Euroleague 2018-19 Season Preview | Def Pen
Euroleague
Euroleague 2018-19 preview (Phantom Designs for Def Pen Sports)

The 2018-19 Euroleague season will tip-off today so it’s the perfect time to introduce the 16 teams that will compete for the title. Real Madrid, now without Luka Doncic, are looking to defend their crown, while CSKA, Fenerbahce, Olympiacos and some other contenders will try to bounce back. Let’s look at every squad:.

Anadolu Efes

After a difficult season, Efes decided to change basically the entire team. Their summer was busy and coach Ataman signed nine new players. Among the new faces: Shane Larkin, Rodrigue Beaubois, Vasilije Micic, James Anderson, Tibor Pleiss, and Adrien Moerman. The backcourt will be interesting to watch, Ataman will have the opportunity to play always with two ball handlers and create some creative sets for his offense.

In the frontcourt, Efes added Bryan Dunston, who will be the defensive anchor of the team, and Brock Motum, who can stretch the floor and shoot threes. For Efes, the key will be to find the right chemistry between the new players. With nine new additions, it won’t be easy to find the right balance immediately. But there’s definitely an intriguing combination of offensive talent, defensive wings and depth on the team and once the fit between the players is there, Efes will create problems for several teams.

Barcelona

After missing the Euroleague playoffs for two straight years, Barcelona decided once again to invest big time money during the summer and reshape their roster. The front office added point guard Kevin Pangos, a member of the All-Euroleague second team last season, former NBA big man Chris Singleton, who is coming off a very strong season with Panathinaikos, American shooting machine Kyle Kuric, Ukrainian big man Artem Pustovyi, young Latvian forward Roland Smits and veteran Jaka Blazic. After so many signings it’s right to ask yourself if Barcelona is actually a better team than last season.

The firepower is there, there is no doubt about that. The offensive potential of the team is clear, with so many guys that can create shots for themselves and their teammates. Pangos and Heurtel will be a very interesting combo offensively – and with reliable guys on the perimeter like Hanga, Kuric, Blazic, and Claver – it’s easy to say that Barcelona will score a lot this season. But doubts remain about their ability to bring their defensive force to the right level. Barca’s defense has been a total nightmare in the last two seasons and this summer the team focused more on adding to the offensive power than the defensive talent.

Pustovyi and Singleton can help in fixing some issues, but the holes on the perimeter will be tough to cover if Pesic can’t find some new solutions. The team has already changed three different coaches in the last three years, and despite the fact that Pesic already knows the environment in which he works in, the amount of pressure will be at an all-time high this season. Another failure in Euroleague wouldn’t be acceptable for such a big club like Barca. Now it’s up to Pesic and his players to get back to the playoffs.

Euroleague
Darrun Hilliard (photo via Baskonia)

Baskonia

As already explained in a previous column, this season could be a historic one for Baskonia. This year, in fact, the Spanish side is celebrating the 60th anniversary of the club and will also host the Euroleague Final Four at the Fernando Buesa Arena. The front office decided to keep most of the core of last season, adding only a couple of players to strengthen their roster. Shavon Shields, coming from Italian side Pallacanestro Trento, was one of the best players of Italian Serie A last season and scared Olimpia Milano during last season’s finals, averaging 21 points per game.

The American forward will also bring some outstanding defense. Another important addition to the roster was Darrun Hilliard, a former Detroit Pistons draftee who averaged more than 21 points per game in G-League last season while shooting 40% from beyond the three-point line. Both newcomers look like a great fit in Pedro Martinez’s system, based on very intense perimeter defense and three-point shooting.

The captain of the team, Toko Shengelia, another former NBA player, has quickly become one of the best players in Europe and during the decided to solidify his bound to the team by re-signing until 2022. The backcourt will be, basically, the same of last season with Jayson Granger, Marcelinho Huertas, Luca Vildoza and Matt Janning, a great combination of experience, leadership and offensive force. The beginning of the season in Euroleague won’t be easy, considering that the schedule dictates three of the first four games will be on the road for this squad. Reaching the Final Four won’t be easy for Baskonia, but with the opportunity of playing at home, this season is a must-win for them.

Bayern Munich

Another team that was able to break the streak of its main domestic rival is Bayern Munich. The Bavarians sent Brose Bamberg to Basketball Champions League and will try to proudly represent German basketball on the biggest European stage. Unlike its football parent club, the basketball franchise stays away from big signings. Nothing has changed with the exception of one truly notable player that came to Munich this offseason.

Derrick Williams, according to his own words, is not done yet with his NBA career. Euroleague is a great stepping stone that will definitely help Derrick regain some steam. But aside from the big-name addition, Bayern is still a quiet dark-horse with noble intentions. The German squad will heavily rely on Vladimir Lucic and Devin Booker’s performance. Devin, Trevor’s younger brother, can easily be one of the best bigs on this level. Petteri Koponen, the symbol of Finnish basketball, will also add some authentic highlights, however, he is clearly past his prime. That all makes Bayern one of the underdogs of the season.

