The other semifinal features Regal FC Barcelona and Olympiacos Piraeus. That’s a rematch from the championship game of two years ago. While Barça remains an elite class squad, although no longer a dominant force on a level of their own, Oly has changed a lot. A couple of years ago Olympiacos was a team filled with high profile commodities such as Teodosic, Theo Papaloukas, Linas Kleiza, Josh Childress, Ioannis Bouroussis and Sofoklis Schortsanitis. The owners are no longer rich enough to afford talent at that price range and how they made it to the Final Four this year is one great story of roster building through value, a couple of lucky breaks, overachievement and great coaching.
Olympiacos’ game centers around scoring-guard Vassilis Spanoulis, that guy Jeff Van Gundy thought couldn’t hang in the NBA. Spanoulis has had one monster season – averaging 16.5 points on 56.1% effective shooting and a point per possession while also posting a .272 assist percentage on 27.5% usage. In a normal year in which Kirilenko wouldn’t be around, he would be a heavy favorite to win the MVP.
The arrivals of Acie Law and Joey Dorsey midseason have been a huge reason of why Olympiacos took a leap from where they were at season’s start to where they are now. Law has actually been half-decent after already doing well with Partizan Belgrade. The same is true for Dorsey, who brought better post-defense, paint protection and rebounding to a team that needed to sure up its frontcourt rotation, that after he had a not so successful stint with Caja Laboral Baskonia.
The star addition, however, was Kyle Hines, who arrived from Brose Baskets of Bamberg in January. Hines is your typical hard working, high energy, high maintenance, undersized, shot blocking big who will definitely crawl his way into the NBA one day. Count on it.
A youngster to keep an eye on is Kostas Papanikolaou. Once upon a time the 22-year-old was regarded as a prospect with a good shot of being one of those second-round picks nobody knows or cares for and then half-a-decade later, BOOM, he is on the Spurs and becomes a fan favorite. But Papanikolaou hasn’t progressed all the much and this year has been a smaller part of the team than last season.
Former Michigan State Spartan Kalin Lucas and former Butler Bulldog Matt Howard started the season with the team but didn’t survive through the year, not all the shocking considering head-coach Dusan Ivkovic is an elderly from Serbia, proven Hall of Famer who returned from retirement after sitting out a few years. He doesn’t seem like the patient teacher type, especially to explain to some American kids this whole different game.
Meanwhile Barcelona is looking at a shot for its second title in three years. Barça arrives with its defense having posted one of the best performances in history. It has held opponents to an average of just 86.1 points per 100 possessions and 45.1% effective shooting, both league-leading statistics by a rather wide margin. Barcelona has rotations, help-defense concepts, switching and forcing opponents to low percentage areas down to an art.
And the enhancer behind that type of performance is Boniface N’Dong who is having the best season of his career at age 34 (officially). The ridiculously long seven-footer played a single season for the Clippers in 2005-2006 and despite his advanced age (officially) could be a relevant part of a rotation today in the league. Obviously, that’s not going to happen. But in a perfect world, it should. That’s how good a basketball player he still is.
Another of Barcelona’s big-men who have already played in the league and should perhaps be given a shot at a return is Kosta Perovic. The 27-year-old, 7-feet-2 center is a great post defender and could have a place in a rotation. That’s what I thought of Timofey Mozgov, though, and George Karl refuses to throw him out there against Andrew Bynum, so what do I know…
Oh and there’s that Juan Carlos Navarro guy. We all know JC’s deal. He hung out in Memphis for a year, then the Grizzlies traded Pau Gasol and Navarro looked around and said; “nah, man, I’m out of here”. As much as we all hope and dream for a possible return, that’s extremely unlikely and breaks your heart.
Marcelinho Huertas is constantly regarded as someone with a good chance of getting a shot in the league soon but Marcelinho is now 29 and the clock keeps ticking. If it hasn’t happened for him yet, you have to wonder if it ever will.
The two guys on Barcelona’s squad with an actual chance of making into the league, as soon as next year even, are Erazem Lorbek and Fran Vázquez. In fact, it has been reported Lorbek has already decided to join the Spurs, who acquired his rights on the Kawhi Leonard-George Hill trade, next summer. Lorbek is your prototypical skilled low post presence European big, a versatile weapon whose multi-dimensionality of his skill set makes him one of the toughest players to defend in the globe as he can score from the post, off the pick-and-pop, spotting-up…
Oh, Fran Vázquez… Fran was drafted 11th overall by the Orlando Magic in the 2005 draft, which envisioned him to be the perfect frontcourt pairing for Dwight Howard. Vázquez just never crossed the Atlantic. Word is he was about to do it last summer. His contract was up, he declined Barça’s offer for an extension, which resulted in head-coach Xavi Pascual putting him on the doghouse for essentially that whole year. But then the lockout took place and Vázquez re-signed for just one year, possibly signaling he’s really intending to come over.
It remains likely Vázquez will be a pretty good player in the Association. He has the attributes to succeed. Fran is a lomg, athletic big who is a great shot blocker, a fundamentally sound post defender and a legit weapon off the pick-and-roll. His minutes over the last couple of years have been absurd. I figure Pascual and management can’t possibly still be angry over the extension thing but it just doesn’t add up how little he is on the court.
The thing is does he even factor in on the Magic’s plans anymore? Orlando has the whole Dwight Howard cloud hanging over their heads, they are likely to re-sign Ryan Anderson and Glen Davis has proven to be not a terrible investment. In theory, it wouldn’t be unreasonably to add Vázquez to that rotation since he would become a true backup to Howard, which neither Anderson nor Davis is, but is this going to be Otis Smith’s thought process?
Anyway, these are the storylines and names you, NBA fan, can familiarize yourself with if intending to watch the EuroLeague Final Four this year. It’s a different type of basketball but it is basketball and if you really do love the game, some part of you will be open-minded about the differences and enjoy some. So, feel devotion. You might like it.