April 1, 2023 

EuroLeague: Buying and selling early awards candidates

Who will win the EuroLeague top awards?

The EuroLeague announced the first returns of their fan voting for the various season awards last Wednesday.

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With a couple of weeks still left in the schedule until we arrive at Final Four weekend, this feels like an appropriate time to take the temperature of the award races and buy or sell the early returns.

We’re going to explore every award and the main candidates considering their vote shares through Wednesday’s results, and see if we can come up with (a) better contender(s) for each of them.

EuroLeague 2023: First fan-voting returns for the Team of the Season | Source: FIBA.basketball

Remember that you can still submit your ballot through the official EuroLeague website until the voting closes on Monday, Apr. 3 at 12:00 p.m. CET.

Team of the Season: Backcourt players

Leading players: Alina Iagupova, Kayla McBride

Buy or sell? Sell!

Takeaways: First of all, the EuroLeague All-League teams feature two backcourt and three frontcourt players. With that out of the way and explained, it’s time to move on and deal with the second elephant in the room: Fenerbahçe is not everything that exists in the women’s basketball world, even if the first return of votes would lead you to believe so.

That’s why I’m selling this pairing, which doesn’t mean Iagupova and McBride won’t end up snatching those two places, but rather that I think there are better options to make it all the way there.

I could build my way toward accepting Iagupova as one of the two best backcourt players of the season — on her best day, but not given what she’s done through the quarter-finals. Kayla McBride is, to me, totally off-target when it comes to this voting, and makes little sense to have her nearly leading all backcourt players. Fenerbahçe bias at its best.

I’d choose Chelsea Gray and Yvonne Anderson as my backcourt pair. Chelsea Gray has a clear negative around her case: 13 games played through 17 weeks. That said, she has logged 460 total minutes and more than 35 minutes per game, which is more than a fair amount of playing time. Gray has led CBK Mersin to their first Final Four ever averaging ridiculous numbers. She’s scored 16.8 points per game, dished out 6.1 dimes and stole 1.7 possessions while also grabbing 2.7 rebounds per contest.

Yvonne Anderson won’t feature in the Final Four after Tango Bourges couldn’t get past CBK. She has been great all year long, though, posting averages only matched by MVP-candidate Alyssa Thomas (forward): 16.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.7 steals while manning Bourges’ point. Anderson and Thomas are the only players with per-game averages above 16-4-4-1, and the former also comes with the bonus of shooting 34.5% from three-point range.

Team of the Season: Frontcourt players

Leading players: Emma Meesseman, Breanna Stewart, Satou Sabally

Buy or sell? Buy Meesseman and Stewart… sell Sabally!

Takeaways: These picks are much less flagrantly wrong than those slotted in the first two backcourt positions. It’s still an all-Fenerbahçe trio, but two of the three players highlighted above and currently in the lead to make the All-League (at least in the eyes of the fans) are very reasonable options.

The only thing you can count as a negative on Stewart’s resume is her nine games played. Other than that, she’s been pretty much perfect all year long doing it on all fronts. She’s second in points per game (20.0), ninth in rebounds (7.9) and third in average efficiency (23.8). In fact, only 18 other players have topped Stewart’s 214 total-efficiency figure through her nine games played… and none of them appeared in fewer than 12 matchups.

You can consider Meesseman some sort of Stewie Lite in terms of production, and Jumbo Stewie in terms of availability. Meesseman played all games from Week 4 on, logging 31 minutes per game for a total of 403 minutes through 13 matchups. The results: 15.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.8 steals and one block per game. Nobody else in the league matched all of those per-game averages combined.

For the third place, I’d trade Sabally in favor of another player. I’m shocked at Alyssa Thomas not even making the top eight in fan vote share through the first run of results. It makes little to no sense, mostly because she should be the leading candidate to get the MVP of the season award. Speaking about Thomas and the MVP award…

EuroLeague 2023: First fan-voting returns for the Season Awards | Source: FIBA.basketball

Most Valuable Player

Leading candidate: Breanna Stewart

Buy or sell? Sell!

Takeaway: I already wrote about Stewart above. If you want to make her your MVP, that’s alright. But again, the nine games played should be factored into this thing and nine out of 17 is barely half of the season through the quarter-finals and with the Final Four still to be played (two more games for each player that made it there).

Alyssa Thomas has appeared in all 17 games played by Praha this season. She leads the league in minutes (617) and it’s not even close. Yvonne Anderson, who is second, has played 565 through 17 games. On a per-game basis, Thomas is joint-first with 36.3 minutes per contest tied with Dewanna Bonner… although the latter has played just 436 total minutes spread over 12 games. The difference is rather sizable.

