Credit: Aitor Arrizabalaga, Tolga Adanali - Getty Images | BasketNews illustration/A.Zaikauskas
Credit Aitor Arrizabalaga, Tolga Adanali - Getty Images | BasketNews illustration/A.Zaikauskas

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 upcoming Istanbul derby between Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul & Anadolu Efes, Neven Spahija’s start at Bitci Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz, and the clash of games between EuroLeague and FIBA World Cup 2023 European Qualifiers.

We’ve already seen Spahija’s debut in Baskonia. Do you like this hire, and do you believe that the Croatian coach could turn things around?

Orazio: In the last couple of games, Baskonia’s offense looked a little bit more fluid, and the arrival of coach Spahija has something to do with it.

Coach Ivanovic wasn’t a great fit for this type of team and, at some point, it was pretty clear that not the entire roster was following him. Short term, I believe that coach Spahija can improve Baskonia.

The team is better than their current record, and they can do much better offensively than what they have done so far. The Croatian coach already knows the environment, he has been there in the past, even if we’re talking about a long time ago.

Right away, Baskonia needed someone who could give a little bit of a shock to the team and knew the atmosphere around the club, and Spahija fits the description.

Of course, I’m not sure if Spahija would be the ideal guide long term for this team, he’s usually known as a very hard coach on his players, and those types of coaches, normally, don’t last very much in the same team because at some point their methods become too tough to handle for the players.

But I do believe that short-term Spahija can improve this team.

Uygar: When I heard the name of Spahija, I said, “Here we go again.” I sometimes get a little bit down when clubs turn back to the names that they are highly familiar with over and over.

But he checks all the boxes of president Querejeta’s list of requirements: Spahija coached Baskonia before, gives a high priority to discipline and authority, and has a strong CV. No surprises here.

Spahija is a different profile than the other ex-Yugo coaches in terms of approaches to the game and personal development. He could have kept signing Euro contracts -perhaps forever-if he wanted, but instead, he chose to leave the comfort zone to join the Atlanta Hawks staff and, later, Memphis Grizzlies.

Also, there is the China experience as well. I think he is not the same coach that we saw guiding Valencia to the EuroCup title and leading Baskonia to Euroleague Final Four.

Credit Aitor Arrizabalaga/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

Probably, he transformed himself, and it would be nice to observe in which aspects that transformation will become salient. For Baskonia, there is still plenty of time to turn things around. It would be misleading to associate those two games against Crvena Zvezda and CSKA last week with Spahija’s arrival.

But his appearance on the bench gave the initial spark, for sure. What Baskonia need is more method and sophistication in their offense.

The roster is also quite fit to play fast basketball with Jayson Granger, Wade Baldwin, and Rokas Giedraitis, who like transition scenarios. Simone Fontecchio is an undervalued space-maker regarding the half-court sets, and Vanja Marinkovic’s scoring potential is yet to be exploited.

No 5 position is currently weak, but first things first: Baskonia should lift the tempo a little bit higher. Can Spahija come up with the right recipe to make the correct optimizations? Sure he can. His previous experiences in EuroLeague and EuroCup suggest that to me. 

Giorgos: When judging a coaching change, one must always keep an eye on which alternatives are available on the market and the team’s potential.

In Baskonia’s case with Neven Spahija, I think that the Spanish club’s administration came to the conclusion that to keep Dusko Ivanovic was the least desirable choice. Moreover, it’s highly doubtful whether they can reach this year’s EuroLeague playoffs with the current roster, regardless of who’s coaching them.

Baskonia is a club that likes to put familiar faces in charge, considering that Ivanovic, Velimir Perasovic, and Spahija have been their coaches more than once. The coach from Sibenik has already indicated on many occasions that his team must run in transition, in a way to solve problems on 5-on-5.

Baskonia are also trying to be more aggressive, using four outside players and a center, a formation that has allowed them more possessions and higher scores. Under Ivanovic, the average EuroLeague scoring remained at 68 points, while with Spahija at the helm, it has grown to 83.

