Euroleague 2013-14 Preview: Groups A & B

Jamie McDonald

Yay, it's October! A great month for basketball fans as not only the NBA regular season starts, but the Euroleague starts as well. Here's a preview giving you a little background on the teams and players to watch, as well as young guns who might have a shot at the NBA in the future. We start with groups A & B today and groups C & D following sometime this week.

You can look up the competition format here.

GROUP A

CSKA Moscow

Stars & former NBA players: Milos Teodosic, Nenad Krstic, Jeremy Pargo, Viktor Khryapa, Sonny Weems

Notable youngsters & NBA talent: Milos Teodosic

http://www.euroleague.net/rs/50123/45d06ff8-6247-4820-b4fc-659a7cd7547c/0f4/filename/45d.jpg

Who are they? The Russian powerhouse is the victim of two traumatizing Euroleague appearances in a row, at the hands of Greek Olympiacos. In 2012, the star studded team around Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved lost in the Final after blowing a big lead, and in 2013, Olympiacos finished off CSKA in a seminfinal blowout. CSKA is fed up and once enhanced its roster with international talent that has played at a high level

Any players I should or might know? CSKA projects to be the best team on paper with a deep frontcourt surrounding Sasha Kaun, former NBA players Viktor Khryapa, and Nenad Krstic, ridiculously undersized Kyle Hines (HE’S A 6’6" CENTER!!!!). Even though Hines is severly undersized for either the 5 or 4 spot, he was a significant factor in Olympiacos championship run. In 20 minutes of play, Hines scored 10 points, had two offensive rebounds and blocked 1.1 shots. In the backcourt they are just as good with "Wolveskiller" Milos Teodosic, former NBA players Jeremy Pargo & Sonny Weems, as well as sharpshooters Vitaly Fridzon & Vladimir Micov (around 43% 3P% last year each). The core of Teodosic-Weems-Pargo-Fridzon with the K-frontcourt (Khryapa,Kaun,Krstic & Kyle) is a scary one with great balance in ball-dominant types, spot-up shooters and two-way inside players who go to work.

Why should I watch them? MAD SCIENTIST MILOS! After the preseason game against the Wolves, you should know what a fun player he can be on most nights. Milos NBA career might be at stakes here. If he wins it all and is the hero of the tournament, he might ease off about his antics a little, be satisfied with himself and finally join the NBA as the next step of his journey. So, all, let’s hope that CSKA wins this, right? (heh-heh)

Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul

Stars & former NBA players: Linasz Kleiza, Bo McCalebb, Bojan Bogdanovic

Notable youngsters & NBA talent: Kenan Sipahi, Bojan Bogdanovic, Nemanja Bjelica, Metecan Birsen (18), Berkay Candan (20), Ayberk Olmaz (17), Izzet Turkyilmaz (20), Berk Ugurlu (17), Ilkay Karaman (23)

http://www.euroleague.net/rs/50322/45d06ff8-6247-4820-b4fc-659a7cd7547c/1f9/filename/45d.jpg

Who are they? 2012 marked a disappointing year for "Fener". They were not able to get out of the Top 16 in the Euroleague, and were eliminated from the domestic playoffs surprisingly early. The Turks revamped their roster by adding big names to their starting five in their quest for redemption.

Any players I should or might know? Istanbul wasn’t very modest and enhanced its strong trio of Bo McCalebb – Emir Preldzic – Bojan Bogdanovic by the signings of Timberwolves draftee Nemanja Bjelica and former Raptor Linasz Kleiza. Standing at just 5’10", McCalebb is an explosive scoring point guard which he proved once again at the Eurobasket where he scored 17 points on 49% FG%. McCalebb is constantly in attack mode without much vision for other guys but that should be made up by small forward Emir Preldzic (3.5 APG in EL last year) and new star Linasz Kleiza who will help this team putting in a few new gears on offense. The wings are super deep with Kleiza, Nets hostage Bojan Bogdanovic (terrific EL season 2012 with 15.9 points on 53% 2FG & 40% 3FG) and Belly Jelly who averaged 9.9 points on 62% 2FG and 4.8 rebounds in the Euroleague with former team Caja Laboral. Fener is one of the coolest teams with maybe the most interesting soon-to-be-NBA player next to Mirotic in Bogdanovic.

