Credit: SIPA, Zuma Press - Scanpix, Sonia Canada - Getty Images | BasketNews illustration (edited)
Credit SIPA, Zuma Press - Scanpix, Sonia Canada - Getty Images | BasketNews illustration (edited)

BasketNews continues the 3x3 EuroLeague edition, where three of our colleagues will give three answers to three questions.

This week, Orazio Cauchi, Uygar Karaca, and Giorgos Kyrikiadis trio will look at the most exciting game of the upcoming double-week, Sasa Djordjevic’s position in Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul, and the most exciting prospect.

Of all 18 games in this double week, which one is the most anticipated for you?

Orazio: One of the games that I’m going to follow with a lot of interest is the match between Barcelona and CSKA Moscow in Round 10.

Despite the injuries and other difficulties, CSKA remain one of the strongest teams in the competition, and they’re looking for a statement win to get back on track after a difficult beginning.

Barcelona lost their first game in ACB against Valencia and coach Jasikevicius expressed his frustration to his players. The Lithuanian head coach said that there’s a lack of professionalism, which may be the first crack in Barcelona’s almost perfect start of the season. A mental reaction against CSKA is a must for the Spanish powerhouse.

Giorgos: It’s a really close call, but I’d choose the Zenit Saint Petersburg against AX Armani Exchange Milan in Round 11.

Regardless of whether both teams will manage to win their upcoming games, against ALBA Berlin at home and UNICS Kazan on the road, respectively, their clash seems very promising.

Zenit overcame a temporary Olympiacos’s lead (59-58) at the beginning of the final quarter, scoring 26 points and hitting the Reds on switches through one-on-one situations. Conner Frankamp did the start, and towards the end, Billy Baron and Jordan Loyd joined in to seal Zenit’s third straight victory.

Credit Sergey Grachev/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

On the other hand, Armani Milan gave a clinic on total basketball vs Fenerbahce, playing physical and aggressive defense and allowing their opponents some open shots.

As Augustas Sauliauskas pointed out, Messina showed Fenerbahce how to attack switch-all defense by slipping the screens.

Thus, it will be very interesting to see if the league leaders can be equally effective against a team that shoots the ball better than Fener and score half of its points (42/84) on isolation or attacking closeouts in their last game.

Uygar: Very, very tough choice. Barcelona-CSKA not even got into my TOP3 list. If I start with my third-best choice, ASVEL-Barcelona could bring up some stir as Lyon remains of the few locations where Jasikevicius could not crack the code of winning last season.

I guess Efes-Olympiacos will be a very impactful game as well. Efes is still trying to convince themselves that they are getting better, but that optimism gets crumbled when they see an aggressive defense coming against them.

Olympiacos will put them into a stern test. Another potential home loss would be tough to compensate regarding the team’s mental state before the upcoming games against Fenerbahce and Barcelona next week.

Credit BasketNews/D.Repečka

However, I cannot help myself pointing out the Zenit-Milan game as well. Somehow, Xavi Pascual made some timely tweaks and adjustments to put things on the right track for Zenit, and while they are still without Shabazz Napier, they are on a 5-0 run (EuroLeague and VTB League combined).

They are now testing their Top 4 finish potential, in my opinion. On the other hand, Milan looks really strong when it comes to the end results, but even they could be surprised by this assertive start (8-1) because they don’t look that flawless, especially on offense. This game might change the overall balances regarding the top places. 

Should Sasa Djordjevic be concerned about his job at Fenerbahce?

Orazio: The loss against AX Armani Exchange Milan was tough to handle for Fenerbahce, it was an absolute disaster.

But it was also the first loss of the season in which Fenerbahce was completely out of the game, the other defeats were all in very close games. The situation with Djordjevic is always going to be a difficult one.

This team wasn’t built for him, he arrived when the transfer moves were already made. And he’s definitely not the type of coach that will make this team play in an ‘exciting’ way. Still, his personality and experience can definitely help Fenerbahce bounce back after that terrible loss against Milan.

I don’t think he might fear for his job immediately, but if things don’t change quickly, the possibility of his departure cannot be ruled away, of course.

Giorgos: A 3-6 record is something that almost no one would expect of Fenerbahce after nine games.

One must also not forget that the Turkish side lost four of those contests in the closing seconds and acknowledge that Djordjevic was probably the last man to blame for whatever went wrong in the end.

Against Panathinaikos, Guduric and Booker committed unsportsmanlike fouls beyond any comprehension. In Madrid, Marial Shayok missed an open three; against Barca, Mirotic scored an almost impossible basket, and in Piraeus, Fener went 5/22 from behind the arc and were still able to compete.

The loss to Milan and the overall performance of Fener were so bad that fans booed the team when the deficit reached historic heights. Not long ago, the Turkish powerhouse responded to criticism with a great road win in Moscow against CSKA.

Now, getting the most out of this double week looks like a must for Djordjevic and his players. Fener remains one of EuroLeague’s worst shooting teams, even though Polonara (24,1%) and Shayok (21,4%) are widely regarded as above-average shooters.

With Bayern and Zalgiris coming up next, anything less than getting 2 out of 2 would be disastrous for the 2017 champs, considering that those teams are longshots in the playoff race.

Personally, I don’t think that Djordjevic, despite all the mistakes that he’s made, is worth getting fired at the moment. Of course, that doesn’t mean that his chair is safe in the weeks to come. Any significant deterioration of Fenerbahce’s already problematic EuroLeague record is likely to bring about a coaching change.

