Credit: D.Repečka, Olympiacos BC, Zuma Press – Scanpix
Credit D.Repečka, Olympiacos BC, Zuma Press – Scanpix

We said goodbye to 2021, while at the same time, the second half of the EuroLeague regular season has begun.

Although the coronavirus is hurting teams and the number of postponed matches is increasing, clubs have already played from 16 to 18 games this season, allowing us to see the trends and draw preliminary conclusions.

BasketNews points out the three most surprising and disappointing clubs in the EuroLeague this season and predicts which squads will make the largest progress in the second part of the regular season.

The listed surprising and disappointing clubs were highlighted by remembering the expectations before the season started.


Olympiacos Piraeus (12-5)

Credit Olympiacos BC

Olympiacos took their first important steps in 2020, believing in the long-term vision of Georgios Bartzokas and calling Kostas Sloukas. In the summer of 2021, the team opened a new sheet, saying goodbye to Vassilis Spanoulis and inviting Thomas Walkup, Tyler Dorsey, and Moustapha Fall.

The newcomers have successfully joined the core members of Sloukas, Kostas Papanikolaou, Sasha Vezenkov, Georgios Printezis, and Hassan Martin. The team now ranks third with 12 victories.

Yes, some of Bartzokas' rotations remain questionable, but this team is a winning squad, so it would be stupid to criticize. Especially since Olympiacos are playing in various ways, showing the second-best offense and the third-best defense in the EuroLeague.

Before the season, there were hesitant predictions that the Greek club would return to the playoffs. Now there are practically no questions about it. Bartzokas' army is a serious contender to return to the Final Four.

UNICS Kazan (11-7)

Credit TASS – Scanpix

The dark horse of this EuroLeague season – bad guys from Kazan. Bad in a good way. It is a rare case for an American-style team to function in the EuroLeague successfully, but Velimir Perasovic does an amazing job, and UNICS are the biggest surprise of the tournament so far.

In Round 4, UNICS lost 41-80 against Fenerbache Beko in Istanbul and started the tournament with one victory in five matches. It seemed that the Russian club, which had famous names, would fail.

Everything started to change from Round 6 – UNICS won 10 duels in the next 13 rounds, defeating Real Madrid, CSKA Moscow, and Anadolu Efes Istanbul. In a game over FC Barcelona, the Kazan club lost the contest, which they had already won.

Currently ranked 5th, UNICS are one of the hottest teams in the league. A trio of Mario Hezonja, Isaiah Canaan, and Lorenzo Brown is a proper headache for their opponents, while John Brown's dedication on the defensive end admires all Europe.

The UNICS success is not so surprising in general, as it is surprising the style, in which everything is done. Maybe UNICS will become not only the first EuroCup club to maintain its place in the EuroLeague but also the first one to make it to the Final Four right away? Nothing is impossible for UNICS bad guys.

LDCL ASVEL Villeurbanne (8-9)

Credit Imago Images/PanoramiC/AFP - Scanpix | BasketNews illustration

At the beginning of the season, Tony Parker's project in Villeurbanne had to surprise the boss himself  French talents won 6 games in the first 8 EuroLeague rounds.

The main goal of the ASVEL is to develop prospects for the NBA, give them playing time, but at the same time remain competitive in the EuroLeague. They manage to do it repeatedly at the start of the season, and now they are in 9th place.

Of course, the most significant merit for the Parker brothers and the entire management of ASVEL was that they managed to get Elie Okobo, the hidden gem, and Chris Jones from Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv.

This backcourt duo was statistically superior to the best combo of EuroLeague guards - Vasilije Micic and Shane Larkin - for at least the first 10 rounds.

ASVEL are interesting to watch this season not only because of the Okobo and Jones tandem  Victor Wembanyama, one of the biggest European talents of recent years, is getting playing time in Villeurbanne.

Moreover, NBA prospect Matthew Strazel and athletic freak Kostas Antetokounmpo are competing here.

Okobo's form has fallen recently, but that's normal, knowing it's his first season in the EuroLeague. It has responded to the team as well, but despite just two wins in the last nine matches, ASVEL are still close to the playoffs, and it won't be easy for anyone in Villeurbanne (in 2022).


Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv (7-11)

Credit Imago Images – Scanpix

The beginning of the season looked promising for Maccabi. The Israeli club recorded a series of five victories, and it was rumored that Maccabi are returning to the elite. Less than two months have passed, and we are now talking that the Maccabi problems may no longer be resolved.

The Yellows lost eight times in a row and appear to have collapsed psychologically. The failures did not bring a good mood to the team locker room, where James Nunnally's incident was heard the most.

Nunnally's future hangs in Tel Aviv, but after the defeat in Monaco, coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos can be a bit more relaxed  the management showed trust in the Greek specialist, allowed him to continue working. Besides that, Maccabi may receive reinforcements to their roster in the near future.

Sfairopoulos is a recognized professional, and Maccabi executives seem to be thinking wisely here. However, the question is, do the players themselves still believe in a strategist?

The Israeli champions are still separated from the playoffs spot by only two victories, and their potential is certainly at the level off front eight. Since Round 11, the team has recorded the 15th offensive and 17th defensive ratings.

Pressure from fans has peaked in Tel Aviv, therefore Maccabi must defeat Baskonia at home next week, which would allow them to recover psychologically. Otherwise, Israeli fans could bury another EuroLeague season.

