The well-established star facing the younger, rising talent sets the scene for stories in sports, fictional or otherwise. In Round 21 of EuroLeague competition, it’s the reality of a potential MVP showdown.
Panathinaikos welcomes Anadolu Efes on Friday, a matchup that pits two of EuroLeague’s premier point guards against each other. On the Panathinaikos side is Nick Calathes, the 2017-18 All-EuroLeague First Team selection and a preseason favorite to win Most Valuable Player in 2018-19.
Calathes—who will turn 30 six days after leading his team against Efes—has performed up to lofty standards. He leads EuroLeague with 8.05 assists per game, trails only Fenerbahce’s Jan Vesely (another strong MVP candidate in his own right) with 1.65 steals per game and is averaging 11.3 points per game.
Calathes is putting together a standout individual campaign, but Panathinaikos finds itself at 8-12 ahead of Friday’s marquee matchup. The hosts need a win, but draw visitors in Efes who are flourishing behind the stellar season of their own point guard.
Vasilije Micic has been a professional for almost as long as Calathes; Micic debuted for Mega Bemax in 2010, one year after Calathes played his first campaign out of the University of Florida for Panathinaikos. But having just turned 25 earlier this month, Micic is five years Calathes’ junior.
Micic set the tone for his breakout campaign early, winning EuroLeague Monthly MVP in November—exactly one year after Calathes claimed his first such honor.
Drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2014, Micic’s star turn this season might reignite NBA interest. The point guard told Eurohoops last month he doesn’t “think too much about the NBA now,” but if he gives “my best to my team, I believe that everything is going to happen.”
Micic has undoubtedly given Efes his best in 2018-19.
Included in that November stretch, Micic led Efes to a 78-62 win over Panathinaikos, recording 11 points, six rebounds, five assists and a steal. Calathes put up impressive numbers in his own right (11 points, eight assists, two steals and two rebounds), but the end result foreshadowed where each point guards’ team would be for the Round 21 rematch.
At 13-7, Efes sits fourth in EuroLeague standings. It holds a one-game lead over Olympiacos Piraeus, which draws sixth-place Barcelona Lassa in Round 21.
Efes is guaranteed to maintain its fourth-place standing regardless of result, remaining within striking distance of CSKA Moscow for third. CSKA Moscow holds a two-game lead and faces a struggling Buducnost in Round 21.
A fourth-place finish ensures Efes home-court advantage for the playoffs series; third-place likely means avoiding Vesely and powerful Fenerbahce in the semifinal round of the EuroLeague Final Four.
Stakes are equally high for Calathes and Panathinaikos. Although currently in 12th, Panathinaikos is one in a five-team logjam of 8-and-9-game winners, jockeying for the eighth and final playoffs spot. A 13th loss would complicate Panathinaikos’ road.
Remaining in postseason contention takes precedence, but the All-EuroLeague Team and possibly MVP implications of this second Calathes-Micic matchup is undeniable.
Kyle Kensing is a freelance sports journalist in southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.