Archive for the ‘Euroleague’ Category
(On a second attempt, I’ll be trying to make these random notes a more regular thing. There’ll be a lot to discuss throughout he domestic season run-in and off-season.)
Spotted and exposed: The weak link
It does appear as though game preparation suffers, as you would expect, under the increasingly busy game- and travelling schedule. Is a Top16 game subject to the same level of preparation as a quarter final series? Probably not, but that is just an assumption. If this assumption is true, though, you may get away with a couple of low-percentage options in your unit through most of the season, but you might get exposed once preparation level rises – which usually happens when it matters most.
Creative on-ball talent is expensive, which is why Europe’s best shot creators are playing for the financially potent or heading there within a year or two. Or, as in Vassilis Spanoulis’ case, they make a large percentage of their team’s salary total.
Defenses collapse on key ballhandlers and leave weak shooters wide open.
Too often they get away with it.
THE MOVEMENT MARCHES ON: OLYMPIACOS WIN THEIR SECOND STRAIGHT EUROLEAGUE CROWN
‘Olympiacos’ triumph did not happen by chance. We introduced a new, innovative basketball movement‘. Dusan Ivkovic, June 2012
How do you stop the future? This is the question that should be running through the minds of Real Madrid players and coaches in before the final. Olympiacos returned to the top of Europe after a 15-year absence by building a defensive beast. They stayed there by retaining their defensive intensity and enhancing it with deadly execution of their half court offense. And call me crazy, but I think that this movement can deliver even better basketball.
The first quarter started with both teams looking to protect the paint. Madrid made their threes at a breathtaking rate – off the dribble, coming off screens, from the weak side. Olympiacos tried to beat the merengues defense from inside and failed spectacularly. The usual defensive issues associated with the Powell – Printezis front line (and the American center in particular) were magnified by Spanoulis’ insistence on going for the killer pass inside coming of the pick and roll. Transition buckets by Laso’s team, off either turnovers or bad transition defense from the champs, put the finishing touches to a 27-point first quarter. Other than the fearless play of Acie Law, Olympiacos looked like they were one punch away from getting knocked out. Then the future happened.
It started with Katsivelis and Sloukas slowing down Madrid guards. It continued with Hines answering the few questions remaining about who’s really the best center in Europe, Pero Antic scoring from everywhere while solidifying defensive rotations and Giorgi Shermadini working his tail off on hedge outs. But it really culminated with an offensive outburst rarely seen in a final setting. Spanoulis had missed his first eight three point attempts in London. At some point he realized that Madrid were playing him for his perimeter shot. Five makes later, it was evident that some adjustments should have been made. Perperoglou scored with great efficiency while playing on and off the ball. Acie Law pushed the tempo, worked expertly as the secondary pick and roll guard and finished the game with just one turnover in the 33 minutes that he spent on the floor, calling the shots. Hines and Antic were rewarded for their amazing job on D and the glass with a bunch of beautiful assists: 20 on 29 made field goals overall, handed out by eight different players and combined with just two turnovers in the second half. Bartzokas had worked diligently on half court execution all season. Tonight was his masterpiece. Laso continued with his ‘adjust for no one’ approach, but shockingly his team could not keep up with their opponents offensive productivity. Once he went for plan B, bringing in Draper to defende alongside Slaughter, it was too late. Olympiacos had simply figured out Madrid
And the crazy thing is, the champs were the youngest (not to mention the cheapest) among final four teams. Future possibilities seem limitless: how good can Shermadini become if he stops picking up silly fouls? What if the switch defense is back next season, with Hines harassing guards and big, athletic guards like Katsivelis and Mantzaris (remember one of the best guards in Europe?) fighting the roll man inside? What happens if Sloukas combines his shooting with improved slashing? How scary will the Reds’ front line be with an extra center that can defend, set screens and finish at the rim?
Of course, sooner or later the future will lead any team to an end. Spanoulis, that brilliant leader and the best Greek guard ever not named Nick Galis, is getting older. Not only that, but he will also be the hottest free agent this summer, along with Hines, the best center in Europe (can’t write this enough times). Law and Antic are also free to sign anywhere they want and Olympiacos’ budget is much tighter than the days of extravagant signings. Then again, the most important challenge for Olympiacos is to keep The Movement alive. This is about a specific culture and a winning attitude. The future is uncertain, but if those principles are implemented on a daily basis by everyone involved with the club, I can’t wait to find out what it holds.