AS Monaco (7-11)

Credit BasketNews/D.Repečka

As early as September, Monaco looked like a team that would be at the bottom of the standings, and the current 14th position would have suited for them, but Mike James, Will Thomas, and Dwayne Bacon's arrivals immediately raised expectations for EuroLeague debutants.

Monaco opened the season solidly, with five wins in nine games, including the final second losses to Real and Barcelona. However, then came a series of five setbacks, the team seemed to get out of tune, and that situation required the sacking of head coach Zvezdan Mitrovic.

With Sasha Obradovic at the helm of the team, the squad won two matches and suffered two blows, while the biggest change was Mike James' play. One of the best guards in the league seems motivated and hands out 11 assists during the match, which allows Monaco to record the fifth-best offensive rating in this period.

However, the biggest problem is the defense this line-up is simply not formed for it. Monaco have the worst EuroLeague defense rating when Obradovic took the reins into his hands.

It all starts with James and Donatas Motiejunas, who are the main targets of opponents in Pick & Rolls, but the rest are not defensive-oriented basketball athletes either.

Can this team get back into the fight for the playoffs? The roster has a lot of individually strong players, but it is hard to believe that this mash of different personalities will become a stably winning club.

Zalgiris Kaunas (3-13)


The last team in the EuroLeague, for which the 16th place in the final standings, would look like an outstanding achievement.

The situation in Zalgiris cannot be fixed anymore. The Green and Whites quickly fired coach Martin Schiller, hoping that Jure Zdovc would change the season's direction, but too many roster mistakes were made in the summer.

To tell the truth, the initially assembled team's image did not look as bad as the view on the court. Before the season, 14th place seemed like a logical result, and with a bit of luck, the 11-12th place didn't look unreal either, but things went wrong.

A huge emphasis was placed on Emmanuel Mudiay, but even here, Zalgiris did not show patience. After releasing the player with the biggest potential, there was simply no strong individual basketball athlete left in the squad.

Newcomers Tai Webster and Zoran Dragic did not become equal replacements, as the Slovenian is no longer in the club. If this Zalgiris team were already toothless in defense, then, without Mudiay, they lost the expected growth in the attack.

Zalgiris have the worst both the offensive and defensive EuroLeague ratings. And neither the change of coaches nor the acquisition of new players will fundamentally change anything. Fans need to endure until the end of the season and wait for the summer when a huge rebuilding process awaits.

The potential to rise

CSKA Moscow (10-7)

Credit Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS-SCANPIX

The first half of the regular season in Moscow was certainly not as expected. At first, the EuroLeague powerhouse was run through by injuries, and when all the players returned, it turned out that it would take time to learn to play together.

CSKA were demolished at home by UNICS, later they barely got over ALBA Berlin, and in the latest match, the Russian club was humiliated in Madrid against COVID-racked Real.

The 7th place in the standings does not seem like a tragedy, but the squad, thinking about the EuroLeague title, can certainly do better, and the most important thing is to handle the defense, which is ranked only 13th.

The Russian club is still looking for a high-class point guard to solve many problems, as Alexey Shved or Iffe Lundberg tend to simply disappear. We can be sure that CSKA will be in the top eight, but they desire to have the home advantage in the playoffs.

Anadolu Efes Istanbul (9-9)

Credit Reuters – Scanpix

Another contender for the EuroLeague championship started the season with four setbacks, and although they have recently improved the game, the Turkish powerhouse is still in high swing. Their 8th place is really unsatisfactory for the club's management and fans.

At the start of the season, the reigning champs' hangovers dragged on, and this year Efes look even more dependent on Shane Larkin and Vasilije Micic.

If Larkin shows a more solid play than last year (avg 19.2 PIR), then EuroLeague MVP Micic is still looking for his rhythm (avg 14.3 PIR) and his performances responding in an unstable Anadolu Efes game.

Sertac Sanli's departure in the off-season is well compensated by Tibor Pleiss (avg 11.9 PIR). Still, in general, the line-up lacks freshness, especially in the front line, so the reinforcement there could change the direction of the Anadolu Efes season.

Even with the resources available, Anadolu Efes can defend the champion title  Larkin, Micic, and Rodrigue Beaubois remain the best perimeter line in the whole EuroLeague.

With this trio in the best shape, rivals have no answers on a frequent occasions. Anadolu Efes will rise to a higher position in the standings. The only question is whether they will gain a home-court advantage.

FC Bayern Munich (7-10)

Credit BNS, Imago Images - Scanpix | BasketNews iliustracija/A.Zaikauskas

The Reds changed dramatically in the summer, but on paper, they certainly don't look any worse. Andrea Trinchieri is also implementing the fighting spirit and winning mentality for this team.

Bayern started the season with four losses, but later, they gained the pace. However, three straight defeats put them in 11th place.

However, for more than a month, the Bavarians have been competing without their top scorer Darrun Hilliard (avg 15.8 PTS), and this case is reflected in the numbers. The Germans' offensive rating dropped from 6th to 11th position.

Hilliard will soon return to the lineup, Vladimir Lucic is playing consistently well, and next to these key players, there is a solid core of Augustine Rubit, Nick Weiler-Babb, Othello Hunter, Deshaun Thomas, Corey Walden, and the newcomer K.C. Rivers.

There is no doubt that Trinchieri and his men will put the maximum effort to secure the spot in the playoffs.

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