Gibson’s Euroleague Power Rankings

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Last season in Europe, Besiktas was making headlines for their courtship, acquisition and eventual enshrinement of Deron Williams, Zalgiris was up to their ears in Ty Lawson complaints, Alba Berlin was kicking around Nowitzki talk and Union Olimpija was riding Danny Green to an ice cold start of a season that would finish even colder with a 1-9 record.

Subtract all the lockout hoopla, add a year and what do you have?

Four of the Euroleague’s unlikeliest group leaders.  Thanks to 1-0 records and favorable point differentials, those four teams have another 24 hours to lean over the rail and enjoy the view from the top before the perennial powers start charging.

So let’s run down the Euroleague Power Rankings after one week of play. Look for these on Monday mornings, every week, starting next week.

RANK TEAM THE RUNDOWN LAST
1

Olympiacos (1-0)

LAST WEEK: Won 85-81 at Caja Laboral
THIS WEEK: Friday at Anadolu Efes

There are 11 players on the Reds’ roster that haven’t lost a Euroleague game since March 23, so don’t look for a repeat of yesteryear’s 1-3 start.  Even under new head coach George Bartzokas, there’s not a team on this list whose players understand their responsibilities better than Olympiacos.  Having veteran leaders who double as stars, like Vassilis Spanoulis and Georgios Printezis, sure helps.
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2

Real Madrid(1-0)