(yes, I am a completely biased Olympiacos supporter)
Rod Higgins, 12/05/2013
Recruitment is more important than coaching these days
wrote a smart basketball coach in a blog post earlier this season. How fitting that his team would stumble upon poor recruitment decisions in the most important game of their season.
Aaron Jackson was never a point guard in Messina’s offense, but he is even less of a weak side corner shooter. But that was largely his role in the Euroleague season run-in.
I believe as an elite team you cannot offer opponents weak options. Jackson stepping into the starting lineup (he had already started in Game 4 of the quarter finals after the exceptional “tall” lineup had failed to produce for two consecutive games – a small sample kneejerk reaction?) as a corner shooter on offense – of course there were also defensive considerations – was just that. Olympiakos were primarily concerned with the roll to the basket, so Spanoulis dropped deep inside off of Jackson and wasn’t particularly concerned closing out either.
Again, Spanoulis is sitting deep. Jackson fakes the three and gets away with a travel, but is unable to create anything.
On the Teodosic-Khryapa side pick and roll, too, Spanoulis helps against the roll.
Olympiakos hedged hard against the 1-5 high pick and roll in many cases. Expected Messina to go more 1-4 in the 2nd half, similar to the Zalgiris game, but it never happened.
CSKA’s tall lineup was 5-2 in just 3 minutes of play. Considering their overwhelming success this season, this is difficult to understand.
Olympiakos was 19-4 with Spanoulis-Sloukas-Perperoglou-Antic-Hines. This is the typical 2nd unit, with V-Span.
Krstic and Kaun combined for 1/5 shooting (5 points) in Kyle Hines’ 22 minutes of floor time. Hines himself had 13 points. Olympiakos outscored CSKA 38-20 during the span. The man, the legend. But you still better sign a proper starting center to replace Josh Powell next season)
That is a statement!
In terms of recruitment, it was not a bright summer for Messina. When you make a mistake in that phase, it is really hard to compensate. Incredible help defense skills of Andrei Kirilenko and Viktor Khryapa in addition to their overall team IQ, had compensated other defensive defects last season. Nenad Krstic’s each day increasing pick and roll defense deficiency and Milos Teodosic’s not-made for defense nature were already there. In order to compensate, they needed major defensive players but their choice Vladimir Micov was not the guy who fills the gaps in defense. Sonny Weems improved his defense throughout the season but he was there for offense in the first place obviously. Aaron Jackson who has the effort but not a natural defender either. Add aging Theo Papaloukas and frequently injured Viktor Khryapa also. All these make a defensive consistency very difficult. Messina’s teams -even wildly running Benetton Trevios 2003 had a gear to lift up at defense if necessary- are always major defensive forces. Incidents like allowing a terrible offensive team such as Beşiktaş scoring 51 points in half at home was not just about having a bad day.
Signing Drew Nicholas was important, a must-have type of sharp shooter for a contender. He had improved his defense under Zeljko Obradovic, also adding a major pick and roll ball handler skills to his portfolio. As things did not work with him, replacing him with a role player who can shoot from distance made sense. Having such a guy in your roster helps your spacing as his match-up cannot risk the help, a weapon against zone defense and provides other major options on offense. Releasing Dionte Christmas was absolutely not smart.
I can understand why Ettore Messina tried Aaron Jackson on Vassilis Spanoulis as he managed similar task sometimes in the season and probably the best option with his quickness to stay in front of him. However, he doesn’t possess the required technical know-how and experience to succeed. Spanoulis did whatever he wanted tonight. Drawing two quick fouls on Jackson was only the start.
Last season against Galatasaray in do-or-die Top 16 game in Piraeus, Spanoulis played one of the best games of his career. Key success factor behind the great defensive teams of Oktay Mahmuti is the well structured pick and roll defense mechanism. He had basically run over Galatasaray’s pick and roll defense. Playing a perfect tactical game, hurting the opponent in an area that their competitive advantage exists. Amazing decision making to support overall game plan just like he did against Montepaschi Siena in a couple of weeks later. When you are beaten in a fight that you consider your strongest side, it means more than losing a fight impacting the whole war. Psychology becomes completely different. Besides maybe few rushed threes, he played the game with tactical perfection. Numbers may not be so impressive but he attacked the heart of CSKA either finding the rolling big man after half transition PnRs or driving to the rim relentlessly. In transition, he was in his usual Kill Bill mode. He never let CSKA to get up. He destroyed CSKA with his decision-making. Decision-making is still the most vital aspect of Euro ball. That is why he is the best European player with Diamantidis at the moment in my book. Sorry Kyle Hines, my MVP tonight is not you.
