November 6, 2021
Taking EuroLeague teams’ temperatures, five weeks in
With the EuroLeague entering its first break of the regular season, it is time to assess which teams are scorching hot and freezing cold
We’re officially past the first third of the EuroLeague season after Game Day 5 matches took place earlier this week. If you remember, the EL is structured in two groups of eight teams, so each of those squads faces the other seven teams in its group twice in the regular season, home and away, for a total of 14 games. Math 101 taught me that 14 divided by three yields four-and-change, so we have consumed more than one-third of the matches.
On top of that, the EuroLeague is going on its first break of the season. Teams won’t be on the schedule for the next two weeks, until Nov. 24, but FIBA is staging two games in that span for international squads to go against fellow continent competitors aiming to qualify for EuroBasket 2023. We’ll have a second five-game stint once the league returns to its normal scheduling on Nov. 24 and a final stoppage between Dec. 21 and Jan. 12.
So, with the EuroLeague paused for the next couple of weeks and before we hit peak Christmas season, it made sense to me to build something I call Scorching Hot or Freezing Cold? Let me explain how it works.
Scorching Hot or Freezing Cold?
While not the largest of samples, it feels to me like five games are more than enough to find some early trends around the continent for the teams in the competition. And I haven’t touched on team stats or standings to date in my weekly roundups, so it’s my duty to cover that.
The idea behind Scorching Hot or Freezing Cold? is simple: We’ll look at both groups of EuroLeague teams (Group A and Group B), highlighting two teams that are hot (winning more than not) and two teams that are cold (losing more than not) as they begin the international break. That’s it!
EuroLeague Weeks 1-5: Group A
Scorching Hot: UMMC Ekaterinburg
Quite shocking, isn’t it? No matter the fact that Ekaterinburg is right in the middle of Russia, the UMMC women just don’t know how to lose a game and the whole squad has stayed hot as hell from day one. The reigning champs started “slow” by scoring 71 and 75 points in the first two games of the season, ultra-blasted BLMA by dropping 92 points on those poor souls and closed the first third of the year by scoring 75 and 82 points in the final two games.
The 5-0 record is hardly surprising, and if UMMC was to lose a game, that should have happened in the early days of the season while waiting for its WNBA imports to arrive. Now that pretty much everyone is in town, it is hard to imagine this team dropping even a single game. It could happen, of course, and the games against Perfumerias Avenida will probably define who leads the group when all is said and done.
Even then, though, UMMC is the lone undefeated team this season. Emma Meesseman is the only import with five games played and arguably the best player over the regular season to date. WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones has had a monster 24.3 efficiency average in her three games played, while the other two imports who have already played are in double-digit efficiency marks, too—Allie Quigley (15.0) and Brittney Griner (12.0). Courtney Vandersloot has yet to play and is waiting in the wings.
Freezing Cold: Umana Reyer
Umana’s Week 1 victory over KSC looked great and had Reyer’s hopes up for what could be coming… until it didn’t. Starting in Week 2, Umana lost four straight and there is no real upside in this team. The 80 points scored in that first and only win this season look like an outlier: In the following four games, Reyer didn’t reach 70 points, and the rebounding is also lacking a bit.
It all came down to a “fake” victory in Week 1, as KSC has been the worst team of Group A—and it’s not even close. WNBA import Kayla Thornton has been good but not great, playing all five games and averaging an efficiency of 11.8. That is still a ways below her teammate Yvonne Anderson’s 19.8 mark in the same amount of games while putting up five more points per game (15.6) and almost five times more assists per game (5.0) than Thornton.
Scorching Hot: USK Praha
You probably expected Perfumerias Avenida here, but Avenida lost its last game in such a clear way that the doubts will linger throughout the break. Praha, on the other hand, has won three of its last four games, including the latest one this week. There is still a lot of work to do, but that plus/minus of +74 leads the group and looks very promising going forward.
Praha faced UMMC in Week 4, and although they lost that game, they brought the Russians to the edge, losing by just two points. The arrivals of Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones was a deciding factor in Praha’s improvement in the past three weeks: Over those three games, Thomas and Jones have solidified themselves as two of the three best players on the team with efficiency marks of 18.3. (Dragana Stankovic is the only player above that mark at 19.2.)
