Credit: imago images/Nordphoto, imago images/kolbert-press, ZUMAPRESS.com-Scanpix
Credit imago images/Nordphoto, imago images/kolbert-press, ZUMAPRESS.com-Scanpix

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

This week, Orazio Cauchi, Uygar Karaca, and Giorgos Kyriakidis discussed the most exciting game of the upcoming double-week, shake up in AS Monaco camp, and (im)possibility of EuroLeague teams chances in NBA playoffs.

Meanwhile, UNICS Kazan guard Isaiah Canaan was pretty confident of EuroLeague clubs' chances in the NBA.

"I think a couple of (EuroLeague) teams could hit the playoffs. Why not?" he asked rhetorically. "It's hard to compare these leagues, but the EuroLeague is strong too, and several leaders could slip into the NBA playoffs. But this can only be verified if they play there. So far, these are just reflections from scratch."

Of all these 18 double-week games, which one do you wait for the most?

Orazio: I'm particularly intrigued by the game between Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul and Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv. The Turkish club comes from two wins in a row, and they might finally find some rhythm to get back on track and start climbing up the standings.

On the other hand, Maccabi are going through a very difficult moment, they have lost four games in a row, and the situation around the team is a little bit tense right now. If they don't get good results in this double round, something might change, and I'm not talking only about potential roster moves.

There will be a matchup between two of the best big men in EuroLeague, Jan Vesely and Ante Zizic. Vesely was absolutely dominant in the game last week, and he's playing probably the best basketball of his career, but if there's someone who can slow him down a bit, it's Zizic.

Uygar: Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade vs FC Barcelona is going to be an interesting one for two reasons.

First, two of the best three defensive teams in the EuroLeague are coming against each other. Zvezda overcame Olympiacos, the other part of that strong defensive trio.

Secondly, it becomes an interesting clash as Zvezda won 4 of its last 5 games with that nail-biter ending against Krka. On the other hand, Barcelona are just at the beginning of an exhausting road trip, coming off a Tenerife win in the Canary Islands, headed towards Belgrade and then Athens.

It remains an intrigue how the bodies and minds of Jasikevicius' side will respond to this challenge amid an injury situation where Cory Higgins, Alex Abrines, and Nick Calathes are sidelined.

Giorgos: On paper, it looks like the AX Armani Exchange Milan vs Real Madrid clash will provide some thrills.

However, I will go with Maccabi vs Anadolu Efes Istanbul instead. The hosts are currently standing at 7-7, but their poor recent form has rendered them extremely vulnerable to any opponent.

Maccabi started the season somewhat slow, picked up pretty quickly but have been struggling as of late. To this day, their last EuroLeague defeat, which came as a blowout (74-85), raised a tidal wave of criticism against the Greek coach and his players.

Ioannis Sfairopoulos's future on the Israelis' bench will be largely decided by the outcome of Maccabi's back-to-back contests against Turkish teams. Fenerbahce are not impressing anyone this season. However, they can by no means be considered the underdog when they play in front of their fans.

If Maccabi end up being 7-9 on Thursday night, regardless of how much effort they will have put into the game, it looks like decisions will inevitably be made.

Sfairopoulos called out the fans in the post-game presser following the loss to UNICS, while the atmosphere in the team's locker room looks far from ideal - regardless of whether some incidents that came to light recently are true or false.

Is Monaco's fairytale still alive?

Orazio: Monaco have been going through a lot in the last few weeks. Zvezdan Mitrovic is now gone, and they'll face this double-round week with some uncertainty and instability.

Mike James hasn't been a happy camper recently for a while, and the team considered the idea of parting ways with the player, a source told BasketNews.

Their offense, which was much more dynamic at the beginning of the season, has become increasingly stagnant, and the defense, despite forcing a lot of turnovers, doesn't do a good job in protecting the mid-range area as they often allow their opponents great percentages from the field.

A new coach might help fix some of these issues, but I don't believe Mitrovic was the team's only issue. Monaco invested a lot of money in this team because coming from the EuroCup, reaching the EuroLeague postseason is the only way to secure a spot for next season. However, that kind of strategy always comes with a certain level of risk and danger, especially when you decide that James will be your star.

He's a fantastic player and one of the best scoring guards in Europe, but he also has a unique personality, and he's not the easiest player to deal with in a locker room. He had issues in Moscow, he had issues in Milan. This is not something new, it's the price you pay for your ambitions.

Uygar: As it goes in the Editors' song: "Some things should be simple, even end has a start."

Mitrovic era is over, and it felt like that was about time. The body language of both players and him during the games left the impression that the dressing room was lost and the dialogue was over.

It was not only about James, but many of the players as well. I usually don't prefer teams to have big overhauls in the roster when they promote from one level to another; it usually backfires, as we witnessed many other previous examples from football or basketball.

