Deciphering the Final Four 2018 – Player Profiles

“It feels amazing. Everybody is asking me how it feels. I don’t have any words. It feels amazing. It’s incredible. I have amazing teammates I have an amazing coach like Pablo Laso to give me the opportunity to play for him. It’s pretty easy to play with this team. This season is a dream-come-true for me. Three years ago when I won the junior title I was a little jealous of the pro guys. (Last season) was bad and good for me. I learned a lot of things. I think this year I was more confident. I learned a lot of toughness. I think I showed that. I think we played more like a team in this final.” Luka Doncic (Euroleague.net, Post-Game Press Conference, 2018)

Following naming Euroleague’s youngest-ever MVP of the Month in October, Slovenian superstar was honoured as the youngest ever Final Four MVP at Stark Arena, Belgrade. What’s more, he won Euroleague MVP and his second consecutive Euroleague Rising Star Trophy as well as appearing on the All-Euroleague First Team. In other words, Doncic put his stamp on not only the regular season but also the playoffs and the Final Four. On the other hand, with Real Madrid’s victory, Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Llull, Felipe Reyes, Facundo Campazzo, Gustavo Ayon and Jaycee Carroll won their second Euroleague rings. Last season’s champions, Kostas Sloukas, Jan Vesely, Luigi Datome and Nikola Kalinic experienced another disappointment after 2016 Finals in Berlin. Lithuanian ‘The Green-Whites’ can be considered as the most promising team in the organization.  CSKA had qualified to the Final Four for seven consecutive times, and once again failed to satisfy their supporters.

Within the scope of the article, performances of the players are examined in detail by basic and advanced metrics such as points, shooting, assist, turnover and rebound as well as floor impact counter, hands on buckets, effective field goal, true shooting, assist percentage, rebound percentage.

Real Madrid got underway the season with a shocking knee injury of Sergio Llull, the MVP of 2016-17 Euroleague. What’s more, they had been greatly distressed by the long-term injuries of Anthony Randolph and Gustavo Ayon in the first weeks of the regular season, though they had not overcome the Llull’s injury that would have divested him of the entire regular season. In the absence of Llull, Luka Doncic had shined like a leader on the court despite his young age. Real Madrid also signed with Walter Tavares, a Cape Verdean centre, for strengthening the frontcourt after long-term injuries of Randolph and Ayon.

In terms of total minutes and minutes per game, Luka Doncic and Facunda Campazzo had taken the guard responsibility during the regular season. In the meantime, Pablo Laso had regularly fallen back upon Trey Thompkins and Felipe Reyes to increase strength in the area of three seconds until recovery of Anthony Randolph and Gustavo Ayon. There were no players exceeding the 10-point average in the parameter of ‘points per game’ except Luka Doncic. Rudy Fernandez had stood at the forefront as a reliable small forward, steering the ball with his assists and very few turnovers. Doncic, who achieves a physical superiority over other guards, had shown as a defensive rebound monster during the regular season. Tavares had also turned the lane into a forbidden zone for their opponents with rebounds and blocks.

Zeljko Obradovic had regularly fielded his team by keeping the rotation very narrow during the season. The Serbian coach, who lost his two superstars Bogdan Bogdanovic and Ekpe Udoh, had tried to fill their place with Marko Guduric, Nikolo Melli and Jason Thompson, and had been able to mainly take full advantage of Kostas Sloukas, Brad Wannamaker, Nikolo Melli and Jan Vesely from the inherited squad.  

Fenerbahce Dogus had always sought a dominant point leader from its squad. However, Jan Vesely, Brad Wannamaker and James Nunnally were the only players who had scored above the band of 10 points per game. Zeljko, whose team had played by sharing the ball, had suffered from the lack of a reliable shooter. For instance, even if James Nunnally had played with almost 60% of 3FG%, his 3FGA per game remained limited at 3.08. Sloukas and Wannamaker, both of whom were at the top of the table with the highest turnover at the same time, also took the lead in ball circulation by considerable numbers of assist. Nevertheless, one of the major drawbacks of Fenerbahce was the absence of an understudy that plays as a forward or center with a sustainable assist performance like Rudy Fernandez and Gustavo Ayon in Real. Jan Vesely, the super-center of Fenerbahce Dogus and even one of the most important centers around the Euroleague, came to the fore with his dominance in offensive rebound and spectacular blocks. On the other hand, his matches frequently resorted to fouls (4.68 fouls per game) to stop Vesely throughout the season. Aside from Vesely, Nicolo Melli had asserted a dominance at the lane by helping Vesely on defensive rebounds and blocks. Even though he has a different gameplay style with Ekpe Udoh, he had managed to fulfil his mission of being one of the cornerstones of Obradovic’s strict defence manner.

Zalgiris, which exceeded all expectations by finishing in 10th place under the leadership of coach Sarunas Jasikevicius in the 2016-2017 season, started to the season with a number of new players such as Aaron White,  Vasilije Micic, Axel Toupan, Brandon Davies and Dee Bost to replace departures of Brock Motum, Leo Westerman, Renaldas Seibutis, Robertas Javtokas and Augusto Lima. Along with coaching by one of the all-time greatest Lithuanian basketball players Sarunas Jasikevicius, Paulius Jankunas – the undisputed team leader – and Kevin Pangos had been the cornerstones during the regular season, and they were the only players surpassing 10 points per game. Moreover, Vasilije Micic, Arturas Milaknis, Edgaras Ulanovas, Aaron White and Brandon Davies were the prominent players that Jasikevicius had appealed throughout the regular season.

