A Quick Look at the Serie A (Italy) Semi-Finals

While the Euroleague is done, that does not mean basketball is over in Europe. While I do not follow domestic leagues as closely as I do the Euroleague, I think they are worth following for any fan of European basketball. While I will not pretend to be an expert on any of these matchups (again, do not follow domestic leagues as closely due to time and TV access), I will try to highlight some key players or storylines with the following contests.

Today, I will look at the semi-final matchups in the Lega Basket Serie A (Italy).

Serie A Semifinals


EA7 Emporio Armani Milano (1) vs. Dolomiti Energia Trento (4)

It will be the Serie A’s best offense (Milano) vs. best defense (Trento) in this 1-4 semifinal matchup. While Trento made quick work of Banco di Sardinia in the first round of the Serie A playoffs (they swept the island club 3-0), Milano went through some growing pains, as they dropped the opening game at home to the 8-seeded Betaland Capo D’Orlando before winning the next three convincingly.

Milano are the defending champs and have been the best club in Italy as of late, representing Italy in the Euroleague this past season. However, while they have been a dominant force in Serie A, that hasn’t necessarily been true in the Euroleague, as they were knocked out in the first round last year, and finished in dead last in the new 30-game format with a record of 8-22. While they do have the finances, and a Serie A license to become a contender again, clinching another Serie A championship would go a long way in terms of building some momentum for 2017-2018.

Milano depends on their backcourt to generate points and tempo, which says a lot about their guards and wings considering they averaged 86.2 ppg (No. 1 in Serie A play). Point guard Rick Hickman (10.9 ppg, 2.8 apg, 10.3 PIR average in Serie A play) and shooting guard Krunoslav Simon (12.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 15.3 PIR) are the main cogs to this Milano offense, while Jamel McLean (8.6 ppg, 11.6 PIR) adds flexibility and athleticism from the wing.

However, it won’t be easy, as Trento may have the best perimeter defense in Italy. Their tough-nosed approach is led by Aaron Craft, the former Ohio State product who has been a key player for the fourth-seeded club that finished 18-12 this season. While Craft is a limited offensive player, he makes up for those deficiencies with tenacious defense and effort. For offense, that honor goes to Dominique Sutton, a high-volume wing scorer who is averaging 14.9 ppg in Serie A play. Considering Milano’s defensive inconsistencies this season, Sutton may be a handful for Milano’s perimeter players this series.

The key may be the post, as neither club excels in the painted area. Milano’s Miroslav Raduljica just isn’t the same player he was when he played in the NBA, and lacks athleticism, bounce and much versatility in his offensive game. And furthermore, Milan Macvan displays some potential, but it’s not necessarily a good sign when he’s the leading frontcourt player minutes-wise and he’s not even the leading rebounder on the team. For Trento, Filippo Baldi-Rossi is the main post threat, as he averaged 10.3 ppg and 5.2 rpg in about 22 mpg.

Way-too-non-informed prediction: Milano, probably comfortably


Umana Reyer Venezia (2) vs. Scandone Avellino (3)

This will be a Basketball Champions League rematch of sorts, as Umana swept Scandone in the first round of the playoffs en route to their eventual berth in the inaugural Champions League Final Four (they lost to eventual champs Iberostar Tenerife in the semifinal and Monaco in the 3rd place game). Unlike the other semifinal series, where Milano has a distinct advantage in talent and resources, this one should be a more competitive series.

Umana finished 21-9 in Serie A play, and 9-5 in the Champions League. The club is a balanced one, as they ranked 4th in points per game and 5th in points per game allowed in Serie A play. The No. 2 seed heavily depends on point guard Marquez Haynes, who 12.1 ppg and 3.3 apg while averaging a team-high 29.2 mpg. In the post, Umana can get creative with center Hrvoje Peric, who is averaging 12.2 ppg and 5.5 rpg, and power forward Melvin Ejim (a former Fred Hoiberg product) who is averaging 10.5 ppg and 5.5 rpg and offers athletic, multiple position defensive versatility.

As for Scandone, they on paper have multiple players who can score buckets and in bunches. It is exhibited in the two point-guard combo of Joe Ragland (a huge fan favorite in Italy), who is averaging 17.7 ppg and 5.2 apg, and David Logan who is averaging 16.1 ppg. Both are incredibly dynamic scorers who can change the course of a game in a matter of seconds. Furthermore, add in versatile and physical forward Adonis Thomas in the mix (he is averaging 11.6 ppg), and the flexibility Scandone has definitely will make this a tough match up for the favored Umana club (Scandone also ranks 3rd in Serie A in points per game allowed).

What could sway this series is who will win on the road first. Both clubs went 14-3 at home this year in Serie A play, but struggled a bit on the road. However, Umana was slightly better, as they went 10-7 on the road in contrast to Scandone, who went 8-8. Both teams should hold serve at home in this series, which plays to Umana’s advantage. But, if Scandone can fix their road issues and steal one in Venezia, then it could go a long way in helping Scandone pull off the upset.

