Newcomers that could change the EuroLeague landscape

Augustas Šuliauskas
Staff Writer
2022-10-05 13:32

BasketNews’ Augustas Suliauskas offers you a deeper look into five EuroLeague newcomers and their strengths and question marks before the upcoming season.

Credit: FC Bayern Munich, AP, Michele Nucci/LPS via ZUMA Press Wire - Scanpix
Credit FC Bayern Munich, AP, Michele Nucci/LPS via ZUMA Press Wire - Scanpix

As competitive as it can get, the 2022-23 season EuroLeague projects to be one of the most exciting editions of the tournament we've ever had. 

Last year's finalists only got stronger. The closest contenders (FC Barcelona, Olimpia Milano) also reshaped their rosters, wanting to keep up.

AS Monaco formed a superstar backcourt with strong additions up front. Olympiakos upgraded their bench. Fenerbahce changed from the ground up. New teams like Virtus and Partizan are well-known names, representing two European basketball cities with coaches that need no introduction whatsoever.

Semi Ojeleye

Semi  Ojeleye
Team: Virtus Segafredo Bologna
Position: PF
Age: 27
Height: 201 cm
Weight: 107 kg
Birth place: Kansas, United States of America

In all this, a couple of newcomer signings somehow gained less interaction than they were supposed to. We are not going to speculate on whether it was because of a small market team making a move or a less-known player in Europe headlining the news, but these five players should capture your attention right from the get-go.

Their performance will strongly influence the success of their respective teams, and in that case, they might be the ones reshaping the projected EuroLeague standings.

BasketNews' Augustas Suliauskas offers you a deeper look into these 5 players' strengths and question marks.

Cassius Winston | PG | Bayern Munich

Credit FC Bayern Munich

Andrea Trinchieri and Bayern GM Marco Pesic were on the lookout for a new primary ball handler after the departure of Darrun Hillard. They found one in the G League, where Cassius Winston was averaging 14.5 points per game while dishing out 4.7 assists in 21 minutes of playing time.

After barely playing for the Washington Wizards, the American is ready to prove his worth here in Europe. So far, the point guard has had little to no trouble in the preseason and first official games.

In 5 games prior to the EuroLeague, he has recorded a stunning stat line for a newcomer - 21.8 points on a 60% shooting from the field, together with 3.2 assists per game. 

A 1.85-meter guard is not the most athletically gifted player and might occasionally get in trouble beating his man off the dribble. Still, he compensates for it with an amazing ability to shoot the ball and skilled footwork. 

Fancy with the dribble and smooth with his feet – stay tuned for his magic in transition. Cassius is excellent at changing the pace and direction, often leaving the defenders out of balance.

In half-court sets, shooting off the dribble is his biggest strength. Passive PnR coverage could be in trouble extremely quickly.

Add Trinchieri's tricks to allow point guards to excel (Ghost Screens, Grenade plays, Gortat screens inside), and you might be looking at one of the potential revelations of the season.

Semi Ojeleye | F | Virtus Bologna

Credit AFP-Scanpix

Ojeleye is a 5-year NBA veteran who had a solid role for the Boston Celtics organization for 4 years. Forward signed with Virtus Bologna in late July, a moment when most of the basketball community had taken a break after tumultuous signing periods in the NBA and Europe. 

We have to understand that Semi Ojeleye is an NBA body coming to the European courts. He can play at both forward positions and offers a wide package for Sergio Scariolo: strong defensive presence both on and off the ball, exceptional athletic abilities for Europe, a bit of post play, and spot-up threes. 

Coming to the NBA, there were some question marks surrounding his ability to shoot, but he has evolved into a solid threat from distance. In 5 games before the start of the EuroLeague, Semi has barely missed from three, shooting at a stunning 58% rate (obviously, it's hard to expect he can keep these numbers).

A strong forward will provide versatility all over the court. He can post up smaller guards after switches or fade away against his primary defenders. Playing at the 4, he will be a matchup nightmare on defense, with guards having trouble creating space in Iso situations. 

