By Antonis Stroggylakis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Well, it’s that time of the year again.
Eurohoops presents the Top 100 EuroLeague Players ahead of the 2018-2019 season. A list of players compiled with some specific criteria with the purpose of tracing and ranking those hoopers that are expected to define the upcoming EuroLeague season.
While there are some objective and factual elements/data that were taken into consideration when choosing the 100 players and then ranking them, the final result is, inevitably, subjective.
As always, there was a calculated risk with rookies, especially those who are completely unfamiliar with European basketball. Hence why some players who will now take their first steps in EuroLeague have been omitted from the list or where placed in lower positions in comparison with EL rookies that already have a considerable experience at a competitive level of European basketball. Experience in this level and type of game matters since we’ve seen no few quality players, even established NBAers, immensely struggle in their new surroundings simply because of their unfamiliarity with everything that European basketball encompasses.
What should be noted is that a player of a team that is a title or Final Four contender automatically got a relative priority over another with possibly similar or equal, maybe even superior individual strengths. This is why you will find that there is an increased number of players from well-known powerhouses. Of course, there’s also the fact that these teams usually sign a lot of top talent.
It goes without saying that injuries also played a part in picking and ranking the players.
Like every year, the Eurohoops Top 100 Players ranking is based on the following criteria (in this order):
1) The individual quality of each player in combination with the role and playing time we anticipate he will get with his team.
2) The strength of the club he plays for. The players of the teams that are usually playoff staples and are considered among the title contenders always have the edge because they combine individual quality with their club’s high aspirations.
3) What each player has achieved in his career in the EuroLeague, combined with the prospect he carries for the 2018-19 season.
10. Kevin Pangos (Barcelona)
Year of birth: 1993
2017-2018 stats: 12.7 points, 5.9 assists, 2.7 rebounds in 24:49 minutes per game with Zalgiris Kaunas in EuroLeague.
Year by year, Kevin Pangos has shown quite a growth, not only at an individual level but also when it comes to contribution to major team success. He was an All-EuroCup guard in his debut pro year with Gran Canaria, then made the jump to EuroLeague and last season he led Zalgiris Kaunas to its first Final Four appearance in 19 years.
This isn’t just steps but strides that Pangos has taken. His most recent achievement, being the driving force in Zalgiris’ near-miracle run to the EuroLeague Final Four was stunning for many reasons. The Lithuanian team lacked homecourt advantage and had to overcome a powerhouse such as Olympiacos and it was also Pangos’ first experience in the playoffs. Even quality players have been overwhelmed when they debut in the EuroLeague playoffs but the Canadian guard delivered with the know-how and cool of a veteran to propel his team through the Top 4.
It was the culmination of a season where Pangos put Sarunas Jasikevicius’ strict playbook to impeccable use on the floor. His ability to orchestrate the offense, find a perfect balance between distributing the ball and scoring himself with great accuracy (he shot 47.5 percent on 158 3-point attempts), all in a highly disciplined offense, showed that he’s a guard who belongs in a title contender.
That’s what Barcelona thought when signing him this summer. And here lies a major challenge for Pangos since he will try to lead the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Only this time, the pressure is real since despite previous struggles, Barca is never an underdog and everyone will be waiting for them. Pangos will have his hands full and his pairing with Thomas Heurtel should be one of the “must watch” combos in the upcoming EuroLeague.
Year of birth: 1990
2017-2018 stats: 10 points, 5,4 assists, 2.5 rebounds in 24:49 minutes per game with Fenerbahce in EuroLeague.
If there is one player that has the more right to feel that he was unfairly snubbed from the 2018 All-EuroLeague Team, then that someone is Kostas Sloukas.
Sloukas’ performances that helped Fenerbahce reach the Final Four for the fourth season in a row made a compelling argument that it was his time to earn All-EuroLeague Team honors. The Greek guard was the heartbeat of the Fenerbahce offense, utilizing his extreme skills as pick n’ roll connoisseur at full force. His whole season was a passing seminar that reached some phenomenal standards in the playoffs.
Actually, Sloukas’ playmaking in the quarterfinals vs. Baskonia was historic. He began with 11 assists in Game 1, continued with six in Game 2 and then took it to a whole new level on the road with 11 dimes in Game 3 and eight in Game 4 and the win that sealed Fener‘s qualification to the Final Four. The result? A new EuroLeague playoffs record for total (36) and average (9) numbers of assists while committing merely nine turnovers overall. Quite impressive.