Way-too-non-informed prediction: Umana, but in a close one.


Three Thoughts about Fenerbahce from the Final Four

So, it’s official: Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul are the champions of Europe after their physical 80-64 victory over Greek power Olympiacos Piraeus. They are the first club from Turkey to win the Euroleague title in championship history, and this championship may have officially solidified Turkey as one of the top powers in European basketball circles (honestly, this has been the case for about a decade now, but Turkish basketball always seems to get overlooked by most general basketball fans and media). For Fenerbahce fans, this title a big deal, and I can’t help but feel happy for them, as they not only witness a Turkish club win the title on their home turf in Istanbul (always a good thing to win a championship in front of the home fans), but also exorcised some demons from last year’s debilitating championship game loss to CSKA Moscow in Berlin.

Anyways, as typical after any big moment in any sport, I have a few thoughts about the 2017 Euroleague champions as well as their run in the Final Four (not to mention postseason).


Fenerbahce’s run to the title was historic in so many ways…

Yes, Fenerbahce is the first Turkish club to win the Euroleague title in Euroleague history.

Yes, they won the title as a No. 5 seed in the playoffs.

But, when you look at their whole postseason run, from tip-off of Game 1 of the playoffs in Athens to them hoisting the trophy in front of their hometown fans in Istanbul, their journey to the Euroleague crown is not only more impressive, but downright historic.

Even though they got the 5 seed in the last week of the season (thanks to Zalgiris upsetting Baskonia in Fernando Buesa to drop the Basque club to the 7 seed), their matchup with Panathinaikos was not exactly an easy one. PAO was one of the hottest clubs to finish the Euroleague regular season, as they won their last five games of the year. While much was made about Fenerbahce being fully healthy for the playoffs, people forget that PAO had also dealt with their own health issues in the beginning of the year. Much like Fenerbahce, PAO heading into the playoffs looked like a force to be reckoned with that not only was fully healthy (James Gist returning to the lineup was a big reason they went 5-0 to finish the regular season), but had finally seemed to gel under new coach Xavi Pascual. And that was not even considering that the first two games would be in OAKA in front of the rabid PAO fans, who had made OAKA one of the toughest venues in the Euroleague this season (with Belgrade and Piraeus being also in the mix).

And yet, Fenerbahce didn’t let PAO’s momentum or home court advantage get to them. They shut down the PAO offense in the second half of game 1 in a 71-58 victory, and then outgunned a desperate PAO team in game 2 80-75.  And, in front of their home fans in Istanbul, Fenerbahce took care of business and then some, not only beating PAO 79-61 to complete the sweep, but also clinching in such a defining (almost humiliating) way that it drove PAO’s ownership to make the players and coaches travel back to Athens by bus (roughly an 11 hour drive) as punishment.

In the semifinal, the Turkish club seemed to get the rotten draw, as they were schedule to take on the No. 1 seed Real Madrid, a club that definitely was the deepest and most talented in the Euroleague this season (not to mention featured the Euroleague MVP, Sergio Llull). Despite Madrid coming in as the Final Four favorites on paper (you could argue that the homecourt made Fenerbahce a favorite too), Fenerbahce owned the talented Spanish power, never relinquishing the lead at any point in their 84-75 win over Los Blancos.

And in the championship game? Despite going up against one of Europe’s premiere basketball powers and one of the Top-10 players in Euroleague history (Vassilis Spanoulis), the blue and yellow didn’t disappoint, capitalizing on a hot start (thanks to some solid outside shooting from beyond the arc, especially from Nikola Kalinic) and the rabid fans en route to their 16 point championship victory.

This was not an easy postseason by any means. One could argue that Fenerbahce faced three of the four best teams (beyond them of course) in the postseason, and yet they not only dispatched them all, but with little challenge.

People will remember Fenerbahce for being the first Turkish champions of the Euroleague. However, what Fenerbahce did was straight out of the 1995 Houston Rockets championship playbook, as their underrated legacy may be them displaying one of the most dominant Euroleague postseason runs ever for a seed without home court advantage (well…I guess the Final Four venue counters that title…but technically speaking they were always the under-seeded team for every round).


Bogdanovic solidifies his stock as a NBA player…and maybe a Udoh comeback?

I have written about Bogdanovic before, and I felt he is as ready as ever to make the jump to the NBA, with this postseason solidifying his case. He earned All-Euroleague honors despite missing roughly a 1/3 of the Euroleague season, and was one of Fenerbahce’s most reliable players throughout the postseason. He went for 25-5-4 with a PIR of 35 in game 1 against PAO, and put up another sterling performance in game 2, putting up a line of 25-8-6 for another PIR of 35. While he regressed a little in the clinching game (10-8; 7 turnovers; PIR of 8), his overall series numbers (19.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 4 apg, 62.5 percent shooting from 2-FG, 60 percent from beyond the arc, 26 PIR average) proved that he was Fenerbahce’s MVP during their playoff sweep over the Athenian power.

