December 18, 2021 

EuroLeague hoops for all tastes

Do you prefer top-heavy competition or evenly matched teams?

Nine games down, only five to go. There is only one more game on the EuroLeague schedule before we enter a three-week hiatus until mid-January. That also means that by the time I’m writing next week’s column, UMMC will probably already be a quarterfinal team boasting a perfect 10-0 record. It’s Ekaterinburg’s world, and we just live in it.

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In any case, the overseas competition has been rather pleasing to follow so far. Although some people don’t like the fact that teams from different groups don’t face each other in the regular season, the system has yielded a very interesting set of results. In one group, we have supreme dominance, and in the other, it’s rather egalitarian. If you’re not following the EuroLeague this season, you’re running out of excuses. Overseas basketball is ruling winter hoops and doing it in all possible ways.

A top-heavy Group A, an evenly matched Group B

While no team has sealed its presence in the quarterfinals yet, UMMC would need a catastrophic five-game stretch to miss out, and pretty much the same can be said of USK Praha and Avenida, as they’re tied for second with 7-2 records (although Praha defeated Avenida in their first matchup and thus has the higher seed).

That is all happening in Group A, where the next-best team is French side BLMA at 5-4 (barely above .500, mind you). No other squad in the group has a winning record, with four teams topping out at three wins and one, KSC Szekszard, having yet to win its first game!

With UMMC, Praha and Avenida all nearly set to advance to the quarterfinals in a few weeks, the final spot will be taken by BLMA, TTT Riga, Umana Reyer or MBA Moscow. That is a good four-team battle, but it’s just for the crumbles of fourth place. In Group B, things are way spicier.

All Group B teams are separated by five points at most through nine weeks of play, from No. 1 Spar Girona to No. 8 Arka Gdynia. (Teams get two points for a victory and one point for a loss.) What seems to be a four-team, middle-of-the-pack battle for fourth place in Group A is currently looking like an eight-team smorgasbord competition in Group B. That is fantastic because the storylines coming from each group will collide and make for very interesting sudden-death games when we reach the postseason.

Here are just a few of the contrasts between the groups:

  • The top three teams in Group A all have point differentials of at least +108, and no other team has a positive difference.
  • Only one team in Group B is above +50 (Fenerbahçe), but four teams have scored more points than they have allowed, compared to the three in Group A.
  • On the other hand, three teams from Group A have point differentials below -100 compared to only one in Group B (Basket Landes, -105).

  • Three teams from Group A have accrued a total plus-minus of +540 by adding up all of their players’ individual marks, while just one team from Group B is even above +250.
  • On the other hand, three of the worst four teams in plus-minus are in Group A.

Now, here’s the quirk of quirks: On a single-player basis, teams from Group B are boasting the best top-tier talents in the EuroLeague. Does that mean the competition is at its fiercest in Group B, where everybody has rosters packed full of talent? Does it mean Group A has singular talents in specific places, with other clubs lacking those bona fide superstars and thus falling short of expectations? Time to study, folks.

Chicago Sky forward Azura Stevens (30), Connecticut Sun forward Brionna Jones (42) and Chicago Sky guard Kahleah Copper (2) fight for rebounding position during a WNBA semifinals game at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on Sept. 30, 2021. (Photo credit: Chris Poss)

Here is the list of players with the highest efficiency averages this season (minimum four games played). I have italicized those playing for teams in Group B and bolded WNBA imports:

  1. Kahleah Copper, 24.5 efficiency
  2. Brionna Jones, 23.7
  3. Sandrine Gruda, 22.1
  4. Megan Gustafson, 21.5
  5. Elizabeth Williams, 21.2
  6. Tina Krajisnik, 21.1
  7. Kayla McBride, 21.0
  8. Alyssa Thomas, 20.9
  9. Jonquel Jones, 20.4
  10. Maria Vadeeva, 20.1

That’s a five-to-five tie. But Group A players rank first and second, and then no one else in Group A is above eighth place. Also, all players from Group A are on one of the top three teams in UMMC, Praha and Avenida. The five players from Group B are part of four different teams, and the second-best (and best import) of those Group B players (Washington Mystics’ Gustafson) plays for the group’s worst team, Arka Gdynia.

Golden nuggets from Week 9

This is a quick recap of individual performances worth highlighting, unique stat lines, efficient games, bad outings, forgettable outcomes and everything else my data-crunching abilities allowed me to come up with!

