ELJ’s “Key Five-And-One” Playoff Preview: Olympiacos (3) vs. Anadolu Efes (6)


Two previews down; two to go. If you missed it or unaware of how these previews are formatted, check out part 1 of the preview (Real Madrid vs. Darussafaka) and part 2 (CSKA vs. Baskonia) so you’re caught up.

Okay, now onto part 3, the 3-6 matchup: Olympiacos Piraeus vs. Anadolu Efes Istanbul.

(Also, major H/T to YouTube user MyBasketballTV who uploads these awesome Euroleague player highlight videos that I mostly embed on here; please subscribe to him/her/them if you haven’t already.)

Vassilis Spanoulis

Nobody is more crucial to this Olympiacos team and their Final Four chances than Spanoulis, the long-time Greek point guard. At his best, he is the engine of this Olympiacos offense thanks to his versatile scoring ability, as well as flashy and spectacular passing and playmaking. Furthermore, Spanoulis is one of the craftiest players in the continent, able to draw fouls, and do the little things to get to the line and help Olympiacos earn extra shots as well as extra points.

In Round 2, the 34-year-old point guard demonstrated why he has been voted a Euroleague and Greek MVP, putting up a masterful performance in a 90-66 win over Anadolu Efes at home in Piraeus. He scored 17 points on 5 of 9 shooting from the field, dished 9 assists, had 3 rebounds and accumulated a PIR of 26, the highest for a winning club that week and the highest mark of the season for him. The dominating demonstration by Spanoulis earned him Euroleague MVP for the week, as showcased in the video below:

But, as great and legendary as Spanoulis can be (I mean, christ, the Euroleague made a special documentary on him and he’s still active in the league), he can be his own worst enemy at times. He can be a black hole if his shooting is not on, as well as a turnover machine, forcing unnecessary passes at seemingly poor times. And as of late, Spanoulis hasn’t really finished the year on a good note, which correlates strongly with Olympiacos’ poor finish (they finished 1-4 in their last 5 games). After putting up a PIR of 24 in a big 79-77 win in OAKA over Greek rival Panathinaikos in Round 8, Spanoulis hasn’t reached the 20 PIR mark since, and has only put up a PIR in double digits six times from Rounds 9-30. Those are not impressive marks considering how much he has the ball in his hands and is depended on for offense in Ioannis Sfairopoulos’ system.

Luckily, despite Spanoulis’ regression after a hot start (Rounds 1-8), they have been able to get over his cool down period. But, this will be a tough matchup for Spanoulis (vs. Thomas Huertel, who’s been one of the best point guards since February), and Olympiacos is dealing with many injuries as well. For Olympiacos to punch their Final Four ticket, they will need an early-season Spanoulis (or past-season, MVP-esque one) over the next three-to-five games.

Nikola Milutinov

After an injury in a Greek Basket League game on April 10th, Khem Birch will be a serious question mark this series for Olympiacos. That is a huge blow to Olympiacos’ front court, which has depended on him as a powerful rim runner and anchor to their defense, which has been one of the Euroleague’s best this season. While Patric Young has experience with this Olympiacos squad and offers the same kind of physicality as Birch, 22-year-old Serbian Nikola Milutinov will be the more important player in the post and could be the key difference this series, especially if Birch misses games or is not 100 percent.

Milutinov has surged as of late, with his strongest performance of the year coming in Round 28 against Real Madrid, whose front court is stacked with NBA-caliber bigs such as Gustavo Ayon, Anthony Randolph, Othello Hunter, Felipe Reyes, and Trey Thompkins. The Serbian rising star and 2015 first round “draft and stash” pick of the San Antonio Spurs put up a line of 18 points,4 rebounds, and a PIR of 24 (a season high) in 21 minutes of play (also tied for a season high). Milutinov, who formerly played for Partizan Belgrade before coming to Piraeus, has soft touch and good skills and touch around the rim for a near seven footer, as evidenced in this highlight video of his performance against Madrid below:

However, consistency has been a problem for Milutinov this season. He has five games this year where he posted negative PIR marks, and he can be a non-factor on the floor at times as well. In the last game against Efes, he barely played, logging less than three minutes before being primarily regulated to the bench. Unlike Birch, whose springy and physical, Milutinov is a more “to-the-ground” big, lacking the athleticism or physicality of the newly acquired Canadian center. With Birch’s status a game-to-game issue, Sfairopoulos is going to need to trust the young Serbian star with more minutes on the floor. And consequently, Milutinov needs to capitalize on that coach’s trust with a big series as well.

Derrick Brown

Much like Spanoulis, Brown has been a bit of a life force for this Efes squad this season. When he plays well, Efes hums on the court and looks like one of the Euroleague’s best teams. When his play wanes, Efes looks as beatable as any of the other non-playoff teams. For Efes to have a chance to pull off the upset, head coach Velimir Perasovic and this Efes team will need a big series from Brown.

The 29-year-old, 6’8 former Xavier Musketeer is an explosive player on both ends of the court. The lefty forward can drive the ball and score strongly around the basket thanks to his high-flying athleticism, but he can also pull up and hit the mid-range with ease. He has a great ability to block shots and initiate the Efes fast break off of turnovers, an area they excel in considering the bevy of athletic guards and forwards on their roster. Brown demonstrated this ability and then some in a masterful performance in Round 21 against Red Star, where he scored 20 points, had 11 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 assists and accumulated a PIR of 33 in a 86-72 win in Belgrade. The dominating performance on the road, in a hostile Kombank arena environment, earned Brown MVP of the week honors, as seen below.

Brown most likely will be matched up with forward Georgios Printezis, who has been Olympiacos’ most consistent (and perhaps best) player this season. Brown hasn’t been great this year against Olympiacos, as he has only put up PIR marks of 8 and 11 in both contests. For Efes to pull of the upset, they need their best and most dynamic player to step up and win the matchup against “King George”. If he doesn’t, the chips will be heavily stacked against the Turkish squad in terms of making their first Final Four since 2001.

Thomas Huertel

If Brown is Efes’ most important player, Huertel may be their most dynamic. Though he is a sixth-man off the bench, Huertel is the team’s primary playmaker, leading the team in assists at 5.8 apg. Huertel is a crafty playmaker, able to beat defenders off the dribble and find open teammates for good, high-percentage shots. But Huertel is no, Ricky Rubio-“pass first and second; shoot third” guard. He can get to the rim and can find his stroke from the outside, as evidenced by him shooting 51.8 percent on 2-point shots, and nearly 36 percent from beyond the arc, both solid marks from a point guard.

During the month of February, no player was more crucial to his squad than Huertel was to Efes during that month of play. Huertel averaged over 16 ppg and over 10 apg, good for a PIR average of 23 during that time span. His stellar play, which helped Efes get back in the playoff picture after a poor start to the season, earned Huertel MVP of the month honors, as seen in the video below:

The French guard doesn’t get as much attention at times because he shares point guard duties with Jayson Granger, who normally starts for this Efes squad. But Granger is more of a combo guard who is depended on for shooting and scoring, not as much for playmaking, like Huertel. Without a doubt, the matchup between Spanoulis and Huertel will be a fascinating one, and if Huertel can outduel the Greek Euroleague legend, that could mean not only a return to the Final Four for Efes, but a boost to Huertel’s stock as a player not only here in Europe, but abroad as well.

Tyler Honeycutt

Tyler Honeycutt is not the team’s best player. That honor probably belongs to Brown, or maybe Huertel. But there is no player that is more complete or well-rounded than Honeycutt, who has been a Draymond Green-esque player for this Efes squad. Honeycutt doesn’t average double figure points this year (only 9 ppg), and he has only started 1 game as well, but his 13.6 PIR is third-highest on the team, and that is due to his multi-faceted game on both ends of the court.

