Anadolu Efes Istanbul has reached the EuroLeague Playoffs in each of the past three odd-ending years and Coach Ergin Ataman will accept no less than that in his first full season with the club since 2010. After a disappointing campaign last year, which saw Ataman join midway through, Efes has a new-look roster with nine new players. The backcourt has been almost entirely overhauled with guards Shane Larkin, Rodrigue Beaubois, Vasilije Micic and Ahmet Tuncer arriving. Small forward James Anderson will also deliver scoring punch, while veteran power forward Adrien Moerman and center Tibor Pleiss bring much experience. Turkish players James Metecan Birsen and Sertac Sanli also provide hungry options for the frontline. It is noteworthy that of the newcomers, only Tuncer does not have previous EuroLeague experience.
Ataman will have a chance to get creative with his new-look backcourt, which should have two ball-handlers on the floor most of the time. Larkin fits the classic role of team-first playmaker, though he will score too, when the opportunities are there. Beaubois could become the team's first option on offense and Micic is a classic combo-guard who could thrive in either role. Dogus Balbay, now in his eighth season with Efes, is a feared ball hawk and will make his biggest contributions on the defensive end of the floor. Swingmen Krunoslav Simon and Anderson are small forwards who could both play at shooting guard if Ataman seeks a big lineup. Simon does some of everything, while Anderson likes to attack, crashes the boards, defends passing lanes, and thrives in transition. Birkan Batuk, a traditional small forward, is a lights-out shooter when free. Tuncer, a proven scorer in the Turkish League, will test himself at the highest European level. Teenagers Yigitcan Saybir and Onuralp Bitim round out the roster and will take any opportunity they get to learn for the future.
The partnership of Brock Motum and Bryant Dunston returns, with Moerman and Pleiss joining them to create a versatile lineup. Motum and Moerman are new-school power forwards who can rebound and hit three-pointers to stretch opposing defenses. Dunston, a two-time EuroLeague Best Defender and former All-EuroLeague selection, is ranked third all-time in blocks. He gives the team strength inside, while the 2.18-meter Pleiss is a rim-protector based on height, ranks 10th all-time in blocks and scores his fair share. Birsen, a former Adidas Next Generation Tournament Finals MVP, will seek his chances to earn playing time, while Sanli provides depth and experience at center.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Beaubois has been a dangerous and efficient scorer at every step of his career. Under Ataman, he could find the freedom to take his game to the next level. As a part-time starter in two seasons with KIROLBET Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz, Beaubois averaged 12.1 points in just over 20 minutes per game. His 23.2 points per 40 minutes over that period was exceeded only by former EuroLeague MVP Nando De Colo among players appearing in more than 40 games. This season Beaubois has everything around him to succeed: talented guards to help him get his shot, power forwards with great outside shooting ability to open up the floor, and great rebounders and rim-protectors who can put Beaubois in position to capitalize in transition. At age 30, if Beaubois is finally unleashed, he may be primed for the best season of his career.
The 2018-19 Efes squad goes 12 men deep. There are great scorers, fine rebounders and elite defenders. The team has the versatility to play with big or small lineups. The players are both hungry – only two have ever reached the Final Four – and experienced. Essentially, all the tools are in place for a great season. However, with nine new players, including his three main guards, Efes may not click right away. It will take time for Ataman to get everyone on the same page . As soon as that happens, it should be a very exciting season for the fans at Sinan Erdem Dome.