First-place Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul boasts a two-game lead in the EuroLeague standings with seven rounds remaining, and features a leading candidate for Most Valuable Player in forward Jan Vesely. The pacesetters can also credit much of their success in the 2018-19 season to veteran Kostas Sloukas, hitting his peak in his eighth full EuroLeague campaign.
Sloukas is enjoying a breakout campaign, averaging career-bests in scoring (10.9 points per game), assists (4.7 per game) and foul-shooting (93.2 percent) and is hovering around season-long highs in field-goal percentage, both inside the arc (57 percent) and beyond it (42.4 percent).
Big man and 2017-18 All-EuroLeague honoree Vesely has been at the center of Fenerbahce’s run to a 20-3 mark—including winning the December MVP—but Sloukas has grown into an impactful running mate for EuroLeague’s team to beat.
The pursuit of Fenerbahce’s second EuroLeague championship in three years includes road trips to face its nearest challengers: CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid. Fenerbahce scored victories over both already in this regular season, two highlights in the club’s 12-game winning streak that spanned from Nov. 1 to Jan. 24.
During that stretch, Sloukas notched season bests of 10 assists against FC Bayern Munich, as well 20 points and five rebounds against his former club, Olympiacos Piraeus.
Sloukas played for Olympiacos Piraeus from 2011-12 through 2014-15, contributing to a pair of championships in his first two seasons. He functioned as a role player there, though, really coming into his own with a move to Fenerbahce in 2015-16.
His career averages for points and assists have steadily climbed the four seasons since, and he played a more direct role in another championship for his new club two years ago. That was a Fenerbahce roster built around NBA veteran center Ekpe Udoh, currently a back-up to Rudy Gobert on the Utah Jazz.
Sloukas led that championship-winning squad in assists, as he is again for this season’s contender. But he’s since taken on a more active scoring role without negatively impacting his ability to set the table for teammates.
That proved evident most recently in one championship run for Fenerbahce already on the season, when Sloukas’ 19 points and nine assists powered the club to an 80-70 Turkish Cup final win over Anadolu Efes Istanbul.
Sloukas was also a hero in the semifinal, scoring 18 points in Fenerbahce’s win over Turk Telekom.
The Turkish Cup marked Fenerbahce’s first in three years, and served perhaps as a prelude for the club’s EuroLeague championship ambitions. The championship suggests this team is hitting its stride for a critical juncture.
Fenerbahce welcomed back Vesely from a two-game hiatus due to knee injury, two games sooner than initially anticipated. Combining a healthy Vesely back in the lineup and in the hunt for an MVP with the veteran Sloukas playing the best ball of his career, Fenerbahce will be difficult to stop in the postseason.
Kyle Kensing is a freelance sports journalist in southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.