Why should I watch them? Fine, if the core is not fair enough, look at the deep end of the bench which consists of the finest young talent Turkey has to offer. Players that have been drafted like Turkyilmaz and Karaman, still very obscure talents like Olmaz and Ugurlu and the kid every Turkish fan looks up to as a savoir after the EuroBasket embarrassment: 18-year old (won’t turn 19 before 05/2014 !!!) 6’6" point guard Kenan Sipahi. After playing a big role as a 17-year old on another Turkish premier league team (6.9 points, 2.8 assists, 2.4 rebounds, encouraging 1.3 turnovers in heavy 23.7 minutes), Sipahi will test himself in a similarly big role for a contender and prove that his terrible finishing ability (35% 2FG yet 39% 3FG on 81 shots) was the result of his age and role he experienced for the first time. Kenan, I believe in you.

Partisan NIS Belgrade

Stars & former NBA plaers: Leo Westermann,Joffrey Lauvergne, Bogdan Bogdanovic

Notable youngsters: Nikola Milutinov, Leo Westermann, Joffrey Lauvergne, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Boris Dallo, Davis Bertans, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Nemanja Bezbradica, Mihajlo Andric

http://www.euroleague.net/rs/47818/45d06ff8-6247-4820-b4fc-659a7cd7547c/e9f/filename/45d.jpg

Who are they? Adriatic League powerhouse Partisan Belgrade was last year’s tournaments youngest team. Stacked with talent at every position, they were prone to inconsistent play by their inexperienced youngsters which caused them to miss the Top 16 entirely for the sake of developing their amazing cast of assets.

Any players I should or might know? This is basically a pro youth team led by French duo Leo Westermann and Joffrey Lauvergne. Lauvergne, a terrific rebounding 6’11 forward who was part of the golden French team at the EuroBasket, and has upside as a versatile offensive big man who can score decently and pass very well. Westerman is a 6’6" pure point with weak scoring instincts and below average athleticism. Still, at his age he shows great potential as a pick-and-roll heavy ballhandler, making smart decisions as the sole organizer and creator within a young squad without any veteran help and not being very turnover prone. He should be a lock to be drafted at some point even though it is far from certain that he’ll get a chance to fight for an NBA spot.

Two other youngsters I have to mention are Boris Dallo and Nikola Milutinov. Milutinov is an 18 years old center standing at 6’11 who was brought into Partizan’s senior team slowly last year, playing 58 Euroleague minutes while dominating in Partizan’s youth team where he averaged 14.4 points, 8.5 rebounds (3.6 offensive), 1.4 steals and 1 block in 32 minutes per game. Being comfortable with two Frenchies in Belgrade, Dallo, an 18-year old point guard, decided to leave domestic team Poitiers (same club that Evan Fournier came from) and join the Serbs. Dallo is somewhat of an enigma. At 6’5 and very athletic, he’s shied away significantly from looking for his own offense as soon as he started to play with pros, averaging just 2.5 points per 12 minutes in 2012. At the age of 18, Dallo should see just enough playing time to give a worthwhile impression and he, as well as Milutinov are extremely interesting prospects who might end up NBA first round picks.

Why should I watch them? Because NBA scouts watch them! They are the Euroleague equivalent of the typical exciting & young NBA League Pass must-watch team. Also, all eyes on Westermann who is playing for his NBA dream.

