The storylines that attach themselves to any basketball season are rarely predictable, but that’s the reason we watch – to see how the drama unfolds and decides itself. It’s sometimes a question of expectations vs. reality, but more often it’s about a great competitor simply willing itself further than the others because only one can reach their ultimate, collective dream – the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague title. For sure, the storylines will change, as they always do, but going into the 2018-19 season there are plenty that everyone has in mind. Here’s a Top 10 to get the conversation started.
10. Is AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan for real?
With a brand-new backcourt to balance a diverse group of talented big men, Milan has raised its depth and talent level higher this offseason. Nemanja Nedovic was the EuroLeague’s second-best scorer last season and Amedeo Della Valle did the same in the 7DAYS EuroCup, while Mike James is a born game-breaker. That trio will have the ball a lot, and if they can thrive together with their teammates, Milan will become a team to watch for sure.
9. Can Kevin Pangos lead FC Barcelona Lassa forward?
The only All-EuroLeague selection from last season to change teams within the competition, point guard Kevin Pangos will try to recreate his leadership role from Zalgiris Kaunas to help Barcelona get back among the elite. Quiet but dangerous, Pangos brings discipline and strong decision-making to any offense and will have plenty of talented teammates at his fingertips. His ability to bring them together will go a long way towards determining if Barcelona is back, at last, this season.
8. Will a superstar duo take Panathinaikos OPAP Athens to the promised land?
Nick Calathes broke assist records last season in helping Panathinaikos get home-court advantage in the playoffs, but the Greens again ran into a buzz-saw as Real Madrid won their series. The same thing had happened to Panathinaikos the year before with another eventual champ, Fenerbahce Istanbul. Calathes this year has Keith Langford, last seen winning the Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy in 2017, to set up for points. Just like the Greens after a six-year drought, Langford is aching to reach his first Final Four. Can this duo of masters push Panathinaikos over the hump?
7. Can Khimki Moscow Region’s Alexey Shved repeat as top scorer?
Silky-smooth Alexey Shved put on a scoring display last season that ranked among the all-time best. Just as importantly, his contribution lifted Khimki into the playoffs for the first time. Defenses that focused on stopping him last year couldn’t do so. He will have the green light again, but some other super scorers will be hot on his trail this season, for sure. If Shved gets streaky with his three-point shot, he will be a favorite to repeat as the Alphonso Ford Top Scorer, something no one has done in the trophy’s 14 editions to date.
6. Will David Blatt make Olympiacos Piraeus soar even higher?
Fresh off taking the EuroCup title, well-traveled winner David Blatt is now on the bench of the team that owns the most championship game appearances – five – in the EuroLeague this decade. He also has legends Vassilis Spanoulis and Georgios Printezis hell-bent on more titles amid a solid cast of experienced returnees. Blatt has specialized in turning things around with new teams that needed fixing, and with five new players, Olympiacos will have some adjusting to do, as well. But the combination of a consistently successful club with consistently successful coach makes it a sure bet that all eyes will be on Piraeus this season.
5. Does would-be Final Four host KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz have what it takes?
After a Final Four return three seasons ago and playoff runs the last two, Baskonia had the luxury this summer of maintaining its accomplished, veteran core and adding a pair of key pieces in Darrun Hilliard and Shavon Shields on the wings. That shows a lot of much-deserved confidence in the team’s recent work, and that plus a devoted fan base always ready to help the team will undoubtedly put Baskonia in the hunt for greatness again. And if it should make and survive the playoffs to play a Final Four at home? The sky’s the limit.
4. Will CSKA Moscow dominate again?
Season-long excellence in the EuroLeague this decade goes by the name of CSKA Moscow. There’s no understating how massive and difficult an accomplishment is CSKA’s ongoing streak of seven consecutive and 15 out of 16 Final Fours. The perennial regular season champs and playoff dominators have made it past the semis just twice this decade: losing 2012’s championship game on the buzzer in winning 2016’s in overtime. But it’s unfair to measure success by the Final Four, where each game can be the last. With standards as high as any possible, CSKA meets them again and again. There is no reason to expect this season to be any different.
3. Does Zalgiris Kaunas have staying power?
Following its first Final Four of the century, Zalgiris replaced five departures from its 10-man lineup last spring in Belgrade with as many newcomers. That new quintet’s collective EuroLeague experience is just 27 games, which means that the learning curve could become a factor in Kaunas early in the season. The frontcourt remains mostly intact, while the backcourt is all but new. With a master on the bench to show the way and a one-of-a-kind crowd at every home game, however, no one should doubt that Zalgiris can knock on the door of greatness again.
2. Are two additions enough for Fenerbahce?
After having come within 20 minutes of repeating its 2017 title last spring, Fenerbahce almost stood pat during the summer, bringing in just a couple of additions, Tyler Ennis and Joffrey Lauvergne. Both of those players have star quality, of which Fenerbahce was already loaded. With them, Fenerbahce becomes deeper at the point and in the paint, but may require added shooting production from its holdovers on the wings. With consistency on its roster and a legend on its bench, there is every reason to expect that Fenerbahce will be fighting for its fifth consecutive Final Four – and more.
1. Can Real Madrid repeat?
About the only thing Real Madrid has not accomplished in its heralded basketball history is back-to-back titles in the Final Four era. In some ways, Madrid will start this season with the lineup that it expected to begin the last one, save for one major exception, of course: Luka Doncic. But Madrid has the luxury of replacing one MVP with another, Sergio Llull, who was hurt for most of the title run. Among Madrid’s many strengths are crystal clear roles – and the skills to fill those roles – on a roster built with all eventualities in mind. Once healthy last season, Madrid was unbeatable. While that’s way too much to expect from any EuroLeague team, there is plenty of reason for opponents to fear a healthy Real Madrid – from now until the season’s end. Madrid owns the trophy until some other team takes it away.