Play-Offs preview: Group K
MIES (Switzerland) - There are two basic things you need to know about Group K of the BCL Play-Offs, albeit they don't both necessarily apply equally to all teams - SIG Strasbourg, Turk Telekom, AEK and Nizhny Novgorod - in this company.
The first is that there have been several changes in personnel on most of these rosters, either in the form of new additions or of players who have become available again after recovering from injury or illness.
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Turk Telekom's starting five will be different by 40 percent as Johnny O'Briant has replaced Micheal Eric at center and Marcus Foster has been added to the backcourt.
AEK have signed Daryl Macon who will likely play at point guard, since Nikos Gkikas will be sidelined until the end of the season, while Marcus Slaughter should be back from injury to bolster the frontcourt.
Meanwhile Strasbourg have welcomed back Yannis Morin, who missed half the Regular Season due to injury, while Nizhny should finally have all players available after battling through injuries and virus infections during a long stretch of the first stage of the competition.
The second thing you need to know is that, despite whatever personnel modifications, there is a structural similarity in three of these four teams' offensive approach that will remain unaffected - they really, really like to take as many threes as possible.
This is the only group in the Play-Offs that has two teams in the Top-4 in three-point attempts per game - Nizhny Novgorod and SIG Strasbourg, with 28.8 and 28.5 respectively - and even AEK, who are the most reluctant of the four to try their hand from beyond the arc, are still attempting 20.3 triples per contest and that figure will likely go up after the addition of Macon.
- If the main requisite for being considered a clutch player is to reliably take -and make - shots in crunch time, then Bonzie Colson is the definition of clutch in this season's BCL. If you don't believe it, then just ask VEF Riga who suffered the SIG Strasbourg swingman's knack for big-shot making twice in the Regular Season, both in France and in Latvia. Colson is the league's fourth-leading scorer with 20.2 points per game, and he is also making important contributions on the defensive end, averaging 6.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals per contest.
- Yanick Moreira has been brilliant for AEK but there are a select few bona fide stars in European hoops and Keith Langford is up there with the brightest of them. The evergreen AEK shooting guard is leading the league in scoring with 21.5 points per game on 56 percent shooting from the floor and he is averaging an efficiency rating of 17.7. Yes, Keith is turning 38 years old in September.
- Turk Telekom rely a lot on Kyle Wiltjer and Nick Johnson is a key piece of their backcourt, but the player who can raise the Ankara team's ceiling this season is Sam Dekker. The former Houston Rocket went from strength to strength and he averaged 15.2 points per game on 42.5 percent three-point shooting. Perhaps more importantly, he is leading his team in rebounds with 7.7 per game and in efficiency, averaging a rating of 18.8.
- The return of Anton Astapkovich from injury means Nizhny might change things around a little bit - and if the Russian forward replicates the scoring form he showed in the VTB League they will add a huge weapon - but Kasey Shepherd's role will remain largely the same, and it will of pivotal importance. The 26-year-old point guard is averaging 15.7 points and 4.8 assists per game and if he can be a little more consistent he could help the Russian team reach their first Final 8 appearance.
The key numbers
- AEK are the only team in the group whose offensive efficiency is above average. In actual fact the Greek team had the third-best offensive rating in the league during the Regular Season, scoring 124.3 points per 100 possessions. Turk Telekom's rating is a very decent 115.6 points per 100 possessions, but Strasbourg and Nizhny are at 111.9 and 110.1 points, respectively.
- Nizhny are the second-best team of the 16 that made it to the Play-Offs in three-point field goal percentage, shooting 43.9 percent from beyond the arc. The other three Group K teams are all shooting below 39.3 percent from downtown.
- Strasbourg are absolutely dominant on the offensive glass, averaging a league-high 15.3 offensive boards per game and an outlandish offensive rebounding ratio of 39 percent. Turk Telekom are averaging a very solid 12 offensive boards per game and a rate of 34 percent, while both AEK and Nizhny are far lower.
- The picture is reversed though on the defensive glass, as Nizhny have the highest defensive rebounding rate in the league, at 74 percent. The Russian team also have the highest defensive efficiency rating in the group (and third overall among the 16 teams in the Play-Offs), allowing only 103.5 points per 100 possessions.
How they got here
Turk Telekom had the best Regular Season record of all four teams in this group, as they won Group G on a 5-1 record. Their only loss was a 77-66 defeat at Igokea, who ended up in second place in the group. That was also the only game in which Turk Telekom scored fewer than 75 points. By far the most memorable night though came when they came back from a 19-point deficit to edge out Hapoel Jerusalem 78-77 on the road.
Strasbourg finished tied with VEF Riga at 4-2 but won Group E thanks to owning the head-to-head advantage over the Latvian team. They earned that by beating VEF 77-75 on the road on a Bonzie Colson buzzer-beating three and then prevailing 101-94 in overtime in the reverse fixture. Interestingly, Strasbourg's two defeats came at the hands of Rytas Vilnius, who finished bottom of the group.
AEK took second place in Group C on a 4-2 record, despite starting off with three wins in their first three games. The Greek side lost the head-to-head advantage to eventual group winners Hapoel Unet-Credit Holon by losing 77-71 in Israel in the fifth round, but wrapped up qualification with a 95-90 win at Tsmoki Minsk on the final gameday.
Nizhny finished second behind Casademont Zaragoza in Group D and both of their losses were at the hands of the Spanish group winners. the second one, at home, was particularly painful as Nizhny led by as many as 12 points in the third frame but Zaragoza came back to win 98-92 in overtime.