Calling the experts: Who will dominate the 2022-23 season?
MIES (Switzerland) - Season Seven of the Basketball Champions League starts on Monday. That gave us an opportunity to talk to people who follow the League 24/7, trying to find the most important answers before the first game even tipped off.
We called in Diccon Lloyd-Smeath, who writes the Insider column for the official website; Cesare Milanti, writing for Eurohoops.net and OverTime Storie a Spicchi; Gerard Sole, who is a commentator for DAZN in Spain and worked ten years for ACB.com; and Igor Curkovic, the writer and editor for BCL's digital content.
They all answered questions similar to last season, so let's get into it.
Continue this sequence: Lenovo Tenerife, AEK, Segafredo Virtus Bologna, Hereda San Pablo Burgos, Hereda San Pablo Burgos, Lenovo Tenerife... Who will lift the trophy in May 2023?
Igor: Everybody should have Lenovo Tenerife as their suggestion here, because they only got better since picking up the silverware in Bilbao. But I'm going with Galatasaray Nef, because their finish to last season in Turkey pointed the ship in direction of "champion" with their coaching and game plans.
The arrivals of Dylan Ennis, Angelo Caloiaro, Raymar Morgan and Braian Angola make them look like a BCL All-Star team nowadays, and their Turkish core looks better than last year, too.
Diccon: I could have answered this question with two words: Lenevo Tenerife. It would be the safest and most rational prediction but for the same reason that Lebron only has four NBA MVP awards (should be six at least), I’m not going to pick Lenovo Tenerife.
It's still incredibly difficult to win the BCL in back to back seasons. Hereda San Pablo Burgos did it but they did it with that incredible roster almost untouched and even then everything needed to go exactly right for them to achieve the unachievable.
For me, the contender is Galatasaray Nef. This roster looks built to win now. So far we have seen two Turkish clubs make it the Final (Banvit and Pinar Karsiyaka), it's about time one made that last step and Galatasary look like they have what it takes.
Cesare: To be honest, I have no idea.
What we’re about to see is probably the most competitive Basketball Champions League season ever, or at least we’re there. If Valencia’s call had not arrived and Jonah Radebaugh had stayed at Lenovo Tenerife, I probably would have no doubts: seeing another Spaniard win two BCL consecutively wouldn’t displease me, and Txus Vidorreta’s team has all the right cards go all-in.
In general, I think the best equipped teams are Errick McCollum’s Pinar Karsiyaka, Unicaja Malaga dragged by European champions Brizuela and Diaz, and UCAM Murcia, which in my opinion made the most crackling transfer market of all. But we can’t forget Galatasaray, Hapoel Holon and Bahcesehir. I just can’t choose, guys. Sorry. If I had to pick one, though... UCAM Murcia.
Gerard: I think Lenovo Tenerife will be the team to beat in this Basketball Champions League. Reigning champions have managed to keep their main core and reinforced their roster with talented players to be more unpredictable.
Pinar Karsiyaka and Galatasaray will be on the next step of the contenders' pyramid, and I can't forget Unicaja and Tofas Bursa either. Ibon Navarro has a long and talented squad that will be very hard to contain them, if they stay healthy, and Tofas Bursa backcourt firepower could be the most dangerous in the league.
There are plenty of interesting teams returning to the BCL, and plenty of new faces which we will see for the first time ever. Which team will be the U-BT Cluj Napoca of this season? The best newcomer in the League?
Diccon: Almost every year a team has come through the BCL Qualifiers and refreshed the palate of European basketball. This year looks set to be no different. S.L. Benfica caught everyone off guard when they took out Brose Bamberg in Lisbon, with Ivan Almeida dropping 39 points on 71.4 percent shooting and Toney Douglas having a near double-double with 10 points and 8 assists.
That won’t be the last big game of Almeida’s season in the BCL and also won’t be the last time Benfica cause real problems for a club with much more pedigree in European competitions. The idea of Portugal developing as a market for basketball is one everyone can get behind and just the name Benfica comes with so much prestige. How good would it be to see that name attached to building history like they already have in the other round ball sport?
Cesare: The first Portuguese club in the history of the Basketball Champions League, a qualifying tournament in front of its wonderful audience, and a team with so many different characters that you could write a novel around it: how do you answer this question without mentioning S.L. Benfica?
In a country where the sporting scene is largely dominated by football, the Lisbon team has always looked down on its competitors, boasting 76 trophies (!) won throughout its history. The Cape Verdean Ivan Almeida will not have a ruler of the area like his compatriot Walter Tavares in the locker room, but he will be helped by the experience of Toney Douglas and Maik Zirbes, as well as by the resourcefulness of a loose cannon like Aaron Broussard. The Eagles want to fly high.