Just look at the other categories Honeycutt excels in: he averages 7.1 rpg, a team-high and 0.9 bpg, the second-best mark on the squad. But, he also averages 1.1 spg, also the second-best mark on the team. And he is primarily a wing player that can play four positions on the floor. If that’s not Draymond Green-esque, than I don’t know what is. He put on his best Green-like performance in Round 5 against Panathinaikos, as he scored 15 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, and dished 4 assists, good for a game-high PIR of 28, as illustrated in the video below.

Honeycutt is a nightmare matchup for Olympiacos on both ends of the floor thanks to his superb athleticism, strong skill set, and long 6’8 frame. Olympiacos will have to find a way to neutralize him, which will be easier said than done, especially considering the former UCLA product can beat teams in so many ways on both offense and defense.

Series Wild Card: Can Olympiacos stop the bleeding?


Olympiacos is team trending downward and fast. They lost sharp shooting Matt Lojeski late in the season, which has limited their outside shooting effectiveness as a team as of late. Birch may or may not play this series, and even if he does, he won’t be a 100 percent. Spanoulis hasn’t quite played as well down the stretch, and that is worrisome considering his age and the miles on his body odometer as a player. Erick Green, who looked mid-season like the boost Olympiacos needed to make the Final Four, has totally disappeared from the Olympiacos rotation for whatever reason. Other than Printezis and Kostas Papanikolaou, this team has been a mess during the last third of the season and goes into the playoffs as a bit of a wounded dog of sorts.

Which begs us to ask the question: can coach Sfairopoulos stop the bleeding and turn Olympiacos’ fortunes around?

Olympiacos will have the home court advantage. And they certainly have the playoff experience advantage over Efes. But there are a lot of question marks about this Olympiacos squad entering the playoffs, and Efes is no slouch. Perasovic took Baskonia to the Final Four last year. Huertel has some playoff experience during his time with Baskonia (when they were Laboral Kutxa). Efes beat Olympiacos just recently in Round 29, so this Turkish club knows they can match up with the Greek basketball power. And Efes can run and gun with the best, and that will test the depth of Olympiacos, which is looking a little sketchy at this moment.

Olympiacos will need to make a statement in game 1, a statement that the last third of the season didn’t mean shit, and they’re ready to prove why they finished third in the Euroleague and that they can add another Final Four to their illustrious history. I know Olympiacos fans are telling themselves this, and believe Spanoulis and Printezis will help turn around this Olympiacos ship.

Game 1 will tell…because if Efes’ surprises in the opening playoff game…well…fans of the Red and White might need to start planning for next season rather than next month.

5 thoughts on “ELJ’s “Key Five-And-One” Playoff Preview: Olympiacos (3) vs. Anadolu Efes (6)

  1. Πάτε καλά; April 16, 2017 / 11:07 am

    Happy Easter Pierre Marie!!!
    Osfp needs a performance from his big men in order to pass the obstacle of Efes. Young is a ghost of his prior self after his injury last year and Birch has not been playing so well the last months. On the opposite coast, you have Dunston who wants to prove to OSFP that they were wrong to let him go. If I were Perasovic, I would target Birch; Milu cannot win me so Birch would be my main goal so as to cut also the main pick and roll which OSFP uses to enter the ball inside the frontcourt.
    A big question for me are the play-making capabilities of Heurtel and Granger under pressure; none of them is famous for being a computer during aggressive defenses and Bullet (Sfairopoulos translates as Bulletman, henceforth Bullet as a nickname) likes to apply pressure on the guards of the opponent (Mantzaris, Waters, Green, Papanikolaou can all do that effectively). Perasovic has to find a way to protect his guards from turnovers during pressure.
    Papapetrou will be probably used as a spacer instead of Lojo (see the game against CSKA in Moscow) but he is too streaky and I am not sure he is the perfect man for the job.
    Key issue for me is the pace; if Efes manages to transform one of the first two matches into a rodeo, the guys in the harbour will be in big troubles.
    Keep your eyes open for game 2- OSFP this year has a history of undervaluing opponents; y if they manage to get a cosy win in game 1, I won’t be surprised if they lose game 2. Besides, they have done it before;I laughed a lot during the 2010-2011 series, when they crushed Siena during game 1 and then succeeded in losing all other 3 games (with the Dupont and Dupont who pose as the club’s presidents telling the fans after game 1 to start buying tickets for the f4 in Barcelona !!!)
    ps. Good call on Honeycutt- I believe he is the most critical player for the performance of Efes so far. Nonetheless, Honeycutt and Brown will have a difficulet series against Papanikolaou and Printezis.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pierre Marie Corbacho April 16, 2017 / 8:10 pm