On the other hand, when you expect from a player like Aaron Jackson to play off the ball, not being aggressive in half court setting, he is not the same player who leaded Bilbao to Europe’s elite eight. He loses his feel for the game and he cannot make the open shots which was not a problem last season even though he is not a pure shooter. What’s worse, Messina’s balancing the team problems goes a lot deeper than that. For example, Dionte Christmas was busy dropping 30 in Milano instead of London tonight.
Viktor Khryapa has tendency making more mistakes than usual in high pressure games. This was one of them. Frustration is the word for CSKA Moscow tonight. Milos Teodosic was the leading guy to the suicide but he was not alone, a complete meltdown by whole team.
But, hats off to Giorgos Bartzokas. He did not change the game plan even if things were going alright for CSKA. They kept attacking on Krstic. When power forwards make those threes, seriously good luck against Olympiacos. Pero Antic’s shooting performance was a key in the victory. Besides, Olympiacos was the side using mismatches instead of physically advantageous opponent. They punished CSKA’s switching strategy with post-up production through Law, Perperoglou, Printezis. They kept defending man to man and not bringing help for more physical matchups in order not to initiate CSKA’s ball movement that eventually ends on the open man. Acknowledging a key point of CSKA offense was getting the ball to Krstic’s hands around the rim, they denied the passes there. Shadowing Teodosic with a physical guard Katsivelis to take him off from the game and many other details Olympiacos executed terrifically. But, heart is there before anything else. Underestimating Greek tradition at high platform is always a bad idea. They proved once more. It was a wonderful show.
Full Game Stats Real Madrid vs FC Barcelona Regal
Madrid continue their defensive excellence, will meet Olympiacos in the Euroleague final
It must have felt familiar.
Real Madrid came into their semifinal match up with Barcelona as the favorites. But when Huertas, Saras and Ingles hit a trio of tough, well contested perimeter shots early in the fourth quarter, it looked like they might come up short against their arch rivals. Again. Especially after a nine-point third quarter.
And yet the merengues did not panic. They defended. Navarro was crowded coming off the screen, regardless of whether he was handling the ball or not. Carroll put a lot of pressure on the ball and work tirelessly on the end of the floor where his contributions are usually overlooked. Rudy was a force as both a help defender and a stopper on the ball. Reyes and Slaughter moved their feet expertly. Those four, along with Sergio Rodriguez turned the game around. Barcelona could not hit enough of those tough, well contested perimeter shots, or even easier, more open ones (Lorbek and Wallace combined to miss all six of their three-point attempts, most of them relatively or wide open). And they certainly couldn’t go to Tomic in the paint. All that was left for Madrid to do in order to complete their comeback was take care of the little things.
Little things like Carroll contesting a transition layup by Huertas and then grabbing an offensive board on the other end to put his team up four. Or Rudy breaking away from his heroball tendencies and playing the opportunistic style that fits him best – first sneaking in from the weak side to steal a Navarro pass intended for Tomic and then assisting on Reyes’ bucket that put Madrid up six. Speaking of Reyes, his work on the offensive glass, old-school scoring in the paint and overall defensive activity (not to mention a ridiculous + 22 in 19 minutes), make him the undisputed MVP of this game.
This version of el clásico did not feature the scoring frenzy or the wild endings of previous editions. But it did make a pretty convincing case that Madrid are growing up. Yes, they did run away from S-Rod pick and rolls in the second half, in favor of mostly unfortunate improvisations. And yes, they still struggled to come up with counters when option A in most possessions was not available. But after shutting down Maccabi, they hounded another efficient offense into more turnovers than assists, completely dominating the possessions game thanks to their simultaneous obliteration of Barcelona on the offensive glass. And on offense, they rediscovered their balanced approach in the fourth quarter, with S-Rod and Rudy facilitating, as half court were combined with sets with options in primary or delayed transition.
