October 16, 2021
Two weeks in, EuroLeague is already heating up
Sharing some of the efficient performances and unique stat lines of the first two weeks of the EuroLeague season
The first time I saw a picture of Alina Iagupova, I knew I needed to watch her play basketball. The first time I actually watched her play confirmed my suspicions: Iagupova was a bonafide bulldozer masquerading as a basketball player with quarterback tendencies—check Week 1 highlights and you’ll find Iagupova dropping dimes from her own team’s paint and across the court—and a knack for scoring. Oh my, I thought.
The Los Angeles Sparks’ brass probably did, too, after they went on to draft the 6’1 small forward from Ukraine with the 34th overall pick in 2013. Too bad we never got to enjoy her balling for a WNBA squad after the league voided her selection, seemingly over age and draft eligibility issues. She could have signed a deal with any WNBA team after that, but she opted not to do so. Now 29 years old, Iagupova is already a legendary European performer staying on that side of the ocean, and that doesn’t feel like it’s changing any time soon.
If you don’t know (because you probably don’t), Iagupova snatched MVP awards in back-to-back EuroLeague seasons in 2020 and 2021; she is the reigning, defending, undisputed such-title holder; and she has won both the French and Turkish basketball leagues on top of multiple national cups. Oh, and she wears number 23 for her current team, Fenerbahçe. It fits.
So Iagupova was one of the big names—if not the name—of the EuroLeague’s first slate of games a little over a week ago. Makes sense, considering she has been putting up numbers for a living. Just last season, Iagupova averaged 20.0 points per game and led the EuroLeague in scoring through her seven games played. Yes, other players such as imports Tiffany Hayes, Gabby Williams and Kayla McBride played more games than Iagupova and finished with more total points. But Iagupova was an absolute outlier as the only player to score more than 19 points per game and more than 113 total points over the full EuroLeague season. Have I mentioned she didn’t even reach 30 minutes per game in those seven games? One of a kind!
As the bully she was, Iagupova wasn’t the most efficient shooter (48 percent from the field), but she made up for it in pure brute force, attempting 14.3 field goals per game including 7.1 (!!!) from 3-point range. Those tendencies have not gone away. She kicked off the 2021-22 season by attempting 20 shots, 10 from behind the arc, for 29 points, the second-most of any player in the first game day of the year.
With two full weeks of games in the EuroLeague history books and the WNBA Finals more than halfway over, American hoopers will start crossing the pond in no time to fully load rosters all over Europe. Fifteen imports logged stat lines in Week 1, and that number rose to 16 in Week 2 (Charli Collier and Epiphanny Prince debuted, but Megan Gustafson missed Game Day 2 with a concussion). Expect another bump as soon as next week and the arrivals to keep going up for a while as WNBA players recover from injuries and heavy schedules and join their overseas squads.
No matter what, all imports better be ready for the moment when they have to face Iagupova and her marvelous passing, shooting and rebounding. It’s a tall task, if you ask me. Iagupova might have let the WNBA train pass, but she’s retained every ounce of talent she ever got to nurture in her career and has nothing to envy from those coming to play hoops from the United States.
Putting EuroLeague stats into context
Iagupova’s full stat line from the first game of the season was 29 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and two steals. She had no blocks, but that was the only blemish. Not only was that good for an efficiency mark of 34 (tied for the second-highest behind Eva Lisec’s 37), but Iagupova was the only player to record a double-double of points and dimes. Only three other players reached seven assists in Week 1, and one of them didn’t even score 10 points.
What I want to achieve by sharing all of this information is to provide you with some EuroLeague context and baselines. Were Iagupova’s 29 points and 11 assists truly excellent, or not quite?
Here is a handy, simplified guide that compares the 2021 averages for the most common stats in the WNBA and the EuroLeague. I calculated the averages from players in each league who ranked inside the 75th percentile in minutes per game.
|Statistic (Per Game)
As you can see, there is barely a gap in minutes per game between the 75th-percentile players in the WNBA and the EuroLeague. That’s great because it makes things easy to understand and there is no need to translate stats from one competition to the other.
EuroLeague players average slightly worse numbers than their WNBA counterparts, but the difference is definitely not large enough, other than in scoring, to really consider these two competitions far away from each other. When we say that EuroLeague is the second-best competition out there and the non-WNBA best, that’s for a reason.
Who’s coming from the WNBA
Eight WNBA franchises had players overseas in Week 1, with Dallas being the only one with three players in Europe already—and the Wings still have to send Arike Ogunbowale and Satou Sabally to the other side of the pond. Another Wing who debuted in Week 2, though, was Charli Collier, the 2021 first overall draft pick. No players from any of the teams that made the WNBA semifinals have debuted in this EuroLeague season yet.
The latest import to join her overseas team in time for Week 2 is Epiphanny Prince. After a one-game postseason appearance with the Seattle Storm late last month in which she played nine minutes off the pine, Prince is re-joining Dynamo Kursk this season. (She previously lifted the trophy with Kursk back in 2017.)