Gerard: I'm excited to see Benfica in the BCL. They were the big surprise in the qualifiers. Bnei Herzliya completed a great year last season, winning the title in Israel, so they will also be another interesting team to follow.
Reggio Emilia will also be fun to watch, with their triple-double machine Andrea Cinciarini, as will Bakken Bears and their Tony Carr-Deng Ade duo. However, my money is on Bahcesehir. They have signed high quality and experienced players like Blazic, Boutsiele or Brodziansky and kept stars like Jamar Smith or Langston Hall. Final Four underdog.
Igor: UNAHOTELS Reggio Emilia. I've always been a fan of the Italian basketball, so this one is kinda logical for me, especially when they brought Max Menetti back to the city and the club which he took to a whole new level in the 2010s.
They almost had the steal of the century in the off-season, signing a deal with Mateusz Ponitka, but even with him gone before ever playing a game in Italy, that speaks volumes about their understanding of basketball and assembling the crew for this challenge. Wait, I just realized I picked NutriBullet Treviso last season... Don't do me wrong this time, coach MM.
There is no "I" in team, but there is an "I" in "I am telling you, turn everything off and watch this guy go to work." Who are the two guys to watch this season?
Cesare: They tried to stop Sylvain Francisco last season in every way possible, and they only managed to do so in the Final Four in Bilbao. In his first European experience, he put up 11.8 points per game, being a perfect gear in BAXI Manresa’s booming engine and also earning Vincent Collet’s call for his debut with the French national team. Now he has the chance to be coached by a living legend like Vassilis Spanoulis, sharing the parquet with Miro Bilan and Marcus Denmon.
As for my second name, I choose the one who replaced the Fifth Fortress of Sibenik in Sardinia: either for his powerful physique, or especially for his particular free throw, Chinanu Onuaku has already become an icon of Dinamo Sassari’s fanbase. The 2021/2022 Winner League MVP put Virtus Bologna in trouble in the final of the Italian Super Cup, finishing with 18 points, 9 rebounds and some passes that looked like chocolates in a box. We don’t know what he’s going to give, but I’m pretty sure he will amuse us.
Gerard: TJ Shorts (Telekom Bonn) was one of the big stars in the last Bundesliga and I am looking forward to seeing him compete in this exciting BCL. Explosive point guard, able to dynamite any game just scoring and scoring.
And I am also looking forward to see this next step from Chinanu Onuaku, brand new signing from Dinamo BDS Sassari, after his impressive year in Israel. He got chosen as MVP and won the Cup… and he’s only 25 years old. His underhand free throw will be an iconic image this season.
Igor: With the first pick in the "Who are the two players to watch in 2022-23," I'm going with Marcus Foster of Rytas Vilnius. First of all, wearing number 17 is always a win in my books, because not a lot of people do it, so you're standing out already. Secondly, Foster is the guy who averaged 20.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists for Holon back in 2019-20, and he's only 27 so there's a lot more to showcase here.
The second pick is another explosive high scoring guard. Rob Gray is an impressive signing by Tofas Bursa, they got the 2021 EuroCup champion and Finals MVP, and he is already beginning to pay off with his 50 points in two games in the Qualifiers to reach the Regular Season.
Diccon: As far as known quantities go, Errick McCollum is as known as it’s going to get. We know he’s going to score a lot of points for Pinar Karsiyaka and we know he is going to score them efficiently. He once scored 82 points in a single game for Zhejiang Bulls in the CBA. Whilst we know we can’t expect him to do that again in the BCL, a season average of over 20 points, whilst shooting the best part of 50 percent overall and 40 percent from deep is exactly what we know McCollum is likely to produce and if you are looking for a player to watch, you know he has to be one of them.
If you hadn’t already noticed, they are pretty good at scouting potential over there at SIG Strasbourg and possibly even better at developing that potential. Matt Mitchell averaged 12 points and 5 rebounds on 42 percent shooting overall in the BCL last season and at times when you watched him it was easy to forget it was also his rookie season in Europe.
He’s still only 23 but already started the season averaging 16.5 points, 6 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in his first 2 games this season. The way SIG construct rosters you know you can’t expect them to sign giant centers that give them huge advantages inside. Instead, you see them recruit intelligently and find players that give them matchup advantages elsewhere. At 1.9m (6'6'') and 107kg (235 lbs) Mitchell is exactly that.
Young guys look impressive on paper. Who are you picking to win the Best Young Player award this season?
Gerard: Giordano Bortolani is the reigning winner of this trophy and will be the great candidate to repeat. He fits perfectly in BAXI Manresa's fast and backcourt-focused style, and he will be also very important on the offense. Mario Nakic (Igokea m:tel) could win this trophy too.
He has always performed very well whenever he has had minutes in recent seasons and will have a major role in his new team. And we have to keep an eye on youngster Ilian Pietrus (SIG Strasbourg). Bright future, although it will be difficult to give him big minutes during this BCL.