Buducnost

The king is dead. Long live the king. Someway, somehow, Crvena Zvezda has lost its Adriatic Basketball Association title and left the door open for their Montenegrian rival. Buducnost was never really a rich club even by Balkan standards. Still, the Montenegrian team was able to lure some very respectable players to give it the best shot.

The international core is built around experienced veterans. The most recognizable face here is definitely Earl Clark thanks to his stints with the Lakers and Besiktas. He will get help from French point guard veteran Edwin Jackson, Russian basketball expert Coty Clarke, and the former Ohio State Buckeye and last year’s Basketball Champions League runner-up with Monaco, Aaron Craft. Nemanja Gordic, longtime leader of the club, will provide some additional firepower. It’s really hard to imagine this tiny core fighting for a playoff spot but they can scrap and deliver an upset or two along the way.

Euroleague
Nando DeColo (photo via EuroHoops.Net)

CSKA

The Russian powerhouse took the subtle approach this summer. There was no rush as the main core has stayed together. Basically, it’s the same team full of “they may play in the NBA but choose to fight for Euroleague title every year” players. Nando De Colo, Sergio Rodriguez, Will Clyburn, and Cory Higgins will terrorize every European arena on weekly basis. De Colo didn’t get an MVP nod last season but you can expect one more MVP-caliber run from him for sure.

CSKA’s front office clearly concentrated on adding depth to its frontcourt. That’s exactly why the former Sun Alec Peters and the former Jazzman Joel Bolomboy switched continents this past summer. Peters will provide three-point shooting at four and Bolomboy will be a perfect choice for a small five. Daniel Hackett, another notable newcomer, will do what Daniel Hackett always does – provide some length and defensive prowess. And don’t forget about defensive bulldogs Kyle Hines and Nikita Kurbanov either. CSKA will run to win it all one more time and they’ve got all the right tools to do that.

Darussafaka

Darussafaka Istanbul has returned to the EuroLeague after winning the EuroCup title last year – although the odds of the Turkish team making the playoffs this season are not high. They are coming off a difficult offseason as they were forced to make some unexpected moves caused by the early departures of Jordan Loyd and Cory Jefferson.

Loyd left the Turkish club to sign a two-way deal with the Toronto Raptors whereas Jefferson didn’t pass the team’s physical. Darussafaka replaced them with solid additions in Markel Brown, Ray McCallum, and Jeremy Evans, but the lack of depth on the roster will make it tough for them to reach the playoffs in a high-level competition like the EuroLeague.

Fenerbahce

Once again, expect Fenerbahce to be one of the top contenders for the EuroLeague title this year. Losing Brad Wanamaker and James Nunnally is a tough blow for the team, but the Turkish powerhouse landed two former NBA players in Tyler Ennis and Joffrey Lauvergne. In his first EuroLeague season, Ennis will be one of the players to watch because the way he adjusts to European ball will be important for Fenerbahce.

Lauvergne already has EuroLeague experience so he will be able to make an impact right away for them. The key word for Fenerbahce is “consistency”. In addition to Lauvergne and Ennis, they kept most of last season’s roster, with a lot of veterans ready to bring all the little things that can help Fenerbahce make its fifth straight Final Four appearance.

Gran Canaria

Herbalife Gran Canaria will compete in the EuroLeague for the first time in the club’s history. However, the Spanish team is not expected to stand out and reach the playoffs in its inaugural EuroLeague season. The roster is solid but doesn’t offer the same amount of stars and overall skill set that the top contenders have.

Chris Evans had a good season in the Basketball Champions League with AS Monaco and, now it will be interesting to see if he will be able to step up at the EuroLeague level. Clevin Hannah and D.J. Strawberry will be the starting guards, whereas veteran big man Kim Tillie will bring his experience coming off the bench. Finally, keep an eye on Philadelphia 76ers draft-and-stash prospect Anzejs Pasecniks, who is expected to play an important role as the team’s starting center.

Euroleague
Alexey Shved (Photo via VTB League)

Khimki

Alexey Shved will be approximately 300 years old in December. This is both good and bad information for Khimki. He is very experienced at the highest European level and you can always count on him to carry your team when at times nothing else is working. On the other hand, he’s a chaotic scorer with the worst shot selection you can imagine, and he is not getting younger, Plus, it’s probably his last year in Europe before he tries his luck with different NBA general managers, which could affect his game too.

With that said, Khimki is still a force to reckon with. And of course, it wouldn’t be possible if Shved had a bunch of “yes men” around him. Anthony Gill, one of the most underrated players in Euroleague, will undoubtedly be Khimki’s second option. Jordan Mickey will make his European debut in the blue and yellow and will form a formidable, mobile frontcourt with Malcolm Thomas. Charles Jenkins and Dee Bost will provide some court generalship when needed. With one truly elite player, Khimki is solid all-around. You may see these guys in quarterfinals once again.

Maccabi Tel Aviv

The Israeli powerhouse will be one of the most intriguing teams to watch this upcoming season. Maccabi’s starting lineup is almost completely different from last year. The new point guard is Florida alum Scottie Wilbekin, who’s making his return to the EuroLeague after a great season in the EuroCup. Former Iowa State wing DeAndre Kane is another important piece of the starting lineup as he proved that he can make a good impact on the defensive end with his size and energy.