Budivelnik Kiev

Stars: Blake Aheard, Artur Drozdov, DaJuan Summers

http://www.euroleague.net/rs/50319/45d06ff8-6247-4820-b4fc-659a7cd7547c/479/filename/45d.jpg

Who are they? It’s been a fantastic year for Ukraine hoops. The national team was a surprise hit at the EuroBasket and qualified for the World Championship for the first time ever. A Ukranian youngster, Alex Len, was selected in the top 5 of the NBA draft, and with Budivelnik, the Ukraine is represented at the Euroleague for the first time ever too.

Any players I should or might know? Budivelnik’s made some noise in last year’s EuroCup already and their international rise caused them to lose a few key pieces, but they were able to offset that by getting former fringe NBA players Blake Ahearn and DaJuan Summers, as well as Lithuanian supervet Darjus Lavrinovic. Those are many signings that are expected to take on a big role which might make Kiev a little slow and unfamiliar at first. Domestic veteran guard Artur Drozdov (11 points on 41% 3P% and 6 RPG last EuroCup) has extensive Euroleague experience playing for French Pau-Orthez from 2001-2006 and will be asked to continue his versatile contribution from the bench.

Why should I watch them? If you’re a basketball hipster, this is your team. Not only is Ukranian hoops the trendiest bandwagon, but they have a player in Blake Ahearn that the typical basketball elitist loves to gush about to Kobe fundamentalists. In 2011, Ahearn averaged 23.8 points and 5 assists in the D-League and was rewarded with a 6-game NBA stint by the Utah Jazz. You better get #budivelnik trending on twitter now.


JSF Nanterre

Stars: Sergii Gladyr, Will Daniels, Deshaun Thomas

Notable youngsters: Mamadouh Jaiteh , William Mensah

http://www.euroleague.net/rs/47839/45d06ff8-6247-4820-b4fc-659a7cd7547c/197/filename/45d.jpg

Who are they? Nanterre is a European feel-good-story team debuting in the Euroleague. Two years ago, Nanterre was just relegated into the premier division of French basketball. Last year, Nanterre made the playoffs as the 8th seed, swept the league favorite  and won the championship.

Any players I should or might know? Nanterre’s rise was meteoric yet they have been able to field a team with much international experience. Ukranian hero Sergii Gladyr, fresh off a strong EuroBasket performance, will be a focal point of the offense as well 6-8 forward Will Daniels who is a terrific inside player, having averaged 13 points per 20 minutes on  62% 2FG shooting in the Latvian league last year. Gladyr still looks to fullfil his NBA dream and decided to leave the stronger Spanish league to have a bigger offensive role on a Euroleague team. Another nice signing was 28-year old French national team vet Ali Traore who came of a strong season with German powerhouse Alba Berlin where he averaged 10 points and 5 rebounds in just 20 minutes.

However, Nanterre’s most intriguing player is Mouhamadou Jaiteh. "Mam" is a 19-year old center projceted to be drafted in 2014. Jaiteh’s stock suffered from not being as dominant a player as he should be with his 6’11" frame and 7’4" wingspan in youth competition. A strong Euroleague campaign would do wonders for his draft stock and Mam has at least started strong in the domestic League. In 4 games, he’s averaged 8 points, 2 offensive boards and 1.3 boards in just 18 minutes. Deshaun Thomas who played at Ohio St. last year could be an X-factor for Nanterre. The coaching staff is tentative with playing him, but Deshaun has looked great in the limited French league minutes he’s seen. In 15 minutes per game, he’s averaged 11 points and made 7 of 15 threes.

Why should I watch them? Nanterre has a fun mix of capable offensive threats and should make an unpleasant opponent. Look forward to Nanterre becoming a scare, especially at home in its tiny, atmospheric arena.

FC Regal Barcelona

Stars & former NBA players: Juan Carlos Navarro, Marcelinho Huertas, Kostas Papanikolaou, Joey Dorsey

Notable youngsters & NBA talent: Kostas Papanikolaou, Alex Abrines, Mario Hezonja

http://www.euroleague.net/rs/50320/45d06ff8-6247-4820-b4fc-659a7cd7547c/d08/filename/45d.jpg

Who are they? Mes que un club. Barcelona is an automatic contender but 2012 wasn’t an easy year for the Catalans. Not only did they lose key players to injury before the Euroleague Final Four started, but they also lost both their Euroleague playoff game and Spanish League final against bitter rival Real Madrid.