The blaugrana were painfully shorthanded and have nothing to be ashamed for. Tomic is an elite center. Their other young guys have shown a lot of promise. Pascual responded masterfully to a series of challenges, even though one has to wonder if he should have gone to The Zone for longer stretches. But in the end, they could not match Madrid’s depth and – more surprisingly – defensive intensity. Olympiacos proved their resilience earlier tonight, but they should be getting prepared for an even bigger fight on Sunday. Real Madrid are for real.
Rod Higgins, 10/05/2013
End of third quarter, Barcelona up 3
Early in the 3rd quarter, the story was The Zone and Barcelona’s depth. Madrid scored 4 points on their first five possessions against Pascual’s now infamous scheme and their offense never recovered even against man-to-man. Not enough pick and rolls or transition points, too much dribbling by Rudy. Meanwhile, Tomic and Navarro combined for four points (all of them by the Croatian, all of them assisted), but Marcelinho Huertas did what we suspected Saras would do, Lorbek woke up and even Ingles chipped in. Barcelona have also regained control of the boards and Begic did not exactly earn his minutes
Rod Higgins, 10/05/2013
End of 1st half: Madrid up 6
It doesn’t happen as often as it should, but when S-Rod is on, it’s a thing of beauty. Whether he’s putting Huertas on skates before pulling up or providing the alley to Slaughter’s oop, the man has been must-see (euroleague.) tv tonight. And he has combined with the white hot Llull to score 18 of Madrid’s 39 points. Meanwhile, Mirotic spent most of the second quarter on the bench, Rudy is not having his finest game and Carroll is scoreless. That’s three elite offensive players. And still, Madrid put together a 28-point quarter against the best defense in Europe. They have a lot of ways to score and they just need time to figure which ones work out for them.
Barcelona have to give something up: open threes by Llull as his man closes in on the ballhandler attacking the rim; offensive boards (three of them) by Reyes, who is taking advantage of the openings in the blaugrana rotations; and whatever S-Rod comes up with on the pick and roll. Maybe the zone (in a 3-2 formation tonight, at least for a couple of defensive possessions) will help the Spanish champs avoid such unpleasant dilemmas.
Pascual has seen his own dynamic duo hold their end of the bargain, as Tomic and Navarro have combine for 23 of Barcelona’s 33 points. But Lorbek is still MIA and Huertas did not build on his exciting start, in large part due to the presence of Slaughter as the designated pick and roll defender.
History suggests that Barcelona need more offense to pull off a win here. The first half, along with Madrid’s second quarter defense, suggests that they are going to have a hard time finding it.
Rod Higgins, 10/05/2013
Madrid take a 4-point lead late in the second quarter
Lots of good news for Madrid to start the second quarter. Llull hit a trio of three pointers, warning Pascual that daring him to shoot is not a good idea tonight. S-Rod looks focused, hitting a floater finding Reyes and Slaughter for easy deuces inside and adding a three of his own as Madrid start to look like a proper pick and roll team. They also find a few openings on the stretch four areas, even though Reyes is not the man on the job (he did hit a long two pointer though)
On the other end, Barcelona experience playoffs flashbacks. The offensively challenged lineup of Saras, Sada, Abrines, Wallace and Todorovic scored only one bucket in two and a half minutes. Navarro and Tomic returned after a very short rest and combined seven points, while Sada is matching Reyes on the offensive glass. This is not enough for his team though, as Madrid start to get back an increasing number of their missed shots. And with Rudy finally connecting on a drive the bad news start to add up. Madrid look too deep right now.
Rod Higgins, 10/05/2013
End of 1st quarter: Barcelona up seven
Rudy and Navarro are matched up on both ends of the floor. La Bomba is winning that duel, as Rudy can’t keep up with him running off screens and is not particularly successful attacking him off the dribble. Madrid’s insistence on treating pick and rolls as virtual iso plays is backfiring tonight, as the blaugrana help defense is on point. The same is true for their rotations against Madrid’s shooters curling off screens. Mirotic is active, but Barcelona have been dominating inside on both ends, force turnovers and control the boards. Paging Sergio Rodriguez.
Rod Higgins, 10/05/2013
Barcelona- Madrid: first impressions
Early on both teams looked to establish their inside game. Madrid went scoreless on their first four post ups (Rudy, Begic, Suarez). Ante Tomic had one offensive board, drew two fouls and scored 6 points in the first 6 minutes. On the perimeter things are not much better for the merengues.