Freezing Cold: KSC Szekszard
Mr. Hyde to UMMC’s Dr. Jekyll, KSC has not won a single game, and I’m not sure it will at any point this season. KSC, as you might have thought, doesn’t have a single WNBA import on its roster, which is surely hurting its chances. KSC didn’t have huge expectations entering the season, but it’s been rather sad to see the team struggle this much.
KSC has topped out at 67 points—against UMMC, of all teams. That probably speaks more about the Russians resting through this week’s game than about KSC playing to a top-tier level: UMMC dropped an effortless 82 points on the Hungarian team, so you get an idea of how things went.
EuroLeague Weeks 1-5: Group B
Scorching Hot: Sopron Basket
Sopron kicked off the season with three straight wins, only to lose in Week 4 against Fenerbahçe and generate a lot of doubts about how real their 3-0 record had been. Fenerbahçe has been one of the most disappointing sides in the EL so far, so losing to them and scoring a measly 47 points was rather worrying. Good for Sopron, though: The Hungarian side recovered from that blow and put up 79 points against Dynamo Kursk to silence the critics.
Although Shey Peddy has played only two games since arriving from the USA, she has already solidified herself as the third-best option on the roster. That’s because of the presence of two mighty imports (one of whom played WNBA ball last season) in Gabby Williams and Bernadett Hatar. Williams is playing a monster 35 minutes per game with an average efficiency of 14.8, while Hatar has been hyper-efficient with a 19.2 mark in just 26.8 minutes per game. Both of them are clear-cut MVP candidates, and we can only hope they keep their game up for us to enjoy.
Freezing Cold: Fenerbahçe Safiport
I don’t even know what to say. Yes, Fenerbahçe is 2-3, but there is still a lot of basketball to play. The team can clearly turn the season around and even end atop Group B. But Fenerbahçe’s roster is loaded with both imports (Amanda Zahui B., Elizabeth Williams, Kayla McBride and Kiah Stokes) and homegrown talent (back-to-back reigning EuroLeague MVP Alina Iagupova). It makes no sense to find them struggling this much.
Maybe the Week 1 result (89-69 against in-town rival Galatasaray) was just a mirage, just a game in which the rivalry-aided Fenerbahçe went in for the kill and got the victory. It’s hard to know given that the team’s other win came against group-leading Sopron with a resounding 73-47 final score, which is a little bit dumbfounding if you ask me. There is nothing to critique about the players coming from overseas, as Williams and McBride are putting together MVP-caliber seasons (efficiency of 19.0 and 20.0 respectively), Zahui B. (8.2) is a little bit shaky and Stokes (11.7) is slowly but surely growing by the week.
Scorching Hot: Galatasaray
Before I forget, let me inform you that the Turkish side seems to have parted ways with Dallas Wings guard Chelsea Dungee. She never found her place in Turkey, and after four games and just 64 minutes of total playing time, she’ll leave the team after not even playing in Week 5. Not that Galatasaray has needed her: MVP contender Tina Krajisnik has been sublime in five games with a team-leading 22.2 efficiency average, while WNBA import Riquna Williams has played three games and is sustaining a 14.3 efficiency average.
Galatasaray was run off the court in Week 1 in the Istanbul Derby against Fenerbahçe, and it still took the red and orange club one more loss before hitting peak shape in Week 3. From that point on, Galatasaray has been perfect. It enters the break on a three-game winning streak after scoring 71, 83 and 69 points and dropping Spar Girona to a below-.500 record on the season this past Thursday.
Freezing Cold: Spar Girona
Speaking of Girona, what a turnaround for the worse it has gone through of late. Other than a Week 1 loss to Sopron, it’s been a tale of two halves for Girona, going 2-0 and then 0-2 to fall to 2-3 entering the break. Girona sandwiched its first and latest defeats with three games of 71 or more points scored, but with just 63 points against Sopron and 55 against Galatasaray this week, things are looking bad for Girona right now.
