Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Real Madrid trashing Barcelona at the Supercopa final was how ordinary it felt. This was an exhilarating performance – to the tune of 99 points, 57% shooting from beyond the arc and a 21-point win against the reigning Spanish champions – that somehow felt familiar, almost to be expected. Even on the defensive end, Madrid’s ability to generate twenty points off their opponents’ turnovers was noteworthy but not that surprising for a team that posted the second-highest steals percentage last Euroleague season.
Then again, Sunday’s triumph represented a major upgrade in the defensive efficiency of the Supercopa winners compared to the second half of last season, when on most possessions it seemed that they would either get a steal or get scored on. Containing Barcelona’s pick and roll game was key. Madrid did not appear to introduce any new defensive principles, but they were definitely more determined to meet the ball handler as far away from the basket as possible, in order to eliminate the mid-range threat posed by Huertas shots off one leg, Navarro bombitas and Tomic short rolls:
Shocking as Spain’s loss against France may have been, it can be explained by a pretty straightforward narrative. The seemingly formidable Spanish front line had one major weakness: they lacked a shooter that would spread the floor and allow his teammates to make the most of the Gasol brothers’ creativity from the low block and the high post. The French defense, anchored by Rudy Gobert, took away scoring opportunities inside and Spain’s struggles from the perimeter made life easier for Vincent Collet. On the other end, Diaw provided everything Spain missed from the power forward position and Thomas Heurtel made his hardcore fans proud.
Personally, I have no problem with this narrative, as long as we are looking for an answer about the end result. To find out the root causes of yesterday’s upset, though, we need to dig deeper. A closer look at the numbers reveals a couple of extra issues for Spain. Their post up offense was quite inefficient (6 points on 11 plays) and it failed to act as the starting point of the beautiful ball movement we have come to expect from Orenga’s team. Again, the lack of perimeter shooting partly explains Spain’s shortcomings, but France did not really flood the strong side with help defenders. In many cases, rushed shots and a lack of counter actions was the real issue:
As the semifinal of the European under 20 Championships between Turkey and Serbia raged on, it became apparent that Emircan Kosut and Nikola Jankovic were an odd match. Technically, they were both playing the same position – power forward. This where their similarities ended though. Jankovic is a bruiser. His game is all about establishing position inside, whether he is posting up or going after the offensive board. Kosut clearly struggled with the physicality of his opponent. He is taller, longer and jumps higher but those attributes didn’t really help him as Jankovic – who also happens to be one year older – pushed him around on the low block.
However, the winner of this match up is also the one facing the biggest transition process as a professional basketball player. Jankovic’s physical attributes are impressive, but not sufficient for life as an elite power forward in European basketball. Those nifty left hand finishes on the low block that served him so well in this tournament will not come as easily against the length of senior competition; his face up game is underdeveloped as he never seemed comfortable putting the ball on the floor; his shooting range is limited to the painted area (as evidenced by his horrendous free throw percentage). In short, the Serbian big man should consider making the jump to center. He might be undersized for a center, but undersized centers are all the rage in Euroleague (the NBA is out of the question at this point) and he could maximize his rebounding and interior scoring potential if he moves closer to the basket.
We’re talking about controlling the game – defensively and offensively. But in order to control the game, offense is always more important.
This is Dusan Ivkovic’s two cents on the debate about control in basketball. Duda said this in his trademark broken Greek during a press session back in December of 2010, eighteen months before his crowning achievement as a coach. Olympiacos’ triumph at the Istanbul final four was based on a monster defensive performance, but the Serbian legend thinks that control of the game is gained or lost on the other end of the floor. All this may explain his decision to sign Nenad Krstic at Anadolu Efes. Despite indications that he is moving past his prime (last season his per minute scoring and field goal percentage dropped sharply, while his reliance on assisted baskets increased), the former CSKA center remains an elite offensive player. His versatility as a scorer (pick and roll finisher, post up threat, spot up shooter from mid-range) could help ease the growing pains of a team going through a major rebuilding phase. Efes have a lot of things to figure out. Control is not easy to maintain under such circumstances. Krstic’s efficient scoring could help in this area.
European player recruiting is a game of season averages, arguably a game of early-season averages. There is a recency bias in watching basketball, but statistically, who do you think is the talk of the league for most of the season: The point guard who averages 14 points and 6 assists in the first half of the season and 8 and 3 in the second, or the guy with 8 and 3 in the first and 14 and 6 in the second?
Just because it’s fun, here is a selection of ten players who outperformed their early-season per game averages, and no — that does not necessarily mean improved performance. Players had to play 10 games before and 10 games after the 1st of February for the same club to qualify. There’s a number of players who changed teams and improved; those were not in the group of players I looked at.
(There’s more, and there’s an equal number of players who dropped post-January, but I’m not going to mention them here.)