While Bogdanovic obviously took a back seat in the Final Four to eventual MVP Ekpe Udoh (more on that in a bit), the 24-year-old Serbian guard once again proved to be reliable and stellar on the Euroleague’s biggest stage: he averaged 15.5 ppg and 5.5 rpg and a PIR of 13.5. When Bogdanovic was on the floor, the Fenerbahce offense seemed to hum seamlessly, and his effort and tenacity for a guard on the glass and defensive end seemed to neutralize what is normally a physically Olympiacos team. Going into this year, there were many questions about Bogdanovic fitting in the NBA. Could he handle the physicality? Did he have solid enough skills to adjust to the competition? Could he be a starting-caliber guard?

This postseason and especially Final Four may have answered a lot of those questions. Yes, we will just have to wait and see for sure how Bogdan plays in the NBA, but right now, the future looks bright for him, especially if he makes the leap to Sacramento, where playing time should be ample.


However, the underrated story this Final Four may be the resurgence of Udoh, who had been considered a couple years ago as a NBA bench warmer, not mention bust (he was the no. 6 draft pick in the 2010 NBA draft, famously picked ahead of players such as Greg Monroe, Gordon Hayward and Paul George; this was a big deal to Warriors fans until their resurgence under Mark Jackson/Steve Kerr). Udoh made some strides a season ago in his first season in the Euroleague, averaging 12.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.3 bpg and a PIR average of 16. However, Udoh didn’t really come into his own until the postseason, and even his breakout was questioned by some, as many debated whether he was more valuable than Jan Vesely (who missed considerable time down the stretch last year).

This season though, Udoh blew away any debate there was between him and Vesely. Udoh averaged 12.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg, and a PIR average of 20.1, all dramatic improvements from a year ago, while playing more minutes to boot (31.2 to 27.8 in 2015-2016). He earned first team All-Euroleague honors, and was considered a snub for Euroleague defensive player of the year (which went to Baskonia’s Adam Hanga).

However, what may have solidified Udoh as one of the best centers in Europe was his MVP performance in the two games against Real Madrid and Olympiacos. For the two-games in the Final Four, Udoh averaged 14 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 6 apg, 3.5 bpg, a PIR average of 32.5, while shooting 64.3 percent from the field and averaging over 37 minutes per game (40 minute quarters mind you for those who aren’t familiar with Euroleague rules).

Seriously. Those numbers are fucking insane. And to put up those numbers against Real Madrid (who have insane post depth thanks to Gustavo Ayon, Anthony Randolph, Felipe Reyes, Othello Hunter, and Trey Thompkins), and against the physical Olympiacos trio of Khem Birch, Patric Young and Nikola Milutinov (who all were primary reasons why Olympiacos sported the best defense in the league this year, according to defensive rating) is a major testament to Udoh’s growth and development as a player in his two years in Europe.

Which begs us to ask the question: can Udoh return to the NBA?

Can he? Yes, I think he can. Offensively, I don’t know if his game will translate, as I don’t think his post game or ability to play one-on-one in isolation in the post will be as effective in the NBA as it was in Europe. Big men tend to be a more limited stock in the Euroleague, and I don’t know if Udoh can be a double-double threat against the Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins or Karl Towns of the league.

However, what Udoh developed considerably with Fenerbahce was his defensive versatility, as he may be a more polished defensive player now than he ever was in his time in the NBA. Yes, we know about the block numbers, but Udoh’s ability to mesh in Zeljko Obradovic’s heavy-switching defensive system (on full display against Olympiacos; a key reason why they ran away with the game down the stretch) makes him a more valuable commodity in today’s NBA game. Udoh can guard 3 to 4 positions at the next level. It’s not quite Draymond Green-esque, but for a near 7-footer, that kind of ability is valuable to NBA teams.

Now, should Udoh go to the NBA? That one is more up for debate. Udoh is a star and beloved in the basketball-crazy city of Istanbul. What he makes in Fenerbahce probably will match what he will make in the NBA, and if not exactly, it will at least be in the ballpark. Udoh is a legitimate superstar here in the Euroleague. On the flip side, he is probably a bench guy, a 7th-8th man at best, in the NBA.

That being said, you never know. I didn’t think Alex Abrines or Tomas Satoransky would be going to the league last year either, and look how that turned out. Either way, Udoh will be entertaining some calls this off-season, and rightfully so. He deserves it. However, let’s hope for the Euroleague and Fenerbahce he decided to keep his star shining brightly in Turkey.


What’s next for Obradovic?

