The 2018/19 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season is coming around fast.
For the 16 teams taking part, preseason has already started, as teams work to gel their new rosters of players for the upcoming season in preparation for the first round of matches on October 2011. Teams new to the competition this year include Bayern Munich, Buducnost, Darussafaka and Gran Canaria, taking the places of Brose Baskets Bamberg, Crvena Zvezda, Unicaja Malaga and Valencia.
With rosters now mostly set, there follows over a series of posts here at GiveMeSport a look at all sixteen teams participating in the 2018/19 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague, in a preview of the upcoming season. First in the alphabetical series will be Anadolu Efes of Turkey.
Out: Errick McCollum (unsigned), Vladimir Stimac (to Turk Telekom), Sonny Weems (unsigned), Derrick Brown (unsigned), Toney Douglas (to Sakarya), Zoran Dragic (unsigned), Berk Demir (to Darussafaka)
In: Adrian Moerman (from Barcelona), Rodrigue Beaubois (from Baskonia), Ahmet Tuncer (from Eskisehir), Shane Larkin (from Boston Celtics), James Anderson (from Khimky), Vasilije Micic (from Zalgiris), Tibor Pleiss (from Valencia), Sertac Sanli (from Besiktas), Metecan Birsen (from Sakarya)
By their own standards, Anadolu massively disappointed last year. The big spending Turkish team have not made it to a EuroLeague Final Four in the modern era, despite great expense and acquisition of name-recognition talent along the way, and yet lats year was a particularly troublesome one as they finished stone cold last in the regular season. To that end has come yet another significant overhaul, and a whole new load of import players, as, once again, Efes find themselves with a distinct lack of domestic talent on the team.
Being so reliant on imports and the short-term contracts they play on means to constantly have to work things out on the fly, as opposed to having long-term domestic lynchpins in the team around whom the action can be based and the pieces can be fitted. This also relies upon properly identifying import talents and how they will cohere, something which did not happen last season, when they seemed surprised that McCollum was primarily if not exclusively a scorer. They will therefore be hoping for solid deep-bench contributions from Turkish newcomers Tuncer (a solid young combo guard who probes, shoots, curls and makes plays on the perimeter), Sanli (a 6’11 pick-and-roll/pop finishing option who somehow has managed to increase his blocks rate throughout his career) and Birsen (a once-touted prospect yet to fully put it together but who offers size and athleticism which he uses to rebound and cut to the rim).
Efes also return holdovers Dogus Balbay (defensive specialist guard who almost never takes a turn on the ball) and Birkan Batuk (a once promising versatile young off-guard scorer who has become more and more of a shooting specialist with each passing year), to provide added quota-meeting guard depth. There are no big-minute Turkish players in the rotation, but Efes will be needing bench contributions from all. Overly relying on imports has not worked for years now.
In the middle, Bryant Dunston does at least buck that trend for roster turnover. Into what will now be his fourth season with the team, Dunston is a relative long-termer and remains one of the competition’s best interior anchors, leading the competition in blocks per game last season (1.7), and also contributing double-figures in points through a combination of rolling to the rim and paint touches. Dunston is physical, unafraid of anybody and an important combination of strength and leap inside. And while he will no longer be paired up with rebounding and hustle specialist Vladimir Stimac (eighth in the EuroLeague in rebounding last year at 5.8 per game), the sheer 7’2 size of Pleiss adds a new dimension to the team. Pleiss, always a talented scorer, is coming off a season in which he averaged 10.1 points in only 18.9 minutes per game of EuroLeague play for Valencia. Now he needs to hold his own defensively, as last season, the defence relied on Dunston far too much.
Elsewhere, it is all change at guard. Lamenting the lack of ball movement and shot creation last year, Efes replaced McCollum with Larkin, who prior to returning to the NBA last year had been a star EuroLeague guard. Larkin is small, but puts the work in on defence, and was an excellent lead guard for Baskonia two seasons ago. Quick and crafty, confident and committed, Larkin bounces around the court and brings the defenders with him. Behind him will be Vasilije Micic, formerly of Zalgiris, an error-prone but dynamic point guard in his own right. Micic has never been much of a defender or a shooter, two weaknesses of Efes last season, but he can pick a defence apart and create efficient looks, and should make a strong combination with Larkin.
At the other guard spot, McCollum’s replacement will be Beaubois, a player who got back to his best over the last couple of EuroLeague seasons with Valencia after a mid-career wobble, one not helped by injuries. Small though he may be, Beaubois is a furiously efficient scorer (.611% true shooting last year) on a high volume (11.7 points in 19.7 minutes per game), coming on a steady barrage of spot-ups, pull-ups and attacks into the trees. Efes need improved defence from last year, and Beaubois isn’t it, but they also needed to find a halfcourt scorer of some note to make up for what they lost in McCollum, and he certainly is that. Better, even.
The ineffective forward pairing of Weems and Brown will be replaced by Anderson and Moerman. Anderson is in the prime of his career, and although he projected in his youth as a three-and-D player, he has never excelled as either even now. Nevertheless, a bit of both plus some right-handed driving comes with some much-needed athleticism at the position, athleticism not so much provided by returning veteran Krunoslav Simon. Simon does a lot more with the ball in his hands, is crafty as anything and is an excellent extra passer, but last season, he never quite had his jump shot with him. With that back, he will be a key offensive contributor. Moerman meanwhile will bring his face-up, spot-up, post-up game to a forward rotation that hopes to offer more than just the athleticism of Brown, and should be an upgrade on Motum, a smooth and athletic face-up scorer who does much the same offensively as Moerman, but without rebounding.
The incoming players by themselves will not convey improved defence automatically. The only plus defender among them is Larkin. Nevertheless, while defence was Efes’s greatest weakness last season, it in turn was borne out by a stagnant, at times predictable offence. The changes should at least assuage that, providing better offensive dynamicism and outside shooting, and with a better run of luck with their collective health, Efes might make a low-seed playoff run this season.