Credit Aitor Arrizabalaga/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

Fontecchio, albeit shooting poorly, continues to bring intensity whenever he’s on the court. Enoch has become the main reference point in the paint. Wade Baldwin can finally attack the basket and make decisions, either shooting or passing the ball to the perimeter players.

Numbers show that while he scored in double figures only four times in nine games, he put up 14 against Red Star and 18 against CSKA. The second unit isn’t here yet, but Marinkovic, Kurucs, Nnoko, and Lamar Peters must start contributing as soon as possible.

“Coach Spahija gave us the freedom and told us to just go figure it out. He didn’t give us too many rules to follow,” center Steven Enoch said after the Red Star game.

Although that was the Croatian’s debut on the Basques’ bench, the departure from Dusko Ivanovic’s philosophy couldn’t have been described with more clarity. Despite all the freedom granted to players, with Wade Baldwin being the most telling example, Baskonia couldn’t compete against CSKA Moscow until the end.

After Real Madrid in Vitoria, Baskonia will play Zalgiris and ASVEL, two theoretically winnable games. If they want to stay in the playoff race, that’s where they will get -or give- their answers.

Do Fenerbahce have a chance in the Istanbul derby or Anadolu Efes’ shape is already too good for struggling Fener?

Orazio: When we look at the recent form of both teams, it’s clear that Efes are the favorites to win the Istanbul derby against Fenerbahce.

Ataman’s team has improved in the last few games, and their offense is looking really good. But the derby is a very different game from the other ‘regular’ ones, there’s a completely different atmosphere, and the odds at stake are much higher.

Fenerbahce needs to react, they lost 6 of the last 7 games, and especially in the last two, they looked really bad, their offense is just not fluid at all, and even defensively, they’re starting to show several issues.

Winning the derby would be a huge boost for Fener, especially because I believe that Djordjevic’s time might be limited if the team’s form keeps lacking.

Uygar: The derbies are always hard to predict. True, Fenerbahce’s main rivals in the city in all sports are Galatasaray and Besiktas. However, the Fener supporters are also very sensitive to this Efes rivalry due to Ergin Ataman’s prior references to his Galatasaray identity.

Since the game will be at Fenerbahce’s court, I think the fans will play a huge role. Their boost could be sufficient to lead Fenerbahce for a win. Not very likely. Because of the national team obligations, Sehmus Hazer will not play in the game for Fener.

He has been instrumental for Djordjevic when he needed a little bit higher energy and more chaos in the game, and his absence will be felt. The last time they met, Efes lost to Fenerbahce with a big differential in the domestic scene, and they would like to compensate for that with a win in EuroLeague.

This team has been playing together for a long time, and they have an embedded culture of that sort. Besides, there was no Micic and Petrusev on that day. Regarding the momentum, once again, Efes have the upper hand.

Their offense is coming back to itself, and Fenerbahce’s defense lowered down its shield, especially around their own restricted zone. It would be wrong to say that Efes’ defense is impenetrable, but for that, either Nando De Colo or Marko Guduric needs to play huge on individual terms.

Both leaders are not observed to be very high with their morale level. Djordjevic is under pressure, and a win would provide an extra credit, but in his coaching history, we saw a lot of failures with the games labeled as must-win.

Credit BasketNews/Begum Unal

Giorgos: If the question was posed one or two months earlier, the answer would have been completely different. About a month ago, Fenerbahce crushed Efes 90-68 at home behind 17 points from Devin Booker.

But right now, Fenerbahce come off three straight losses, while Efes have taken three successive wins by a total margin of 67 points. Most importantly, the EuroLeague champs seem to be back for good, playing high-level basketball, translating into their offensive production. Ataman’s men have scored at least 79 points in each of their games from Round 7 onwards.

On the other end, Fenerbahce had some well-reasoned excuses at the beginning of the season. However, after almost two months into the season, coach Sasa Djordjevic still hasn’t figured out ways to get his team out of the shooting slump.

Established players like Marco Guduric (who worked miracles in Fener’s comeback last season), Pierria Henry, and Achille Polonara have been struggling to find their roles and place on the court. With the exception of Jan Vesely, Nando De Colo, and DyShawn Pierre, there is little to admire in this version of the 2017 continental champs.

