The first season of the new 16 team format of Euroleague is in the books. Over 30 rounds of the regular season, the playoffs, and the final four in Istanbul, an awful lot happened. Emmet Ryan looks back at the stories that made the season from the opening rounds to the climax in May
It was the first step in a new era for Euroleague. All 16 teams were going to play each other in a proper league and, well, it’s not like folk weren’t nervous. The fears that also rans would stop caring early were real, potentially leading to some major dead rubbers as the year wore on, as the possibility of this turning into a bloated version of the previous Top 16 loomed large. That format was good but benefitted from only being 14 rounds long. This year was more than doubling that. It was a risk but one which ended up working out well and has already led to furious discussion of possible expansion. We begin our tale however with a team that just couldn’t get it together for a long enough stint to stay relevant.
Freak City becomes heartbreak central
The first seven rounds broke Brose Bamberg. None of those games to kick off the season were decided by more than two possessions but the 2-5 start immediately handicapped Andrea Trinchieri’s side. They were left with a mountain to climb early and never got that closing mentality as the season wore on. By the mid-point of the season it looked like they had found signs of life but a run of four straight losses through to round 20 would end their presence in the playoff fight.
Real emerge early
It’s not like anyone thought Real would struggle this season but the potential of this side to excel during the regular season phase was made obvious in Round 8. Los Blancos went to the Palau Blaugrana and delivered a merciless beatdown of arch-rivals Barcelona. It was just extraordinary to watch with this play by Anthony Randolph eventually being named the magic moment of the season.
A large chunk of the doubt around Madrid ended up being the primary reason they performed so well. Sergio Llull became a floor general this past season, embracing the opportunity to make the team his own. We still got those crazy Llull moments but he backed them up with clear leadership on the floor to establish the Madrid club’s credentials early.
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How can I miss you if you never go away?
No two men benefitted more when they were off the floor this past season than Bogdan Bogdanovic and Tornike Shengelia. Fenerbahce went 6-7 in the regular season when missing the Serbian, and the struggles were obvious. With him, this looked a lot more like the team we all knew and feared.
Likewise Shengelia’s role for Baskonia looked important when he was healthy but became painfully more so when the Georgian was out. Toko was the straw that stirred the drink and when he was absent Baskonia went a vile 1-6, their lone victory coming against a team that was more a gathering of broken bodies than a basketball club for most of the season.
There are multiple contenders for who had the biggest annus horribilis but it’s going to be hard to top Barcelona for that honour. Throughout the year the side looked in dire shape, not least because it was in dire shape in terms of health. A string of injuries hampered what was already a side that was more limited than this corner foresaw to start the season. The mid-season arrival of Vitor Faverani provided a dead cat bounce in the middle of a 1-6 that included that defeat to a Baskonia side missing Shengelia.
Gentile the drifter
Things ended poorly for Alessandro Gentile in Milan and he wasn’t in Athens long enough to really do much for Panathinaikos before departing. It was one of the stranger stories of the season as the Italian was a clear star on an awful Olimpia Milano team but the relationship got so bad the two sides were happy to see the back of each other despite neither having much of a better option. Divorce rarely has winners.
Enter the Doncic
Wow that’s been a lot of downbeat stuff, we need to get back to the fun. Thank everything for Luka Doncic. In a season where he would unanimously be named Rising Star, Doncic gave the first hint of just how good he was going to be this year in Round 13 against Brose Bamberg before taking over against Maccabi Tel Aviv in Round 17. The combination of confidence and compsoure the young man brought was a huge boost for Real Madrid and for anyone just wanting to catch some really cool basketball on a weeknight.
Radonjic and Saras make their mark
We already knew Dejan Randonjic had a lot going for him after last season but their seven game winning run through the middle rounds made them look like a probable playoff side rather than mere contenders for a slot in the post-season. The coach of the year award eventually went to Radonjic even though the playoff push was eventually derailed by injuries.
As for Sarunas Jasikevicius, he’s going to mostly be remembered this year for a speech he gave well after the Euroleague season ended for Zalgiris Kaunas but his stock sky-rocketed with the way his club performed this year.
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CSKA find a great balance
The 5 position was an issue for CSKA all season, with their options behind Kyle Hines simply not being the right fit on the boards for the Moscow club. Outside of that, they excelled. One the one hand their was the fantastic combination of Milos Teodosic and Nando de Colo in the backcourt, with the performances of Teodosic only increasing rumours of a move to the NBA. Behind that duo however was a core of role players who knew what was needed to make it all work. We know how it ended but, for most of the year, it was brutally effective.
Money helps but it doesn’t solve all problems
The past year for Maccabi Tel Aviv and Olimpia Milano would best be described as forgettable. Maccabi looked determined to set a record for most coaches hired in a year while Milano had a top half budget but finished, deservedly, at the bottom of the standings. Neither of these sides were much fun to watch for most of the campaign as the utter lack of chemistry on the floor spoke volumes about the front office decisions made in assembling the rosters.
For Darussafaka and Anadolu Efes, being able to spend big proved a touch more helpful to their mutual causes, with the latter showing unexpected consistency down the stretch to comfortably book its place in the post-season. Dacka left it until the last day to get into the post-season but they had already made a huge move.
Ante Zizic you glorious monster
It’s almost certainly his only Euroleague campaign for the foreseeable future but even half a season of Ante Zizic at this level was a heap of fun to watch. The giant Croat wasn’t always on top but when he was, the youngster proved why the Boston Celtics are salivating over him. The jump wasn’t expected, at least not with this kind of efficacy. Zizic had been a bulldozer in the Adriatic League but the step up to Euroleague was supposed to show more bumps in the road then it did. Ante was all, yeah whatever, and kept kicking ass until Dacka dropped out of the playoffs.
The bus stalls the revolution
Xavi Pascual did a really good job with Panathinaikos this year. While they were far from world-beaters on the road, he was able to successfully implement his game on this side completely in the course of a single season. That was a radical change for the Greens. Then they ran into Fenerbahce in the playoffs and Busgate/Bus-a-lago happened. It was dumb, it’s done with, now Pascual will at least get a chance to build on the work he did this past year.
Real’s year peters out
Having been forced to fight in their playoff series, showing true grit against Darussafaka, it all ended on a bit of a sour note in the end for Real Madrid. They just never really got it together in the Final Four and already there’s talk of how they are going to change things up for next season. Styles make fights and they weren’t built for the one they got in Istanbul.
No regrets for the Reds
The last game for Olympiacos didn’t go the way they wanted but this is a season they should look back on fondly. There will be off-season changes but, on the whole, Oly look in far better health than they did just a year ago when their ability to get back to the top table looked up for serious debate. Good job, more to come.
Fener get it together
When it counted, in front of their own fans, Fenerbahce got the wins that mattered. They made light work of the Final Four in the end with two dominant performances to take their first ever Euroleague crown. Ekpe Udoh was the man of the moment but, with Zeljko Obradovic taking his ninth Euroleague crown the debate now turns to which comes first: La Decima or La Zocima?
Keith Langford you beautiful madman
Yeah, we’re finishing by ignoring chronology because Keith Langford was just ridiculous this year. He started shooting and never really stopped, steamrollering his way to the Alphonso Ford Trophy and into the hearts of middle aged basketball fans everywhere. Langford’s Unics Kazan team finished second to last on the ladder but were usually reliable for a good game to watch. While Langford wasn’t the only reason for that, he sure as heck did his part to make folk want to watch a team that spent most of the season at the wrong end of the table. Never change Keith, never, ever, change.