Help defenders attack the Madrid slashers as soon as they put the ball on the floor, forcing two early TOs. Madrid have only one corner three and a drive by Mirotic to counter the blaugrana’s strong-side heavy D (Suarez also hit a tough stepback).
On the other hand, Huertas is working the pick and roll to perfection and Navarro hit a three and then another whole drawing the foul. Barca up 7, three minutes to go.
Rod Higgins, 10/05/2013
CSKA – OLYMPIACOS QUICK NOTES
Size and length. This was supposed to determine the outcome of the first semifinal in the basketball-crazed city of London. This was also CSKA’s main advantage. The only problem with that theory is that size and length can’t stand still around the rim and make things happen. Size and length need to be fed the ball through ballhandling and organizing. But most importantly size and length need to have heart and explosiveness (aka Kyle Hines).
Olympiacos’ strategy of packing the paint was facilitated by Ettore Messina’s starting lineup. The Italian coach went with Aaron Jackson as a V-Span stopper, with Weems and Khryapa at forwards. The Reds gave A-Jax the Victor Sada treatment. The same strategy was applied when Theo Papaloukas entered the game: defenders were going under the screen and ignoring them when they were stationed at the weakside.
CSKA started the game white hot from the perimeter, scoring their first ten points on two three pointers and a couple of long perimeter shots just inside the arc en route to 38% shooting from the three-point line in the first half. Bartzokas refused to adjust and looked really smart for doing so. Not only did the Russians’ percentage drop, but their inside game was clogged. Backdoor cuts, straight pick and rolls, or attempts at post up all lead to many risky passes and a mind-boggling 8-13 assist to turnover ratio. Pressure on the ball was very effective for the first thirty minutes, especially against Milos Teodosic.
Of course some of those turnovers resulted from the CSKA players losing their cool. Free throw shooting was another indication of their shaken confidence.
Speaking of losing one’s cool, is this a good time to mention that CSKA paid Olympiacos 1.2 million euros just to secure the rights to Milos Teodosic?
On offense, Olympiacos simply dominated the paint. In the first half CSKA had attempted 5 shots inside the three-second area. Olympiacos had 19, ending the game with 17/30 field goals in the paint. Kyle Hines outworked everyone Giorgi Shermadini finished strong and the champs had twice as many offensive boards as their opponents, even though they missed fewer shots. Sometimes, size does not equal effort and determination.
Pero Antic is always a great defender. But when he makes his threes Olympiacos can live without Spanoulis scoring as much as he usually does. The MVP could not hit anything from outside, but worked hard on D, kept his turnovers in check and kept the ball moving, especially in the first half, when side pick and rolls and transition opportunities allowed Acie Law to attack Teodosic and shine. Sloukas was just as good during that stretch.
CSKA went with more switches in the pick and roll throughout the second half, limiting side pick and roll opportunities and open shots from the wing off defensive rotations. Olympiacos’ offense looked more stagnant, as the post up/floater threat that was Printezis in the first half was not sustained. Also, Oly’s reaction to the zone press in the fourth quarter could have been better. And they won’t always get away with allowing so many open threes.
But Olympiacos are a very tough team to beat. When Papanikolaou headed to the bench with two early fouls, things looked bleak. His replacement, Stratos Perperoglou created enough shots and worked hard enough on D to earn a spot on Oly’s unit that went 19-4 over a seven minute stretch (see boxscore/lineup data) along with Span, Sloukas, Hines and Antic. That’s depth.
Oly reaffirmed that they are a tough team to beat in a knock out setting. More on the final once we know their opponents.
Rod Higgins, 10/05/2013
If there is a single indispensable thing Barça needs to do, in order to win tonight, making those threes may make the top of the list. They don’t have trouble finding the good looks but converting it. When CJ Wallace and Erazem Lorbek make them, life is much easier. As it is one of the primary points Real Madrid builds its counter-Barça strategy by taking that risk, it also has a psychological boost effect for the blaugrana. However, CJ Wallace coming off a wrist injury which could affect his shot significantly. Erazem Lorbek has lost its confidence and not playing like the best big man of Europe for a long while. One of the many issues Barça is going through about Pete Mickeal’s absence is his contribution beyond the arc. Marko Todorovic who is expected to play for a short period is not even confident in the paint.
