VTB United League clubs were busy over the summer, whether overseeing a total rebuild, bringing in targeted reinforcements or signing a new stars: 14 clubs with 14 very different stories.
CSKA didn’t experience any major departures during the offseason, while making several acquisitions. Head coach Dimitris Itoudis also remained in place, so don’t expect any changes in philosophy on the court. Longtime captain Khryapa is gone, but his absence will be felt most in the locker room. The reigning champions should not have any issue in that regard. Star signing Joel Bolomboy, meanwhile, will try to solve the team’s biggest problem in recent years: shutting down big opponents in the paint. In the end, it’s another solid, well-executed offseason for the champs.
Khimki Moscow Region
Key Acquisition: Jordan Mickey
Loss: James Anderson
Dark Horse: Tony Crocker
Khimki continues to compete in the EuroLeague, which means an NBA-like schedule. After reaching the League final and qualifying for the EuroLeague postseason for the first time in 2018, Moscow Region managed to bring back Alexey Shved. The Yellow-Blues had very few departures, in fact, and focused on improving their depth, which explains several lower-profile signings. But there was at least one splashy move: Jordan Mickey didn’t stick in the NBA, but he could be a star in Europe. Khimki got stronger and doesn’t plan on backing down to anyone.
Zenit St. Petersburg
Key Acquisition: Brandon Jennings
Loss: Kyle Kuric
Dark Horse: Philip Scrubb
Zenit cleaned house again, replacing roughly half of the roster, along with some front office changes. But Vasily Karasev returns as head coach, which means the team will play aggressive defense, run fast breaks and try to score as much as possible. His new bosses were busy, scoring the League’s highest-profile signing of the summer. Brandon Jennings was an NBA star before an Achilles injury, once scoring 55 points in a game. He’s completely healthy now. Kuric’s departure will be alleviated by the arrival of Philip Scrubb, You may not have heard of him, but Scrubb was sensational last season in the Bundesliga. Life is never boring at Zenit and this season will be no exception.
Key Acquisition: Pierria Henry
Loss: Quino Colom
Dark Horse: Artem Klimenko
UNICS underwent a rebuild last season, which proved remarkably successful. There were only a few departures this summer, but they included stalwarts Quino Colom and Stephane Lasme. In response, Kazan raided Tofas, which enjoyed a stunning run to the Turkish league finals last spring. Pierria Henry already played in the VTB League at Vita. The wins should come a lot easier now. Henry has developed into an elite European combo guard who will play a big role at UNICS. Raymar Morgan joins him. Don’t be surprised to see him at the top of the efficiency ratings. Russian national team center Artem Klimenko returns to UNICS for the second time where he will strengthen the frontcourt. Priftis has crafted a disciplined, team-oriented squad in Kazan that will contend for a championship. At the same time, UNICS may be a little short on depth.
Key Acquisition: Isaiah Whitehead
Loss: Ryan Broekhoff
Dark Horse: Dorrell Wright
Lokomotiv crumbled in big games last season and choose to rebuild their roster nearly from scratch. Only the Russian core of Kulagin, Khvostov, Ilnitsky and Ivlev returns. But the club was busy over the summer, signing seven new players, all of whom are expected to make a big impact: from the League’s three-point record-holder Vitaly Fridzon to French national team center Moustapha Fall and NBA champion Dorrell Wright. Isaiah Whitehead can only dream of lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy–he may still get his chance–but is expected to do big things in Krasnodar. Krasnodar has a new roster, but Sasa Obradovic has already shown he can thrive in this type of situation. Kuban will employ its trademark defense and discipline under the Serbian boss, but he will also have several talented one-on-one players at his disposal. This new Loko is very strong on paper, drawing comparisons to the team’s historic 2016 campaign.
Key Acquisition: Trae Golden
Loss: Coty Clarke
Dark Horse: Jackie Carmichael
Vladimir Rodionov promises Avtodor will give its young Russians a chance. One hopes 17-year-old Nikita Mikhailovsky, who carried Russia to the 2018 European Junior Championships semifinal, can become a Russian Doncic. But you can’t get by without foreign players. Coty Clarke was a serious MVP contender last season… He’s gone, but Trae Golden could be the latest star to put up big numbers in the Volga city. Each of Saratov’s eight newcomers have a clause in their contract which reads “I promise to play up-tempo basketball.” There’s no doubt Avtodor will retain its trademark style, spring some upsets and lead the way outside of the League’s Big Five. At the same time, it’s not clear how each of the newcomers will fit into the system.
Key Acquisition: Pavel Antipov
Loss: Stevan Jelovac
Dark Horse: Aaron Broussard
Nizhny Novgorod focused on two categories in the offseason: “key acquisition” and “dark horse.” The Volga club typically build the roster around Russian talent. This season will be no exception as Nizhny signed star forward Pavel Antipov from Lokomotiv-Kuban. He’ll be expected to lead the club in 2018-19 after successful stints in Krasnodar and Kazan. But it’s impossible to imagine the Black-Whites without ambitious foreign players in search of the right circumstances to take their game to the next level. Kendrick Perry and Aaron Broussard, the top players in the Hungarian and Polish leagues last season, respectively, could have a big impact. Zoran Lukic is once again working his magic on the bench in Nizhny Novgorod, finding a way to coax the maximum from each of his players.