Ojeleye is not looking to have the main role on Virtus' offense, but his skill set seems to be a perfect fit with the backcourt that contains a handful of guards who can create advantages in a hurry. 

Markus Howard | PG | Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz

Credit USA TODAY Sports - Scanpix

If Cassius Winston is having no trouble adjusting to the European game, Markus Howard is experiencing a bumpy beginning.

The 23-year-old spent 2 seasons with the Denver Nuggets but never managed to carve out a bigger role for himself. He was averaging 5 minutes per game while showing up for less than 40 games per year with Jamal Murray, Monte Morris, and Facundo Campazzo ahead in the rotation.

A short guard (1.80-meter) could repeat the history of Shane Larkin. They both came to Baskonia as their first EuroLeague team, and they share quite similar playing styles.

Howard is a deadly shooter from deep, and we already see that Baskonia head coach Joan Pennaroya likes to use Howard both on and off the ball. Darius Thompson is often taking the playmaker duties to maximize Howard's gravity off the ball as well.

Even though Howard is struggling to shoot the ball so far (10.8 points per game on 36% shooting from the field in 6 contests), we should expect these numbers to go up. 

Former Marquette guard was an unstoppable scorer in the NCAA, averaging 27.8 points in his last year while letting it fly 10 times from distance per game and converting on 41% of tries.

That's an absurd accuracy at such a high volume, and in my opinion, it's only a matter of time until Howard gets some more confidence and finds his groove.

Potential question marks surround the usage of screens to create enough space for better percentage shots. Barcelona's aggressive follow-through-screens defense forced him into a couple of turnovers and influenced his misses, something he will have to adjust during the season. 

Jaron Blossomgame | F | AS Monaco

Credit ZUMAPRESS.com-Scanpix

The next player is already a well-known name in Europe. But not in the EuroLeague.

Jaron Blossomgame has been steadily rising the tournament's ladder in Europe after a jump from overseas in 2020, where he signed in the Israeli league. Last season, the forward represented Ratiopharm Ulm in the EuroCup and averaged 16.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. 

Now it's time to shine on the biggest stage. His signing was overshadowed by AS Monaco forming a superstar backcourt trio, as well as adding 2-time EuroLeague champion Adrien Moerman and John Brown III. 

However, Blossomgame, who can play both forward spots, should have plenty to say on a star-studded Monaco roster.

Depending on the matchup, Jaron can offer post-ups against smaller forwards at the 3 and floor-stretching abilities at the 4 that will be extremely important with James, Okobo, Diallo, and a non-shooting center on the floor. 

42% from behind the 3-point line was Blossomgame's percentage last year in the EuroCup, and he did it attempting 4.5 shots per game. He's also a constant offensive rebound threat every game. 

Jaron will have some defensive adjustments to make as he sometimes positions himself incorrectly, thus allowing some easy baskets on the drives. Still, he should be a versatile option Monaco were looking for after Dwayne Bacon's departure. 

Johnathan Motley | C/PF | Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul

Credit GettyImages

Motley was the most obvious pick for this list. Even though his signing made quite a noise in the European community, he has the potential to make an enormous impact on how EuroLeague plays out this season. 

206 cm big man shined in the EuroCup a year ago, averaging 21.2 points and 7 rebounds per game.

The do-it-all center possesses quite a few skills: great PnR roller and finisher, solid midrange face-up game, can initiate the fast break after getting the rebound, and can defend multiple positions.

Motley's athleticism and quickness make him a perfect partner for Nick Calathes. Slips, lobs, ducks in - you'll see plenty of this and more during the 2022-23 season.

Motley had some struggles in the pre-EuroLeague games when evaluating help defenses and crashing into walls, so there will be some adjustments to make at the start of the campaign.

However, a successful individual season not only could push Fenerbahce into a strong Final Four contender but also open up the talks for an NBA deal next summer.

Why this EuroLeague season is a must-watch?



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