Nathan Jawai’s probably out tonight as well. But, it could be an opportunity also. Could giving Erazem Lorbek minutes in the center position, keeping him closer to the rim might be better for him tonight? Barça desperately needs its mighty Slovenian at offense not only to facilitate but also to finish. That could bring other problems, starting with rebounds, but those are probably less decisive. Xavi Pascual must have prepared something. Whatever he does in terms of X’s and O’s is always intriguing.
Regarding threes, Turkish U16 Head Coach Ömer Uğurata who won the gold medal in European Championship last year and part of senior national team staff, working on scouting the opponents, mentioned Alex Abrines’ catch and shoot ability to compensate Pete Mickeal’s absence partially. Considering how he contributed in the last couple of weeks. He seems like the best Kostas Papanikolaou candidate of this Final-Four.
Last one, Sarunas Jasikevicius had not lost a Final-Four game until last year’s controversial loss to CSKA Moscow in the semis. It was the greatest Final-Four performance I have ever seen. Also, don’t forget that he was the one who made the difference for Panathinaikos in Berlin. He is just too great to ignore. He has always delivered at these big games.
El semifinal clásico: A Preview
It’s only basketball*, but the significance of any duel between Real Madrid and Barcelona cannot be overstated. Euroleague need all the rivalries they can get and it doesn’t get much better than the second semifinal in the London final four. Regardless of history, though, this matchup is a real treat for basketball geeks all around.
Going over the short but eventful career of Xavi Pascual, one can name quite a few challenges that brought him where he is today: There was the Baskonia offense – designed by Dusko Ivanovic and led by none other than Pete Mickeal – which destroyed Barcelona in the ACB finals back in 2008; the arrival in Madrid of Ettore Messina, the master of the half court game that the blaugrana coach prefers, in 2009; and of course the elimination at the hands of Panathinaikos in the 2011 Euroleague playoffs, after a steady diet of Zeljko Obradovic’s matchup zone and pick and roll offense. However, none of these obstacles had as significant an impact as the introduction of Lasoball by Barcelona’s archrivals.
You see, the ACB finals in 2009 proved that all Pascual needed to figure out Baskonia was time. Barcelona’s domination over Madrid during Messina’s tenure, reaffirmed the quality of their half court execution (not to mention their athletic advantage). And the failure to reach the final four in their hometown was treated for the most part as a roster issue – out went Ricky Rubio and his shaky jumper, in came Marcelinho Huertas, making that pesky zone defense by Barcelona opponents a much riskier undertaking. Madrid under Pablo Laso, however, had to force Pascual into some deeper soul searching.
The recent European and domestic success of Barcelona was built on slow pace and a formidable defense that forced opponents into the trees inside while keeping rotations at a minimum. The renovated Real Madrid had no problem to beat the blaugrana on their own terms. They ran shooters off screens, making Juan Carlos Navarro work extra hard on defense and capitalizing on Pascual’s reluctance to use his bigs outside as help defenders. They treated pick and rolls as isolation opportunities, with their gifted perimeter scorers exploding off the ball screen and thriving on mid-range opportunities. They looked for mismatches inside and dared Barcelona’s perimeter defenders to rotate over. And they relentlessly attacked the offensive glass, making shot blockers like Boni N’dong and Fran Vazquez to think twice before leaving their feet.
The 2012 Copa del Rey final, held in Barcelona, must have been a proper culture shock for Pascual. Laso’s Madrid are not a team without issues. Their top-16 loss at Moscow against CSKA was the latest reminder of their shortcomings in transition defense – resulting from their unchecked enthusiasm for offensive boards and poor communication when individual defense doesn’t hold up. Their offense often looks stagnant when shooters don’t get good looks and iso plays don’t produce enough points. But their elite Euroleague team status aside, they often look like they were built to put an end to Barcelona’s reign. And they came pretty close to doing just that in last season’s ACB finals. But after watching his team go down two games to one and surrender home court advantage to Madrid, Pascual simply continued to evolve as a coach.
