Credit: Panagiotis Moschandreou - Getty Images | BasketNews illustration/M.Didė
Credit Panagiotis Moschandreou - Getty Images | BasketNews illustration/M.Didė

Thirty-one days after their first clash in the 2021-22 season, Panathinaikos OPAP Athens and Olympiacos Piraeus meet again.

3-pointers this season

36%
9,4
Points made: 9,4
Accuracy: 35,5%
Place in standings: 2
Record max: 18
Record min: 6
Most made 3FGs: Tyler Dorsey

This time, the stage is not the Greek Basket League but the EuroLeague, and the venue is the OAKA instead of the Peace and Friendship Stadium.

That said, the coming derby finds the two rivals in opposed positions in the standings. Hosts Panathinaikos are next-to-bottom while Olympiacos are only behind FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.

However, recent history has proven that even under those circumstances, anything is possible in a derby.

Despite the first sold-out of the season at OAKA, this game means more to Olympiacos. That's not to say that PAO wouldn't like to win this one too, but it's mostly a matter of pride for the Greens rather than anything else. Panathinaikos are 4-12, and even if they triumph again, nothing will change in their status, team dynamic, or goals.

Very few expected this Panathinaikos squad to be a playoff contender when the season started. Since the summer of 2020, when former president Dimitris Giannakopoulos, who's still the owner, announced that the club is for sale, one of Europe's traditional powerhouses had to cope with a new reality.

From that point on, Panathinaikos have been operating based on income and expenses, which means that every signing they make must be carefully devised and planned.

The budget is one of the lowest among all EuroLeague clubs when a decade ago, the Greens were one of the richest teams in the continent.

Times changed and Panathinaikos, who never really learned how to operate with limited funds, found themselves in uncharted waters.

Dimitris Priftis was called in to replace Oded Kattash, but the roster's quality appears even lower than last year. Mario Hezonja and Dinos Mitoglou went to Kazan and Milan, respectively, while the team is again in desperate need of a floor general.

Howard Sant-Roos played the part last year, but in the current campaign, it's mostly Nemanja Nedovic and Daryl Macon who try to get their teammates involved, with rather unsuccessful results.

Panathinaikos will play three consecutive games at home before the calendar year 2021 bids us all farewell. After Olympiacos, there's Lavrio for the Cup on December 27 and Zalgiris on the 30th. From a realistic standpoint, the game against Lavrio is the most important because PAO need to stay on course on the domestic front.

On offense, the Nedovic - Macon dynamic has been proven crucial for the six-time EuroLeague champs. So far, it seems that Macon usually performs splendidly in Nedovic's absence or when the Serb was confined to a secondary role because of his poor form since he was coming from a long Covid break.

When Nedovic got his groove back, he delivered a one-man show in Piraeus, scoring 24 points and handing PAO a valuable victory. Without a doubt, he's the man who pulls the strings for them. Macon needs the ball in his hands to feel comfortable and comes off his worst game this season, against Barcelona.

According to what both teams have done so far, Olympiacos seem absolutely capable of another win at OAKA, which will be their third in the EuroLeague regular season since the new format was introduced in 2016.

Giorgos Bartzokas relished the chance to upgrade his roster in pre-season and prove wrong those who questioned the team's potential. Olympiacos are not a refuse-to-lose type of team, as they were in the Giannis Sfairopoulos era (2014-18). They have size, agility, and the ability to destroy opponents with their tenacity.

In this respect, Sasha Vezenkov, Dyler Dorsey, Moustapha Fall, and Thomas Walkup have been pivotal. Vezenkov, who re-signed with the Reds until 2023, is much more than a one-dimensional scorer or shooter. He's also Olympiacos's best rebounder.

Dorsey had taken on the shooting guard position, which had been left vacant long before his predecessor, Aaron Harrison, left Piraeus. The Greek-American is a skilled one-on-one player who can create while not neglecting his defensive duties.

Fall has been playing a bit more than expected since Hassan Martin hardly ever lends a helping hand off the bench. However, the Frenchman is the center that Olympiacos were looking for since the Nikola Milutinov era was over.

Olympiacos have been significantly less dependant on Sloukas this season, and Walkup is one of the main reasons for it. Despite his shooting woes, he's one of the most important pieces in Bartzokas's defensive and play-making puzzle.

The guard from Texas misfired from the three-point range in the Greek League game against Panathinaikos, and the Greens will certainly allow him several open looks.