Any players I should or might know? Barca is at an interesting time of transition with some important vets of the past gone (Nate Jawai, Sarunas Jasikevicius, Pete Mickael) or taking on a somewhat smaller role (Juan Navarro, Erazem Lorbek) with super talented youngsters like sharpshooter Alex Abrines and newcomer Kostas Papanikolaou taking on more responsibilities. Abrines was picked with the first pick in the second round of the 2013 draft (similar situation to Pek to not make him bound to the rookie salary scale). 20-year old Abrines saw just 10 minutes of play for Barca last year where was mostly used as a spot-up shooter despite having shown diverse scoring skill and instincts, highlighted by his 31 points performance at the age of 18. Power Forward Papanikolaou is a tremendous shooter and a big reason for Olympiacos EL win in 2012, averaging decent 8.7 points and 4.4 rebounds in 23 minutes and giving his best Steph Curry impression, making 50 of his 96 three point attempts. His NBA dream should be still alive (drafted 2nd round by Knicks in 2012) but despite being a solid defender at either position, he might face typical 3-4 tweener problems. Other big singings are former NBA fringe bench guys Joey Dorsey, a great complement to Papa’s outside game as an explosive interior player, and always talented Maciej Lampe. Lampe came off a great year with Euroleague team Caja Laboral (13.9 points & 6 reboudns in 24 minutes) and joins an already deep frontcourt.

There’s so much going on with this team that I didn’t even had the time to mention the usual greatness of elite point guard Marcelinho Huertas, the slowly breaking down yet still very solid Erazem Lorbek, LA BOMBA Juan Carlos Navarro and the new edition of still solid Bostjan Nachbar who is more of an injury insurance at this point. Another interesting youngster is 21-year old Marko Todorovic who shouldn’t see much floor time though.

Why should I watch them? They’re a legit contender and there’s the intriguing Papanikolaou and Abrines breakout season watch. When I’ll watch them, it’ll be in hope that Mario Hezonja gets minutes. Check out what I wrote about Hezonja in Croatia’s preview for the Eurobasket. To me, Hezonja is the Anakin Skywalker of European hoops. I don’t want to sound like Chad Ford but he might have once-in-a-generation talent at the combo-guard/forward spot but might throw it into the sewer because of his moodiness.

Projection: Barcelona, Fenerbahce and CSKA are locks to make the second round with Partizan being the favorite to get the 4th spot. Kiev fared well in last year’s EuroCup but I like Nanterre’s core and think they have an outside chance to somehow beat one of the favorites and edge out Partizan and Kiev for the 4th spot.

GROUP B

Brose Baskets Bamberg

Stars & former NBA players: Anton Gavel, Zack Wright, Maik Zirbes, Casey Jacobsen

http://www.euroleague.net/rs/49917/45d06ff8-6247-4820-b4fc-659a7cd7547c/417/filename/45d.jpg

Who are they? Unlike its German rivals Alba Berlin and Bayern Munich, Bamberg is not strong financially. However, their management sound decisions resulted in 5 domestic championships in 7 years. Brose has had some moderate success in the Euroleague, having qualified for the second group stage (TOP 16) last year but losing all their games, many of them by a single possession. After solidifying a spot as a Euroleague constant, Bamberg is ambitious to not just be that best German team but also lose its international grey mouse image.

Any players I should or might know? Bamberg has been run for years by one of my favorite euro guards, Slovakian Anton Gavel. Gavel is a great two-way guard who has few weaknessess - he's drawing fouls at a great rate, is finishing aroudn the rim well and can light it up from three (44% 3FG% on 202 shots in German league 2012), can find open teammates and play solid defense. He forms a genial duo with combo-guard John Goldsberry (who is basically the pass first copy of Gavel, relying on spot-ups) which will be sparked by the adition of Zack Wright, a dynamic combo-guard in the same mold looking for his offense a little more than the aging Goldsberry.