Remember The Zone that turned around the blaugrana series against Panathinaikos a couple of weeks ago? We had first seen it in the ACB finals against Madrid. Madrid also inspired switches, along with all sorts of counters to off the ball screens in the context of a more flexible approach. In short, Madrid forced Pascual out of his comfort zone and he became a better coach for it. This sort of evolution is also evident on the other end of the floor, regardless of the Laso effect. Last season Barcelona tended to rely excessively on mid-range jumpers, but their summer signings have moved much of the blaugrana offense toward the paint. According to a fantastic analysis by NTV Sport (credit to Çağrı Turhan for translating it), post-up plays for Barcelona account for 10% of their possessions. Their bigs are also heavily involved in pick and rolls, which have amounted to 20% of their offense.
Nathan Jawai is doing a lot of finishing inside as the roll man, especially around the rim. His absence will be another obstacle for Pascual to overcome, after losing Pete Mickeal, his best player this season and surviving a rocky start to the season after a major roster shakeup over the summer. The celebrated prospect that is Marko Todorovic will get a chance to prove that his team did not drop the ball by not signing another big man. His effectiveness on the defensive glass could help against Madrid’s aerial assault after nearly every missed shot. But Barcelona will need more from Erazem Lorbek, compared to his contributions up until this point. The NTV Sport numbers have Madrid as the worst defensive team in the paint among final four participants. Tomic has had big games against his former team, but he will need help.
Laso and Madrid on the other hand, have not experienced a similar evolution. They do not adjust for anyone and in the playoff series against Maccabi this decision paid off, as they used stifling defense to sweep the perennial final four contenders off. Madrid’s defense reflects their offense in many ways. Laso trusts the individual ability of his players and tries to put each on of them in a position to succeed – whether it’s Marcus Slaughter chasing guards on the perimeter, Sergio Llull pressuring the ball, or Rudy Fernandez roaming on the weak side. Panathinaikos caused Barcelona some problems by having James Gist guard (as opposed to merely switching on) Saras and Navarro. Slaughter could shine on a similar role, but even though the merengues are more straightforward in their approach, they are a bigger mystery at the same time.
You see, Barcelona will try more options on both ends of the floor in any given name, but this flexibility is to be expected. In other words, don’t be surprised if you are surprised. But will Laso follow Pascual’s lead ? Barcelona have attempted to crowd Madrid’s shooters as they come off screens and turn them into passers. At this season’s Copa del Rey tournament, Madrid responded by having Llull take 17 threes. If those open looks don’t drop at an acceptable rate, will Laso go for more cuts from the top of the key toward the basket ? Jaycee Carroll may not be able to find the open man (Barcelona basically dare him to make that pass and he hasn’t responded so far), but Rudy can definitely find success as a facilitator.
As mentioned above, another potential source of trouble for Madrid is their opponents’ prolific low post offense. Are more aggressive double teams in order this time around? Will Laso break out the zone press defense, spearheaded by Slaughter? And how will the merengues try to wear down Tomic? Is it time for a more conventional pick and roll offense that will force the Barcelona big to expand more energy – and, ideally, more fouls – on defense?
So far this season, neither team has been able to stop the other from scoring, at least for long stretches. That’s partly because both teams can capitalize on a bunch of favourable matchups. But it’s also because they represent different basketball cultures. Setting the clásico mythology aside, this is what makes each one of their encounters so damn exciting. And is there a better stage for each side to present its arguments than the Euroleague final four.
*see, that was a joke
Rod Higgins, 10/05/2013
Hello from London where we’ll be covering this year’s Euroleague Final Four – myself from London, Rod and Cagri from Greece and Turkey, respectively.
More to follow.
NIJT Final Notes
Joventut ran past Barcelona 82-59 in the title game.
Joventut played a flawless team game, attacking in transition before flowing into a simple, efficient half court offense if no solution was found.
Alberto Abalde had 18 points and 9 rebounds in a game that accurately reflected his full-tournament performance. Abalde can slash, has good ballhandling for a 3/2, court vision, three point shooting and defended aggressively against the likes of Mario Hezonja and Marc Garcia, as well as small backcourt players.
Hezonja made a surprise return but continued to rely on off-the-dribble jump shots, as he did most of the season both on junior and pro level. Barca played better team game on both ends of the floor with Hezonja out.
Joventut’s success again had many different pillars: Augusti Sans is making a late surge for all-tournament team following another fantastic allround outing – 14 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, zero turnovers – while opportunistic scoring forward Jose Nogues had 13 and 7. Explosive playmaker Xavier Assalit wowed the crowd with a couple of spectacular moves to the basket.