Igor: I gotta say, I was stunned to learn that Keye van der Vuurst de Vries is still a 20-year-old. It feels like he's been around for the last five seasons, it feels like he's older, but maybe that's just playing alongside Dusan Djordjevic rubbing off...
KVDVDV won the MVP of the Belgian League Finals award last season, he was rock solid at FIBA EuroBasket 2022 for the Netherlands, and he's developing into a genuine pass-first point guard that people will talk about in years to come. 20!? How come he's still just 20!?!?
Diccon: The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias where people with a low level of ability or expertise in a specific area tend overestimate their ability and knowledge in said area. The further up the scale of expertise in an area, the more we start to realize how much we don’t know about it. We have all been there at a party when somebody who is clearly very smart seems determined to tell people how much they don’t know.
Chances are, that person knows about Dunning-Kruger and they are actually humble-bragging their way into telling everyone how smart they are. Now, with all that said, I’m here to tell you that I successfully predicted this award correctly last year when I was the only person on our panel of "Experts" to pick Giordano Bortolani. So, obviously, that must mean I’m really good at this and with this certified belief in my ability I’m going predict with absolute confidence that Mario Nakic is going to win the Best Young Player Award this season.
The 6’7” (2.01m) forward has the pedigree of starting his career at Real Madrid and already has BCL experience with Filou Oostende. Added to that he averaged over 13 minutes for Morabanc Andorra in the ACB and Eurocup last season.
Winning this award is all about opportunity and in Igokea’s first game of the season Nakic played 30 minutes, putting up 16 points and 10 rebounds. The double-double is a great start but the minutes are an even bigger indication that Nakic is going to get his chance to really show out this season. He absolutely has the ability. Having withdrawn from the NBA Draft twice, Nakic will also be extra motivated to make this season a big one. The stars definitely look to be aligning.
Cesare: Am I biased on this one? Of course I am. I will regret my choice? I don’t think so. There is too little talk about Momo Diouf, who could become a star in the new Reggio Emilia system under Max Menetti. Involved by Andrea Cinciarini’s assistances and flanked under the basket by Mikael Hopkins, I think he will grow like he has never done before.
In the last two years he has taken a permanent place in the first team, and he averaged 5.3 points and 4.6 assists in the 2021/2022 FIBA Europe Cup, his first European experience. Keep an eye on the 21-year-old giant. Oh, if someone wanted to bet something on Giordano Bortolani’s back-to-back, I wouldn’t mind.
Finally, let's talk about the playcallers. John Patrick, Roel Moors, Oren Amiel, Zoran Lukic and Pedro Martinez have all won the award for the best coach in BCL, who will be the next one in line?
Igor: Aleksandar Dzikic of Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem. The image of him holding his arms up in glory when Partizan had a buzzer beating shot to take down MHP RIESEN in Ludwigsburg back in Season One is still in my head, and I'm so happy we finally get to see the most stylish guy out there get back to drawing plays in the Basketball Champions League. Dzikic is amazing. Everybody loves Dzikic.
Diccon: Lassi Tuovi. For whatever reason, this award has almost exclusively gone to a coach from an underdog team. Whether that seems unfair on the coaches in our biggest clubs is certainly open to debate but it is what it is. For that reason I’m going with Lassi Tuovi.
The squad that SIG Strasbourg have put together looks exciting, their route to the latter stages of the competition looks plausible and in Lassi Tuovi they have a coach that has got performance from every ounce of talent in his squad, in every one of his seasons as the head coach of SIG Strasbourg.
Then to prove it wasn’t a fluke, he did it with Finland at Eurobasket this summer. There isn’t really much more that needs to be said to justify this pick. Tuovi is undoubtedly one of the most promising young coaches in the game and is in a great situation at SIG to continue to deliver on that promise.
Cesare: I’ve loved how Andreas Pistiolis took over Galatasaray last season. We are talking about an exceptional coach, who has learned a lot from masters like Zeljko Obradovic and Dimitris Itoudis at very high levels in the EuroLeague, and who has now in his hands one of the most competitive teams that will play in the Basketball Champions League. His way of thinking about basketball matches perfectly with players like Dee Bost, Dylan Ennis and Braian Angola. I go with the Greek.
Gerard: My bet is on Sito Alonso. UCAM Murcia will be one of the most entertaining teams in this Basketball Champions League. Electric game, with a lot of rhythm and fastbreak points, in which the backcourt players have a very high responsibility.
They have signed big names this summer, like Travis Trice, James Anderson or Artem Pustovyi. And I can't forget a machine gun like Thad McFadden. If they don't have any major injuries, I think they can even reach another Final Four. It is a squad with many resources, capable of dominating games and Alonso fits perfectly with the spirit and character of the team and the fans.