Uygar: Not easy to answer this one without going into the zone of speculation. Ok, nobody can claim that Fenerbahce fans got over the moon when they heard Djordjevic’s name in the first place.

With all due respect to his playing career, his coaching CV did not look very convincing. So with that kind of pressure luggage, he started 0-1 down. Yet, the pressure on Djordjevic is mounting, despite the occasional good results (CSKA game, of course).

Djordjevic proved himself to be very resilient when it comes to dodging short-term contract cancellations. During his tenure in Serbia NT, he did not win anything but reached consecutive major tournament finals after all.

Last season, he was close to the end of the road with Virtus Bologna during mid-season reportedly, but he remained and ended up winning LegaBasket. So this depends on what is Fenerbahce’s long-term vision. Are they content with a 7 or 8th place playoff spot to be eventually eliminated after a 4 or 5-game series in EuroLeague? Plus a Turkish League final?

Credit Tolga Adanali/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

I think Djordjevic can bring them to that. But if they are looking for a fun team that plays amusing basketball with all the high-tempo player stock they have (like Shayok, Henry, or Polonara, led by De Colo), that sort of basketball is not on the agenda of Djordjevic.

That part is almost certain, I believe. In a club like Fenerbahce, you should always be concerned when you are winning only a few domestic games in a month no matter with whom you are playing against, let alone football or basketball, but also the same goes with, say, the water-polo team as well. Both sides might face a tough decision soon.

Which young EuroLeague’s prospect is the most exciting for you at the moment?

Orazio: For me, the most exciting prospect remains Victor Wembanyama of ASVEL. His combination of impressive physical tools and technical skillset is unique and probably more adapted to the NBA than the EuroLeague basketball.

But, of course, the beginning of the season hasn’t been easy for him, between the injuries and the learning curve of EuroLeague basketball. Moreover, his playing time has been limited. But we’re talking about a 17-year-old kid, so these kinds of struggles are normal for such a young player.

The sky remains the limit for him, in my opinion. Another young player who’s doing well so far is Tristan Vukcevic.

Compared to Wembanyama, Vukcevic has had more time to adapt to this basketball level. He was already part of Real Madrid’s senior team last season, and he played solid minutes during the season, especially in ACB.

Coach Laso will keep giving him playing opportunities, and with Vukcevic’s ability to stretch the floor, there’s no doubt that he’ll continue to thrive in Real’s system.

Giorgos: I reckon that fans and media alike expected a lot from ASVEL’s Victor Wembanyama. But the French big’s performances so far have only revealed a player who’s got loads of work to do until he’s considered a EuroLeague-caliber player.

He shoots badly (2/13 from the field), doesn’t rebound at all (averages 1,0 per game), and overall, he hasn’t played up to par.

So, I would go with Real Madrid’s Tristan Vukcevic. He is just 18 years old, but with a 2,09 height and a great shooting touch, he vividly reminds his father, Dusan. One thing they have in common is that they both played for Olympiacos (Dusan as a pro, Tristan as a junior) and then moved to Real Madrid.

Tristan joined the Los Blancos back in 2018 when Luka Doncic left the Spanish capital to become the Dallas Mavericks’ future leader.

Born in 2003, Vukcevic was already considered one of the top prospects in Europe of his age. What makes him unique is that he is both a stretch big that can shoot and space the floor, while at the same time he can protect the rim, rising vertically from the ground and not lowering his hands.

On the other hand, he needs to work more on his side steps not to be targeted on defense. He must strengthen his body, become more physical near the basket, and improve his dribbling.

But, judging from the innate basketball qualities and skills that he brings to the table (size, body measurements, basketball IQ, scoring ability), he’s far more than a diamond in the rough.

That’s because Real Madrid and Pablo Laso are giving him opportunities to develop and grow as a player. Last April, he scored 11 points and grabbed 4 rebounds in the El Clasico vs FC Barcelona while getting a good taste of the EuroLeague playoffs (played almost 28 minutes overall in three contests against Anadolu Efes).

Last week, he tied his scoring career-high with 7 points against Zalgiris. Ahead of the 2022 NBA Draft, it seems that Tristan Vukcevic can only improve his stock in the games to follow.

Uygar: I think ALBA Berlin is the right place to look for exciting young prospects, and nowadays, one of my favorite players is Malte Delow.

2001 born Germany U20 guard is playing for his hometown team where he came from the grassroots level. Delow is effective and gives considerable contributions to ALBA regarding the defensive side. As a multi-positional defender, he had tough assessments against the likes of Vasilje Micic and Shane Larkin against Efes last week.

But before that, he played on Papanikolau and Larentzakis in the Olympiacos game. Coach Gonzales uses him as a double team partner to the main guard; he wants to shake the game balance upside down.

Credit imago images/camera4+ - Scanpix

Against Fenerbahce, ALBA came back from behind in the second half. Delow was instrumental in switching selections between going over the screen and re-switching actions to contain De Colo.

Another interesting game that has shown his defensive capacity was the surprise win against Crvena Zvezda, where he came into the game to match with Nikola Kalinic. On the night, Delow created an +14 differential for his team.

Offensively, he is not playing as a pick and roll handler, but he is a dynamic guard with many cunning cuts and off-screen actions.

His shooting heat map shows that going for lay-up is better for him to be useful than standing in the corner waiting for a 3-pointer. (23% currently, 17% from both wings 1-7 and 1-7 for both sides in EuroLeague and BBL).

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