With only a little bit more than a week left untill the end of its regular season, RealGM presents the Euroleague Power Rankings. We evaluated and ranked all 24 Euroleague teams' performance over their first eight games and their perspective in future battles.
Here is how the end of the NBA lockout impacted Euroleague teams’ camps, who's still hot and who is not at the finish line of regular season and more.
1. FC Barcelona Regal (Spain) (8-0)
Euroleague fans still probably remember what happened back in 2009-10 when FC Barcelona Regal ended the regular season undefeated (10-0). Current members of FC Barcelona Regal, Erazem Lorbek, Pete Mickeal, Boniface N'Dong and Euroleague's all-time leading scorer Juan Carlos Navarro took part of that victorious Euroleague season when the unbreakable Catalonian team grabbed the Euroleague title.
Obviously, there are many similarities between that champion team and this season's FC Barcelona Regal. Moreover, now Xavier Pascual's team demonstrates even more incredible defense -- FC Barcelona Regal didn't let its opponents to score more than 50 points in its last three games -- and now they also have one of the most versatile players in Europe, Chuck Eidson, on its squad. Definitely, the sky is the limit for this team and after missing Euroleague Final Four last season, FC Barcelona Regal is hungry to bring the title back to Spain like never before.
2. CSKA Moscow (Russia) (8-0)
CSKA, who made eight straight Euroleague final four appearances from 2003 to 2010, is demonstrating this season how quick the Russians can come back to the top. After their shocking fiasco last year when CSKA finished its Euroleague season right after the group stage (the Russians won only three games and didn't make it to the Top 16) Moscow made huge investments in roster changes in off-season, which are already paying dividends.
Of course, having a favorite to win Euroleague MVP award, Andrei Kirilenko, which averages 13.8 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 3.1 blocks per game, on roster makes things easier for CSKA but another reason why they are still undefeated is their offense based on sharing the ball. CSKA leads the league in assists with 20 per game as five players average more than two assists per match.
The only thing CSKA should be concerned with is Kirilenko's contract situation. The Russian superstar can sign a deal with an NBA team and leave CSKA before January 7th.
3. Panathinaikos Athens (Greece) (6-2)
The most successful European club of the last decade, Panathinaikos, started 2011 by winning another Euroleague title, their third in the last five years. Moreover, except Antonis Fotsis and Drew Nicholas, who moved to EA7 Emporio Armani and now can only dream about their past glory, Panathinaikos saved all main the pieces of their championship team and are on the way to having a shot at winning the whole thing again.
Zeljko Obradovic and Mr. Clutch, Mr. MVP and Mr. Defense, Dimitris Diamantidis (yes, it's three persons in one body, holy trinity, call him the way you want it) duo still perfectly works as Panathinaikos slipped only two times this season -- lost by two points to group leader CSKA and suffered a three-point loss in Bamberg. However, the regular season is usually just a warm-up for Panathinaikos before the real action starts and you would not imagine a better warm-up against the current best team in the league, FC Barcelona Regal, which the Athens team will face this week.
Like FC Barcelona Regal, Panathinaikos was not obsessed with an idea to sign NBA players during the lockout and while few other contenders are desperately trying to strengthen their roster, the Greens can focus on polishing their game.
4. Real Madrid (Spain) (6-2)
Losing a starter is always hard but Real Madrid proved last week that the departure of Rudy Fernandez won't destroy everything Pablo Laso's team has created so far. Even without the scoring from Fernandez, Real, thanks to unbelievable performance by 20-year-old Nikola Mirotic, crushed fellow Euroleague contender Maccabi and made a big statement on how serious they are this season.
The best scoring team in the Euroleague, Real has a deep bench this season -- only two players, Jaycee Carroll (22 minutes) and Mirotic (23), average more than 20 minutes per game -- therefore the departure of Fernandez and Serge Ibaka shouldn't be a hard and unexpected hit to the team.
5. Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel) (5-3)
Before December 8th, Maccabi Tel Aviv's situation seemed to be perfect -- despite two losses, Maccabi with Jordan Farmar was definitely one of the Top-3 Euroleague teams at the time and undoubtedly one of candidates to win the Euroleague trophy. However, after the end of lockout and departure of Farmar, Maccabi started to struggle. Not mentioning the 24 points humiliation by Real Madrid, but Tel Aviv's team also lost to KK Zagreb in Adriatic league.
It is obvious that Maccabi needs time to adjust to the life after Farmar and find a proper replacement. Definitely, having Keith Langford on its roster should help to get through hard times as he had a best game yet in Maccabi squad with 18 points at last week's game versus Real. Langford led the Euroleague in scoring last season (18.7 PPG) but this year due to radically decreased playing time to only 12 minutes per game his points average dropped to just 4.9. After Farmar left, Langford took 14 shots in one game -- more than in first six games combined -- therefore his big scoring nights are still ahead.
Despite Maccabi being fifth in our ranking, last season's Euroleague title finalist has plenty of space to improve. The most obvious thing is long-range shooting as Maccabi transformed from one of the best shooting teams to one of the worst (22nd in the league) and makes only 29% of its attempts from beyond the arc.
6. Montepaschi Siena (Italy) (6-2)
Déjà vu. Injuries to core players, Rimantas Kaukenas and Ksystof Lavrinovic, should take Montepaschi's fans back to last season. Siena's team was dealing with injuries all season long, but the biggest lose was MVP candidate Bo McCalebb, who was sidelined for the biggest part of second half of the season. Despite that, Montepaschi managed to go all the to the Final Four.
Excellent work by the front office in the off-season improved Montepaschi to a true title contender, which would be even ready for this kind of emergency situations. With Kaukenas and Lavrinovic or without them, Montepaschi still remains among Euroleague elite. Especially when you have David Anderson, Igor Rakocevic, McCalebb and the newest addition, Bootsy Thornton on your roster.
7. Unics Kazan (Russia) (5-3)
Eurocup winner of the 2010-11 season, Unics continues its successful performance on the European basketball scene. Well-picked American players led Unics to four wins in last five games and helped Kazan club to already secure its place in Top 16. Euroleague veteran Henry Domercan's, who is a nice surprise for Kazan and a main reason of Unics success, three-pointers saved his team many times this season and now it is getting interesting how far the shooter can lead Unics this season.
However, the Russian team must find other weapons in offense as Kazan ranks only 22th in Euroleague teams scoring ranking, averaging only 69 points per game. Despite that, experience -- nine players are 30-year-old or older -- helps Unics remain among Euroleague elite and possibly end regular season at the second place of group D.
8. Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul (Turkey) (5-3)
Last season, Fenerbahce Ulker was just one win away from reaching Top-8 stage and now the Turks are on the way to bring their team to the third stage of competition, where they haven't been since 2007-08. Even though Istanbul's club will finish the regular season at the top of group A, this team hasn't yet revealed its true potential. Fenerbahce Ulker lacked real competition and hasn't met the Euroleague title contenders yet.
The NBA lockout affected Fenerbahce Ulker as well, as the team's leading scorer Thabo Sefolosha, had to leave Turkey. To keep the team, which won five out of last six games, on winning road, somebody will have to step up and one of possible candidates could be last season's Euroleague MVP candidate Roko Ukic. The Croatian averages only 8.6 points and 2.1 assists this season and after the departure of Sefolosha should step up and have a bigger role.
9. Partizan Belgrade (Serbia) (4-4)
Even without Nikola Pekovic, who left the team due to the end of the NBA lockout, Partizan had a brilliant chance to secure a place in Top-16 by beating Belgacom Spirou last week. However, the Serbian team, which could even beat Dallas Mavericks at home but struggles against weaker teams at away matches, surprisingly lost to Belgians and took the hard way to Top-16.
