The long layoff did not stop Round 1 of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague from being an absolute slugfest.
After just one game and several key players nursing injuries around the league, there is only so much to take away from the standings, but several EuroLeague teams scored hard-fought wins that figure to hold up well over the course of the season. Zenit St Petersburg’s upset at Anadolu Efes Istanbul and Zalgiris Kaunas’s comeback to beat Olympiacos Piraeus away both stand out.
Efes, in first place when last season ended abruptly, returned the core of a team that ranked among the top offenses in EuroLeague history. Even considering that Efes was without Shane Larkin, Zenit’s win in Istanbul figures to age well. Kevin Pangos came up big for Zenit with 23 points in just his third EuroLeague game since the conclusion of the 2018-19 season.
Zalgiris used a balanced effort to get over an Olympiacos team that is historically difficult to beat in Piraeus. While crowds may not factor into home-court advantage this season yet, travel remains a drawback for road teams, so early away wins against quality opponents could prove invaluable later in the season.
Round 1 of the EuroLeague resembled a street fight, with five games decided by 4 or fewer points and teams collectively scoring 1.02 points per shot – well below last season’s 1.10 standard. After the long layoff, there was inevitably going to be some early-season rust to shake off, especially for teams whose preseason preparations were interrupted. That showed up most vividly on the perimeter, where teams made just 0.92 points per three-pointer in half-court situations – down from 1.12 during the 2019-20 campaign, whose figures you see below.
As is often the case with small, early-season sample sizes, a regression to the mean is inevitable, and the graphic above displays what the mean points per-shot were on attempts from 12 zones on the floor and the free throw line last season. Color-coded for efficiency and listing the percentage of field goal attempts coming from each cluster of zones, the graph reveals some straight-forward insights about shot locations in the EuroLeague.
The low value of midrange shots and the high value of free throws and corner threes is low-hanging fruit in modern basketball analytics, but only 17% of all shots in the Euroleague are two-point jump shots and corner attempts make up just 8% of the total. Digging a little deeper, two zones are included for midrange shots in the middle of the floor to show the layer of nuance to what, specifically, does work in the midrange in the EuroLeague. It shows that teams score around 25% more points per shot on short midrange attempts from the middle of the floor than they do from any other angle where short and long midrange attempts tend to have similar values.
In addition to getting more points per shot in the top of the paint, the value of players who can drive the ball increases in the diagram above, which distributes the value of shooting fouls and the points scored on the resulting free throws to each zone.
When accounting for the value of added free throws – and knowing that 99.9% of all shooting fouls were drawn within 2 meters of the basket last season – the importance of a player who can get to the zone and put pressure on the rim is clear. When free throws are relocated to where the shooting fouls were called, the value of shots attempted around the basket grows, especially in contrast to other two-point shots. On average, a shot inside of 2 meters was more than twice as valuable as any midrange shot taken outside the paint. Although, for some teams, two-pointers in the high-post area were almost as valuable as three-pointers taken from straight on looks at the basket.
Looking Ahead to Round 2
The challenges that players face this season both on and off floor are unprecedented. In Round 1, that manifested on the perimeter, as the diagram above covering last week’s games suggests. It remains to be seen how quickly a regression to the mean will come or if the dip in shot values on the perimeter was just a blip on the radar, but it will be worth watching in Round 2 to see if there is a marked efficiency in attacking the rim – and which teams attempt to exploit it.