We know Zeljko is in it for one more year at least. The idea of him winning a title in his home country of Serbia (the Final Four is in Belgrade next year) would be the cherry on top of his illustrious coaching career. What Obradovic has done is nothing short of legendary, not just in Europe, but in basketball coaching worldwide. Let’s take a look at his profile:

  • 9 Euroleague titles (1 with Partizan, 1 with Joventut, 1 with Real Madrid, 6 with PAO and 1 with Fenerbahce).
  • 16 appearances in the Euroleague Final Four (in addition to the teams above, he also made one with Benetton Treviso).
  • 14 domestic league championships (11 in Greece, 2 in Turkey and 1 in the old Yugoslav league).
  • 9 national cups (7 with PAO, 1 with Fenerbahce, 1 with Partizan).
  • 4 medals as head coach of the Yugoslavia national team (silver in 1996 Olympics, gold medals in 1997 Eurobasket and 1998 FIBA World championship and a bronze in the 1999 Eurobasket).

I mean…how can really any coach compete with those accolades, either in Europe or America? Zeljko probably is one of the greatest coaches in basketball history, up there with such legends as Red Aurebach of the NBA and Coach K of the college ranks.

But, let’s say after 2018…what is next for Zeljko? I don’t know if he has much longer in coaching. His fiery, wildly emotional style I imagine hasn’t been good on his health, and I don’t know if he has much gas in the tank, especially considering he’s probably reached the zenith as Fenerbahce coach.

Does Zeljko go into management? Perhaps ownership? Or…does he try to get some kind of job in the NBA, perhaps try to be a head coach?

The biggest knock on Obradovic is he’s too brash to be a NBA head coach, which may be true. I don’t know if he can yell at NBA players like he does in Europe. But, you can’t argue with his results and resume. Winning basketball, regardless of continent, means something. And if you can justify a successful college coach going to the league with no NBA experience, you certainly can (and should) hold the same standard for a successful European coach.

With European influence becoming more and more pronounced in the NBA player-wise, it doesn’t seem far-fetched that a NBA franchise may take a chance on Zeljko and see if his coaching style and philosophy can be successful in the league. Of course, this is probably something that’s two years away from happening at least (no way Zeljko gives up a shot at winning a Euroleague title in Belgrade). But it’s something to think about, and talk about in the meantime.

There will be a post-Fenerbahce life for Zeljko.

How that life will develop and will ultimately lead to though is to be determined…

Euroleague Final Four “NBA Prospect” Watch: Milos Teodosic

With the NBA Draft about a month away, and the NBA Draft Combine in full swing, many American basketball fans are going to pay attention to the Euroleague Final Four with this thought in mind: who are the best players in Europe who could potentially make their way to the NBA in a year or two?

Now, this is not a general look at the Euroleague and who could come to the NBA from the 16 Euroleague participants this season. Rather, this is a look at who the best four “Prospects” from the Final Four participants (CSKA, Olympiacos, Fenerbahce, and Real Madrid) who could be making their way to the states in the next couple of years. Because much like big performances in the NCAA Tournament could lead to inflated draft stock (look at Zach Collins of Gonzaga who went from “he’s going into 2018” to “2017 lottery pick due to his tournament performance), the same effect can happen to European players thanks to big Final Four performances.

Now, just a couple of points to explain how I came up with the best “prospects” from the Final Four squads:

  1. I didn’t include anyone who has played in the NBA before. So guys like Nando de Colo of CSKA, Ekpe Udoh of Fenerbahce and Anthony Randolph of Real Madrid were eliminated from consideration. Yes, it is possible that players who didn’t pan out in the NBA and go back to Europe can find some success (look at Sergio Rodriguez who got some good run with the Sixers this year), but I don’t consider them “prospects” by any means.
  2. I only selected one for each team. I wanted every club to be represented, so I selected the best “prospect” from each club, even though I’m sure you could make arguments for multiple guys from one team. (Fenerbahce and Olympiacos were prime examples, as they had a couple of guys from each team who could have made this list.)

Okay, let’s take a look at our first prospect in this four-post series:


Milos Teodosic, CSKA

2016-2017 regular season stats: 27 gp, 28:23 MPG, 16.2 ppg, 7 apg, 17.4 PIR (average), 44.3 FG%, 37.5 3-PT FG%, 48.3 TS%, 1.12 P/FG.

2017 playoffs (3 games): 17 ppg, 5.7 apg, 17.3 PIR (average), 38.9 FG%, 35 3-Pt FG%, 47.2 TS%, 0.97 P/FG.

Why is Teodosic a NBA prospect?