LAST WEEK: Won 85-78 vs. Panathinaikos
THIS WEEK: Friday at Khimki
Bulls’ 2011 draft pick Nikola Mirotic is looking less and less like a mere Rising Star winner turned Euroleague MVP candidate; you get that once-in-a-decade feel when you watch him. Throw Mirotic on the floor with the playmaking Sergios (Rodriguez and Llull), shooters like Rudy Fernandez and Jaycee Carroll and a physical center like offseason acquisition Marcus Slaughter, and Madrid’s nearly impossible to plan for.
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3 Fenerbahçe Ülker (1-0) LAST WEEK: Won 92-80 vs. Khimki
THIS WEEK: Friday
 at Union Olimpija
So far, so good in Istanbul as Bo McCalebb, Romain Sato, Mike Batiste and David Andersen won their respective Euroleague debuts with Fenerbahce.  But the catalyst for the Turks’ crisp win over Khimki was Emir Preldzic, who had his best performance as a Euroleaguer and took home Weekly MVP honors with 4 boards, 3 assists, 2 steals and a ridiculously efficient 20 points on just six shots.
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4 CSKA Moscow (1-0) LAST WEEK: Won 75-73 vs. Lietuvos Rytas
THIS WEEK: Thursday at Partizan
Sonny Weems took a couple quarters to get his feet wet and Russiafied, but his fourth quarter offense is ultimately what put Rytas away in the end. There are only several, heavily guarded, airtight passages into Ettore Messina’s heart.  Late game reliability is a surefire way to crack one of them open.
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5 Regal Barcelona (1-0) LAST WEEK: Won 72-60 vs. Bamberg
THIS WEEK: Thursday at Lietuvos Rytas
Dumping a trio of defensive big men – Boniface N’Dong, Kosta Perovic and former Magic lottery pick Fran Vazquez – is an interesting offseason strategy after holding opponents to an all-time Euroleague low 62.1 points per game last season. In the opener against an A.J. Ogilvy-less Bamberg, Ante Tomic and Nathan Jawai gave me no reason to expect anything more than spurty offense and porous pick and roll defense out of Barcelona’s newest bigs.
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6 Maccabi Tel Aviv (1-0) LAST WEEK: Won 85-80 at Unicaja
THIS WEEK: Thursday vs. Montepaschi Siena
As strange as it sounds to say out loud, 27-year-old Lior Eliyahu is a veteran now. He played like it against Unicaja (15 and 5 with 3 steals), who had no answer for his length defensively. Last year, David Blatt handed the keys over to Jordan Farmar and then Yogev Ohayon; this season, he’s made copies for Ricky Hickman and David Logan. Blatt trusting his new pieces with such big roles early is a great sign for Maccabi. Those two performing well off the bat is even more heartening.
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7 Armani Milano (1-0) LAST WEEK: Won 80-75 vs. Anadolu Efes
THIS WEEK: Friday at Cedevita Zagreb
Ioannis Bourousis is good for several jaw-droppingly economical stat lines per season, and he made strides toward his quota in week one, making 6-of-8 from inside the arc, draining both of his threes and pulling down seven rebounds with a block and a steal. The most shocking (and encouraging) number from this game has to be Malik Hairston’s eight assists.  Dimes like that make those 3-of-11 nights go down more smoothly.
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8 Caja Laboral(0-1) LAST WEEK: Lost 85-81 at Olympiacos
THIS WEEK: Friday vs. Zalgiris
Contrary to the vividly disappointing memories of most Knick and Sun fans, Maciej Lampe is a very talented center, and one of Europea’s best — when he’s healthy.  He appeared to be fit in Baskonia’s opener, pouring in 18 and 3 in just 22 minutes against the defending EL champs.  This week, he’ll receive reinforcements in the form of Serbian big Milko Bjelica who’s back from a foot injury.
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9 Alba Berlin (1-0) LAST WEEK: Won 92-82 at Montepaschi Siena
THIS WEEK: Thursday vs. Elan Chalon
Scoring 92 points against Siena in Siena is a Hell of an accomplishment, and I don’t care who’s dressed out for the home team.  Dashaun Wood, Nihad DJedovic and Vule Avdalovic presented their case as a legitimate Euroleague backcourt, and should do so again this week against Elan Chalon. Berlin’s problems this season will start in the paint.
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10 Panathinaikos (0-1) LAST WEEK: Lost 85-78 to Real Madrid
THIS WEEK: Thursday vs. Cantú
Folks worried about Sofoklis Schortsanitis’ production with Panathinaikos can take a breath, at least for now. Big Sofo was perfect in his debut, going 9-of-9 with six rebounds.  The area of concern for the Greek giants will be perimeter scoring, as the combo of Roko Ukic, Derwin Kitchen and Michael Bramos isn’t the most intimidating arsenal to stash in Dimitris Diamantidis’ shadow.
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11 Unicaja (1-1) LAST WEEK: Lost 85-80 vs. Maccabi
THIS WEEK: Won 77-75 at Asseco Prokom
One week after going for 25 against Maccabi, former Indiana Hoosier Earl Calloway scored just 8 and was far too loose with the ball late, turning it over twice in the final minutes and jeopardizing what should have been an easier win.  This time around, it was Unicaja’s other point guard – NBA journeyman and UConn alum Marcus Williams – who snuck Malaga past a woefully bad Asseco Prokom side Wednesday afternoon in the week’s only early game.  But hey: a road win’s a road win.
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12 Zalgiris (1-0) LAST WEEK: Won 90-62 vs. Cedevita Zagreb
THIS WEEK: Friday at Caja Laboral
Since his playing career began in 2005, point guard Mantas Kalnietis has played for–and only for –Zalgiris Kaunas. After signing a three-year deal with Lokomotiv Kuban this offseason, he was eerily absent from Zalgiris’ opener against Cedevita Zagreb. If this team’s current roster is any indication, however, Mantas could be back to close his career in Kaunas. Darjus Lavrinovic, Ksistof Lavrinovic and Rimantas Kaukenas are all Lithuanian 30-somethings that are back with Zalgiris after spending a majority of their careers outside their native Lithuania. The old dudes played well enough to dominate in the opener.
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13 Khimki Moscow (0-1) LAST WEEK: Lost 92-80 at Fenerbahce Ulker