Pangos and Milaknis had acted the shooter role of the team during the season. However, they had suffered from poor 3FG contributions from the forward position. Despite their considerable performances on the assist, Pangos and Micic had made more than 2 turnovers per game. Moreover, Pangos’s assists figures had shown a significant difference in home and away games. On the other hand, Micic, White and Davies had given a remarkable steal contribution to the team and had played a key role in defence strength. The most striking indication for Zalgiris was no doubt that forwards had played with a higher rebound average than the centers. Jankunas, White and Ulanovas had made a huge contribution to the team, especially in defensive rebounds. Jankunas is also a Zalgiris player that received the most foul (3.69 per game), as the opponents had always trouble to stop him.

In spite of getting only 3 titles, CSKA had qualified to the Final Four for seven consecutive times and 15 out of the last 16 seasons. Dimitris Itoudis kept the spine of his team except for Milos Teodosic, who had been criticized not to be a winner for years, while CSKA had incorporated two guards (Sergio Rodriguez, Leo Westermann), a forward (Will Clyburn) and a center (Othello Hunter) during the preseason. Before the Final Four, Euroleague.net summarized CSKA’s player profile as follows.

During its great regular season run, CSKA relied on shooting star Nando De Colo and defensive ace Kyle Hines to anchor the team at either end of the court while newcomer Will Clyburn ran and rebounded everywhere in between. When Hines and De Colo were injured for the playoffs, the other stars on the roster simply turned up their power. Sergio Rodriguez, Cory Higgins and Othello Hunter stepped up to leadership positions while Nikita Kurbanov, Andrey Vorontsevich, Semen Antonov and Leo Westermann filled in any blanks with timely big plays.

As opposed to Fenerbahce and Zalgiris, CSKA had lots of snipers – such as De Colo, Higgins, Rodriguez and Clyburn – that had played with a remarkable 3FG%. Furthermore, they had two centers reaching almost 10 points per game. De Colo and Rodriguez had shown considerable performances on metric of assist. However, they had made more than 2 turnovers per game. On the other hand, De Colo had lend assistance to Hines and Hunter – aka defence monsters – in strengthening defence by stealing the ball. What’s more, Clyburn had gathered most of the ball, particularly underneath their hoop. After Luka Doncic, Nando De Colo was also the player that had received most fouls within the F4 teams.

Sergio Llull, who missed the regular season due to his knee injury, started playing in the playoffs and had stood at the forefront as the leader of the team in terms of Hands on Buckets and Assist Percentage during the Final Four despite his foul problem in the final game. In other words, the former MVP got behind the wheel in Final Four! The final four performance of Jaycee Carroll was also literally dazzling. The contribution of Carroll, which appeared in more critical moments, was clearly reflected in the performance parameters.

Luka Doncic, the MVP, had performed much better than the regular season and playoff games in all advanced parameters except points per game, turnover percentage and offensive rebound percentage. Trey Thompkins, Fabien Causeur and Rudy Fernandez put a stamp on Final Fours by reaching significantly higher values in all advance parameters – FIC per 40, HOB, TS ve eFG, in particular – than their median values of the regular season. Along with Ayon’s dominant rebound performance, Walter Tavares has contributed to Real with his block and points performance.

In terms of Fenerbahce Dogus, Kostas Sloukas and Brad Wannamaker had not shown progress in many parameters during the final four – especially compared to Real Madrid’s guards. Ali Muhammad, who scored 10 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, sparked Fenerbahce Dogus to the final and his remarkable performance was also obviously reflected in the charts. The increasing performance of Nicolo Melli, particularly in advance metrics related to point and assist, could not have been a remedy for Fenerbahce Dogus. Nicolo Melli paced Fenerbahce with 28 points, setting a new Championship Game scoring record in the Final Four era – Manu Ginobili, Antoine Rigaudeau, Dejan Bodiroga and Zoran Savic shared the previous record with 27 points apiece. (Euroleague.net) Jan Vesely and Jason Thompson, unfortunately, had shown a sharp decline in almost all efficiency parameters. In response to their fails, Ahmet Düverioglu’s increasing performance was not enough for Fenerbahce Dogus.

Zalgiris’s guards, Kevin Pangos and Vasilije Micic had recorded better stats on the shooting (TS and eFG); however, they had not been able to meet expectations in assist and turnover. For instance, Kevin Pangos committed a career-high 5 turnovers in the semi-final. What’s more, Fenerbahce set a season-high with 13 steals against Zalgiris. Following their lower efficiency in playoffs, Edgaras Ulanovas and Paulius Jankunas had improved their performances but had not been able to carry Zalgiris to the trophy. Aaron White had also made an extra contribution to the team during the Final Four. Despite his lower performance figures – associated with points – compared to the playoffs, Brandon Davies had played a crucial role in Zalgiris’ struggle with his increasing rebound figures.

Sergio Rodriguez and Cory Higgins, whose responsibilities had increased in the absence of Nando De Colo in the playoffs and fulfilled all these responsibilities as far as possible, had not been able to sustain that momentum in the Final Four. Nando De Colo, who returned from injury, was below regular season’s median values in almost all metrics. Dimitris Itoudis could not have got sufficient contributions from forward position except Will Clyburn – in the parameters related to the points – and Andrey Vorontsevic assist-related metrics. With Kyle Hines’s back from his calf injury, CSKA’s rigidity was expected to increase. However, Othello Hunter and Kyle Hines did not make a world of difference with their performances. 

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