Milos is one of the most dynamic players internationally who has not played a minute in the NBA. While he has always been a favorite among European basketball fan circles (i.e. “Euroleague Twitter”), his stock really blew up in last year’s Olympic games, where Teodosic stood out for his tremendous playmaking ability for the silver-medal winning Serbian squad. The flashy and colorful Serbian guard has not really showed much desire to play in the NBA until this season, as Teodosic has enjoyed the luster in Europe from winning multiple MVP and All-Euroleague team awards, not to mention being on the verge of a second-straight Euroleague title with CSKA. That being said, the 30-year-old guard is looking for a greater challenge to finish off his career, and the NBA really is the only spot where he can satisfy that need.

What kind of player will Teodosic be?

Teodosic is by no means a long-term project. Whoever acquires him will expect production and production immediately and in the short term. Considering his age, and the miles on his body from his years as a professional in Europe, Milos probably is looking at a 3-5 year career in the NBA depending on how successful he is. That being said, he is a talented player and a fierce competitor, and he has showed in International competition that he can excel against NBA players. If I were to compare him, I would say Teodosic probably projects to be a better Jose Calderon or Pablo Prigioni. He’s definitely more dynamic and a better shooter than those two, but Teodosic most likely is going to be a temporary stopgap for a NBA team, not a long-term solution. That’s why he’s generating so much interest from teams like the Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings: he can be the starting point guard and keep the team productive and competitive, while also serving as a mentor to a young guard who will be expected to take over his mantle in two-to-three years.

What teams will/should he go to?

As stated before, Teodosic probably fits two kinds of situations:

1.) As a starting point guard, holding the mantle until a younger point guard can develop and adequately take the starting job.

2.) As a seventh-eighth man who can have big impact in the 2nd-3rd quarters for NBA teams’ second units.

I think Milos can excel in either role on any NBA squad, but I don’t think he will be okay with the latter role, which makes me think a team like the Nets or Kings will most likely sign him this off-season. I don’t think Milos leaves the stardom of Europe for a bench position in the NBA, hence the reason why hasn’t left the continent for the NBA thus far in his career. It’s “starting job” or “bust” for him, and he must feel like he has a good shot at a starting point position now, which is why it actually seems like him coming to the NBA could be reality and not just a rumor this time around.


Will NBA fans like him?

Milos has a lot of personality, not just in terms of game, but in his appearance as well. It seems at times like Teodosic gives zero shits when it comes to his in-game look. He pretty much looks like a hobo at times, and the “I don’t want to be here” expression on his face all the time (both on and off the court) only seems to add to his aura as a underrated fan favorite in Euroleague Twitter world. But then the love grows even more when he starts dishing dimes and hitting treys. And any reservations you may have about his abilities are thrown out the window and you’re like “Wow! I was totally wrong about him.” NBA fans will either hate or love Milos depending on how they react to his “Don’t give a F” demeanor. I for one will love it, and I think most Millennial NBA fans will too. And hell, maybe some older NBA fans will gravitate toward him: After all, he will give 40-year-old rec league Dads something to shoot for when they play on Sunday nights.

Can I see some bomb highlights of him from this year?

What do you predict for Teodosic in 2018?

First off, I think CSKA is going to lose in their semi-final matchup against Olympiacos. This CSKA team has not been as strong as the Final Four squads the past few seasons, and I think their issues in the post will be exposed against Olympiacos. So, I know many basketball people and fans will think Milos will come back to Moscow in 2017-2018, unable to live with a loss in the Final Four after winning a Euroleague title in 2016.

Despite those Final Four results, I still believe that Milos will leave CSKA this summer and finally make his way to the NBA, where he will be signed by the Brooklyn Nets. As much as I want to see him on the Kings, (and they reportedly have the inside track due to his relationship with fellow Serbian Vlade Divac), I think the Kings are far too incompetent to actually sign an international player of Milos’ caliber. Believe me, as a Kings fan, nothing would excite me more than a Milos-Bogdan Bogdanovic guard combo cutting it up in the Golden 1 Center next season. But…sigh…they’ll just find a way to screw it up, and the Kings will re-sign Darren Collison or somebody of that caliber to the be the starting point guard.

I do think Milos will be a starter for the Nets as he battles with Jeremy Lin for the starting position on a 20-win Nets team in 2017-2018. He eventually will start more games than Lin because Lin will battle with injuries for a second-straight season. However, Hipster Nets fans will be instantly fall in love for “Hobo Steve Nash“, even though they will not lose their affinity for Lin and his crazy hipster hairstyles. Though fans will rally around Teodosic, his age and another lackluster season will make the Nets realize they need a more long-term solution at the point, and will make some kind of deadline trade in Februrary to gain more picks in the 2018 draft (with the hope that their 2018 pick will turn into Luka Doncic).

Ranking the field of the upcoming Euroleague Final Four

It’s been awhile since I have been able to post here on this blog, and I am rewatching the Euroleague playoffs this week to get myself reaquainted with the Euroleague (NBA Playoff season doesn’t help) as well as re-psyched up for the upcoming Euroleague Final Four. It could be the long layoff. It could be summer is approaching. Apologies for the long periods without posts or Tweets. Those who follow this blog should be used to it by now.