Key Acquisition: Austin Luke
Loss: Alex Perez
Dark Horse: Andrejs Grazulis
VEF only lost one player, but Perez’s departure was a big one. The American playmaker ran Riga’s system in 2017-18 and leaves big shoes to fill. VEF settled on an unconventional solution. Austin Luke has a similar style, though he’s focused more on getting teammates involved than his compatriot. But he’s also got a deadly pull-up three-point ala Stephen Curry. VEF once again has several new players, who are largely unknown to the casual fan. The Latvians will try to craft them into another competitive, modern squad that repeats as the League’s top foreign team. Riga’s also not afraid to bring in new players during the course of the season, so don’t be surprised if the team’s true dark horse has yet to be signed.
Key Acquisition: Stefan Moody
Loss: David Kravish
Dark Horse: Vitali Liutych
Tsmoki suffered serious losses. Along with one of last season’s most effective players in David Kravish, Chris Czerapowicz and Devon Saddler also departed Minsk. The Dragons didn’t make any splashy signings, but the fans in Minsk were likely excited by the return of the high-flying Belarusian star Vitali Liutych. He won’t be the only dunker on the team, joining 178-cm Stefan Moody. The Lil Wayne lookalike who can jump like Zach LaVine will be the key driver of Tsmoki’s offense. Alexander Krutikov, meanwhile, will cobble together trademark suffocating defense from the remaining players on the roster.
Key Acquisition: J.J. O’Brien
Loss: Ike Udanoh
Dark Horse: Geoffrey Groselle
Kazakhstan once again has a new team: Nearly all the foreign players left over the summer along with head coach Mikhail Karpenko. There weren’t any star signings, but three-time Macedonian champion Emil Rajkovic knows how to find success in challenging circumstances. The Kazakh club put in hard work: Geoffrey Groselle, who played well in the Bundesliga, will be in charge of the paint, while Kenneth Horton is a versatile stretch forward. The team’s new leader is expected to be former Utah Jazz J.J. O’Brien, known for his all-around game. By all signs, the Kazakh champs will rely more on local talent this season and should be a threat to make the postseason.
Key Acquisition: Rashard Kelly
Loss: Codi Miller-McIntyre
Dark Horse: Eigirdas Zukauskas
Playing in a city with a legendary basketball past, PARMA continues to develop its basketball academy. There are seven homegrown players on the roster, with the possibility of more joining from the youth team. PARMA also actively supports and develops young, hungry players from the NCAA. The Ural club is an excellent launch pad for future stars: Miller-McIntyre signed with Dallas and Ivan Ukhov left to conquer CSKA. It’s hard to predict who will become the next Siberian Mr. Triple-Double or Russian national team prospect. But you can guarantee this ambitious young squad will play an aggressive, up-tempo style and make life difficult for any opponent.
Key Acquisition: Landen Lucas
Loss: Isaiah Briscoe
Dark Horse: Maksim Salash
Here’s another team which on paper appeared to have more departures than replacements. After four years at the University of Kansas under Bill Self, Landen Lucas will try to prove Kalev’s skeptics wrong. Two other Americans joined the club over the summer, along with two Estonians and Maksim Salash, who previously played at Tsmoki-Minsk. Once again, Kalev will try to dig up diamonds in the rough, though the team’s first appearance in the playoffs remains a question mark.
Key Acquisition: John Roberson
Loss: Suleiman Braimoh
Dark Horse: Alex Young
Enisey disappointed in 2017-18, but is ready to make amends. Krasnoyarsk signed several noteworthy players, highlighted by John Roberson.
Playing for Villeurbanne, the point guard averaged 15.8 points and 4.1 assists in the 2017-18 EuroCup, and also set a record for 3-pointers in a game, knocking down 11 against Gran Canaria. His new teammates also have experience in Europe’s toughest leagues–Enisey is counting on veteran warriors. We should note Alex Young, who hit the game-winning triple against Maccabi Ashdod (77-76), helping Ironia preserve a spot in Israel’s top division. By all accounts, Young will be chasing bigger goals at Enisey.
Key Acquisition: Michal Sokolowski
Loss: Edo Muric
Dark Horse: Frank Hassell
Zielona Gora, as expected of a newcomer, is a bit of a mystery. But club owner Janusz Jasinski. dreams of beating CSKA and reaching the playoffs. One of the top Polish players, Michal Sokolowski, had long outgrown the Polish league and was ready to go abroad, but Zielona Gora’s move to the VTB League changed his plans. The Polish national team player was the club’s biggest offseason target. The White-Greens also brought in forward Frank Hassell, who’s nearly averaged a double-double most of his career. Last season at Le Portel he put up 15.7 points and 8.9 rebounds in a strong Pro A league. The Poles promise to pack a punch.