EUROLEAGUE PREVIEW

Who will win the 2018 Euroleague title? Jordan Rowe looks at the contenders.

The teams that can be labelled as ‘true contenders’ in the EuroLeague are steadily increasing. With the 2017-2018 season tipping off this week, the road to Final Four in Belgrade begins.

And it looks like four teams could realistically take home the title while providing us mere mortal fans with the entertainment value we have sorely missed over the off-season.

Real Madrid

Real Madrid boasted the best player showings at this years EuroBasket and it wasn’t even close. If it wasn’t Jonas Maciulis showing he has still got it for Lithuania, it was either Luka Doncic or Anthony Randolph lighting up the highlight reel for champions Slovenia; not to mention latest off-season signing Ognjen Kuzmic averaging a tidy 7 points and 5 boards for eventual runners up Serbia.

This team have so many different ways to score and grind opponents down on any given night, that they may as well not bother running back to defend. Signing sharpshooting Frenchman Fabian Causeur to a two year deal only strengthens their floor spacing ability; although back problems limited him to three minutes in the Final Four, raising concerns about his durability despite starting the first 20 games of last season. Nonetheless, Real Madrid pose as a serious threat to lift the Turkish Airlines trophy come the playoffs, after retaining a strong core and tweaking their roster to further improve depth and scoring.

If the 4/1 favorites do make it over the hump, then it will be down to Luka Doncic. His energy is clearly contagious for his teammates, and it would only be right to see the fairytale ending to this up and coming superstars European career; before he inevitably declares for the 2018 NBA draft. Hopefully his EuroBasket finals game injury is not a sign of things to come…..

Despite 2017 MVP Sergio Lull being sidelined with a torn ACL, expect Real Madrid to make serious noise this year with the deepest and most talented roster in the league. Real Madrid are my ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ pick, so expect some jaw dropping highlights and amazing performances from them; with the only real threat of derailing a trip to the finals being injuries.

CSKA Moscow

You’d have thought they’d have gotten bored by now. 14 EuroLeague Final Four appearances in 15 years, posting a league high 86.9 points per game this season whilst ranking second in assists; but no, the well-oiled winning machine that is CSKA Moscow just keeps on rolling.

The loss of the crisp passing and leadership Milos Teodosic provided will sting, but a revamped roster will undoubtedly help continue their consistent success. CSKA Moscow have taken Real Madrid’s off season and raised them, bolstering their frontline and wings with size and athleticism; which promises to make for great viewing for fans of the NBA style of play.

Signing Sergio Rodriguez from the Philadelphia 76ers and bringing in Will Clyburn were two of my favorite off-season moves in the league, providing a balance of veteran experience and scoring that will pay dividends as the season progresses. Retaining a proven core group of players who know what it takes to win mean CSKA Moscow are the biggest threat to Real Madrid’s run at the trophy, as well as defending champions Fenerbahce.

With a busy offseason, the depth the Russian side now boasts makes them odds on favorites to be crowned champions. Having lost their offensive catalyst in Teodosic, the worst thing this team can do right now is rest on their laurels, so expect Coach Dimitris Itoudis to apply the pressure right from the get go.

Fenerbahce

The defending champions weren’t satisfied with lifting the 2017 EuroLeague trophy, and have instead looked to build upon a successful season with some notable additions. One of the league’s best scorers, Brad Wanamaker makes his way over on a year deal whilst they also add former NBA big man Jason Thompson, who averaged 18.7 points and 13.9 rebounds for the Shandong Golden Stars in China.

Even though Fenerbahce have maintained an upward trend ahead of the new season, they just don’t seem to have that ‘something’ to really contend with CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid come the playoffs. Sure they have a deep team with a lot of NBA and EuroLeague experience, but they don’t have a Nando de Colo or Luka Doncic (yes him again) who can really establish them as consistent winners through multiple seasons. This may seem like an unfair critique looking at their roster, and with so much talent they will undoubtedly win a lot of games, but I just don’t see a repeat happening. However, expect Fenerbahce to score with the best of them and showcase just as much electricity as other elite teams in the league.

If you want fringe/ former NBA talent and a whole load of long range shooting then pay attention to the defending champions. If you are an admirer of floor spacing bigs (namely former Atlanta Hawk Antic and off-season signing Melli) then watch Fenerbahce let it fly from deep. This side may not get the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ award, but expect plenty of plays throughout the season to cement them as one of the most entertaining EuroLeague teams to watch this season.

Olympiacos

Do not underestimate the old guard. The core of Olympiacos’ back to back titles in 2012 and 2013 are still intact; their bodies may have aged, no longer possessing that quick first step, but believe these guys will not be a walk over.

With off-season signings Hollis Thompson and Kim Tillie assuming the role of 3 point snipers, expect the veterans to showcase some crafty moves with a whole load of floor space to play with. Kim Tillie provided Baskonia Vitoria with blistering shooting last season, averaging 6.9 points on 62.6% 2FG, 40.7% 3FG and 91.2%FT, proving why he is rightly labelled as one of the best shooters in European basketball. This year’s team is reminiscent of the 2013 and 2014 San Antonio Spurs, and look what happened when they were counted out as old and past their prime……

Whether or not you view former Philadelphia 76er Hollis Thompson as a marquee signing for Olympiacos is up for debate, but you cannot deny his combination of size and shooting make him a hot commodity for any team either side of the Atlantic. Will he alone carry Olympiacos through the Final Fours and get them over the hump? Doubtful. However, his addition can bolster their ranks and help gear them up to make another title run whilst playing alongside an entire team who know how to win. Partner this in with head coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos, a near miss for the 2016 Coach of the Year Award, and you have a contender and fan favorite team who have an 18-8 record last season to build upon.

With an ageing core and no real superstar signing this offseason, maybe they won’t even come close to a championship; but then again maybe counting them out is exactly what they want you to do. So to all teams facing Olympiacos this season, underestimate them at your peril.

Our Prediction: Real Madrid vs. CSKA Moscow final, Real Madrid to take the title.

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