Anyways, we are almost a week away from the start of the Euroleague Final Four, one of the most underrated events in professional sports. Unlike the NBA, it’s single elimination, no best of five or sevens here. Win two games, and your team is the champion of Europe. Simple as that; no second chances until next year. For basketball fans who get numb to the postseason until the NBA Finals in June (especially this playoffs season, where it seems all but determined that we’re going to get a Warriors-Cavs rubber match), this kind of format is not only exciting, but a breath of fresh air. If you have not checked out the Euroleague Final Four before in years past, this may be the season to finally get acquainted with the Euroleague and European professional basketball scene.

In this quick preview, I am going to break down each of the four teams and rank them according to four categories:

  1. Talent
  2. Coaching
  3. Fan Attendance
  4. Intangibles

Okay, so let’s take a look at what the four clubs bring to the table when they arrive in Istanbul next week. While the field looks exactly like the one in 2015 in Madrid, the odds and outlook of the clubs is a lot different from the one which Real Madrid won in 2015.


Olympiacos Piraeus

Talent: 4th of 4th

Olympiacos had the toughest road in the playoffs, as they were down 2-games to 1 to 6th seed Anadolu Efes going into Game 4 in Istanbul. However, thanks to the heroics of Vassilis Spanoulis, Olympiacos won two straight games, and punched their ticket to the Final Four, their fourth appearance in the last six seasons.

Unfortunately, this Olympiacos team may be the shakiest talent wise of the field. Olympiacos limped toward the finish, and as stated before, were on the brink of elimination until pulling off the huge road win in Istanbul in Game 4. The lone Greek representative relies heavily on the two-man combo of guard Spanoulis and forward Georgios Printezis, who earned first-team All-Euroleague honors this week. In the playoff series against Efes, Spanoulis averaged 17 ppg, 6 apg, and a PIR of 17.2, and his frontcourt mate Printezis, averaged 12.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg and a PIR of 14.8. Those two players were the only players for Olympiacos who hit the double digit PIR average mark for the club in the five-game series.

Olympiacos doesn’t have the best depth, but they did get some bounce back performances from post Khem Birch, who posted a PIR average of 8.4, and 6.2 ppg, 5 rpg, and 1.2 BPG in just under 18 MPG, and guard Erick Green, who averaged 10.2 ppg on 38.1 percent from beyond the arc. Both players were non-factors down the stretch in the regular season, and it was comforting for Olympiacos fans to see them appear again after being relative no-shows during late-March and early-April.

One advantage Olympiacos will have over CSKA is in the post with the trio of Printezis-Birch and center Nikola Milutinov, who averaged a team-high 1.4 bpg against Efes. Milutinov is not a scoring threat, but he adds depth to the Olympiacos front court, which will be tough for the thin CSKA frontcourt to handle in their semifinal matchup. Add that combo with the stretch four  and small ball possibilities with Kostas Papanikolaou, and this could be the factor which could propel Olympiacos to an upset victory and a return to the championship game.

Coaching: 4th of 4th

Ioannis Sfairopoulos is a solid coach, but he hasn’t won a Euroleague title as a head coach, which is something he’s missing in comparison to the other coaches in the field. Sfairopoulos puts an enormous trust in Spanoulis to run the offense, who can be a turnover machine on occasion. However, that trust does pay off, for even though Spanoulis can turn a game away, he can also win it with big plays and big shots in isolation. Sfairopoulos deserves some credit for creating a culture where that kind of freedom on offense from star players is not just allowed, but encouraged.

This ranking is less a dig on Sfairopoulos and more an indicator of how good the coaching will be in this Final Four. Perhaps, if Olympiacos can make an underdog run, I’ll feel silly for ranking Sfairopoulos so low initially.

Fan attendance: 2nd of 4th

Olympiacos fans typically travel well, and the fact that the Final Four is only 11 hours away bodes well for Olympiacos in terms of getting fan support. The only thing keeping them from being No. 1? Fenerbahce unfortunately. Thankfully for Olympiacos, they should have the fan advantage in their semi matchup with CSKA, meaning the Red and White don’t have to worry until the Championship game.

Intangibles: 2nd of 4th

They have Spanoulis. They have Printezis. They seem to have finally gotten to somewhat full strength after struggling with injuries during the last third of the season. And, Olympiacos this year has always seemed to rise up to the moment, which makes them terrifying in a single elimination tournament. They undoubtedly are the underdog going into the Final Four, but with their fan support and big-game experience (especially from Spanoulis and Printezis), they could surprise a lot of fans and experts Final Four weekend, especially considering they have the least to lose of the four teams.


