Should CSKA Moscow compete in its first EuroLeague championship since the 2015-16 season, the club can credit its remarkable balance and depth.
CSKA maintained its position at No. 2 in the standings with a 107-85 rout of Herbalife Gran Canaria in Round 23, extending its winning streak to five games. The lopsided margin of victory and CSKA’s highest point total of the 2018-19 campaign perhaps best exemplified what makes this team dangerous. It rolled without either Nando De Colo or Cory Higgins in the lineup, instead leaning on Will Clyburn and Sergio Rodriguez.
CSKA’s depth was evident before Round 23, with three players scoring in double-figures coming in. De Colo and Higgins set the pace at 14.8 and 14.7 points per game, third-and-fourth-most in the league, but Clyburn is not far behind at 14 per.
Rodriguez’s team-high 18 points against Gran Canaria makes it four CSKA players scoring in double-figures. He bumps up to 10 points per game. And it’s not just that quartet with which opponents must contend.
Depth has played a part in CSKA’s success, evident in contributions from Othello Hunter (8.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game); Kyle Hines (6.7 points per game); Alec Peters (6.7 points per game, 3.1 rebounds per games); Daniel Hackett (6.5 points per game with a 48.5 percent 3-point average); and Nikita Kurbanov (5.5 points, 3 rebounds per game).
All have appeared in at least 21 games, and averaged between 16:13 and 19:12 minutes a contest, translating to a consistent and reliable eight-man rotation. And the depth in the CSKA rotation has also demonstrated its ability to step up into more prominent roles when called upon.
De Colo surged in FloHoops.com’s EuroLeague Flo25 rankings coming out of Round 22, so having him out of the rotation could have been a huge shake-up for CSKA amid this winning streak.
Compound that with the absence of Higgins, whose 53.6 percent shooting from behind the 3-point line ranks third in EuroLeague. Depth alone should not be able to effectively compensate for such a sizable void in the backcourt, but CSKA’s balanced lineup is as versatile as it is deep.
The perimeter duo of De Colo and Higgins have powered the winning streak, but Round 23’s easy win came on the strength of the frontcourt. Clyburn—EuroLeague’s fourth-leading rebounder—can be a focal point of the offense when needed. He’s a more-than-capable scorer, particularly at the time, and a banger in the paint.
Alec Peters, a two-time NCAA All-American at Valparaiso, gives CSKA the option to go big, and he’s finding his rhythm at a critical juncture. The 15 points he scored against Gran Canaria is the most since he dropped 20 on Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz in Round 11, and his two season-highs for rebounds came in each of CSKA’s last two contests.
Meanwhile, longtime NBA reserve Rodriguez adds veteran savvy to a CSKA backcourt that’s among EuroLeague’s most productive.
Kyle Kensing is a freelance sports journalist in southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.