    Happy easter to you as well!

    I agree with you on “Bullet’s” strategy to pressure guards. They have done that well this year, and Efes struggled with that in their first matchup early in the year. In their second matchup, Efes looked a whole lot more comfortable, which to me is a better sign for this series for Efes. Huertel had one of his best games of the year in that contest, and if he can replicate that kind of performance, I would feel good about Efes’ chances. My big concern about Olympiacos is Green, who just hasn’t played as well in the last third of the season, as with Birch. Before Birch’s injury, I remembered seeing that Birch was having conflicts with Bullet. Now, add those issues with a not 100 percent Birch, and I think Olympiacos is limping in the playoffs with two new acquisitions who have been so key for them early on. I think a wild card could be Granger, as he has put up big games before, but many of the big games came against opponents where he had considerable advantages in the matchup (Zalgiris for example). I trust him less when the matchup is more of a toss up.

    I do think Olympiacos will take Game 1 easily, simply because they have gotten considerable rest, played an easy game to finish their domestic league, and will have considerable time until the semis in the domestic league, allowing them to focus solely on the Euroleague. But, as you said, game 2 can be crucial, as if they wipe out Efes easily enough, it could be common to see them not be as prepared for game 2. I will definitely pay attention to this development as the series progresses.

    This will definitely be an interesting matchup. Efes will want to push it and use their athleticism, especially with Honeycutt and Brown, matchup nightmares for a lot of teams. Brown hasn’t had the best series with Olympiacos during the regular season, so a big series from him would be a huge boost to their upset chances. However, he does have tough matchups, as Printezis will definitely makes his life tough, which makes a step up from Honeycutt off the bench even more important. And good call on Dunston. He will definitely be motivated, and with Birch not 100 percent due to a recent injury, and Young, as you mentioned, a shell of his former self, I could see Duntson break out as well.

    1 more to go!


  3. Πάτε καλά; April 27, 2017 / 1:18 pm

    Just for the record: Our owner is a rich spoiled kid who is 101% incapable of managing PAO BC. When the story finishes (because it is still going on), I might come back. Otherwise, 5 years now I am doing patience, hoping he will improve but seriously, no. We are dead.


    • Pierre Marie Corbacho April 27, 2017 / 1:40 pm

      I didn’t get a chance to write a post on PAO-Fener (work caught up unfortunately and that’s why I have been MIA this playoffs), but I totally agree. I think everyone knew this was a bad matchup, and add that with off series from key players (Calathes mostly) and while it was tough to stomach, I don’t think this was some terrible upset by any means. It’s not as if PAO lost to Efes or Baskonia or Dacka. And one of the reasons Fener was a 5 seed had more to do with injuries I feel than actual performance. Now that they are healthy, they probably are the third-best team in the EL.

      I thought it was really stupid and immature of what the owner did, and you can guarantee this will only hurt them when it comes to getting marquee free agents. What’s even worse is there is still a shot to get a Greek title, and that may have been shot in the foot if they lose James and Singleton and maybe Pascual as coach.


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