CSKA Moscow

Talent: 3rd of 4th

Depth-wise, CSKA and Olympiacos are close: Olympiacos has the edge in the frontcourt; CSKA out-does Olympiacos in the backcourt. Seriously. CSKA has two of the best guards in Europe in Nando de Colo and Milos Teodosic, and those two alone make me more confident in the Russian club in this matchup. But if you look at the CSKA perimeter a bit deeper, and it’s easy to forget how key Cory Higgins was in the playoffs against Baskonia, as he averaged 13.7 ppg on 60 percent shooting from beyond the arc in the sweep over the Basque club. Add the two-way versatility of Aaron Jackson, who averaged 8.3 ppg and 4 apg in the playoffs, and CSKA should prove to be a handful for the Greek representative.

The big issue will be if CSKA can handle Olympiacos’ physicality in the paint. They face a more “finesse” team in Baskonia in the playoffs, as their post players (mostly Johannes Voigtmann and Tornike Shengelia) hovered mostly in the mid-range. That won’t be the case in the Final Four, as Birch, Milutinov and Printezis can bang with the best in Europe. It will be interesting to see if James Augustine, Kyle Hines and Andrey Vorontsevich (and perhaps Victor Khryapa) will be able to hold their own against the Red and White frontcourt. If they do, that would go a long way in terms of helping CSKA repeat as Euroleague champions.

Coaching: 2nd of 4th

Dimitris Itoudis is a disciple of Zeljko Obradovic and it shows: he shares his mentor’s intensity and knack for full-court pressure defense. But, Itoudis is a bit more creative on the offensive end, as he prefers a perimeter based approach that constantly puts the ball in the hands of playmakers like Nando and Milos. While most would say Obradovic would do the same, I doubt Obradovic could tolerate the ups and downs of a player like Milos.

Itoudis is an outspoken leader (he called out the CSKA fans after lackluster attendance in the playoffs), connects well with his players (he has helped keep a team consistency throughout his tenure) and has proven himself at the Euroleague stage in his three seasons with the Moscow-based club (he is averaging 25 wins a year). Combine those intangibles with his basketball knowledge and acumen, and it’s easy to see why Itoudis ranks as the second-best coach of the Euroleague Final Four field.

Fan attendance: 4th of 4th

CSKA will have big name fans there. They will have the lower levels and courtside seats taken for. But in terms of overall fan attendance? Forget about it. CSKA is one of the best basketball clubs in Europe, with one of the most entertaining players in Europe (Milos) who’s most likely gone to the NBA next year (fingers crossed for the Kings). And yet, their home arena is nearly half-empty during the playoffs and is as quiet as an Orthodox church.

Yeah, don’t expect this team to be depending on the CSKA faithful next week.

Intangibles: 4th of 4th

I don’t feel like this CSKA team is going in with good momentum. Though they swept Baskonia, the Basque club had opportunities to win each game late in the fourth quarter. The frontcourt is going to have trouble against these other three teams who have tremendous depth in the post. Milos seems to have one foot out the door in terms of leaving Europe for the NBA, and I could see him having  a down Final Four with that weighing on his mind. And repeating as Euroleague champs is tough, and every non-CSKA fan coming to Istanbul (basically 95 percent of the fans in attendance) will be cheering for CSKA, the Goliath, to go down, whether it’s in the Semis or Finals.

Yes, CSKA has been a well-oiled machine all season long. But, in a one-game playoff against any of these clubs? Well…maybe against Olympiacos their odds are solid, simply because of their advantage in talent. But in the championship? Against Fenerbahce in front of their home fans (and looking for revenge)? Against the crazy depth of Real Madrid? The championship outlook for CSKA doesn’t appear so hot unfortunately.


Real Madrid

Talent: 1st of 4th

This Real team is seriously like 13 deep. At point, they have the All-Euroleague first team Spaniard Sergio Llull (who may be the Euroleague Regular Season MVP as well). They also have a second-team All-Euroleague player in center Gustavo Ayon, who may not be even the most talented post player on their roster (I go with Anthony Randolph in that category). They have the biggest prospect in Europe, and the winner of the Rising Star award in Slovenian wing Luka Doncic. And they have veteran presence and experience on this roster with Rudy Fernandez and Felipe Reyes.

Let’s just be honest. Yes, there are a lot of good teams in the Euroleague. The four in the field really were the best four in Europe due to their talent, chemistry and depth. But when it comes to roster depth, size and versatility, Real tops them all. No question about it.

Coaching: 3rd of 4th

Pablo Laso is an accomplished coach. He has won multiple ACB titles, and won a Euroleague championship in 2015. But, like many coaches in Spain, he relies way too much on a deep rotation, even in the postseason. Playing 12-13 guys an even amount of minutes works in the Regular Season, especially when you’re juggling ACB (the best domestic league in Europe) and Euroleague competition. But the Euroleague Final Four is the pinnacle. Randolph needs to play big minutes. Llull needs to be on the floor. Doncic needs to be given rope. And yet, players will come out earlier than they should, because of this trend in Spain to play “more players” in the rotation.

