Starting (five) from the beginning: Olympiacos edition

By John Rammas/ [email protected]

Of the 270 players have participated so far this season in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague and only 20 of them have started all their teams’ games.

Among those 20, five of them are the Olympiacos starters. Along among all EuroLeague teams, Olympiacos has used the same starting five in all the team’s 17 games – so far.

PG: Thomas Walkup
SG: Tyler Dorsey
SF: Kostas Papanikolaou
PF: Sasha Vezenkov
C: Moustapha Fall

Does it seem unusual to you? If the answer is yes, then we need to find another word to describe the fact that three players of this starting five are new on the team. Only Papanikolaou and Vezenkov continue from last season.

However, if it works, then what can you say?

“No matter if you are a starter or come off the bench, you have the same goal: To give your maximum, so that the team gets the result,” Walkup told Eurohoops.

It’s easy if you think this way and it proves beyond any doubt that the Reds have a roster with defined roles and players who are ready to contribute and sacrifice for the common good.

Obviously, the results have played their part in the fact that the Olympiacos starting five has not changed so far, not even once. Holding third place in the EuroLeague standings with a 12-5 record only reinforces the old saying: “Don’t tinker with something that works.”

You may find this simplistic, but the numbers are impressive. Olympiacos has had some spectacular first quarters with those players on the court. There are times in which the starting five of Olympiacos simply doesn’t change throughout the first period and defines the outcome more than early in some games.

There are three games that stand out in that regard:

28-13 vs. Bitci Baskonia Victoria-Gaisteiz (75-50, R1)
35-8 vs. Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv (90-73, R11)
26-10 vs. Bayern Munich (83-60, R15)

In 17 games total, Olympiacos has won first quarter 12 times and ended up winning nine of those games.

What’s even more interesting is that Olympiacos has a perfectly balanced rotation. With the exception of Sasha Vezenkov, who is the second scorer of the team – 12.7 ppg., behind only Tyler Dorsey (13.5) – and also the top rebounder (5.5 rpg), the best in steals (1 spg), and also in PIR (16-6 per game), no other Olympiacos player stays on the court for more than 23:05 minutes per game.

“It’s really something special, however, what always counts is the result,” Vezenkov who averages 28:25 minutes per game explained to Eurohoops. “And the result is decided when the final buzzer sounds and not on the tipoff. All players try to give 100%, regardless of when we enter the game. This is what I do. If you ask me what I have in mind when the game starts and I am on the floor, it’s to do my best so that the team can start strong and lay the foundations of the wins.”

It has to be noted that behind Vezenkov and Dorsey (23:05), veteran guard Kostas Sloukas (23:00) has the next-most minutes on the team, despite coming off the bench.

That’s a big change, especially for Sloukas, who started in 33 out of 34 games for Olympiacos last year. The player who left Fenerbahce after five seasons (2015-20) in order to be the heir to Vassilis Spanoulis, has a different starting point each game this season, but it works. Sloukas is contributing big: 10.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.1 apg, 0.9 spg, 1.6 tpg.

Olympiacos had not only thrived with its steady lineup, but the fact that the team has stayed health has permitted head coach Giorgos Bartzokas to have the same starting five in all games so far, something that is truly rare even just halfway through a season.

For the record, the only other 10 players who are always starters are the following: Nikola Mirotic (FC Barcelona), Scotty Wilbekin (Maccabi Playtica Tel Aviv), Chris Jones (LDLC ASVEL), Jan Vesely (Fenerbahce BEKO Istanbul), Pierria Henry (Fenerbahce BEKO Istanbul), Alexey Shved (CSKA Moscow), Nikita Kurbanov (CSKA Moscow), Augustine Rubit (FC Bayern Munich), Savon Shields (AX Armani Exchange Milan), Nicolo Melli (AX Armani Exchange Milan).

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