After finishing last season as runner-up following a fine campaign, FC Barcelona will be back with even more motivation to go one better and claim the title. Coach Sarunas Jasikevicius has restocked his roster and another season among the leading contenders is the target.
Nick Calathes will continue to be Barça’s leader on the floor, embodying the philosophy of his coach’s team-first mentality. Calathes set a new club record for assists last season and his smooth orchestration of play, along with his underrated defensive skills, will give the team its heartbeat. Another key component is the relentlessly consistent Cory Higgins, who once again demonstrated his nerveless ability to come up with big plays at clutch moments by scoring the game-winning basket in the dying seconds of May’s semifinal against AX Armani Exchange Milan. Calathes and Higgins will have two new backcourt teammates this season following the recruitment of Nicolas Laprovittola and Rokas Jokubaitis. Laprovittola is a creative passer who has gotten better and better every year since first appearing in the competition with Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz five years ago Young Jokubaitis can be counted upon to rapidly develop after being reunited with his mentor Jasikevicius. Swingmen Alex Abrines and Kyle Kuric – who led the league in three-point shooting accuracy last season – add energy and scoring range.
Barça can again count on Nikola Mirotic to lead from the front. Mirotic ranked third in the league in rebounding and eighth in scoring last season; his combination of pure physical power with great dexterity and a smooth shooting stroke make him a nightmare match-up for any opponent. The same can be said for Brandon Davies, whose endless variety of highlight-reel dunks is matched by great athleticism and an insatiable work ethic. A new face in the frontcourt is summer signing Sertac Sanli, who will look to maintain his rapid recent rise towards becoming one of Europe’s top centers and claim a second successive championship. Captain Pierre Oriola brings determined defense and a deceptive shooting range, while Rolands Smits and Sergi Martinez are both big bodies and selfless performers who maintain Barça’s intensity when Mirotic needs a rest. Another new signing is Nigel Hayes, whose gutsy rebounding and three-point shooting threat are well known to Jasikevicius following their time together in Kaunas a couple of seasons ago.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Many observers would claim that Nikola Mirotic is the best power forward in European basketball and his consistently productive performances over the last two seasons certainly back up that argument. Nobody has a higher average performance index rating than Mirotic (20.9, followed by Shane Larkin with 20.7) since he returned to the league a couple of years ago, and he ranks second in rebounding and third in scoring during that timeframe. For everything he has achieved, though, Mirotic is perfectly well aware that the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague title has so far eluded him and, as he approaches his 31st birthday, time might be starting to run out. Nobody will be more determined than Mirotic to take Barça all the way and he will surely continue to be one of the most decisive players in the competition. When Mirotic plays well, Barça plays well. And fortunately for the Blaugrana, that is pretty much always.
With the core of last season’s highly successful team still in place, the motivation of narrowly missing out in last season’s title decider and the addition of some exciting new talents, all the ingredients are in place for Jasikevicius to lead his team on another serious challenge for the EuroLeague crown. If Barça can hit its best form when it matters the most next spring, the Catalan club will take some stopping.