Maybe Laso will adjust. But coaches are a creature of habit, and I have a hard time seeing such an adjustment from Laso, even in a single elimination format such as the Final Four.

Fan Support: 3rd of 4th

Real Madrid fans are loyal. They are definitely a top-5 fanbase in the ACB (I prefer Baskonia’s fans over Real’s, but they are at least better than El Clasico rivals Barcelona). But, while they do have their ultras and dedicated fans who chant all game, home contests tend to be more like NBA regular season affairs in Madrid. Fans cheer for big plays, but for the most part are pretty low key when the action dies down a bit. They would be akin to San Antonio Spurs fans or Los Angeles Lakers faithful. They recognize greatness, have their super loyal supporters, and can get loud when the game is on the line. But will they travel to Turkey? Will they be as crazy as the Red and White Ultras or Blue and Yellow Fener fans? That’s a lot harder to imagine.

Intangibles: 3rd of 4th

I really believe Real Madrid is the best team in Europe. If the Final Four was a seven-game series like the NBA playoffs, no question Madrid would be leaving Istanbul as champions of Europe. They are so fun to watch, have a roster that would probably finish better in the NBA than the Brooklyn Nets and Phoenix Suns, and can beat opponents in so many ways on both ends of the court.

But, that game 2 loss to Dacka…I still can’t get over it. Real clearly was the better team than Dacka in that series (Dacka’ s offense basically consisted of Brad Wanamaker ISOs and Ante Zizic putbacks). This should have been the easiest sweep of the playoffs and yet Real still dropped one to the Turkish upstart and in Madrid nonetheless. That game has just scarred my excitement about Real’s title chances, and considering their first game will essentially be a true away game against Fener, it just seems tough for me to see Real build up any momentum this Final Four.


Fenerbahce Istanbul

Talent: 2nd of 4th

Some people may think I’m crazy putting Fenerbahce over Olympiacos and CSKA here. “They finished fourth! How can you say their talent is better than Olympiacos or the defending champs?” Well…let’s take a look at a few things:

  • Fenerbahce dealt with injuries a lot this year. Nearly every key player to this team missed time at some point this year. If this team was fully healthy, they would have finished 1st or 2nd, most likely ahead of CSKA.
  • Bogdan Bogdanovic is the truth…case in point? He was voted a first team All-Euroleague player despite playing in only 20 regular season games. That’s respect. Plain and simple. (And he proved that with his straight up killer performances in OAKA in the playoffs against Panathinaikos, who was the hottest team in the Euroleague going into the playoffs.)
  • This team has great chemistry and can pick one another up when they slack. Jan Vesely has declined the past couple of years, and yet you don’t notice it because Ekpe Udoh has become perhaps the Euroleague’s best post player on both ends. Luigi Datome and Nikola Kalinic have been interchangeable combo forwards, capable of stretching opposing defenses (by playing small ball 4) and having big scoring outputs any given night. If Bogdanovic has an off night, Kostas Sloukas and Bobby Dixon can pick up the slack. This team just plays well with each other, and though they do not have Real’s depth, they probably have better chemistry on both ends when fully healthy, which they have been this postseason.

So yeah. There’s a lot of reasons to like Fenerbahce’s roster.

And of course…Bogdan Bogdanovic is the truth.

Coaching: 1st of 4th

Zeljko Obradovic has won 8…fucking…Euroleague championships. He has turned Fenerbahce into one of the true powerhouse clubs in Europe.

Yeah, there is no competition here. Let’s move on.

Fan support: 1st of 4th

The Canaries will be in full force for this Fenerbahce team in Istanbul. This is the dream scenario really: a Final Four appearance in their home city. These fans get lit already for Turkish BSL games. Banvit-Fenerbahce can get crazy with the ultras. A semifinal rematch against Real Madrid, who beat Fenerbahce in their first ever Final Four appearance in 2015? A possible rematch from the 2016 title game against CSKA?

This Istanbul Fenerbahce crowd will be beyond lit for the semi final (and hopefully championship) game. And that “lit-ness” is going to give Fenerbahce an advantage on the that no other team in the Final Four field will match…not by a longshot.

Intangibles: 1st of 4th

Fenerbahce seems to be a team of destiny. The Final Four being in Istanbul. The crazy last round which had them go from 7th to 4th. Bogdanovic going nuts in OAKA. Udoh making All-Euroleague first team with Bogdanovic. The chance to be the first Turkish club in Euroleague history to win a Euroleague championship (and do so in their home country). Playing in front of one the most rabid basketball fan bases in all of Europe.

Fenerbahce has so much going for them as they head into the Final Four. They are the favorites, even if they may not look so on paper. In all honesty, it would be a miracle of God to NOT see Obradovic and the Fenerbahce team at the podium at center court holding up the trophy and covered in blue and yellow confetti on May 21st.