THIS WEEK: Friday vs. Real Madrid
With Andrei Kirilenko freezing his already frosted tips off in Minnesota, it looks like Zoran Planinic is the Moscow Euroleaguer (Andrei played for CSKA) most likely to take aim at a triple double. A member of the Nets way back when they played in New Jersey, Zoran put up 17 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds in a tough road loss against a motivated Fenerbahce Ulker club. Getting Paul Davis back will be huge, but we don’t know when that will be.
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14 Union Olimpija (1-0) LAST WEEK: Won 84-71 at Cantu
THIS WEEK: Friday vs. Fenerbahce Ulker
With an entire team budget of around one million Euros and eight players born in the 1990s, Union Olimpija wasn’t supposed to waltz into Cantu–one of the zanier atmospheres in 2011-12–and bite off a 13-point win. But they did, and now find themselves in unfamiliar territory: atop Group A, peering down at powerhouses like Real Madrid, Panathinaikos and Fenerbahce, who all spent a dozen times more than the little guys from Slovenia.
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15 Besiktas (1-0) LAST WEEK: Won 81-65 vs. Partizan
THIS WEEK: Thursday at Bamberg
Former Cal Bear Patrick Christopher looked every bit the sharpshooter Besiktas needed him to be against Partizan, hitting 5-of-6 from distance to hold the EL’s youngest team at bay.  Despite the team win, however, Vladimir Dasic’s sloppy performance (2 points, 4 turnovers in 14 minutes) has to be among the opening week’s most disappointing. Vlad needs to get his mind right and start attacking if he wants to keep Besiktas perfect. Bamberg’s “Freak City” won’t be so welcoming.
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16 Elan Chalon (1-0) LAST WEEK: Won 81-74 vs. Asseco Prokom
THIS WEEK: Thursday at Alba Berlin
It was hard for me to put much stock into a win versus these rankings’ caboose, Asseco Prokom. But given the historically dreadful regular season performances of French teams in the Euroleague they, nor I, reserve any right to be picky. The sooner Missouri’s Marcus Denmon gets back (five weeks from now, reportedly), the sooner we’ll know what this finished product looks like.
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17 Lietuvos Rytas (0-1) LAST WEEK: Lost 75-73 at CSKA Moscow
THIS WEEK: Thursday vs. Barcelona
Renaldas Seibutis is as important a player to his team as you’ll find in the EL, and if he can share the perimeter with a guard who holds onto the ball and defends consistently, Lietuvos Rytas has the wherewithal to hang around with anyone, much as they did against CSKA. Can Nemanja Nedovic be that guard? What I heard in week one against Milos Teodosic and the Euroleague runners-up was a resounding ‘Yes.’
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18 Anadolu Efes (0-1) LAST WEEK: Lost 80-75 at Milano
THIS WEEK: Friday vs. Olympiacos
The front court foursome of Semih Erden, Dusko Savanovic, Kerem Gonlum and Stanko Barac was supposed to have trouble staying with more athletic big men on defense. But in week one, problems arose on offense, namely in the ball security department: those four big men combined for 12 of Efes’ 19 turnovers.
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19 Montepaschi Siena (0-1) LAST WEEK: Lost 92-82 vs. Alba Berlin
THIS WEEK: Thursday at Maccabi
The Luca Banchi Era in Siena got underway with an embarrassing home loss to a Berlin team that’s flawed on the interior. There’s no way that Viktor Sanikidze and Benjamin Eze can replace the departed offense of Olympians Ksistof Lavrinovic (Lithuania) and David Andersen (Australia), so they might as well abandon pursuit and figure out how to close off those easy lanes to the bucket on defense.
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20 Bamberg (0-1) LAST WEEK: Lost 72-60 at Barcelona 
THIS WEEK: Thursday vs. Besiktas
Whether it’s Kyle Hines in 2011 or Marcus Slaughter last season, Bamberg has made it a habit of storming their way through Germany’s BBL on the backs of undersized centers. Then, after coveting A.J. Ogilvy last summer, Bamberg got their hands on the 6-foot-11, 24-year-old Aussie who played at Vanderbilt until 2010. But Bamberg was back to scrapping underneath the boards as Ogilvy missed his new team’s game in Barcelona due to injury, and the hosts out rebounded the Germans 41 to 29. That needs fixin’.
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21 Cantú (0-1) LAST WEEK: Lost 84-71 vs. Union Oimpija
THIS WEEK: Thursday at Panathinaikos
Last season’s underdog gave way to a new feel good story, as Pietro Aradori’s 18 and 8 remarkably weren’t even enough to keep this deficit in the single digits against Union Olimpija’s band of misfits. We’re used to witnessing magic in the Pala Desio, but not the kind that makes the home crowd fret.
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22 Partizan (0-1) LAST WEEK: Lost 81-65 at Besiktas
THIS WEEK: Thursday vs. CSKA Moscow
One of the world’s finest manipulators of undeveloped talent, Dusko Vujosevic, is back on Partizan’s bench to mold the Euroleague’s youngest roster into a contender. The largest chasm on the week one scoresheet belonged to Spurs 2011 draft pick Davis Bertans, who registered a steal, missed a shot and committed three fouls in nearly 10 minutes on the court. Partizan could seriously use his shooting. Or, you know, anything.
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23 Cedevita Zagreb (0-1) LAST WEEK: Lost 90-62 at Zalgiris
THIS WEEK: Friday vs. Milano
Cedevita lost by 28 points to a team that I don’t think will advance. They will clearly need more than just a chunk of points a piece from Bracey Wright and Mickael Gelabale if they want to rescue themselves from the cellar.
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24 Asseco Prokom (0-2) LAST WEEK: Lost 81-74 at Elan Chalon
THIS WEEK: Lost 77-75 vs. Unicaja
Asseco Prokom is worth watching for Mateusz Ponitka, the 19-year-old shooting guard who impressed important eyes at the 2011 Nike Hoop Summit. Ponitka has averaged 11 points in around 20 minutes per game, and a glance up and down Prokom’s roster gives reason to believe that Mateusz’s role will expand rather than wither.
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