There is no point in arguing about Kennedy Burke‘s role for the Spaniards, as she could not have done anything more than she already has. Five games played, 33 minutes per game and a team-leading 19.8 efficiency summarize her season. Only Rebekah Gardner (18.0) has been close to Burke’s numbers; the rest of the squad has widely underperformed, with no other player putting up better than a 7.6 efficiency mark through five games.
Other WNBA imports in the EuroLeague, in order of efficiency: Natasha Howard (22.8), Megan Gustafson (18.5), Sophie Cunningham (15.5), Arike Ogunbowale (14.0), Katie Lou Samuelson (11.0), Epiphanny Prince (10.8), Bella Alarie (9.6), Karlie Samuelson (7.2), Charli Collier (6.8), Astou Ndour (6.0).
Golden nuggets from Week 5
This is a quick recap of what has happened in the last game day 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!
- For the second week in a row, WNBA imports pretty much dominated their European counterparts in efficiency.
- Of the 11 players that had an efficiency above 20, seven have links to WNBA franchises. The top two players were from European countries (Sandrine Gruda and Nikolina Milic), both at 28 efficiency. But the next two were the Phoenix Mercury’s Cunningham and the Connecticut Sun’s Jonquel Jones, who were tied at 25. Gabby Williams finished fifth (24), McBride and Peddy each had an efficiency of 22, and Howard and Thomas were tied at 21.
- Double-doubles popped all around the continent, with four of them achieved on points and rebounds and one on points and dimes.
- One import dub-dubbing this week was Jonquel Jones, who scored 17 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in 33 minutes. Not satisfied with that, Jones also dished out five assists and blocked three shots for UMMC as the Russian club moved to 5-0 on the year.
- Stokes (7 points, 10 rebounds), Gabby Williams (23-9) and Howard (21-9) all came close but ultimately missed out on double-doubles.
- Same for Thomas, whose eight-point, eight-rebound, 11-assist, four-steal performance in 35 minutes was absolutely insane and super close to the first triple-double of the season. Luck didn’t have it, though, and she had to settle for such a nutty line.
- Perfumerias Avenida was upset by USK Praha this week, and part of the result can be attributed to Stankovic, whose four blocks on the day led the slate. Jonquel Jones and efficiency leader Gruda swatted three shots each.
- Thornton snatched five steals and finished as the lone player with more than four steals this week. Thomas and Prince were the two imports with four steals this week.
- Getting back to Praha, Maria Conde attempted the joint-most field goals this week with 17, same as Krajisnik. The difference, though, was that Conde somehow found a way to convert those shots at a 52.9% clip, finishing with 21 points (including three free throws).
- McBride was out of her mind shooting the ball for Fenerbahçe on her way to 27 points. She attempted 13 field goals and made nine of them, made four of seven 3-point attempts and went 5-for-5 from the charity stripe. Fantastic scoring day from the Minnesota Lynx player, indeed.
- After highlighting her incredible performance through the past few weeks in this space, Elizabeth Williams came crashing down to Earth with a putrid efficiency of 2.0 against Beretta Famila Schio this week. She played almost the whole game (39 minutes), but all she could do was finish with four points, seven rebounds, two assists, one steal and two blocks. That’s not horrific, far from it, but it’s disappointing for someone with Williams’ ceiling.
- Zahui B. had the worst game among WNBA imports with a zero-efficiency outing that saw her play 12 minutes and finish with four rebounds. That’s it—no stats in any other category.
- There were two EuroLeague debuts this week for WNBA imports: Quigley was available in Week 4 but ended up debuting for UMMC this past Wednesday to the tune of 16 points, four rebounds, one assist and one block; while Astou Ndour-Fall played 25 minutes and had a healthy 10-point, seven-rebound, three-assist, one-steal line with Italian side Umana Reyer.
- The point above means that only Kahleah Copper and Vandersloot have yet to play in the 2021-22 EuroLeague season. We should see them hoop in Week 6, especially considering that there are about two weeks until the ball gets rolling again after the international break.