Monaco took that risk, and Mitrovic had to pay the price. Now the players are the obvious winners of the situation as the administration chose them over the coach. Sasa Obradovic's job is not going to be easy.

On the court, the short-term effects will be undoubtedly positive as Dwayne Bacon, James, and co were given a second chance to prove their worth. The lack of cohesion and consequential stalemate between the players and coach is dissolved now, which will be reflected in individual performances.

Monaco have a tough schedule in December, but I don't expect a total collapse, they have a strong roster when individual parts are taken into consideration.

On the other hand, the project revealed its hand with these 3 months. Now I have a feeling like the administrative decisions are not taken with longer terms projections but on an ad-hoc basis. Therefore, I guess it was a fairytale that never existed. They might make the playoffs, but next year? Who knows… That is the worst part.

Giorgos: About a month ago, I asked Donatas Motiejunas if the additions of James, Will Thomas, and Bacon lifted Monaco to a different level.

This is what he answered: "When I arrived, we only had eight players in training camp. Preparation was definitely not easy. There was a lot of uncertainty and questions about the quantity of our roster."

Well, time flies. Staying winless for a whole month can cost almost any coach his job. That's what happened with Mitrovic. Of course, the latest episodes of the James saga in the principality could have played a significant part in that decision.

But most of all, unless the club you're working for is called ALBA Berlin, you got to get some results. It has all gone south for the EuroLeague newcomers since mid-November, including that crazy William Howard three-pointer that deprived them of the chance to snap their losing streak.

I doubt whether Obradovic can bring something different to this team compared to his predecessor, but if Monaco do not want to miss the boat to the playoffs, they'd better collect a couple of wins until the end of the year.

In all likelihood, their future won't be in the EuroLeague. So, laying down the foundation for the seasons to follow would not be a bad idea.

Knowing what Canaan said, which EuroLeague teams could make NBA playoffs?

Orazio: I have to be honest: I'm not a great fan of these kinds of discussions. NBA and EuroLeague are two very different worlds.

Every single time someone says that a European coach or a European player would dominate the NBA without having the counterproof to validate that statement, my mind always visualizes that GTA San Andreas-related meme with CJ saying "Ah s**t, here we go again."

Yeah, maybe Barcelona or Real Madrid could make it to the playoffs, but they'd need bigger rosters and adapt to a very long regular season, even longer than the EuroLeague one.

But again, it's a very hypothetical discussion and is a very biased one, in my opinion, because a lot of EuroLeague fans believe that the NBA regular season is mostly trash, which is absolutely not true, and that their favorite teams would beat some NBA teams easily, also not true at all.

Uygar: I disagree. Currently, Euroleague teams do not have depth in their squad to deal with 82-games seasons with all those travels, injuries, and all kinds of adversities.

Look how they react with even double game weeks and how their level differs from one game to another. It's ok, they have every right not to make the playoffs with their current structure because they don't have the G-league counterparts and those two-way contracts.

When I look at the Eastern Conference, for instance, from 1 to 13, I don't see Barcelona, Real Madrid, Olympiacos, or Efes. In the West, Sacramento or Minnesota could give you an opening but nothing more than that.

To be competitive on the NBA level, the talent density needs to be elevated in all EuroLeague teams. To make it into the playoffs and to have the ability to be competitive in the playoffs are two different things.

In this respect, Jasikevicius' Barcelona could have won some games in the first round or Conference semi-finals if they would be inserted directly. Tactically, EuroLeague teams can exploit weak spots to eliminate the huge differences of athleticism and talent in iterative matchups against NBA teams.

Also, I see the point of Canaan for contemplating some teams (maybe UNICS?) to fight for playoffs spots in the NBA. Currently, UNICS like to play free-flow, high-intensity level basketball, especially in the offensive aspect.

Efes 2020-21 could have stirred some attention with the Larkin-Micic-Beaubois trio, too. However, that flashy offensive game would be contained in the long run of a full NBA calendar. It is not sustainable.

Giorgos: With their rosters as they stand, I don't think any EuroLeague team would come anywhere close to the NBA playoffs.

If we consider that some clubs, like CSKA Moscow and predominantly FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, are big spenders and potentially have the ability to spend even more, the case would make more sense in my eyes.

EuroLeague teams and rosters are constructed to survive in a competitive and demanding environment, with fans occasionally deciding their goals.

Julius Caesar said: "I'd rather be first in a village than second at Rome."

Well, I think that pretty much goes for European clubs also. Dreaming big can be useful only to the extent that the most feasible short-term goals can be reached.

It would be a complete disaster to put the EuroLeague team into the NBA whirlwind without changing anything - from the way it prepares before games to the funds at disposal.

So, potentially, clubs that generate income based on their football brand (including FC Bayern Munich) could create more competitive rosters to fight for an NBA playoff spot and cope with a huge number of consecutive 48-minute games.

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2022-01-10
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