New stars, coaching changes, young generation. What will everyone talk about in the 2021/22 season

New stars, coaching changes, young generation. What will everyone talk about in the 2021/22 season

The off-season is over, the SuperCup at the VTB Arena has already passed, the main part is ahead! The fans are looking forward to the start and the teams are preparing for a long regular season full of events. It’s time to predict what topics will be discussed in the 2021/22 season:

Shved is in CSKA. How will the best scorer in the League history prove himself in the Army team?

Alexey Shved’s transfer to CSKA became one of the most hyped news of the off-season. Army team roster had already looked ready, especially with Nikola Milutinov’s comeback after injury and the signing of the best scoring player in the United League history made Dimitris Itoudis team almost invulnerable.

Over the past 5 seasons in the United League, Shved has scored at least 22 points on average per game and has actually been the leader in points scored for 2 years (3271 points). But will the guard be able to continue in the same spirit with CSKA?

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After all, the Army team has a huge amount of talents and many players are able and like to score points. In the SuperCup games, Shved has already shown that he is not going to pull the blanket on himself in offence – he made only 7 shots on average per game. On the other hand, Alexey does not need to take the CSKA offence completely into his own hands – it will be enough to become part of the system. By the way, Shved also knows how to assist – he became one of the best assistant of the League last season (8.1 assists on average per game)

Loko experiment: a fusion of Russian younths and legionnaires experience

But in Krasnodar, squad has changed dramatically: of all the foreigners, only Alan Williams stayed. Among the bright signings are Eric McCollum, who previously played for UNICS and Khimki, Jonathan Motley and Greg Whittington with the NBA experience, and Darius Thompson, the ex-leader of New Basket Brindici (Italy).

But it is not only legionnaires who are of interest. After all, there is a unique situation in Loko: the only Russian player over the age of 22 is captain Stanislav Ilnitsky. Loko has gathered talented young players who will get a lot of playing minutes at the end of the season.

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There is no doubt that Evgeniy Pashutin will use young basketball players. This could be seen already at the SuperCup: without the injured Stanislav Ilnitsky, Darius Thompson, who was not included in the roster and Greg Whittington, who had not yet came to Russia, Loko gave a fight to UNICS in the 3rd place game – and this despite the fact that at some point there were five Russian talents on the VTB Arena floor at the SuperCup!

The best young player of the League spot is open

It will be even more interesting to watch Loko, realizing that one of the Krasnodar players team may well be named Rookie of the Year – the best young player of the season under 23. Yes, in connection with the lease of 21-year-old Nikita Mikhailovskii to the Australian team, there will be a hunt for this award.

Andrey Martyuk, Vladislav Emchenko, Zakhar Vedishchev-these are not all candidates only from Lokomotiv-Kuban. But in Avtodor, another talent is revealed, Anton Kvitkovskikh, who is already knocking on the doors of the Russian national team in his 20 years. Nizhny Novgorod has a center Alexander Chadov, and Maksim Lichutin moved from MBA to the Nizhniy Novgorod team, who showed himself in pre-season games.

The new UNICS superteam – what can they show?

Dimitris Priftis returned Kazan to the VTB League finals and the Euroleague, after which he left the team. Along with him, a whole scattering of players left, including Kazan team leader of the last 4 years, Jamar Smith.

But over the summer, the Kazan team office actually built a team from scratch: invited the famous Velimir Perasovic, stole Mario Hezonja from Panathinaikos. Artem Komolov and Andrey Vorontsevich from Nizhny Novgorod. And even before the end of the offseason, UNICS managed to make some noise: O. J. Mayo, the third pick of the 2008 NBA draft, is going to Kazan.

As often happens in such situations, the coaching staff needs time to turn a group of players into a complete team: to establish a defensive game, build team chemistry, bring players to the peak of their seasonal form.

The SuperCup games showed that UNICS still has a lot of work ahead, but few people doubt that Kazan will fight for the top places in the season. The question is, will the new coach be able to at least repeat last year’s result and earn a place in the decisive series of the season with his game? The first test in thenew regular season UNICS is waiting for the first game-against Loko on September 23.

Without Pangos, but with Napier. Will Zenit be able to reach the VTB League final for the first time?

Kevin Pangos really wanted to get into the NBA and eventually realized his dream by signing with Cleveland Cavaliers. But Zenit office quickly found a replacement for its best player and brought Shabazz Napier to Europe.

The move was risky: the guard spent his entire career in the NBA and did not take part in the 2020/21 season at all. But in the first SuperCup game, Napier scored 33 points, preventing UNICS from reaching the SuperCup final.

However, already in the first minutes of the final, Shabazz suffered an ankle injury and was out indefinitely. The terms of recovery are not called, but I want to believe that theguard will return to the game as soon as possible.

In an interview, the head of Zenit, Alexander Tserkovniy noted that the goals for the season are to become better than last season. St. Petersburg team has enough talent and experience for its first appearance in the United League final, but the competition has also intensified: UNICS and CSKA have clearly not become weaker, and another last year’s semi – finalist, Loko, will not give up so easily.

Napier, Hezonja, O.J. Mayo – who will be the best newcomer of the season?

The off-season turned out to be rich for transfers. For the first time in the League history, the 3rd pick of the NBA draft will play-this is O. J. Mayo, who became a UNICS player a few days ago. But he is not the only one who will claim the award for the best newcomer of the season. At least he will be accompanied by teammate Mario Hezonja – by the way, the 5th pick of the 2015 draft.

Of course, one of the most effective players of the season can be Shabazz Napier – in the case that the injury of Zenit guard is not too serious and he does not miss a lot of games.

