Two of the most prolific scorers in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague, Kevin Punter of AX Armani Exchange Milan and Shane Larkin of Anadolu Efes Istanbul, go head-to-head in the fashion capital in their respective regular-season finales on Friday night.
The stakes are high for Punter and Milan, which would secure home-court advantage for the playoffs with a victory, while Larkin and Efes would love to carry their current momentum into the quarterfinals stage. Efes has won 11 of its last 12 games and Larkin is coming off a season-high 30 points in an overtime win at TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz.
Larkin's scoring performance last week capped a recent streak of 16 consecutive games in which he scored more than 10 points. That has moved him into eighth place in scoring this season with 15.4 points per game. Punter is not far below, in 11th place with 14.9 points per game.
Punter has one more appearance this season than Larkin and has attempted 17 more field goals over the course of the season than Larkin. Punter has also made them with slightly better percentages, taking more two-point shots than threes this season. Meanwhile, Larkin has launched 174 triples – or 6.4 per game. which is the fifth-most in the league.
Both players have made at least 50% of their twos and knocked down better than 40% of their long-range shots this season, with Larkin's 73 three-pointers made at 42.0% standing out.
Larkin has also been more involved in other aspects of the game on both ends of the floor. Averaging 28:31 minutes in his 27 appearances, mostly off the bench, Larkin is averaging 4.3 assists and 2.4 rebounds. He also ranks fifth this season with 1.4 steals per game.
On the other hand, Punter has spent just under 26 minutes per game on the court, starting in all but one of his 28 games. While serving as Milan's top scorer, he also contributes with 1.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game.
When it comes to their three head-to-head meetings dating back to last season, those numbers turn out to be pretty even. However, it was either one or the other player shining in those games.
In Round 15 this season, Punter scored 18 points on 4-for-4 three-point shooting in leading Milan to 69-72 road win. Larkin scored just 4 points in that game, tied for his season-low, missing his only two-point attempt and making 1 of 2 three-pointers in 15 minutes on the floor.
Last season, however, things were different. They first met when Punter was with Olympiacos Piraeus, and he scored 8 points on 1-for-6 three-point shooting. Efes won that game on the road by 19 points behind Larkin's 24 points on 7-for-8 field goal shooting plus 6 rebounds and 3 assists. The two players squared off again after Punter joined Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade. Punter battled foul trouble to score 12 points in 15 minutes in that contest, while Larkin had 24 points on 5-for-9 shooting from long range in another Efes victory.
With their ability to take over games, all eyes will be on Punter and Larkin as the outcome of their game will significantly shape the final playoff picture.