demons last year). I think Larkin has more of a personality for big moments, but I agree with you about Beaubois: I do not trust him in big moments at all. He’s very inconsistent, he’s a score-first guy, and defensively, he most likely will get tore up by Nando or Milos. He’s been better than I thought, and meshed well with this club, but I doubt he makes much of a difference this series. I think Larkin could, but as you hinted, he’s probably gone by the end of the year if he has a big series.

      Good call on what to do to beat CSKA and the importance of Tillie and Shengelia. They have been a much better team since Shengelia returned and since they lost Bargnani for the year. It has been a blessing that Bargnani got hurt, since he would have supplanted either Tillie or Shengelia, which would have made them a less physical team and perhaps out of the playoff picture. I do wonder if Alonso will try to operate more out of their posts, like they have done lately, but it’s kind of tough to just change your style for one series. Plus, this will be Alonso’s first big postseason experience, and going against a good coach like Itoudis doesn’t bode well for his chances. I see Alonso’s lack of playoff experience hurting Baskonia at least once this series (though he has done a great job this year IMO, especially down the stretch).

      To me, Baskonia the last couple of seasons have demonstrated what to do if you’re a small market team recruiting wise: find talent that meshes together and fits into your philosophy. Bargnani was kind of an outlier, but he was actually looking okay offensively before getting hurt. They seem to lose players every year (Bourousis, Adams, Bertans, James from last year’s squad and Perasovic as coach), but they bounce back because they know exactly what to look for when replacing their outgoing players. This is a big contrast with Maccabi, who doesn’t know what they’re looking for and like you said, just looks for the best “big names” and “3 on 3” players without taking into consideration style and philosophy. I hope after two down years, Maccabi can take a lesson from what Baskonia has done the past two, and try to build their roster in a smarter way.

      And lastly, that’s what I hear too. Whether he stays in Europe or not, I would be HIGHLY surprised to see Hanga in a Baskonia uniform (I thought he was gone last year, but somehow Baskonia was able to keep him for one more year).

      Like

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