This week, Partizan is playing group C leader Real in Madrid, therefore the next week game against EA7 Emporio Armani Milan, another candidate to grab the last ticket to Top-16, could be crucial. Fortunately for Partizan, which has only one non-Serbian player on its roster (Acie Law), the final game of regular season will be played at Pionir arena, where the Serbians lost only once two months ago this Euroleague season.
10. Bennet Cantu (Italy) (5-3)
Bennet Cantu continues to live a dream. After surprisingly making to the Italian league finals and getting a straight ticket to the Euroleague last season, now Bennet Cantu, which currently stands at 5-3 and are among Top 10 Euroleague teams in our rankings, proves that they were worth that chance. Even more, Gianluca Basile's, who actually failed physical examination at first and was close on contract cancelation last summer, magical buzzer beater in last week's game already guaranteed his team a place in the Top-16.
In addition, Bennet Cantu also has a chances to win the group A in its hands as they will meet Fenerbahce Ulker, which also holds 5-3 record, and Olympiacos, which stands fourth with 4-4. Finishing at top would help the Italians get weaker opponents in Top-16 and... Alright, maybe it's too early to talk about Top-8, but you know, it's Bennet Cantu...
11. Anadolu Efes Istanbul (Turkey) (5-3)
After seeing Anadolu Efes lose its second round game against Belgacom Spirou, a lot of Euroleague fans likely thought "here we go again"... Too fast. This season Anadolu Efes, which was the best example of how to waste money for the last three years, already secured the ticket to the Top 16 stage and have a serious chance to end regular season with better than .500 record for the first time since 2007-08.
All they need to do is win against one of Top 5 Euroelague teams -- Maccabi Tel Aviv next week or Real Madrid in last tour. Without scoring leaders Sasha Vujacic and Ersan Ilyasova, who left to New Jersey and Milwaukee, which seems to be an impossible mission.
12. Olympiacos Piraeus (Greece) (4-4)
The transition of Olympiacos Piraeus from Euroleague super club to just a contender to make it to the Top-16 and a team, which takes one game at the time, was rough, but it seems the worst has passed. Starting the Euroleague season with a win and three losses is definitely not what Olympiacos fans were use to, but times have changed.
Thanks to Vassilis Spanoulis, who is having a career year and averages 19.5 points per game, Olympiacos is just one step away from making to the Top-16 now and they are strong enough to make that last one against Bennet Cantu or in worst case, beat SLUC Nancy in last tour.
13. Caja Laboral Vitoria (Spain) (4-4)
At the beginning of the season, Caja Laboral looked like a serious candidate to fight for a spot in the Euroleague Final Four -- three wins in a row against top group A teams -- but then Vitoria club simply collapsed. Four losses in last five games, but all of them by less than five points. That just proves Caja Laboral's capabilities to make something big this year
It would be a huge upset for Caja Laboral to leave the competition so early, especially as Mirza Teletovic, who leads the Euroleague in scoring with 22.9 points per game, is having his career year. Teletovic scored a career-high 32 points last week against Olympiacos and also has made at least one three-pointer in 18 straight Euroleague games. No doubt, Teletovic is ready to carry the team on his shoulders if needed and that could be a key factor playing against Gescrap Bizkaia and SLUC Nancy.
14. Gescrap Bizkaia Bilbao (Spain) (3-5)
It is fair to say that Gescrap Bizkaia is one of the unluckiest teams in the Euroleague. Leading by eight points against group A leader Fenerbahce Ulker with almost five minutes to go, but then five scoreless minutes and a 0-14 run and letting victory slide out of their hands. Just a few weeks ago, 29-year-old Olympiacos guard Vassilis Spanoulis played his best career game when he scored 29 points, dished out six assists and led his team to a close win against Gescrap Bizkaia. And last week, Bennet Cantu's Gianluca Basile's three-pointer just killed the Spaniards hope to get a win and be one step closer to Top-16.