  • While it surely wasn’t the best of weeks for WNBA imports, Brionna Jones stayed hot and Williams got back to her competition-best level of play. Jones put up an efficiency of 31 to the tune of a 25-point, nine-rebound, three-assist and three-steal outing, while Williams led all players with an efficiency of 33 and had a 23-point, 11-rebound double-double with two blocks and one theft.
  • While no other WNBA import could finish with an efficiency above 25, it was very pleasing to find Arike Ogunbowale sitting right at that mark this week. Bernadett Hatar tied Ogunbowale with an efficiency of 25, dropping 20 points and grabbing eight rebounds in just 26 minutes. She also had two steals and one block on the day.
  • There were four more WNBA imports with efficiency tallies above 20: Riquna Williams and Natasha Howard at 22 and teammates Satou Sabally and McBride at 21.
  • I don’t consider her an import because she has yet to debut for her WNBA team, but French guard Marine Fauthoux was sublime for Basket Landes with a 27-efficiency game that was the fourth-best of Week 9. The New York Liberty chose Fauthoux with the 29th overall pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft. The steal of that draft? We’ll see!

  • In a staggering development, all of the players who were able to grab at least 10 boards in Week 9 scored at least 14 points to record a double-double. Special shout-out to Howard for her slate-leading (tied with Brionna Jones) 25 points and three steals against Galatasaray last Wednesday.
  • Both Fauthoux and Pelin Bilgic found a way to dish out nine dimes in Week 9. Fauthoux was much more impactful overall for Basket Landes (efficiency of 27) than Bilgic was for Galatasaray (8), as the former scored 19 points to go with three rebounds and a steal, while the latter could only hit two field goal attempts for four points to go with three rebounds and three steals.
  • Karlie Samuelson, while not the best WNBA import in the EuroLeague—she is playing a secondary role for Avenida—was fantastic on defense with four steals. She did a little bit of everything to help Avenida get another win in an early Tuesday game, finishing with six points, five rebounds, three assists, those four steals and no turnovers in 23 minutes. Two more players (Debora Carangelo and Tatiana Petrushina) also stole four possessions this week. That said, it was Gabby Williams who had the best day at stealing possessions, as she somehow got six steals on Thursday to go with 16 points, five assists and three rebounds.
  • Sabally and Bella Alarie led the way in blocked shots with three each. Alarie is playing low minutes for Avenida, but Sabally hit the ground running for Fenerbahçe and in just four games (only three of them without minutes restrictions coming off an injury), she’s averaging a top-13 efficiency.

  • While it was good to see Elizabeth Williams bounce back after two weeks with efficiency marks at 22 or below, there were also some disappointing outings from WNBA imports.
  • Jonquel Jones once looked unstoppable, but her Week 9 effort (six points, seven rebounds, one assist) was rather low compared to her prior stats. Something similar happened with Copper and her nine-point, six-rebound, one-dime outing against TTT Riga this week.
  • What about Sophie Cunningham? Even though she played 26 minutes for Basket Landes and filled the stat sheet, she finished with an efficiency of zero; a plus-minus of -16; and an overall one-point, two-rebound, two-assist, one-steal and one-block performance. Ugh.

  • No debut for Michaela Onyenwere in Girona. With just one match left on the schedule before the Christmas break and Onyenwere coming off surgery, odds are that the Spaniards sit her for another game, giving her more than an extra month to heal before Week 11 in January.
  • Amanda Zahui B.‘s minutes keep fluctuating in Turkey. She’s gone from playing 19 or more in the first three weeks to an average of 16 minutes per game in the last six weeks of play. She has only logged more than 21 minutes once, playing 29 in Week 6.
  • Hatar was putting together a serious MVP case until she wasn’t anymore. That has to do with both her lower levels of production as the season has advanced and her resulting loss of playing time. She rebounded a bit this week with a 25 efficiency, a +32 plus-minus and 20 points in 26 minutes. Here’s hoping she can stay up there.
  • Brittney Griner keeps playing light minutes, with back-to-back games of 13 minutes only topped by 18 minutes on her Week 4 debut. Can’t complain, though, as she stayed off the court for three games from Week 5 to Week 7 but seems to be all right entering the upcoming pause.
  • Elizabeth Williams has been rock solid for Fenerbahçe. She’s appeared in all nine games to date, is the only import averaging more than 35 minutes per game (36.0), and is just 0.7 rebounds per game short of averaging a double-double (13.3 points, 9.3 rebounds). That said, Fenerbahçe is the most starters-heavy team of the competition, boasting three of the top four players in minutes per game: Alina Iagupova (36.3), Williams (36.0) and McBride (34.8).

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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