The veteran factor: EuroLeague is still a country for 'old' men

Orazio Cauchi
Staff Writer
2022-04-10 07:07
Credit: Angel Martinez, Roberto Finizio, Panagiotis Moschandreou/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
Credit Angel Martinez, Roberto Finizio, Panagiotis Moschandreou/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

When Zalgiris Kaunas legend Paulius Jankunas said goodbye to EuroLeague basketball last week in the overtime win against Crvena Zvezda, finishing an incredible European career with 13 points and 7 rebounds performance, it almost looked like the perfectly scripted ending of a movie. A veteran leaving the game in the best way possible. 

But while that moment represented the end of the European career of Jankunas, EuroLeague remains a competition with a pretty strong veteran traction.

Most of the EuroLeague teams, including the top ones, keep relying a lot on the presence of veterans and use them as key players for their performances, and from this standpoint, this season has been no different. 

EuroLeague reigning champions Anadolu Efes are a team full of veterans. At 36, Kruno Simon is still a key player for coach Ataman, and his extended absence this season has been among the main issues faced by the team.

Even in the frontcourt, the Turkish side relies heavily on the minutes played by the veterans: James Anderson, 33, Adrien Moerman, 33, Chris Singleton, 32, Bryant Dunston, 35, and Tibor Pleiss, 32.

Moerman is the fourth-best scorer on the team, right behind his fellow compatriot Rodrigue Beaubois, who at 34 is still the main offensive force on the team who's not called Vasilije Micic or Shane Larkin.

The core of this team has remained almost intact over the last few years, and coach Ataman trusts his Praetorians more than anyone else. Despite the ups and downs in the regular season, the postseason once again will be all about their veterans and their impact on the squad. 

In Madrid, the veteran presence on the team is even more accentuated. Sergio Llull, 34, and Rudy Fernandez, 37, are still very important contributors to the team and key presence inside the locker room.

Llull, especially with the struggles that Thomas Heurtel and Nigel Williams-Goss are going through, is playing almost 20 minutes per game, and he's the main creator on the perimeter.

French swingman Fabien Causeur, who'll be 35 this summer, is another player who's absolutely crucial for coach Pablo Laso and his system, both offensively and defensively.

Trey Thompkins and Anthony Randolph's injuries have left a big hole in the frontcourt rotations. After their return to the court, the two veterans struggled to regain their old form, another issue that coach Laso is facing this season.

In Armani Exchange Milan, the veteran presence is also strong and relevant. Sergio Rodriguez, at 35, is not only the co-captain of the team (together with Nicolò Melli), but he's also the main offensive creator of the team, and every single time that he doesn't produce at his usual level, Milan looks like a completely different team on the offensive end.

Kyle Hines is equally crucial to the performances of Armani Milan. At 35, he's still averaging almost 25 minutes per game in EuroLeague, while he often rests in the Italian league.

The American big man is probably one of the most respected players in Europe, if not the most respect, started to negotiate a new contract with the Italian club. So he most likely will continue to play a major role inside the team since coach Messina considers him a crucial part of his project.

Gigi Datome, 34, and Malcolm Delaney, 33, are also crucial members of the Italian club. Nicolò Melli returned to the club last summer and has immediately become a fundamental part of Messina's system, sharing the frontcourt with Kyle Hines.

If Messina secures another trip to the EuroLeague Final Four, it'll be once again mostly for the contributions of his veterans. 

Another team that has already secured a playoff spot is Olympiacos, and even for coach Bartzokas, the veterans have a key role inside the team.

The main leader of the team is Kostas Sloukas, who, at 32, he's still one of the best point guards in the entire competition and had a huge role in the great season that the Greek club is having, averaging 11.4 points and 5.1 assists per game while shooting 39% from three-point.

The legend himself, Georgios Printezis, might not play a lot of minutes, as it should be now that he's 37, but remains a key presence inside the team.

Kostas Papanikolaou is now in the seventh straight season with Olympiacos, he's averaging 6.4 points per game this season. The Greek forward is another player who had a huge role in building the Olympiacos' locker-room culture, while he also remains a productive player on the court. 

Veteran players have an important role also in teams like Fenerbahce and Barcelona, where guys like Jan Vesely, Nando De Colo, Nick Calathes, and Cory Higgins are all fundamental pieces of their teams. 

But the veteran presence, maybe, it's even more crucial in those teams that have decided to go younger but still want to surround those younger profiles with players who can give them the right support and provide the necessary leadership. 

Just look at teams like Monaco or Bayern Munich. These two clubs reached the playoffs with a roster filled with several unproven or younger players but surrounded but the right veterans who gave a much-needed contribution to reach the postseason.

Mike James is 31 and can be considered a veteran at the EuroLeague level. Will Thomas, 35, was the perfect big man to put next to a younger and explosive big man like Donta Hall. In Bayern, Othello Hunter, 35, together with Vladimir Lucic, 32, was instrumental in giving the right support to younger players like Ognjen Jaramaz or Zan Marko Sisko.

From every angle we look at it, EuroLeague is still a competition that rests on the back of the veteran players. They're not only important figures inside the locker room, but in several teams, they're still key players on the court, helping their clubs to reach the highest level possible. 

Joel and Ethan Cohen, two very famous directors, back in 2007, directed the movie 'No Country for Old Men', which quickly became a cult. Conversely to that title, EuroLeague is still a country for 'old' men.


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