In the paint, Maccabi lost Thomas Robinson but found a huge replacement by signing Tarik Black, who’s making his debut in the EuroLeague after four years in the NBA. In addition to Black, Maccabi picked up another player coming from the NBA to complete the frontcourt: Johnny O’Bryant, who spent last season with the Charlotte Hornets. This is an interesting team that has the potential to make the playoffs this year. But this will depend on how the group will get along and how the newcomers will adjust to European basketball.

Olimpia Milano

After a bunch of disappointing seasons, this might be the year Olimpia Milano can make a strong push to the EuroLeague playoffs. The Italian powerhouse was able to get a EuroLeague star in Mike James, who made a good impact also in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns last season. James is joining Nemanja Nedovic to form one of the best backcourt duos in the league.

The impact that former Knicks forward Mindaugas Kuzminskas made last season was not as much as expected, Milano will need him to step up and be more consistent in order to help the team down the stretch. Milano strengthened its frontcourt as well by keeping centers Arturas Gudaitis and Kaleb Tarczewski, and additionally by signing Jeff Brooks, who’s coming off a solid season with Unicaja Malaga.

Euroleague
David Blatt (Euroleague)

Olympiacos

This was a busy offseason for Olympiacos. The Reds brought in a new head coach, one of the best in Europe, former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blatt. With the arrival of Blatt on the bench, the front office didn’t waste any time and reshaped the roster with the addition of combo guard Nigel Williams-Goss, big man Zach LeDay, former Barcelona power forward Sasha Vezenkov and forwards Axel Toupane and Janis Timma.

With Spanoulis and Printezis still on board, Olympiacos is going to be a threat for many teams in Euroleague this season. David Blatt has all the tools to bring the team to victory: a very intriguing mix of experience and freshness. His winning mentality is a perfect fit for a team like Olympiacos and the transfer market has made the team better. I’d never bet against Spanoulis and coach Blatt and I’m not going to start doing it now.

Panathinaikos

The most important move for Panathinaikos this summer was the re-signing of Nick Calathes. Yeah, Mike James and Chris Singleton are gone, but the no.1 priority for Panathinaikos was to keep Calathes around after his stellar season. The doubt about the Greens this season, though, is that they decided to invest on players with maybe too much road under their shoes. Keith Langford is 35, Lasme is the same age. Panathinaikos will need these guys to be at the top of their condition during the playoffs and with such long regular season that won’t be easy at all.

Younger guys like Ioannis Papapetrou arrived from rival Olympiacos. Georgios Papagiannis, a former first-round pick for the Sacramento Kings, will need to step up in order to give some fresh air to the veterans. In the last two seasons, Pana always had a strong regular season but then came up short in the playoffs despite home-court advantage. The conditioning of their best players will be crucial for their success this season.

Euroleague
Sergio Llull (photo via EuroLeague)

Former Euroleague champions Real Madrid

Real Madrid lost Luka Doncic – but that was expected. The reigning champs, aside from the loss of Doncic, didn’t change much. The only new additions are Slovenian shooting guard Klemen Prepelic and Argentinian forward Gabriel Deck. The good news is that this season Real will have superstar Sergio Llull at the beginning of the season,  he missed most of the last season due to a knee injury. Big man Ognjen Kuzmic, a former NBA Champion with the Warriors, will be available from the beginning after spending most of last season on the sidelines with an injury as well.

Both Trey Thompkins and Jaycee Carroll extended their deals. French swingman Fabien Causeur, already one of the best players during the last Final Four, is ready to take in an even bigger role this season. Yeah, the overall age of the team may be growing, but don’t doubt this team, Real is going to be the main contender for the Euroleague title after winning two in the last four years. Luka Doncic may not be there anymore, but Real Madrid has no intention to stop winning.

Zalgiris

The Lithuanian squad was an absolute sensation last year. Sarunas Jasikevicius was able to create a perfect Cinderella team. Feisty and gutsy – Zalgiris outhustled many heavy favorites on their way to the Final Four. Can they do it again this season? The odds are definitely against them. Zalgiris lost its best player to Barcelona. Kevin Pangos was the second biggest factor in their incredible success, right behind Sarunas Jasikevicius’ magic of course. Vasilije Micic, a 76ers draft-and-stash player, left Kaunas for good also.

Nate Wolters and Leo Westermann will try to fulfill all the needs at the point guard position. Thomas Walkup, a newcomer from the German league, will add shooting depth in the backcourt. Brandon Davies, Aaron White, Edgaras Ulanovas and of course All-Euroleague Lithuanian Paulius Jankunas will still breath and bleed green. But the main goal of the summer was to make sure Sarunas Jasikevicius will stay happy in Kaunas for at least a year. The maestro will probably do that after declining an intriguing Toronto Raptors coaching bid. And if you have Saras on your bench, you always have a chance to shock the world.

Orazio Cauchi, Nicola Lupo, and Dmitry Planidin contributed to this piece.

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