Sloukas has developed into one of the most prominent floor generals in Europe, and a player who can also inflict heavy damage with his scoring, if needed. Zeljko Obradovic trusts him implicitly and he will continue being the one who will carry the bulk of playmaking tasks for Fenerbahce, especially in critical situations.
8. Vassilis Spanoulis (Olympiacos)
Year of birth: 1982
2017-2018 stats: 14 points, 5.6 assists, 1.5 rebounds in 26:19 minutes per game with the Olympiacos in EuroLeague.
At 36 years of age, three-time EuroLeague champion and Final Four MVP Vassilis Spanoulis is embarking on his 13th season in the competition. He comes from his eighth All-EuroLeague appearance and it can be argued that by now he’s the most celebrated player (if we include team and individual distinctions) in the history of the league.
While the plan for Olympiacos is to no longer be the team where Spanoulis’ high pick n’ roll is the basis for almost every offense, the Reds remain Spanoulis’ squad through and through. Coaches will begin their defensive preparation ahead of games vs. Olympiacos by instructing their players how to stop Spanoulis. Once more, when Spanoulis is on the court he will be the most feared opponent and the one who keeps the best defender of the other team busy. Everyone will be “locked” on anticipating the slightest move he makes. Simply put, Spanoulis boosts Olympiacos just by existing in the active roster, not only on the court but off of it as well.
What Spanoulis can offer to Olympiacos in terms of production is well known since he’s been the primary scorer and passer (he’s now the EuroLeague all-time assists leader) of the team for years. Like with Giorgos Printezis, the key matter for the Greek star guard will be to keep his tanks full of stamina around April. He remains a weapon that all EuroLeague coaches would “kill” to have on their roster but overusing him can backfire on the long run. With reduced usage, he’ll be ready to turn his engines on at full speed around the playoffs.
Spanoulis is 36, yes. He’s not as springy as he used to be and sometimes he might be his team’s weakest link on defense. But he remains the ultimate leader in Europe, a guy who is able to still carry a contender on his backs, even at his age. And he’s the one player you’d choose to hit a game-winner if your life was depending on if it falls in or not.
7. Sergio Rodriguez (CSKA Moscow)
Year of birth: 1986
Height: 1.91 m.
2017-2018 stats: 13.8 points, 4.9 assists, 2 rebounds in 26:01 minutes per game with CSKA Moscow in EuroLeague.
Sergio Rodriguez was widely considered as the only player who could successfully replace Milos Teodosic in CSKA Moscow. With his performances in the previous season, the “Spanish Magician” perfectly justified those who thought he would be the ideal character for the part.
The only thing that prevented Rodriguez’s run in 2017-2018 from reaching utter “perfection” was the fact that CSKA didn’t manage to win the EuroLeague title. Barring that, Rodriguez put on the court some of his most effective and beautiful basketball ever, becoming the playmaking beacon of the “Army Men” and an ideal partner to Nando De Colo, Cory Higgins or anyone he shared the backcourt with.
Rodriguez is one of the most, if not the most, cerebral players in Europe and exhibited it plenty with CSKA. It’s not only his eye-of-the-needle and meticulous passing but the overall way he reads the game (often one, or two steps ahead than the rest) to recognize when he has to send a dime or score himself. In a world where “brainy” point guards are becoming scarce, Rodriguez remains one of their finest representatives.
Year of birth: 1990
2017-2018 stats: 12.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists in 26:36 minutes per game with Fenerbahce in EuroLeague.
No player in EuroLeague likes dunking more than Vesely does and he lets everyone know that by letting a loud scream out each time he slams the ball. The Czech big is the most powerful finisher at the rim outside the NBA thanks not only to the force with which he attacks the glass but also the speed he dives to the basket after the pick. When it comes to catching lobs, Vesely is the man for the job and that makes the life of his teammates so much easier. And fun.
Vesely dunks the ball so frequently that might give you an impression that that’s all there is to him. Not really though. He has been creating more and more of his own plays after receiving the ball at the post, hitting difficult-to-stop hook shots and even a mid-range jumper here and there. Although he will always prefer the “lob and slam”, procedure, he has found more ways to become threatening and not being exclusively dependant on his teammates.
