Spent almost a week in Greece in Athens and Thessaloniki. Saw only two games, Olympaicos vs Fenerbahce and PAOK vs Panathinaikos. Since I didn’t see a lot this will be a little bit of a different Journal than my BBL post. The article will only touch on the players and teams I saw, so just the three Greek teams.
Greece is where it is now. Basically a two team league, with two to three other teams being relevant in Europe and the rest of the league can sometimes feel close to a 2nd division. There’s still some cool cheap import talent on these lowers teams that can breakout. Lavrio and Promitheas Patras have surprised this year and currently are in the top 4 of the table. But what is the future of the league after Olympiacos and Panathinaikos and can anyone ever come to challenge them?
In the local game I saw, PAOK was really with PAO in the first half. And then PAO came out of halftime, got out in transition, hit some shots, built a +15 lead and that was that. PAOK had a couple ‘maybe comebacks’ but they are heavily relying on a couple of players and it was too much to ask. Difference is, as at any point one of 10 different players for PAO can go off. The gap between Euroleague and Eurocup teams is big enough but the gap between Euroleague teams and those below Eurocup and top FIBA BCL teams, it’s not comparable. These Euroleague teams are spending huge budgets on local and import talent as well as depth, they need the bodies for a long season. Other teams playing in FIBA competitions or just domestic league only (and especially in Greece) are curating their rosters down to the very last penny. Every spot that’s given a somewhat real salary is needed to play their role every game. There are holes, and there is certainly a lack of top playmaking with low money. But there is no excess, no game where some players don’t have to pitch in. And injuries, player issues, roster changes are detrimental to these teams. Everyone outside of Euroleague teams basically don’t have great depth. So it’s tough to compete when teams are preparing for such different seasons. Aris, PAOK, and AEK are still relevant and have made some attempts in past year to fight the top 2 with a breakout signing here and there but it’s extremely hard to consistently challenge them.
The league is still incredibly physical. The pushing, grabbing, and clawing in games is astounding. Greece is the most physical league in Europe. And for a young import player it’s somewhere to learn the Euro game. You can get solid exposure but also learn how to play in such a brute environment.
Of course financial stability is the key in Greece. Only spend what you have and be very smart in your scouting. Look for young players in NCAA, D-League, and in smaller leagues throughout Europe to come to your team as a way to move up. Develop them and become an attractive place for blooming talent. But this happens with an investment in your own infrastructure, really scouting and having the people to do it (beyond coaching staff), and looking long-term. And in these financial times that’s certainly hard. Teams will say it’s impossible to do. But it must be done or at least given a solid attempt. And certainly some teams are already working on this.
Interesting Young Players
All of the players are born in 1992 or later.
Ioannis Papapetrou | Olympiacos
Papapetrou has a slightly larger role now with Olympiacos as he is in his 4th year in what seems like will be a lifetime contract. He can be a tease, has the body, smooth game, and some inside-out ability. But whether it’s a lack of offensive chances or aggressiveness, he hasn’t totally broken out quite like his fellow Greek teammates have in the past. The spot-up 3 really needs to be cleaner. That would give him a chance to potentially play abroad at the same level. And to add an ability to really take contact, draw fouls. Still has tools and really is a smooth player.
Lukas Lekavicius | Panathinaikos
Just a baller. At PAO he’s second fiddle to Calathes who’s having such a great season. But Lekavicius still makes an impact. Tough driver, gets in the lane and makes a shot or gets up a floater. Has such touch. The Greek League is so physical and PAOK tried to bang him around but he kept pushing the ball, trying to get inside. He provides a nice change of pace for the 2nd unit. With Calathes controlling the ball a lot and constantly running PnR, Lekavicius comes in to really look for his own shot. He’s not big physically on any level but his toughness certainly translates anywhere.
Nikola Milutinov | Olympiacos
A little bit different from the other guys on this list because he really is a legit producer game to game, high up in the rotation. Milutinov has done somewhat of transformation to relative robot stick figure to a body that can bang with more mobility. Really can be used as PnR roll finisher. He hammers the offensive glass. Somewhere to grow is his defensive rebounding, often he can have more or the same amount of offensive rebounds than defensive. He doesn’t turn 24 till the very end of the year and the Euroleague has a dearth of really good Euro big men. He’s one of them moving forward.