Former NBA fringe guy Casey Jacobsen should go berserk on three pointers and drawn free throws at the wing once more and the combined shooting of the backcourt alone could swing tight games in Bambergs favor. Bamberg suffered the loss of Bostjan Nachbar who was an important piece of Bambergs recent runs. The frontcourt is intriguing yet unspectacular with Maik Zirbes, a young, fat German former fringe draft candidate, Sharron Ford and Novica Velickovic who bounced back in Serbia after a disappointing stint with Real Madrid.

Why should I watch them? Dat backcourt... Anton Gavel is a joy to watch anyway and Wright, Jacobsen and Goldsberry playing off of each other should be fun.

Anadolu Efes Istanbul

Stars & former NBA players: Zoran Planinic, Semih Erden

Notable youngsters & NBA talent: Cedi Osman, Birkan Batuk, Burak Yildizli, Emircan Kosut

http://www.euroleague.net/rs/50317/45d06ff8-6247-4820-b4fc-659a7cd7547c/82f/filename/45d.jpg

Who are they? That's a good question they're trying to answer themselves. Jordan Farmar has left the team for the NBA and Sasha Vujacic, a solid shooting option despite a disappointing Euroleague campagin, is gone too. Efes reached last year's playoffs before being ousted by eventual Champ Olympiacos. They look to build on that success while simultaneously revamping the team at key positions, replacing Farmar with all-rounder Zoran Planinic.

Any players I should or might know? Planinic, at the top of his game is a decent scorer and has court vision that can mess with almost any point guard in Eurpe. After a few uninspiring seasons, Planinic played two solid seasons with Khimki Moscow, winning the EuroCup in 2012 and being ousted in the Top 16 of 2013 EuroBasket. On offense, he'll look for help from Scotty Hopson (17.7 points per 33 minutes in Israeli league last year), solid point guard Jamon Lucas, Greek newcomer Kostas Vasiliadis (14.5 points per 27 minutes in EuroCup last year) and front court players Dusko Savanovic and former Boston Celtic Semih Erden.35-year old Kerem Gonlum is also somehow still relevant as a scoring option and rebounder.

A notable youngster who could see extended minutes this year is 18-year old shooting guard Cedi Osman who has to offer something to scouts after a disappointing U18 performance where he scored 5.8 points per 15 minutes and terrible sub-50% free throw shooting.

Why should I watch them? Anadolu is a fringe contender with a solid roster. I've always liked watching Planinic and the big question is whether he can adjust to his new role of leading a team that came so close to reaching the FInal Four.

Real Madrid

Stars & former NBA players: Nikola Mirotic, Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Rodriguez

Notable youngsters & NBA talent: Nikola Mirotic, Daniel Diez, Andrej Magdevski

http://www.euroleague.net/rs/50117/45d06ff8-6247-4820-b4fc-659a7cd7547c/414/filename/45d.jpg

Who are they? Much like its soccer equivalent with its stars Christiano Ronaldo and Garreth Bale, Real Madrid 'Baloncesto' is a yearly, star-laden candidate to win the European crown. Real reached the Euroleague final last year, where they blew a 17 point lead  to eventual Champ Olympiacos (CSKA is like: 'yeah, we know how that feels'). Quite a punch in the stomach, but all in all, it's been a great year for Real, sweetened by the fact that they beat Barca in the Euroleague semifinal as well as in the domestic league competition, after a drought of 6 years.

