Consistency and clutch play are the calling cards of a league in which 43% of all possessions this season take place with a difference of just 6 points or less on the scoreboard.
With every team among the top eight in the standings at the end of Round 4 facing off with another team in the top eight, FC Barcelona, AX Armani Exchange Milan, Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow were the survivors – but just – of a very competitive Round 5. The latter three of those teams won at home by a combined 10 points.
Competing on a knife’s edge
While every round features a couple of sizeable wins, the current format of the EuroLeague has made for a lot of very close games over the last couple years. Round 5 featured four games decided by a single possession each. With parity reaching new heights last season, teams have had to get comfortable being uncomfortable because big leads are increasingly hard to come by.
The graph above shows the percentage of all EuroLeague possessions played at different score margins so far this season. It indicates that a remarkable 34% of all EuroLeague play takes place during “one-possession games” – that is, moments when the score is tied or neither team is ahead by more than 3 points, therefore a single made shot can erase difference or flip who’s leading.
What’s more, 43% of all EuroLeague possessions happen when the scored difference is 6 points or fewer – a “two-possession game”. After that, things begin to level off, and though it may be difficult for teams to build big leads at this level of competition, those that manage to do so often can extend them against opponents from near the bottom of the standings.
One team, in particular, has been playing on a knife’s edge so far this season: Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul. Through five games, Fenerbahce has spent a staggering 73% of its possessions facing margins of 6 points or less on the scoreboard. On the opposite end of the spectrum, just 33% of Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv’s possessions have come in one- or two-possession situations. UNICS Kazan is unique in another way: fully 12% of its possessions are played with the score tied!
“In the EuroLeague, one false step or clutch play winds up being the difference between winning and losing.”
Madrid and CSKA may not be unbeaten, but both are playing exceptionally well. Madrid has led by 7 points more during a EuroLeague-high 53% of its possessions. CSKA has been ahead on the scoreboard during a top-ranked 66% of its own. Those numbers add some intrigue to the top of standings, where undefeated Barcelona has led by 7 points or more at a rate of 40% and has yet to fall behind in any game, not even once, by double digits. Milan, also perfect at 5-0, is perhaps the best example of a team whose ability to win close games has exceeded its ability to build or keep leads.
There are plenty of lenses through which to view this data, but the bottom line is that parity in the Euroleague goes beyond the standings to be seen, even more granularly, in the possession-by-possession flow of individual games, which are far more likely to be tests of consistency than battles of runs. In the EuroLeague, one false step or clutch play winds up being the difference between winning and losing.
Looking ahead to Round 6
Fenerbahce’s ability to keep games close will be put to the test in Round 6 as they welcome Barcelona to the Ulker Sports and Event Hall. It will be interesting to see if Fenerbahce remains a magnet for in-game drama against the team that sits atop the EuroLeague standings.