Kyle Wiltjer | Olympiacos
For Wiltjer it has been a slightly disappointing season but at least he has a clear role moving forward. He’s really tall and just needs to spot-up on the weakside because when he’s on he’s truly an elite shooter. But he still plays a bit robotic. Not that much of a factor on the glass. Had a fast break opportunity vs Fener where he was pushing the ball but tried to dribble behind his back and the ball was stolen. Olympiacos is a big jump for a Euro rookie and 2nd year pro.
Zach Auguste | Panathinaikos
Started the game vs PAO but was just off. Darnell Jackson had 12 first quarter points, mostly against him and PAOK led the game while he as in. Missed an easy attempt near the rim, got fouled, missed the FT’s. Just played very loose, and it’s tough to get in a flow with such inconsistent minutes. Auguste still has an interesting frame for the high level and has been a force in the paint in college and at times in Turkey last season. Now PAO has brought in Adrien Payne, so Auguste’s small amount of minutes might be even less, so probably we’ll have to hold out a longer evaluation till his next spot.
Lucky Jones | PAOK
Jones certainly isn’t of the young import quality of the players on Euroleague teams but he’s still an interesting player for mid-level Europe in the future. He’s having a solid season but couldn’t get rolling vs PAO. Needs to be setup and PAOK’s creators had trouble getting into real sets. He was an active cutter but missed an easy reverse layup in the 4th and didn’t sub back in. The body and strength are there, he really needs to focus on finishing shots. Certainly has defensive potential guarding forwards. And wings.
Dinos Mitoglou (1996) | Panathinaikos
Rookie from Wake Forest has proven himself a rotation player. Super tall for a 4. Mitoglou has always had stretch ability but now his body looks more fluid and he’s playing more physical inside. Had 10 rebounds in 20 minutes vs PAOK. Even played some 5. Biggest thing was just how much better he is running and banging then he was in college. Smoother. Looked stronger, more proportional. He worked hard, stayed focused. Was really getting beaten inside but was willing to continue banging.
Vassilis Charalampopoulos (1997) | PAOK
He is a dominant youth player who killed in FIBA competitions at the U16, U18, and recently this summer at the U20 tournament. Now is in a transition to the pro level after starting out his career with Panathinaikos the last two season. The bulky forward is a post-up threat vs smaller 3’s but couldn’t get it going on the block vs PAO. Committed three turnovers in the game. And then he was given spot-up chances but was 0/3 3FG. The spot-up 3 needs to be a serious threat, for the season he’s 17/39 3FG.
Antonis Koniaris (1997) | PAOK
Quite tall for a PG, always had a lanky frame. He’s PAOK’s backup PG and gets to run the 2nd unit. Really showed creativity, has a variety of passes in PnR and is a threat to pull-up from 3. PAOK really needs his playmaking. But he makes wild passes. Threw away 2 big passes in consecutive possessions that catapulted PAO’s fast break. That needs to be cleaned up. But the creativity, vision, ability to make a play with the ball are real. Defensively he was very crafty, got his hands on a lot of balls. He forced a PAO in-bounds pass into a turnover and on another play forced a backcourt violation. He’s a pest on that end.
City: Thessaloniki. I mean Athens was absolutely amazing but there’s something about Salonica that I really connected with. More of a working mans city but all the history has been preserved. And when you have the mountains leading to the sea it’s a super vibe. Crazy how late the Greeks stay out, there’s something going on and something to eat at all hours of the day and night. I’d highly recommend going up to the old castle on top of the city and wandering around those neighborhoods, fun place to get lost. Also where the picture is from.
Food: For food I’ll talk about Athens but the food everywhere in Greece was amazing. O Kostas for Souvlaki was the best one I had during the whole trip. But actually my first meal, at 11:30 PM when I arrived in Athens was amazing. At Press Cafe (Black Sheep) in Pangrati neighborhood. It had nice outdoor seating and I got a Greek beer, bread, a type of spanakopita, and a meat with eggplant dish that was all mixed up together. It was incredible.
Arena: My seat at SEF was high up and the arena can feel far away so I’ll go with PAOK arena. My seat was great, the fans were intense and every spot in the building has a good view. There’s some history in many of these Greek arenas and clubs and you can feel it.