Walkup, together with Giannoulis Larentzakis, who has developed into a fearsome shooter apart from being a solid defender, and Kostas Papanikolaou, are the backbone of this Olympiacos team.

Olympiacos making or missing shots will probably decide the game to a large extent.

"Panathinaikos use the zone quite a lot as a basic defensive scheme, deployed two and three times during the game. We have to be ready for that," Giorgos Bartzokas said on the eve of the derby.

When Dimitris Priftis decided to launch different zone variations (3-2, 2-3, 2-1-2), he knew he was taking a risk. The Greek coach opted to reduce the obligation of his players to be individually responsible both on and off the ball, especially on pick and roll defense, which reduces opponents' assists in the paint.

Olympiacos tend to move the ball from the strong to the weak side to hit the close-out. Panathinaikos's zone has a specific sweet spot - it takes big man Giorgos Papagiannis away from the paint. It puts him in the high post, allowing opponents more opportunities for an offensive rebound.

This means that Priftis will have to be ready to adjust his plans if Olympiacos start hitting some shots that the hosts' defense will inevitably allow. If Vezenkov and Dorsey get hot, it will be hard to stop them.

PAO are one big guy short because of Jehyve Floyd moving to Fenerbahce, but Olympiacos saw Quincy Acy get hospitalized with acute tonsillitis. Acy had been sick for 2-3 days before the Pireaus game, and overall, he has been battling injuries for a long time since he set foot in Greece.

Olympiacos are a team that usually force opponents to bad shooting percentages, especially in Piraeus. This time around, they won't need much effort, and I guess that their main plan will revolve around Nedovic getting rid of the ball as quickly as possible.

"Generally, we have to defend better against Nedovic than we did the first time," Bartzokas said.

A major deficiency for the home side has been their far from great off-the-ball movement. Panathinaikos have not shot the ball well this season, ranking 15th inside the arc (50.6%) and 16th from downtown (33.1%).

Furthermore, they're 16th in assists (14.0), which is explained by the many one-on-one isolation plays drawn for Macon and Nedovic.

Given the fact that Howard Sant-Roos will probably be absent from the derby, Kendrick Perry will take on much of the defensive burden.

The undersized guard will have his hands full guarding both Walkup and Sloukas, which is what Priftis expects from him. Perry doesn't need to provide scoring as long as the two other main guards stand nearby, but he must use his fouls wisely and limit the effectiveness of Olympiacos's main creators.

The Moustapha Fall-Giorgos Papagiannis battle will also be decisive. In the Greek League game, whenever Fall set a screen, Papagiannis moved to the high post to turn the zone into 2-1-2.

On the other hand, when the French big would post up, Papagiannis constituted the last line of his team's defense in a 2-3 zone. Fall finished that game with 17 points and 11 rebounds, winning the battle.

But Papagiannis won the war, and now it remains to be seen if Priftis has other aces up his sleeve.

Last but not least, the experienced players.

Olympiacos need to get Papanikolaou in Peace and Friendship mode (this means effective and impactful) to increase their chances. Team captain Giorgos Printezis has played dozens of those games since the 2000s and seems quite at peace with the idea that this will be his last season.

On the other hand, Panathinaikos's captain Ioannis Papapetrou is by no means a role player for the Greens. However, he's averaging 8.1 points on 25% three-point shooting and 3.3 rebounds over 6 EuroLeague contests against his former team.

If the Greens can get the most out of Papapetrou, who hadn't fully recovered from an illness until last week, they will increase their chances.

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2022-01-10
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Panathinaikos Athens
Olympiacos Piraeus
44%
16 Position
Field goals
48%
3 Position
33,56
8 Position
Rebounds
35,25
4 Position
13,94
16 Position
Assists
17,56
4 Position
4,88
18 Position
Steals
6,25
11 Position

Teams leaders

Daryl  Macon
14,9 PTS
63% 2P%
37% 3P%
Tyler  Dorsey
13,1 PTS
49% 2P%
44% 3P%
Georgios  Papagiannis
8,0 REB
5,8 DREB
2,2 OREB
Aleksandr  Vezenkov
5,6 REB
4,1 DREB
1,4 OREB
Daryl  Macon
3,6 As
2,1 TO
27 MIN
Konstantinos  Sloukas
3,9 As
1,5 TO
23 MIN