When you talk about the most popular play in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague, the pick-and-roll, several familiar stars and one new name are standing tallest so far this season.
Round 13 featured the best offensive matchup of the season on paper as the EuroLeague’s top-ranked offensive team in terms of efficiency, Valencia Basket, hosted the second-ranked team, Anadolu Efes Istanbul, in La Fonteta. Averaging 1.04 and 1.03 points per possession entering the game, respectively, Efes outscored Valencia 1.01 points per possession to 0.94 on Thursday, but used 9 fewer possessions, coming up short as a result. As much as Valencia’s scoring efficiency has driven its offensive success to this point, it was their rebounding and Klemen Prepelic’s late-game heroics that were the difference in Round 13.
Looking towards the top of the standings, CSKA Moscow got one of the more impressive individual performances in recent memory as Mike James poured in a career-high 36 points in a win over Khimki. James scored 18 points in ball-screen situations alone – among the top single-game marks in modern history.
The graphic above lists the EuroLeague’s top five pick-and-roll scorers through Round 13. Fully 41% of all possessions this season have been derived from pick-and-rolls. Of those, roughly half result in passes and the other half ballhandlers keep the possession. Those ball screens that become passes are converted for an average of 1.11 points per possession while ballhandlers score a far less impressive 0.81 points per possession. The EuroLeague average for all half-court situations, keep in mind, sits at 0.96 points per possession.
Guard play is critical to success in the EuroLeague and that is due in large part to the prevalence of the pick-and-roll. Having multiple players who can make the right play and find a balance between scoring and passing is a requisite for success offensively. Having one that can do so while looking for his own shot efficiently is a luxury.
There are no surprises on the list above. Khimki Moscow Region team has relied heavily on Alexey Shved for half a decade and runs more ball-screen actions than any team in the EuroLeague this season. Vasilije Micic and Shane Larkin were the driving force behind Efes’s historically proficient play on offense last season, while Wade Baldwin IV has stepped into a big role with FC Bayern Munich in his second season in Europe.
Perhaps the most notable element of this list lies below the surface and shows just how efficient Mike James has been this season relative to his peers. Scoring 1.00 points per possession looking for his own shot out of the pick-and-roll, James has stood out. Only Jordan Loyd of Crvena Zvezda mts has scored over 0.97 points per possession among the EuroLeague’s 10 highest volume ball handlers.
James’s combination of efficiency and volume is truly unique; no player in EuroLeague history has ever scored more than 1.00 points per pick-and-roll possession while using over 8 possessions per game. His Round 13 performance against Khimki was a reflection of that, as he scored 18 points over just 10 pick-and-roll possessions. After averaging 0.94 points per possession last season and 0.86 in the two years before that operating out of ball screens, James has begun to translate his explosive shot-making more consistently in the two-man game. It will be fascinating to see if he can maintain his current level of performance as it figures to put him on a collision course with EuroLeague MVP honors and help keep CSKA in the mix atop the standings.
Looking Ahead to Round 14
While CSKA hosts Anadolu Efes in a battle of two of the league’s top pick-and-roll attacks, Zenit St Petersburg’s game with FC Bayern Munich figures to be an interesting matchup as well. Tied for third in the EuroLeague in defensive efficiency, these two teams have exceeded expectations in a major way to this point. The have combined for 16 victories already, which is the same number of games they won through the 28 rounds completed during the 2019-20 regular season. With both clubs on pace to dwarf their eight-win efforts a year ago, this matchup features the league’s two most pleasant surprises.