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. It continues here with a look at Italian champions, Armani Olimpia Milano.
Out: Davide Pascolo (to Trento), Awudu Abass (to Brescia), Marco Cusin (to Torino), Andrew Goudelock (to Shandong, China), Mantas Kalnietis (to ASVEL, France), Amath M’Baye (to Virtus Bologna), Jordan Theodore (unsigned)
In: Mike James (from Panathinaikos), Christian Burns (from Cantu), Jeff Brooks (from Unicaja Malaga, Spain), Amedeo Della Valle (from Reggio Emilia), Nemanja Nedovic (from Unicaja Malaga)
In last year’s competition, Milano never got going. They lost their first three games, five of their first six, and nine of their first thirteen, ultimately finishing second-last with a 10-20 record. They were undone by having the competition’s worst overall defensive rating. And yet for whatever reason, they have sought to remedy that by adding offensive talent.
On the plus side, they have added some significant individual offensive talents. James and Nedovic are EuroLeague stars; creative, explosive, dynamic half-court talents who can get their own in isolation, get to the rim, finish, pull-up, work off of the scoring threat to find team mates, and save any possession with their individual shot-making talents. How they pair up remains to be seen, especially defensively considering their similarities. But having two players who can turn the outcome of a game should keep Milano relevant. In light of last season, that is required.
Beyond that pairing in the backcourt lies some shooting depth with Della Valle, whose shot was anomalously off last season yet who has turned in a decade now of heady off-ball movement and quick shooting off the catch, and Dairis Bertans, who has been doing much the same for even longer. Curtis Jerrells and Andrea Cinciarini return as ball handling depth (as can Bertans if needs be), with Cinciarini’s slow-footed surety as a playmaker and leader ever reliable in times of need, while Jerrells is similarly always good for some spot-ups, step-backs and pick-and-roll plays. Roster balance and multi-positional defence may be concerns going forward, but the backcourt is a strong one.
Up front, there is also change, with the slow but rugged centre pairing of Kaleb Tarczewski and Arturas Gudaitis (who was an advanced stats marvel last year, leading the competition with a 25.3 PER and ranking third in net rating with +28.0) to be paired at power forward with Brooks and Burns. Burns, a 33-year-old veteran with a much-needed Italian passport, brings some athletic rim-runs and rebounding tenacity to the team, retaining his leaping ability into the latter stages of his career while also serving as an occasional spot-up threat, while Brooks has been employing his long-armed tenacity for many years at this level, scrapping around the basket, defending both perimeter and interior, finishing with power, and improving throughout as a shooter. (Brooks, too, has just received an Italian passport after playing four previous seasons there.)
On the wing, Mindaugas Kuzminskas will be around for a full campaign, which will help, as the three spot was a weak point for the team last season. Incumbent starter Vladimir Micov struggles more and more defensively as he ages and slow, and while it is not a strength of Kuzminskas either, the two are very polished and savvy scorers both when driving to the rim and shooting from outside, Kuzminskas bringing some athleticism along with it. To provide depth at the position, Milano have replaced Abass (a much more athletic player who could never quite find his off-ball niche in the EuroLeague) with recalling Fontecchio from loan, a smooth if unexplosive 6’7 shooter and scorer.
In summation, then, Milano have added some depth. All the players who struggled last season – M’Baye, Kalnietis, Abass, Pascolo, Goudelock, Cory Jefferson in mid-season – have now gone, and the team has replaced them with two established stars. That is of note, even if they have not as obviously addressed their biggest team need. Between the back court additions of James and Nedovic, plus the rebuilt power forward spot, Milano have sought to become more athletic and dynamic around their two centres. Up to a point, it could work.
The defensive concerns are legitimate. But Milano should at least be fun.