Next in line is Katie Lou Samuelson, who should arrive in Salamanca, Spain, this week and is expected to debut next Wednesday for Perfumerías Avenida facing Umana Reyer (Italy) away from her new home.
Golden nuggets from Weeks 1 and 2
This is a quick recap of what has happened in the last couple of game days in terms of individual performances worth highlighting, unique stat lines, efficient games, putrid outings, forgettable outcomes and everything else my data-crunching abilities allowed me to come up with!
- I mentioned Eva Lisec above, and the Slovenian center was the best player of Week 1 statistically, with a 37 efficiency mark (on 30 points, six rebounds, six steals and four assists) to Iagupova’s 34.
- Los Angeles Sparks center Maria Vadeeva led the efficiency leaderboard in Week 2 with a 34 mark from 24 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks, two steals and one assist.
- Natasha Howard and Elizabeth Williams finished Week 1 with high efficiency marks of 34 and 31, respectively. They were the clear best WNBA-rostered Americans on Game Day 1, with Howard posting 22 points, 11 rebounds and five assists for Kursk and Williams finishing with 18 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks for Fenerbahçe.
- Howard was able to keep her game up in Week 2 even though her line dropped to a “lower” 17 points, 11 rebounds and one steal for an efficiency of 20. No other American has two games of 20+ efficiency in the first two weeks of the season.
- Bernadett Hatar was the best WNBA-rostered player on Game Day 2. The Indiana Fever center, playing for Sopron Basket overseas, put up a line of 18 points, 11 rebounds, three steals, two blocks and an assist for an efficiency of 30.
- Williams put on a blocking show with six swats against Galatasaray in Week 1. No other player has more than five (Vadeeva) in a single game this year.
- After Iagupova was the lone player with 10+ assists in Week 1, two players did so in Week 2, with Arka Gdynia’s Alice Kunek dishing out 11 dimes to Galatasaray’s Pelin Bilgic’s 10.
- Lisec’s six steals surely helped her snatch the Week 1 efficiency title. Jasmine Thomas (not to be confused with the WNBA’s Jasmine Thomas) equaled that mark in Week 2 with TTT Riga, but her other contributions weren’t enough to make her the leader in efficiency (17 efficiency; 14 points, six steals five rebounds and five assists; horrid -21 plus-minus).
- Two games into the season, only eight players are averaging a double-double in boards and points (Sandrine Gruda, Tina Krajisnik, Veronika Vorackova, Howard, Hatar, Emma Meesseman, Nikolina Milic and Gintare Petronyte). No player is doing it in points and any other category (Alice Kunek is 1.0 assists per game short and Iagupova is 1.5 assists per game short).
- Shout-outs to Vadeeva and Dragana Stankovic, who are the only two players averaging at least 10 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks per game through Week 2. Vadeeva is averaging 20 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.5 steals and 3.5 blocks, and Stankovic is averaging 17.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.5 steals and 2.5 blocks.
- Not everything has been rosy for American imports, though. Karlie Samuelson and Bella Alarie played fewer than 10 minutes each in Avenida’s Week 1 victory and combined for just two points (in fact, Samuelson didn’t contribute a single stat other than a personal foul).
- Perhaps the only other “worrying” performances so far have come from Chelsea Dungee (back-to-back games of 15-plus minutes with averages of 4.0 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.0 assists), who arrived from Dallas after playing 64 total minutes in her first season as a pro.
- The New York Liberty suspended Marine Fauthoux‘s contract after drafting her in 2021. She will be able to negotiate with the team to play in 2022, but will New York want her this soon? The 20-year-old point guard has been logging tons of minutes through two games of EuroLeague play (23.5 per game) but she’s averaging a measly 7.0 points, 1.0 assists and 0.5 rebounds for French side Basket Landes. In any case, it’d be a stretch to label her a bust this early in her career, let alone without having played a single minute in the WNBA.
Quote of the week(s)
Taking advantage of the Media Pass I scored myself for the season, and asking him about Kahleah Copper, a current WNBA Finalist and the Chicago Sky’s sharpest weapon in the postseason, CB Perfumerías Avenida general manager Carlos Méndez acknowledged that he was lucky to sign her earlier this year to play for the Salamanca-based team. He told TheNextHoops:
“It’d have been impossible [to sign Copper for the 2021-22 season after her W campaign]. She’s put together a spectacular regular season and an even better postseason. Her stock has nothing to do with the one she carried into the season a few months ago.”
Given Copper’s mindboggling postseason run (not to diminish her gaudy regular-season numbers) and the fact that Avenida is definitely not the richest of teams in the EuroLeague (that’d be Turkish and Russian sides), this can’t look better for Avenida’s hopes of lifting the trophy. The Spanish team finished last season as the runner-up, losing the EuroLeague Final to WNBA-All-Star-filled UMMC Ekaterinburg.