A high-scoring offense and a trip to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four has almost become an annual tradition for CSKA Moscow in May. The same is true this season as the top four teams are set to face off in Cologne, Germany.
CSKA heads to its record ninth consecutive Final Four as the top-scoring team in the competition. CSKA has averaged 84.4 points per game, just a tad ahead of its semifinals opponent, Anadolu Efes Istanbul, which ranks second at 84.1.
Being the best scoring team in the competition is far from new for CSKA. Since Dimitris Itoudis took over at the bench of the Russian powerhouse in 2014, CSKA is the only team that has scored more than 20,000 total points and its 87.0 points per game are almost 3 points better than the next best team over those seven years.
This season, however, CSKA has earned its distinction as a top-scoring team in a bit of a different manner; CSKA’s secret to topping the EuroLeague scoring charts has been its offensive rebounding.
So far this season CSKA’s numbers shooting the basketball from the field have been mere average. The team ranks ninth in both two-point (53.1%) and three-point (38.2%) accuracy. And while CSKA is third with 10.1 triples made, it is in the bottom half of the rankings in both two-pointers made (19.3 per game) and attempted (36.4).
However, no team has averaged more possessions per game (83.3) this season and rebounding has been critical in allowing CSKA to have more chances to score than any other team in the league.
CSKA leads the league this season in rebounds (35.6 rpg.) and offensive rebounds (12.7 orpg.). That is more than 1 offensive rebound better on average than the second-best team (Panathinaikos OPAP Athens at 11.6 orpg.). In a season when only five teams averaged double-digits in rebounds, CSKA’s total offensive boards (469) is already a single-season record and its offensive rebounding average is the second-best by any team since the EuroLeague changed to round-robin format where each team plays everyone twice.
CSKA’s 12.7 offensive boards are the club’s best mark ever in the competition, shattering its previous club record (11.8 orpg.) from last season, meaning that the club, which has made 17 of the last 18 Final Fours, has crashed the offensive glass like never before.
Another secret has been CSKA’s ability to get to the free-throw line. Coach Itoudis’s men have been better at that than any other team in the competition.
CSKA draws more fouls (21.6) than any other team in the league and has taken more free throws than anyone else, 20.2 attempts per game with Efes a distant second at 18.1. CSKA has not been great at converting those opportunities, with second-worst 75.9% from the foul line, but the team still gets 15.3 points per game from the free-throw line, another best mark in the league.
Many of those opportunities are a result of the team’s fantastic work on the offensive glass. CSKA had only seven games this season with single-digit offensive rebounds and it is the only team with as many as five different players averaging at least 1.4 offensive rebounds per game.
Injured center Nikola Milutinov led the way with 4.4 per game, which is the most ever for a player with at least 20 appearances in a season. Even after Milutinov was lost to injury in early February, CSKA continued crashing the offensive boards with aplomb and led the playoffs with 11.0 offensive rebounds per game.
Rewarding itself with extra possessions, many of which are close-range, second-chance opportunities, may be one of the keys for CSKA to be successful in Cologne.