In the past two seasons the four time EuroLeague Women champions have looked, for lack of a better word, ordinary. In each of the last two seasons they lost more games than in the four championship seasons combined. Explanation there is pretty simple – smaller budget and changed EuroLeague Women rules means that we will not see a day when players of the caliber of Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Sylvia Fowles and Lauren Jackson take the court together wearing the same uniform.
Objectively, the sixth place was where Sparta&K should have finished last season. And they did.
The core of that 6th placed team will be returning. Becky Hammon, Seimone Augustus, Candice Dupree, Sonja Petrovic, Evgenia Belyakova, Nika Baric and Marina Kuzina are all expected to be back (Augustus is participating in the WNBA Finals, so is unlikely to start the season with Sparta&K). It’s pretty obvious what the first three of the mentioned players bring to the table – they will be team leaders and key players for opponents to focus in on. Sonja Petrovic, being versatile as she is, will continue to do whatever is needed while also being a very effective attacker – she was in the top 40 of ELW in true shooting % last season. Belyakova had a very good summer with the Russian NT where she had a major role with the team, averaging more than 24 minutes per game in the Olympics. It should carry over to the club where she seems to be certain will receive more than the 12 minutes she averaged last season. Belyakova alongside Hammon and Petrovic make this Sparta&K team deadly from behind the arc. It also kind of hurt the team because they tend to attack the rim less, forcing less fouls. Last season they were the dead last in free throw attempts per game. Nika Baric could provide improvements in that regard, but she’s still young, raw and inconsistent as last season showed.
Returning Natalia Vieru and signed Isabelle Yacoubou will improve the team’s rebounding – they were outrebounded by their opponents in 11 of 21 games last season (albeit only three times they were outrebounded by 3 or more rebounds). Vieru and Yacoubou combined for 24.1 rebounds per 40 minutes last season, Irina Osipova and Jelena Milovanovic, who left the team in the offseason, combined for 14.9.
Scoring from the post wise, it wouldn’t be surprising for Sparta&K to go with Dupree and Yacoubou for majority of the really competitive games they encounter. While she had a breakout season last year, Natalia Vieru is still young, inexperienced and not as effective scoring wise as Dupree and Yacoubou. If Dupree and Yacoubou had true shooting percentage in the high 50ies (58% and 56%), Vieru had it at 49%. Back with Sparta&K, Vieru will have to be more selective about the shots she takes for her to become more effective on the floor to be on near Dupree and Yacoubou in that regard.
In substituting Jelena Skerovic for Elisa Aguilar, Sparta&K get a steadier option at the point guard position which would limit the team’s turnovers even more (they were tied for the least to’s with Aguilar’s Rivas last season) at the sacrifice of slightly worse scoring abilities.
Sparta&K will almost certainly return to the Final Eight. Personnel wise they could rank at around 4th to 6th in Europe, so everything higher than fourth place at the end of the season would be an exceptional outcome for this team.