Gescrap Bizkaia can still prove that those losses were just a coincidence by beating Caja Laboral and Fenerbahce Ulker in last two rounds and making the Euroleague's next stage. Obviously, they have a strong enough roster to do that and with just a bit of luck...
15. Galatasaray Istanbul (Turkey) (3-5)
Winner of Euroleague qualification tournament, Galatasaray Istanbul came to the league with big ambitions but failed to meet them. The Turks were not able to beat any of Top-3 teams of group D, but it was strong enough to beat the worst Euroleague teams, Union Olimpija and Asseco Prokom thrice to maintain the 4th place.
Galatasaray will probably secure its place in Top-16 this week by beating Union Olimpija or at least losing by no more than eight points. And in Top 16, it's a whole new, 0-0 story.
16. Unicaja Malaga (Spain) (3-5)
Being the best rebounding team in the league didn't prevent Unicaja from suffering four losses in a row. After a great start, now Unicaja put itself to a must-win position. And that must happen with an away game against KK Zagreb, which also still holds chances to make it out of the group.
Perhaps Malaga's team, which demonstrates great results in the Spanish league, 8-3 there, needs some more time for players like Euroleague rookies Kristaps Valters and especially Earl Rowland, who recently started make bigger impact to Unicaja's game. Nevertheless, this week there can't be any excuses for Unicaja if they want to make their seventh straight appearance in the Top-16.
17. Brose Baskets Bamberg (Germany) (3-5)
Brose Baskets probably didn't dream about being in the third position of group B after eight tours but at the moment what seemed to be just a dream looks real. Brose Baskets could be the first German team to make it to the Top 16 since 2008-09 and everybody understands the price of the next game again Zalgiris Kaunas.
Brose Baskets guard Anton Gavel said that "now we [Bamberg] got this opportunity to make it to the Top-16 and you are never going to get it again". Fair enough: it's now or never. The Germans, who rank 6th in the league in terms of scoring, in last tour will face Panathinaikos, which they beat once, but you know what they say, lightning doesn't strike the same place twice. If Brose Baskets want a ticket to the Top-16, they have to take care of business with Zalgiris on Thursday.
18. SLUC Nancy (France) (3-5)
Two-time Euroleague MVP of the week award winner Nicolas Batum brought SLUC Nancy to the point where French basketball teams are not use to treading -- on the way to the Top-16. However, the departure of second the most valuable player in the league, Batum, threw SLUC Nancy back to reality.
Without Batum, who averaged 15.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists in six games, SLUC Nancy has already lost two games in a row and now ranks at the bottom of group A. Nevertheless, the French team still holds the change to make out of the group, but looking what left on their schedule -- Olympiacos Piraeus and Caja Laboral Vitoria -- that doesn't seem to happen this year.
19. EA7 Emporio Armani Milan (Italy) (2-6)
After two miserable seasons, EA7 Emporio Armani decided to walk an extra mile and bring well-recommended players to the team. Euroleague champions Drew Nicholas and Antonis Fotsis, Ioannis Bourousis, who was selected to RealGM's All-Euroleague 2nd Team last season, Omar Cook and most important, head coach of Spain national team, Sergio Scariolo signed with the team to bring victories to Milan. Even Danilo Gallinari joined EA7 Emporio Armani for a while, but as results show, all those cardinal changes year after year are simply unproductive.
The current EA7 Emporio Armani situation looks terrible and knowing this team, seeing them in the Top-16 looks unreal. Milan just lost its scoring leader Gallinari and they lost four games in a row. Of course, you don't need to be a super team to beat Belgacom Spirou at home, but winning the final regular season game against Partizan in Belgrade by more than four points seems to be a challenge of the decade.
20. Belgacom Spirou (Belgium) (2-6)
We can still imagine how brutal the group C would look with Khimki Moscow Region, which was eliminated by French team in Euroleague qualification tournament and didn't have chance to meet Belgacom Spirou in the final game. But that's the beauty and tragedy of one-and-done.