Any players I should or might know? Real is led by its superstar and trade machine victim Nikola Mirotic. Odds are that the young Spaniard-Montenegrin will leave Europe for the NBA next year and the disappointment of losing the Euroleague final means that there is unfinished business he has to take care of. Reals strength is not only its roster but the fact that they neither lost many players nor have to integrate many new ones apart from center Ioannis Bourousis. For example, there are the usual suspects T-Wolves fans know from Spanish national team feeds like Rudy Fernandez (BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO), Sergio Llull and Sergio Rodriguez who might not be a scorer like Juan Navarro but I still like to call "La BUM-ba". Jaycee Carroll is a quick American-born guard I like a lot. The Azerbaijani national (no joke) is a vicious shooter from range, having shoot 40+% from deep the last few years and brings a nice uptempo component to this Real team that can be utilized very well with creative players like Rudy and Mirotic who need space. Sergio Llull might not have been the talent NBA scouts saw in him but he, much like Sergio improved his game. Llull seems to have worked on his outside shot a lot (he couldn't shoot a few years ago, could he?!) which gives me also hope for RICKY! Another interesting player is young Daniel Diez, a smallish power forward who should be drafted at some point. At the 2013 U20 Euro Championship, he averaged 18.7 points and 8.8 rebounds in 35.7 minutes.

Why should I watch them? They are a legit contender with the best European team outside the NBA. We could be in for an epic season from Mirotic who looks to shut down all doubts about him by bringing the crown to the royals. Also, opposing fans reacting to Rudy and vice versa is hilarious.

Strasbourg Illkirch-Grafenstadden

Stars & former NBA players: Alexis Ajinca, Antoine Diot, Ricardo Greer

Notable youngsters & NBA talent: Alexis Ajinca, Axel Toupane

http://www.euroleague.net/rs/49931/45d06ff8-6247-4820-b4fc-659a7cd7547c/4c3/filename/45d.jpg

Who are they? Strasbourg IG competed in the Euroleague a few years back and returns after an inspiring run in the French league where they ran out of gas. They lost he French Cup final to Gravelines Dunkerque (awesome name amiright?) and the league final to JSF Nanterre (GLADYR!!).

Any players I should or might know?There is not much to say about this team other than that Alexis Ajinca, literally the teams centerpiece showed some signs of improvement not only at the Eurobasket but all of last season which made NBA scouts interested again. Euroleague will be a great stage for the athletic 7'1" center to prove further that he deserves another shot at the NBA. Last year, A.A. scored 15.3 points in just 24 minutes of play. And he's still just 25 years old. Apart from that, this team is very much overmatched as they rely heavily on 35-year old Ricardo Greer as a ball-dominant scoring option. Greer averaged fantastic 13.6 points, 6.9 reboudns and 4.5 assists in 31 minutes of play last year but shouldn't see that success translate to the much tougher Euroleague.

Point guard Antoine Diot is the official leader of this team and played a terrific seasno as well which helped him get a spot on the French national team, beating out guys like Evan Fournier and Leo Westermann. Having Euroleague competition as a luring bonus, Strasbourg lucked into the signing of Kevin Murphy who played 16 meaningless games for the Utah Jazz last year.

Why should I watch them? Alexis Ajinca watch is not enough for you? Well, maybe Alex Toupane, draftexpress.com's #2 talent in the international 1992 field can win you over. He should see decent court time.

EA7 Emporio Armani Milan

Stars & former NBA players: Alessandro Gentile, Samardo Samuels, Keith Langford

Notable youngsters & NBA talent: Allesandro Gentile, Nicolo Melli

http://www.euroleague.net/rs/50124/45d06ff8-6247-4820-b4fc-659a7cd7547c/ad2/filename/45d.jpg

Who are they? Italian league powerhouse with a forgettable 2012 campaign. EA7 missed the Euroleague Top 16 and didn't find success in domestic competition either. Management performed a roster turnover in which it cut ties with many of its key players and is looking for new fortune in 2013.

