Credit: imago images, SIPA - Scanpix | BasketNews illustration
Credit imago images, SIPA - Scanpix | BasketNews illustration

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 upcoming derby between Panathinaikos OPAP Athens and Olympiacos Piraeus, rising COVID cases, and FIBA Secretary General Andreas Zagklis comments regarding FIBA relationship with EuroLeague.

For those who missed, Zagklis said: "The November window was a missed opportunity for a demonstration of good faith from the EuroLeague," he said. "In view of February, the federations want to see more signals of good faith," he added.

"We do see this relationship as a relationship, which could take an improvement. We can't hide that we took the initiative in the summer to bring everyone to the table," he added.

Predictions for Panathinaikos-Olympiakos derby?

Orazio: Olympiacos have been the most pleasant surprise of the season for me. I expected them to be better than last season, but I didn't expect them to be this good because so far, Olympiacos have been absolutely dominant at times.

They have the best net rating of the competition, the second offensive rating, and the third defensive rating. They nailed basically every offseason addition, especially Tyler Dorsey and Thomas Walkup.

Coach Bartzokas is doing an amazing job combining a strong defensive system and an effective offensive one. On the other hand, Panathinaikos have been exactly what I expected them to be at the beginning of the season: a mess.

Their offense has been a trainwreck, defensively they improved a bit thanks to the abundant use of the zone system, but it's not going to be sustainable for the long term. It's a single game, and motivations run high, but I don't see how Panathinaikos can pull an upset in this one. Olympiacos are my clear favorite to win the game.

Uygar: In normal conditions, I would always nominate the home side for these derbies. Besides, in the Greek League's game, PAO found a way to derail Olympiacos with a basic 2-3 zone.

The memories are fresh in our minds. Yet, it is hard to imagine another day where Olympiacos are shooting with an absurd 3 FG rate of 15%. They are still an average poor shooting team from deep (35%) but lately, much better due to Dorsey's precision.

We are talking about a team that lost only one game (Crvena Zvezda) after the derby loss. Olympiacos is obviously a better team both in the offensive and the defensive end. I will go for the away side this time. 

Giorgos: Although it wouldn't be a cliche to repeat that there can be no favorites in a derby, one cannot overlook how both teams have fared so far in the EuroLeague.

Hosts Panathinaikos will have a solid homecourt advantage, given the fact that the atmosphere at OAKA will have little if anything to do with previous games. PAO are expecting a full house which means that more than 12,000 of their fans will support Dimitris Priftis and his players in the derby.

For Panathinaikos, Nemanja Nedovic is the man who pulls the strings on offense, while Howard Sant-Roos and Giorgos Papagiannis have taken on important defensive roles. If the Greens can get the most out of Papapetrou, who hasn't fully recovered from an illness, and a role player (like Kaselakis), it will increase their chances.

On the other hand, Olympiacos come to this game with a more tangible goal to reach. The Reds know their next two contests at OAKA and vs CSKA at home can cement their (3rd) place in the standings and even hand them a slight edge in terms of the homecourt advantage in the playoffs.

Olympiacos have been significantly less dependant on Sloukas this season, as both Walkup and Dorsey came in to bolster the backcourt. What's more, Moustapha Fall and Sasha Vezenkov offer size, rebounding, and scoring skills.

Priftis has seen the limits of his zone defense, just as Bartzokas knows that if the game goes to the wire, Panathinaikos will entrust the ball to Nedovic's hands.

On paper, Olympiacos have all it takes to come out with another win. Moreover, the three-time EuroLeague champs have won several times at OAKA in the regular season. But papers and tradition don't play basketball, players do. So, expect a high-intensity game where anything is possible.

After seeing COVID outbreaks in Milan and Real Madrid, will NBA coronavirus trend move to Europe?

Orazio: Unfortunately, the Omicron variant in Europe is also spreading really fast, so this is a possibility that we cannot rule out. In the English Premier League, we saw how many positive cases there've been in the last few weeks, and they're currently discussing the possibility of shutting down the league for a couple of weeks.

The only hope is that the teams' protocols will be effective and limit the number of positive cases. But with festivities incoming and players gathering with families and friends, an increasing number of cases, it's something that we'll probably witness.

The game between AX Armani Exchange and Zalgiris is already postponed, so hopefully, it will be the only such case because the schedule is already very condensed, and finding new dates will be difficult.

Uygar: Very possible, why not? Premier League canceled many games last weekend. All the people are traveling by planes, so everyone needs to go to the airports. But the crucial part is the reaction and leadership by the organisation.

The NBA showed good leadership in hard times since the first days of COVID. Not only for basketball but also regarding all sports. When they suspended the games, many big tournaments followed them. In this respect, EuroLeague was slow to react, deprived of original solutions, and looked even desperate at times. Now, another outbreak needs another leadership.