Thomas will enter the Final Four as one of only four players averaging a double-double this season, and she will be the only player of those four playing in the final two games of the year a couple of weeks from now (the others are Jonquel Jones, Stephanie Mavunga and Ziomara Morrison).

The forward has averaged 16.6 points, 10.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game. Those averages rank eighth, third, fifth and third in the EuroLeague respectively. Let me point out, again, that we’re talking about a forward ranking inside the top eight (at worst) in all major statistical categories. If there is an MVP in the EuroLeague, that player’s first name is Alyssa, last name is Thomas. Full stop.

Defensive Player of the Year

Leading candidates: Alina Iagupova

Buy or sell? Sell!

Takeaway: Iagupova has played a few levels below expectations this season compared to years past. That, of course, doesn’t mean she’s been bad considering her standards.

Playing in a team so offensively loaded as Fenerbahçe, Iagupova adapted her game and instead of hoisting shots like a mad woman decided to ply her trade on defense. She stole at least three possessions in seven of the 12 games she’s played, and at least two balls in eight of those 12 matchups. That 2.3 steals-per-game average ranks second league-wide only trailing Brittney Sykes‘ 2.5 steals.

Looking at it from a wider angle, though, I just can’t fully bank on Iagupova. I wouldn’t vote for Thomas, either, even with her gaudy contributions all across the board. I’m siding with Ezi Magbegor here.

This is definitely not going to end up being the winning player on the final official results, far from it, but she deserves to at least enter the conversation. Magbegor appeared in 16 games with Sopron only missing on the 17-game mark because the Hungarian side drew Fenerbahçe in the quarter-finals and lost that series 0-2.

That said, Magbegor finished the season putting up ridiculous numbers considering her “low” 27.9 minutes per contest. She averaged 11.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. On a per-36-minute basis, she would have ranked 10 in rebounds (9.4) and second in blocks (2.3). She would have also reached a top-35 finish in points (14.4).

All things considered, and assuming all players had logged 36 minutes per game, Magbegor would have been one of only three performers averaging at least 14 points, nine rebounds and more than one block, and one of only two (along with Stephanie Mavunga) crossing the two-block mark.

Young Player of the Year

Leading candidates: Elena Buenavida

Buy or sell? Sell!

Takeaway: I’m keeping this pick limited to the four players already leading the fan vote race. When it comes to young players, it is always going hard to factor in playing time as much as with veterans. Among these four, only Melinda Miklos (328) has crossed the 260-minute mark through the season and averaged more than 16.2 minutes per game (23.4).

Reducing the field of options to the four listed in the image above, I’d go with Miklos. Elena Buenavida has been steadier in terms of her week-to-week production and she’s played all 17 Valencia games through the quarter-finals. That paints a bright picture of the Spaniard’s future, indeed.

Miklos has had to play a massive role for KSC all season long even at the ripe age of 19. She logged at least 25 minutes in all but three games while reaching 35 once in KSC’s clash against Praha back in Week 8.

KSC finished last year without a single victory, but they wrapped 2023 up with a 3-11 record beating Olympiacos, Virtus Bologna and Fenerbahçe (!) with Miklos averaging 3.6 points, 1.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals and two assists in those three wins.

Miklos also finished the season with a masterclass in Week 14 when she scored a season-high 17 points to go with two rebounds and two assists against Polkowice, eliminating the Polish team from postseason contention.

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Coach of the Year

Leading candidates: Marina Maljkovic

Buy or sell? Buy!

Takeaway: Fenerbahçe started the season losing their first two games, including one to KSC, but the team finally got it all right in time for their Week 3 matchup with Olympiacos and they have yet to lose a game since the Week 2 upset.

The Turkish side and EuroLeague-favorites finished the regular season as the only squad scoring more than 80 points per game (86.4), leading the league in efficiency, plus/minus and steals, and also ranking second in the assists and turnovers categories.

Of course, some might think that losing two games with such a loaded team is reason enough to discard Fenerbahçe’s coach as a candidate for this award. However, you have to consider that the Turkish team didn’t boast either of Stewart or Meesseman until the fourth game of the season, that Iagupova missed three games from Week 2 through Week 5, and that Natasha Howard (Week 1-Week 7) and Satou Sabally (Week 8 on) split their residence in Turkiye.

Anything other than winning the championship in a couple of weeks will be a resounding failure, yes, but so far so good for Fenerbahçe and their leader in coach Marina Maljkovic for rerouting the winning ways of this team before it was too late to deal with it.

Written by Antonio Losada

International freelance writer covering the WNBA overseas. Bylines at places, touching different bases. Always open to discussion over @chapulana || Full portfolio

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