CSKA may have looked good this season as they are currently in second place but the past couple of weeks have been a bit disturbing to say the least two issues coming to the forefront.
The first is the Mike James saga. At the beginning of the week in a surprise move, James was suspended by the team and would not be registered to play in the the club‘s two Euroleague games this past week against Alba Berlin and Bayern Munich. Rumors abound said that it was due to the fact that the team didn‘t let him attend the funeral of his grandfather in the United States which was then continued by a physical conformation with Toko Shengelia in the lockerroom and ended with a disagreement with head coach Dimitris Itoudis.
It’s still not totally clear exactly what happened but CSKA has indicated that James is going nowheres and will return to the club for the upcoming game. In the Russian club‘s last game, a loss to Munich, center Nikola Milutinov who leads the Euroleague in rebounds, suffered a shoulder injury that looks like will keep him out for the balance of the season.
Now with the Milutinov injury and the situation with James, CSKA would have a very tough time trying to integrate two new players into their squad. James wouldn’t be able to move to another Euroleague team as the transfer window is now closed and likewise they wouldn’t be able to bring in another player currently in the competition. The same is true with Milutinov as they will now have to see who they may be able to bring in that could play at the level expected from a team of CSKA‘s ilk.
CSKA has struggled of late only having won two of their last six games and was very close to losing to Alba as well. A replacement for Milutinov will be critical as they will look to get back onto track as they head into the stretch run and ready for the playoffs.
There are three teams who have been playing fantastic ball of late: Fenerbahce who have reminded us of their glory days as Jan Vesely has returned to being one of the dominant forces in the Euroleague, Nando De Colo is blossoming once again and Marko Guduric has been terrific since signing with the club. All of a sudden they are in 8th place and there’s no question that they will continue to climb the standings. If Kyle O‘Quinn can break into the rotation, Fener will be even more of a threat and will quickly become the club that no-one wants to face in the postseason.
Milano is on a terrific steak having now won six games in a row after defeating Zenit St. Petersburg last game. Milano, who didn’t begin the season as one of the top teams has now moved into the top 4 and despite having taken some time, coach Ettore Messina has been able to mold the team into a major force as we had into the final third of the campaign.
The third team is ASVEL who dropped Red Star this past gameday to notch their 4th win in a row. It’s clear that if the coach wasn’t Tony Parker‘s brother he would have been replaced ages ago, but due to everyone‘s patience the team has become a threat to beat any other club week in and week out. It’s hard to believe that this streak will continue for much longer as they play Milano this week, but regardless their performance is important for French basketball in Europe. As the Euroleague becomes more and more exclusive, it’s critical that teams in countries like France and Germany whose leagues aren‘t as attractive play well and make an impact in order to show the big boys that they do have something to offer and they are an important part of the continent’s game.
One of the qualities that ASVEL has been able to imbue is having French players in significant roles with the club such as Moustapha Fall and Guerschon Yabusele. However, one player coming into his own is 18-year old Matthew Strazel and is becoming a mainstay in the rotation. Strazel moved up to the senior squad as a 16-year old and last season played significant minutes in the French League. Although Strazel didn’t begin the season playing serious time in the Euroleague, he’s been given credit over the past few weeks and has become one of the reasons that ASVEL has been able to go on their winning streak. Let’s take a look at the numbers: Up until the past four games Strazel averaged 11 minutes and scored two points while shooting 12% from beyond the arc. Over the past quartet of contests he’s played 15 minutes per game any has averaged 7.5 points while going 50% from downtown. If Strazel can continue playing their way he will become a very important player as well as become a candidate to be selected as a lottery pick in the upcoming of the following year’s NBA Draft.
Another young player who is making an impact is Carlos Alocen from Real Madrid. The Spaniard is thought to be a potential star for years to come and featured for the country’s Under-20 team. Since Facundo Campazzo departed for the NBA, Alocen has taken a step forward the past couple of games where he has averaged 12.5 points while adding four assists with confidence and maturity.
Both Alocen and Strazel would like to make the move to the NBA but right now both need to take advantage of their opportunities especially Alocen who has a golden chance to take up Campazzo’s mantle as a point guard at Real Madrid at just 20-years old. It will be interesting to see if Alocen will try to jump to North America this summer or stay put and become one of Madrid’s stalwarts just like Sergio Llull who has been this past decade and play by his side.
Oded Katash and Lior Lubin have just begun their term at Panathinaikos and they’ve already made a positive impression with a pair of Euroleague wins including a terrific victory over Valencia this past week. While they haven’t yet made any roster moves, it’s clear that the team looks much better and much more alive due to a small change in the rotation and that’s connected to one Eleftherios Bochoridis. The 26-year old guard isn’t exactly a star to say the least. This is his fourth season with the Greens and in his first three campaigns he didn’t make much of an impact between 2014-2017.
Bochoridis didn’t play much this season and his contribution didn’t make any waves but Katash and his staff saw something that was missing this season, solidity. Bochoridis has come a solid teammate and will do only what he can and not what he can’t. He will always be responsible on the defensive end and will constantly look for his teammates who are open. That is something which Shelvin Mack, Nenad Dedovic and certainly Marcus Foster aren’t used to doing. You don’t always need five stars on the court but three and two that help bring out the potential in they others.
Since Katash’s arrival Bochoridis has played 21 minutes instead of 12 minutes per game and Panathinaikos looks much much better. Against Real Madrid last week, Pablo Laso’s team went into the half up by 22 points but Katash’s squad worked hard over the second half to cut down the lead and walk away with their heads held high with a moral victory. Bochoridis’s biggest issue is his shooting percentage from two and as a player who isn’t that athletic he’s unable to go to the basket like many other players. In order to get more minutes, he will need to show Katash that he cane improve especially if they decide to bring in a player or two to strengthen the backcourt. Regardless, the minutes he is now on the court will give him a confidence boost, improve and prove that he is a legitimate Euroleague player.