What has given Vesely an extra touch of “threat” though was the great improvement he showed in his free throw shooting. Restraining him by constantly fouling him was once an option since never shot 57 percent in 2016-2017. Yet last season, Vesely had a pretty decent for a big 70.7 percent, which is a number that will make teams reconsider implementing a possible “Hack A Vesely” tactic.
5. Tornike Shengelia (Baskonia)
Year of birth: 1991
Height: 2.03 m.
2017-2018 stats: 13.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists in 25:29 minutes per game with Baskonia in EuroLeague.
It’s no wonder that Baskonia signed Tornike Shengelia to a new and rather lucrative deal, making them one of the highest-paid players in Europe right now and in the history of the club. Only an NBA team can “steal” him and if that doesn’t happen, then Shengelia will remain in Vitoria and be the absolute leader of Baskonia until 2022.
The Georgian forward comes from his best season so far and it was a monster one. Shengelia jacked up his numbers in every single statistical category, elevating himself to All-EuroLeague First Team level for the first time in his career and displaying some of the most dominant, all-around actions we’ve seen from a power forward in recent EuroLeague history. Because there was simply no area of the game to which Shengelia didn’t contribute
Shengelia scored either by using some brutal strength in the paint and or agility enough with the ball in his hands to thread his way through defenses with exceptional nimbleness for his size. When he didn’t send the outlet pass, he finished the transition himself fast enough to catch his opponents unprepared. He created equally well at the low post or after penetrating to the basket when he forced the help defense to come at him. Simply put, Shengelia left his mark in almost every piece of the action in the offense of Baskonia.
After coming off an All-EuroLeague run and signing a new contract, the goal for Shengelia as Baskonia’s marquee star is clear: Leading the team to the Final Four that will be held in Vitoria.
4. Alexey Shved (Khimki Moscow)
Year of birth: 1988
Height: 1.98 m.
2017-2018 stats: 21.8 points, 5.2 assists, 2.6 rebounds in 32:12 minutes per game with Khimki Moscow n EuroLeague.
If there was a European basketball equivalent of a pyromaniac cut loose, running rampant and bent on bringing chaos and destruction that would be Alexey Shved. No one in Europe is better than the Russian guard in torching opposing defenses to the ground and no one is having more fun while doing it.
Alright, there can never be many fire references when talking about Shved but enough.
Last season Shved led Khimki Moscow to the EuroLeague playoffs for the first time in the history of the club and closer to the Final Four than what the 1-3 quarterfinals elimination to CSKA Moscow suggests. In the process, he won the “Alphonso Ford Top Scorer” award and was named to the All-EuroLeague Second Team. This season, Khimki will want to make that step further (call me Final Four) and Shved will, naturally, lead the charge. There’s no other way around it.
Shved is the “volume scorer” archetype. Although the quality of his shot selection can be debatable (one of the favorite topics of discussion among EuroLeague fans) and a double-edged sword for Khimki, it usually has the desired results, as is evident by the Russian team’s run in the previous season. There aren’t many things defenses can do when Shved pulls up for a jumper even from a crazy distance or with an opponent attached, since making or not making the shot is entirely up to him. The difficulty factor is irrelevant. It’s part of the overall charm and why he’s is so dangerous at any given moment.
3. Nando De Colo (CSKA Moscow)
Year of birth: 1987
Height: 1.96 m.
2017-2018 stats: 16.7 points, 3.7 assists, 2.3 rebounds in 25:47 minutes per game with CSKA Moscow in EuroLeague.
Consistently producing the above numbers or more might be headlines for any other player but for Nando De Colo is just another day at the office. He has just set the bar so high for himself that a “20 points/10 assists performance by him” is now a “move along, nothing to see here” thing. It’s as expected by him as waiting for the sun to rise from the East.
De Colo just has this ludicrous ability to get the ball to the basket or send highlight-caliber passes to his teammates in any way imaginable and at the same time make it look so very natural, so easy. It’s because he never forces things or shots (he’s been a consistent 55.5 percent two-point shooter and at his worst, he had 42.6 percent on 3-pointers) and because every move he makes comes is equally well-calculated and fast at the same time. The French guard is one of the top decision-makers in Europe and that’s ultra rare for a scorer of his capacity.
For one more season, De Colo is expected to remain a EuroLeague Fantasy staple due to his ability to pile up PIR points easier than a Michelin star chef cooks an omelette.