NBA is proactively taking decisions, bringing ad-hoc solutions such as medical jokers, closely monitoring the situations, calling off the games immediately, if needed. EuroLeague? You can hardly hear explanations or contingency plans.

Thanks to the media and basketball reporters all over Europe, we know about the outbreaks in the teams.

However, the game between Zalgiris and Armani Exchange was postponed instantly, so it gives hope that the lessons from the previous season were learned.

Giorgos: Two Greek League games were postponed last weekend because of COVID cases at PAOK and Aris. PAOK also had their Basketball Champions League game against Igokea transferred to next week.

In one of the early 3x3s of the season, I noted that the best thing up to that point was that no games had been postponed. Now, nothing can be ruled out with Armani Exchange and Zalgiris game being postponed. In the NBA, the league worked with the National Basketball Players Association to use additional replacement players to help COVID-plagued teams.

Of course, that cannot be done in Europe. According to EuroLeague's Health & Safety Protocols and Special Regulations, "games that are precluded from taking place as scheduled due to a team having less than eight players on the Authorisation List fit to play due to one or more players having tested positive for COVID-19 will be suspended and rescheduled."

I think it's a certainty that during the winter, we'll see teams get decimated. The previous season set the example of how such cases should be treated, although the tight schedule does not allow much flexibility.

What do you make of Zagklis' comments regarding rough FIBA's relationship with ECA?

Orazio: I'm not surprised by Zagklis' words. He knows that inside EuroLeague, there's discontent with the current situation, especially from the financial side, so he's pushing hard against EuroLeague as an organization, and now he has also the support of the recent decision made by the European Parliament that voted a resolution against the closed model of competition in sports.

That resolution was aimed at the football Super League, but it wasn't good news for EuroLeague either. Also, considering the recent talks with the NBA and the reports about the potential creation of a new competition run by both FIBA and the NBA, it's clear that EuroLeague is finding itself a little bit more isolated than a few years ago.

I still believe that any FIBA/NBA joint competition won't happen right away and might take years before seeing in the light, so in the meantime, EuroLeague needs to make the necessary adjustments to remain competitive and become more profitable for the clubs.

I believe that in the coming months, EuroLeague and FIBA will start to find more common ground for talks, but the distance between them will always remain there, like it or not.

Uygar: I had the impression that we are not in a very different situation regarding the distance between FIBA and ECA.

It is unrealistic for Zagklis to disclose many details, but I did not track the potential for closer cooperation with EuroLeague in the future. Moreover, he is not the one to make a move for dialogue, but EuroLeague is.

I believe FIBA has NBA closer to its side because of the strategic partnership, no matter how bleak these connections are. EuroLeague is on the verge of a change with the situation regarding its CEO, Jordi Bertomeu, and until that happens, FIBA would not need any further concessions to find a middle way with ECA.

Besides, the COVID situation makes it even harder to see the future revenues, potential gains, and losses. I say the issues are on hold right now.

Giorgos: "We can’t afford being divided in basketball. If that happens, then young people will turn their backs on us and turn to Fortnite or Netflix," FIBA Secretary-General Andreas Zagklis said.

It's something that the Greek administrator keeps repeating over the last months. Alas, no significant steps have been made towards the much-desired goal of unification.

Zagklis went on to call the recent international window "a missed opportunity for a demonstration of good faith from the EuroLeague." No one can argue with that.

Monaco and ASVEL asked to have their game postponed in order for their players to be available for the French national team that was suiting up for Montenegro.

ASVEL president Tony Parker said: "We could have postponed the match. We had requested it. FIBA and EuroLeague need to talk to each other, and all the institutions need to work out a coherent and understandable calendar. This doesn't help basketball."

Aito Garcia Reneses has campaigned to harmonize the calendar because FIBA competitions interfering with club competitions at the domestic or the Pan-European level have created a "real chaos."

Let's hope that EuroLeague clubs and FIBA will discuss how to best bridge the gap that divides them.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of the EuroLeague format introduced in 2016. It increases the number of games, but it also leaves at least 3-4 teams with nothing to fight for once the playoff spots have been decided. On the other hand, I believe that FIBA windows are excessive, and if there should be any Qualifiers, those could just as well take place during the summer.

I'd also like to see European All-Star Games (like Eurostars that FIBA held in several cities in the 1990s) at some point. But that's wishful thinking.

The ECA, which means the overwhelming majority of its stakeholders, must decide whether they will keep losing millions every year or try to find some common ground with FIBA instead.

They have been wrongly put in the position to be the ones who decide the future of European basketball, so they'd better do something before the value of the entire European basketball product gets even lower.

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