Any players I should or might know? The current roster will have to make up for much of the production that is lost by departing player Omar-Sharif Cook (5 APG in 2012 EL), Malik Hairston (11 PPG in 2012 EL) and Antonis Fotsis (7.5 PPG & 4.2 RPG in 2012 EL). Milan's core remains a US-American though with Keith Langford, newcomer David Moss and former Cavalier Samardo Samuels being far and away the best players. After a decent yet not overwhelming season in Israel, Langford joined Milan last year and exceeded expectations. In the Euroleague, Langford scored 17 PPG, 2.9 RPG and 2.9 APG in 31 minutes of play. A knock on his game has been his efficiency inside the arc, but he seems to have worked on that too. So far in 2 Italian league games, Langford is averaging 24 PPG on 59% 2FG%. Newcoming point guard Curtis Jerrells showed promise as a scoring point guard with Besiktas Istanbul last year which Milan will rely on after losing Cook. Moss is more a defensive version of Langford.

The frontcourt is where Samardo Samuels will do his damage as a low post scoring option and offensive rebounder. After a short stint with the Cavaliers, Samuels joined Israeli Hapoel last year but wasn't in the focus of European basketball eye because the team did not compete in any international competition. With capable guards, not many low post options around him in Milan, 24-year old Samuels could play himself into the limelight.

Milan is also home to one of the most interesting prospects for the 2014 draft, Alessandro Gentile as well as Nicolo Melli who might be a fringe candidate for the NBA in the future. 20-year old Swingman Gentile saw just 12 minutes in last year's Euroleague but after a strong showing at the Eurobasket (14 PPG in 24 minutes, 45 FG%, 39 FG%) his role should expand. 22-year old allrounder Meli did well in the Eurobasket too, loging16minutes per game where he averaged 4.4 points and 4.3 rebounds (funny: after a 80% FT season in 2012, he only hit 1 of 8 free throws at the EuroBasket).

Why should I watch them? If you like guard-heavy play dominated by US players, this is an interesting teams. The intriguing storyline behind Milan is the big role very promising Alessandro Gentile should play in this year's tournament.

Zalgiris Kaunas

Stars & former NBA players: Sarunas Jasikevicius, Paulius Jankunas, Justin Dentmon,

Notable youngsters & NBA talent: Vytenis Cizauskas

http://www.euroleague.net/rs/50115/45d06ff8-6247-4820-b4fc-659a7cd7547c/fb3/filename/45d.jpg

Who are they? Zalgiris is the basketball crazed nation of Lithuania favorite child. This year's interest in Kaunas will be sparked because of the return of Lithuania's most popular basketball hero between the Sabonis era and the coming Valanciunas era, Sarunas Jasikevicius.

Any players I should or might know? You could call this a deep team as you won't find many players playing extremely heavy minutes but most of the roster getting equal opportunities throughout the season. Zalgiris was unlucky to not make it out of the Top 16 despite a decent record and even though this team is once again homogenous, I don't really see them living up to their last year's seeding. Even tough Sarunas can still be maginificient on good nights, relying on a 37-year old ball dominant point guard is not a recipe for success and Zalgiris lacks players that could swing games on their own. They still have some nice players who can light it up like Justin Dentmon (short Mavericks stint last year), ancient yet still somehow relevant and solid big Ksistof Lavrinovic and paulius Jankunas.

Two interesting youngsters are Vytenis Cizauskas and Tomas Dimsa. Cizauskas, or as I call him "fatty the point guard", severly lacks athleticism to be considered a contender for an NBA spot in the future, but he's a very intersting bully, old-school point guard who should profit immensily from playing with 'Saras'. 19-year old Dimsa on the other hand has a great shot at being drafted. Dimsa looked tremendous with Zalgiris mior team and should be able to use the extended minutes he'll see with the seniors to increase his stock furthermore.

Why should I watch them? Zalgiris has some of the best fans in Europe. Watching them react to Rudy in 2012 was hilarious.

Projection: This i an interesting group because you have a definite top team in Real and lots of teams that have to prove after either disappointing the last year or because they want to translate their domestic susccess to the international stage. Efes looks really strong too so they should be a lock while Strasbourg is the only team without much chances.

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