By Cesare Milanti / firstname.lastname@example.org
The perfect word to sum up Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz’s recent four-game EuroLeague winning streak is “belief”, just like Chima Moneke said in the aftermath of the team’s away win vs. LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne last last week.
Moments after posting a double-double, Moneke was pretty clear about the source of the team’s soaring momentum. “I’ll never forget it. The first speech [Dusko Ivanovic] gave to us was about belief and having confidence. And that’s what we did,” he said, praising his new head coach.
Standing far away from the playoff positions following a 14-point road loss at the hands of Mathias Lessort and Panathinaikos Athens in Round 5, the Basque team found its turnaround as Ivanovic, who had just been fired by Crvena Zvezda Meridianbet Belgrade, arrived for his fourth tenure in Vitoria-Gasteiz. From then on, it’s been joyful to watch this team play.
A new captain is in town
Due to some injuries – Vanja Marinkovic, Nikos Rogkavopoulos and Khalifa Diop have missed 13 games between them – and with newly-arrived Chris Chiozza and center Maik Kotsar making a limited impact, there are four main protagonists who have shaped Baskonia‘s winning route.
Starting from the quietest of all, it must be a Lithuanian thing to lead by example at Buesa Arena. Following Rokas Giedratis’s departure to Zvezda, Tadas Sedekerskis took over captainship duties with a vengeance.
Last season, he played 18:39 minutes on average, putting 5.9 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. This season, he’s leads the team with 29:41 minutes per game while nearly averaging a double-double – 9.9 points and 9.6 rebounds, ranking first among all EuroLeague players in the latter category.
His only EuroLeague double-double before this season came against UNICS Kazan in late October 2021. This season, he already has two: against ALBA Berlin with 11 points and 13 rebounds, and over Olympiacos with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
At the same time, the 25-year-old grown from Baskonia’s youth system does plenty beyond the stat sheet: little – but necessary – things are part of his DNA. When he was a last-minute scratch against ASVEL due to flu, something different felt in the team’s dynamics.
A balanced backcourt tandem
Baskonia likes to run the floor, leading the whole EuroLeague in pace (73.9), and Coach Ivanovic relies on players who can shine with high-tempo basketball. Three more members of his squad fit the system perfectly: Markus Howard, Codi Miller-McIntyre and Chima Moneke.
Howard has the highest usage percentage on the team, at 34.0%, and currently stands as its second-best scorer with 17.0 points on average. Moreover, he leads the EuroLeague with 2.9 three-pointers made per game.
Following him, there’s the MVP duo of the latest EuroLeague double-game week, Codi Miller-McIntyre and Chima Moneke, named best players of Round 8 and Round 9, respectively.
Miller-McIntyre wasn’t getting a lot of hype when announced as Nico Mannion’s playmaking partner to replace Darius Thompson, who headed to Anadolu Efes Istanbul. Nonetheless, he has been proving everybody wrong, especially in the three-game span before the win at ASVEL.
He flirted with a triple-double – 9 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists – to open the winning streak against Partizan Belgrade. He took responsibility and nailed a gunslinging mid-range dagger to beat Olympiacos in Piraeus. And he put the cherry on the cake by capturing MVP honors with his 29-PIR performance to take down Barcelona in Round 8. The 29-year-old EuroLeague rookie is also leading the team in assists distributed for three-point shots (37.0%). With just a pinch more of consistency, he can fully take over.
And speaking about consistency, there’s a Mr. Nobody who could teach anyone a thing or two.
Chima Moneke is dominating
Baskonia fans were expecting to see a better version of what Chima Moneke showed in his short time with AS Monaco last season, even though his best performance had come precisely with a double-double of 14 points and 13 rebounds at Buesa Arena. But Moneke, having gone well beyond the greatest expectations, is dominating.
Leading the EuroLeague in PIR (23.6), the Nigerian forward is second only to Nikola Mirotic of Milan in points scored (18.0) and fourth in rebounds (6.9) per game. Besides his excellent shooting rates – 60.0% on 7.5 two-point attempts and 56.0% on 3.1 three-point attempts per game – he’s also 12th in steals (1.4), leading to fruitful fastbreak situations.
With the exception of one start, Moneke brings a unique energy from the bench, boosting his team’s confidence and – as he said – belief. By far his new team’s best player on offense, he leads Baskonia in Individual offensive rating (134.9), signing buckets like a desk-office employee thanks to his 71.0% true shooting percentage.
After his best individual performance of the season in a loss against Zalgiris Kaunas, Moneke was absent for the Olympiacos win. But from then on, he has put Europe on notice, averaging 18.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 4.3 fouls drawn during the current the four-win streak. He has made 17 of 26 two-pointers (65.4%), 9 of 14 threes (64.3%) and 13 of 17 free throws (75.5%) in that span. His perfect 2-for-2 free throws with 1 second left opened the streak against Partizan and he earned the Round 9 MVP nod with a 19-point, 13-rebound, 6-assists show against ASVEL.
Baskonia hosting Moneke’s former team this week will also look like a clash from the past for Monaco star Mike James, who started his EuroLeague career in Vitoria-Gasteiz. Baskonia has the opportunity to extend the winning streak to five games and remain unbeaten in the EuroLeague under Dusko Ivanovic. Belief is the key to keeping the gates Buesa Arena closed to defeats.
PHOTO CREDIT: Turkish Airlines EuroLeague
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Source: Euro Hoops