Olympiacos Piraeus was in the thick of the playoff hunt when last season came to a premature end. Coach Georgios Bartzokas now has six new faces to add to the mix who could push the Reds over the hump and make them a serious contender. The biggest name is the three-time champion and 2018-19 All-EuroLeague First Team selection Kostas Sloukas, who returns to Olympiacos after five seasons with Fenerbahce Istanbul and will step into a lead role in the backcourt. Defensive wiz Charles Jenkins, combo-guard Giannoulis Larentzakis and three-point ace Aaron Harrison ensure that Bartzokas will have plenty of backcourt versatility and depth. The two newcomers to the frontcourt bring athleticism and excitement in bunches. Power forward Livio Jean-Charles was a EuroLeague starter last season with LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne and Hassan Martin dominated as a 7DAYS EuroCup rookie with Buducnost VOLI Podgorica.
Led by Vassilis Spanoulis, the backcourt has long been a strength for Olympiacos and the 2020-21 season will be no different.
Spanoulis is the competition's career leader in points scored and assists and last season he showed that he still has plenty left in the tank. Sloukas and Spanoulis already shared the floor for four seasons together at Olympiacos during which they won the EuroLeague twice. He took on an even bigger role with Fenerbahce and now back home and alongside Spanoulis could be up to something special. Jenkins, who enters his eighth EuroLeague campaign, has combined elite defense against the opponent's best guards with great outside shooting to play a big role on every team he's been with. Swingman Shaquielle McKissic signed with Olympiacos in February and managed to play in only three games, but in that time displayed the levels of aggressiveness and confidence needed to be a go-to guy. Harrison was among the best scorers and had the third-most three-pointers made in the EuroCup over the past two seasons. Only 25 years old, he is stepping up for a bigger challenge in his EuroLeague debut. Another backcourt weapon in the mix is Greek national team player Larentzakis, who returns home after playing in Spain last season. Antonis Koniaris, 22, cracked the EuroLeague rotation last season thanks to his tough defense and strong three-point shooting. Alexandros Nikolaidis, 18, dominated at the Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament Valencia Qualifier last season before making his EuroLeague debut and he figures to acquire more minutes and experience this season. Small forward Vasileios Christidis is in his second season with the club and will be hoping to crack the rotation and make his EuroLeague debut.
Kostas Papanikolaou is a model for what makes Olympiacos special. His blend of size and speed gives him the versatility to play either forward position and his aggressiveness in attacking the rim and on defense paired with his outside shooting make Papanikolaou a potential mismatch at all times. Team captain Georgios Printezis is already a club legend and remains one of the most effective power forwards in the competition. He has averaged double-figures in scoring in nine consecutive seasons and is among the leading rebounders in EuroLeague history. Some might call Jean-Charles a younger version of Printezis. He comes off a successful first EuroLeague season with LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne in which he displayed his speed, athleticism and scoring touch. Another option at the '4' is Sasha Vezenkov, who provides instant offense off the bench. He ranked fourth among forwards last season in per-minute scoring (20.9 prorated over 40 minutes) in part thanks to his elite three-point shooting. Vasilis Charalampopoulos enjoyed a brilliant career in the youth categories but has yet to make his mark. After spending much of last season on loan, he will try to crack Coach Bartzokas's rotation in 2020-21. Octavius Ellis joined the Reds midway through last season after starring in the EuroCup and made a quick impact. The athletic center impacts the game on both ends, anchoring the defense as a rim-protector and tough rebounder while emerging as an amazing pick-and-roll partner at the other end. Martin, who dominated the EuroCup in his first season there, will play in the EuroLeague for the first time. His game is similar to Ellis's as an elite defender whose impressive physical traits make him a dangerous foe on offense, too.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Sloukas first arrived at Olympiacos as a teenage prospect and left six years later as a hard-working sixth man on a team that won back-to-back championships and reached three Final Fours in four seasons. It was during his next five seasons with Fenerbahce Istanbul that Sloukas became a go-to guy. He emerged as a floor general on another championship side, reached four more Final Fours and won it all in 2017. Sloukas was named to the All-EuroLeague First Team for the 2018-19 season. He ranked third in the league in assists during his five years with Fenerbahce and is one of only eight guards to total 1,000 points over the past three seasons. Sloukas now returns to Olympiacos with a different status than ever before. He will benefit from having a coach and several players who worked with him before, a host of scoring options to feed around him and the support of the local fans. However, he cannot supplant local legends Spanoulis and Printezis as team leaders. For Olympiacos to be at its best, Sloukas must carve out his own role as the point guard while making all those around him better, just like he did with Fenerbahce. It's a task he is surely up for.
Watch out for Olympiacos, model 2020-21. This team has a cast of characters that can be effective in almost any setting. The depth allows Coach Bartzokas to play smaller, faster lineups or taller imposing lineups. He can sting bigger defenses with lineups of three-point shooters or turn to a lock-down fivesome of defensive stalwarts. The team's combination of depth, versatility, experience, hunger, athleticism and shooting could be a special mix. What's more, Olympiacos has well-defined leaders who should help bring everyone together quickly. Although a return to the playoffs should be the club's initial goal, don't count out a deep run in the competition for these Reds.