Those kind of thoughts should come to mind as you meet Belgacom at 20th place of RealGM Euroleague power rankings. Nevertheless, to be fair, Belgacom never gave up without a fight this season as their biggest loss, except the season-opener against Real, was only by 10 points. Still, mostly because of Demond Mallet, who has scored in double figures and made at least one three-pointer in each game this season, the Top 16 hope, despite it's really small, but is alive.
21. Zalgiris Kaunas (Lithuania) (2-6)
No doubt, Zalgiris is the biggest disappointment of this Euroleague season. Last summer, Zalgiris' management brought many promising faces to Kaunas and raised the expectations to the sky. Lithuanian national team captain Robertas Javtokas, Eurocup final MVP Marko Popovic, Toronto Raptors guard Sonny Weems were all added. Zalgiris also made one of the most impressive signings of all last off-season by bringing Denver Nuggets starting point guard Ty Lawson. Kaunas managed to have the best roster since the last season Arvydas Sabonis wore Zalgiris' jersey back in 2003-04.
It seemed that this year the Lithuanian champions, who started playing in their new 15,000 seat arena, would finally have a chance to make it to the Euroleague final four, but despite all the expectations, this season reminds the worst nightmare so far. And Zalgiris' fans just can't wake up.
The most upset person in this situation should be Sonny Weems. The former Raptor told RealGM he chose Zalgiris over other teams because after a weak season in Toronto, he wanted to be a part of a winning basketball club. Just unlucky.
22. KK Zagreb (Croatia) (2-6)
The last two years have been tough for Croatian basketball -- its national team finished 14th in 2010 FIBA Worlds, Cibona Zagreb was the only Euroleague's winless (0-10) team in 2010-11, national team failed to make it out of the weak group D in the last EuroBasket and this year KK Zagreb is at the bottom of Euroleague's group B. Drazen Petrovic is probably spinning in his grave.
Thanks to 37-year-old Damir Mulaomerovic, who is one of the top scorers for KK Zagreb, averaging 11.3 points per game, and nice surprise Sean May, who proved that his disappointing season in Turkey was just a misunderstanding, the Croatian team got two wins in its pocket and they are still in the race for a place in the Top-16.
23. Asseco Prokom Gdynia (Poland) (1-7)
After a terrible showing last season (2-8, last place in group stage) it seemed that the only way to go was up. However, the Polish club stuck on the bottom of Euroleague for a while as they lost seven games in a row and grabbed its first win last week against the worst Euroleague team. There are many reasons why Asseco Prokom is struggling and one of them definitely would be psychology. Asseco Prokom proved itself as a team, which is bad in close games as they lost all three matches when the difference was four points or less. The Polish club is also terrible at the free-throw line -- Asseco Prokom ranks the last with only 59.5 free-throw shooting percentage.
Despite Asseco Prokom's bad results, there is one reason why particularly Houston Rockets and Lithuanian basketball fans should keep an eye on Gdynia club. His name is Donatas Motiejunas.
The toughness of head coach Tomas Pacesas helped Motiejunas from the guy, who didn't make to the Lithuanian national team last summer, become a second best Euroleague rebounder and one of the most exciting players to watch. 14.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in the Euroleague -- that is more than enough to silence Motiejunas' critics. At least until the Lithuanian big man comes to Houston.
24. Union Olimpija Ljubljana (Slovenia) (1-7)
This team has gone from top to bottom. From one of the best offensive teams in the league last season, Union Olimpija became undoubtedly the worst. Talent wise, Union Olimpija is far far away from the rest of the 23 other teams. The Slovenians average only 58 points per game (the worst result in the league) and they never topped 70 points this season.
Even worse, as Union Olimpija faced financial problems, three top scorers and almost half of the team left Ljubljana. Apparently for Union Olimpija, the Euroleague season has ended earlier and last two games against Galatasaray and Unics are just a formality.