But as practice shows, every player can get the League star status. There is no need to go far for examples: Iffe Lundberg showed super-productive basketball as part of Zielona Gora and already in February received an offer to transfer to CSKA.

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There will probably be surprises in the new season too. For example, Avtodor forward DJ Funderberk, for whom this year is the first in his professional career – before that, the American played in the NCAA. Or someone from the pair of Kamari Murphy – JeQuan Lewis, who became Kalev hero when entering the Champions League. And someone from Loko is capable of achieving things – the same Darius Thompson, who got into the  Champions League 2nd all-tournament team.

Nizhny Novgorod betting on the Russian talents again. Will Zoran Lukic be able to lead this team to the semifinals?

4 months ago, Nizhny was very close to a sensation: Novgorod team almost knocked out CSKA in the quarterfinal series, stopping literally two shots from the semifinal. Of course, it turned out to be extremely difficult to keep this roster: Artem Komolov and Andrey Vorontsevich left for UNICS, Kasey Shepherd – for the Turkish Tofash.

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But it is important to point out that Nizhny Novgorod achieved a similar result with actually one legionnaire – after all, Luke Petrasek and Alex Gavrilovic in total spent a little more than 5 minutes on the floor for the entire playoffs!

Now Nizhny are also betting on Russian players: Pavel Antipov and Dmitry Khvostov returned, Mikhail Kulagin came from Enisey and Egor Sytnikov came from Slovenia. Until the last moment, there were only 2 foreigners in the squad, but as a result, NN enters the season with a legionnaire’s triple.

It is unlikely that the summer changes will throw Nizhny Novgorod behind the playoff zone – especially after another place was vacated in the Top 8 due to the Khimki departure. The question is different: is Zoran Lukic able to lead the team to the semifinals, knocking out one of the favorites from the playoffs- CSKA, UNICS, Zenit or Loko?

Kazys Maksvytis is in PARMA and in the Lithuanian national team at the same time. Will this affect Perm Krai team results?

The Lithuanian basketball federation wanted to appoint Kazis Maksvitis as the head coach of its national team in the summer of 2019, but PARMA signed a contract with a specialist earlier and did not allow him to combine posts. And 2 years later, Maksvytis became the Lithuanian national team head coach, while retaining Parma head coach place.

There are already similar examples in the League: Emil Raikovic managed Astana and the Kazakhstan national team, Gordie Herbert worked in the Canadian national team in addition to Avtodor, and Rostislav Vergun is now combining coaching in Tsmoki and the Belarusian national team.

It is impossible to say unequivocally that Maksvytis appointment to the Lithuanian national team will downgrade Parma results in the season. Although it will be a certain challenge for both the coach and the team because during the season Kazys will need to leave twice – in November and February – to visit his national team.

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On the other hand, last season, for the first time in PARMA history, Maksvytis led it to the VTB League playoffs and there is every chance to repeat the success in the 2021/22 season: Jeremiah Hill moved from Astana, and Artiyom Parakhouski moved from Spain to Perm. Everything is in Parma hands.

Zielona Gora, Kalev, Tsmoki or Astana – who will surprise this year?

In each of the last three seasons, one of theLeague foreign teams has pleasantly surprised. Astana under Emil Raikovic coaching in 2019 showed its best result, becoming the 6th (15-11); Kalev was in 5th place in March 2020, until the season was suspended due to COVID-19: Zielona Gora became a thunderstorm of favorites in the last season, having secured a place in the playoffs in advance.

Who are going to exceed expectations this year? Kalev has already demonstrated its level by advancing to the Champions League. Tsmoki were also close to this, but lost in the qualification dececive game. Zielona Gora, despite the coach change and the squad upgrade, can already boast of the first trophy – the Polish Super Cup. But what will appear before Astana fans? In the summer, Kazakhstan team carried out a large-scale reboot: a new coach, new legionnaires. However, the ambitions probably remained the same.

The best coach of the League-2019 in Avtodor, the new contract of Anzulovic in Enisey. Will Saratov or Krasnoyarsk return to the playoffs?

Avtodor has not been in the Top 8 for 3 seasons already – this is the longest streak without the United League playoffs for the Saratov team. Emil Rajkovic, who became the best coach of the League in the 2018/19 season, is called upon to correct this.

Macedonian specialist task is not easy. Firstly, all the main competitors, including PARMA and Enisey, have strengthened this summer. Secondly, Avtodor will probably expect a result from Raikovic as soon as possible, but it will not be so easy to do this: in the first month, the Saratov team will have game with Loko, Zenit and UNICS. Well, Emil Raikovic has already taught everyone that he knows how to find a way out of difficult situations.

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In his first game at the head of Enisey Drazen Anzulovic beat CSKA. However, the Krasnoyarsk team has never made it to the playoffs in 2 seasons. But in the summer, Enisey extended the contract with the Croatian coach – Anzulovic will have another chance to confirm his coaching skills.

Enisey should not have a lack of playing practice because in addition to the United League, Krasnoyarsk will also play in the FIBA Europe Cup. Anzulovic’s team will start with the qualification round, the games of which, by the way, will be held in the “bubble” in Krasnoyarsk. This will be an excellent test for Enisey,because if the team cannot get into the fourth strongest European tournament, then it will be extremely difficult to compete for the United League playoffs.

The All-Star Game format – how will the main Russian basketball show take place?

In addition to the sports component itself, entertainment is already planned in the United League schedule – this is the All-Star Game-2022. It will be held at the VTB Arena in Moscow on February 20. And there are tickets pre-sale for the event.

But the format of the ASG is still kept in secret. The VTB League has already shown basketball of the future and staged the first basketball musical in history. To surprise the audience, the League will have to try hard. But looking at the previous All-Star Games, there is no doubt that the show will be organized at the highest level.

Alex Norman