Following their last defeat in Kaunas, the fans’ outcry on the club’s social media platforms was particularly impressive and striking. It seems that coach Djordjevic is in the hot seat at the moment.

The road win in Moscow vs CSKA has bought him some time, but now victories are imperative. Another blowout defeat at home, as it happened against Armani Milan, might bring some changes.

Yet again, we’ll see the clash of FIBA and EuroLeague games. Which competition is generally more preferred in your country?

Orazio: EuroLeague numbers in Italy have been rising in the last 4-5 years, it’s one of the growing markets for EuroLeague, together with France and Germany.

Of course, with currently only one Italian team in EuroLeague, AX Armani Exchange Milan, most of the attention comes from the fans of the team but also more ‘casual’ fans are starting to give more time to EuroLeague basketball.

With the potential arrival of Virtus Bologna in the competition, the numbers are expected to rise even more. Italian fans appreciate EuroLeague basketball because the level is really high, and several media outlets focus on the competition.

When it comes to FIBA windows, the situation it’s a bit tricky. As of right now, for the next two games, it’s still unclear which TV network is going to air the games. Most likely, it’s going to be Sky Sport once again, but their previous deal with FIBA expired, so they have to find a new one.

Because of the selected time, the number of spectators it’s usually not that high, plus for the windows during the season, there’s limited attention because most of the EuroLeague players are not present, and the team is filled with lesser-known players.

The audience, though, increases when the National team faces important competitions like EuroBasket or the World Cup.

Credit FIBA

Uygar: In Turkey, I think EuroLeague games are more preferred. FIBA International windows were not received very welcome here, as the national team obligations create confusion about who will play where when it comes to Fenerbahce and Efes players.

Obviously, Fener and Efes dominated the top level of basketball over the recent years, which drew the majority of attention. FIBA attempted to open itself a place in the basketball market with the Qualifier windows, which is understandable but also, people are settled with habits, too.

EuroLeague extended its number of games, so there are already enough games for the people in Turkey to digest. Also, there is EuroCup, NBA, and Basketball Champions League.

People are already keeping an eye on their start national team players in the NBA: Furkan Korkmaz, Cedi Osman, Alperen Sengun, and Omer Faruk Yurtseven is already there to watch.

The national team without those guys does not create huge expectations despite still having good quality players. I think people inherently feel that Qualifiers are still more of a formality, and 90% of the time, favorites advance to the final stage.

Turkey is very accustomed to joining the major tournaments (EuroBasket and World Cups), and people prefer to give higher attention to the final tournaments. Qualifiers are a little bit too much of basketball content in quantity, with a mediocre level of quality.

Giorgos: If Greeks were to choose between the EuroLeague (regular season, playoffs, Final Four) or the EuroBasket/World Cup final phase, it would be a tough call. But since the question is about the FIBA Qualifiers, the EuroLeague is really a no-brainer.

As chance would have it, Greece is playing Great Britain on Thursday night while Panathinaikos will be hosting Zenit Saint Peterburg. I reckon that most Greek fans will try to watch both games, but if they had to pick just one, it would be the Greens’ match.

In general, Greek fans tend to support their clubs more than they favor the country’s national team, whether it’s football or basketball. As the Greek basketball NT has been underachieving for more than a decade (their last medal was in EuroBasket 2009) and EuroLeague players are mostly absent from the FIBA windows, there is almost nothing there for them to watch.

On the other hand, no matter how bad Olympiacos or Panathinaikos are performing in the EuroLeague or how many fans are attending their EuroLeague games, interest always remains at a high level.

One of the main reasons behind the Greek Federation’s decision to move the national team’s games away from Athens was to give local communities the chance to enjoy the team from up close.

Basketball in Greece has been extremely Athens-based over the last twenty years, but unfortunately, Greece NT succeeding in the World Cup qualifiers will hardly increase its fanbase.

However, what could turn the tables is having traditional powerhouses like PAOK, Aris, or Iraklis back in contention. If the local league were stronger, more people would be tempted and intrigued to watch the national team play against not-so-popular opponents.

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