Marc Garcia had a super game for Barca again, finishing with 18 points.
NIJT Day III Notes
Team China vs Joventut Badalona 62-75
Did not attend, but Joventut keep marching on. They’ve won each of their three games in double digit margins.
Alberto Abalde is making a strong case for tournament MVP, finishing with 16 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals in a little over 27 minutes.
Jose Nogues had 21 points; Agusti Sans had by far the best game of his tournament, with 19 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists. This has been the story of this Joventut team anyway: they’re incredibly balanced. Abalde and Nogues are arguably their two best players, but among the guards everyone can chip in for a 15 point game.
Crvena Zvezda vs Lietuvos Rytas 73-54
The Serbs, in an essentially meaningless game, had little trouble disposing of a fairly underwhelming Lietuvos Rytas. Rytas finished the tournament with final scores of 65, 57 and 54 points.
Arguably the tournament’s best long range shooter (though Barcelona’s Marc Garcia may disagree), Brano Djukanovic (192cm, SG) led Red Star with 19 points including 5/7 from distance. Djukanovic can catch-and-shoot but also attack the close-out and pull up from free throw line distance.
Small forward Marko Guduric finished the tournament with a solid 12, 7 and 3 that reflect his pre-London performance.
FC Barcelona Regal vs INSEP 74-55
This Barca team has held opponents to 58 (England), 49 (Sarajevo) and 55 (INSEP) points. The 4/5s Adria Cantenys and Milovan Draskovic are each averaging around 2 blocked shots a game. Opponents have shown little initiative trying to exploit PG Pau Cami‘s 161cm frame. Barca themselves have shown to be far better prepared than their opponents, giving non-shooting guards the Victor Sada treatment, et cetera.
Despite the outstanding play of MVP candidate Marc Garcia (21 points in 28 1/2 minutes yesterday, including 10 trips to the foul line), this has been a team effort for Barca ever since Mario Hezonja limped out of game 2. Hezonja played 32 minutes this tournament, where he had strong allround numbers of 8 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists, but also 7 turnovers and 3/15 shooting. Hezonja is a high-usage on-ball player where Garcia is more an off-ball, off-the-screen shooter.
Damien Inglis had an utterly disappointing tournament, but this was his best showing. Finished with 15 points and 9 rebounds.
The all-Catalan final will be played at 12:00 local time in the NIJT, streamed live on Euroleague.net and Lietuvos Rytas TV.
Team England vs Spars Sarajevo 78-61
Along with the play of Joventut Badalona, Team England have been this tournament’s positive surprise. Despite posting underwhelming shooting numbers, combo guard Luke Nelson has been huge for them, shouldering the scoring responsibility on a team that lacked in shot creation.
For Sarajevo it was a fitting end to a tournament where their big three (Salic, Buza, Nikolic) were unable to carry them for the full length of 40 minutes. The trio has inflated numbers due to the extended minutes they play compared to other top players, but more on that in the tournament round up.
NIJT Day II Notes
Lietuvos Ryttas vs Team China 57-66
Lietuvos Rytas continued their poor play while Team China put up a solid performance after standing no chance against Red Star on Thursday. Having more than 7 players (9 this time) at your disposal, including a strong inside player, helps.
China got a dominating 22 and 10 (and 3 blocks) from big man Xu Yufeng against Rytas’ soft front line. Where Red Star had bossed the paint against the Chinese, Rytas failed to make shots, going 15 for 43 from 2 point range. It was Xu’s first tournament performance (he did not play in the opener) but he’ll be facing a more serious test early Saturday against Joventut’s solid interior.
Rytas’ execution was incredibly poor against the Chinese zone; the Lithuanians only started to generate ball movement when 2nd PG Deividas Kumelis (17 points) subbed in to take care of the offense.
Joventut Badalona vs Crvena Zvezda 77-67
2013 Joventut is to London what 2012 Rytas was to Istanbul.
The Spaniards are executing on a fantastic level as a team. They’re having depth, balanced playmaking (ballhandling abilities on positions 1-3, that is) and play super active team defense, which allowed them to outplay an individually superior Red Star team.
Alberto Abalde had another fantastic performance, finishing with 16 points (5/5 for 2, 2/4 for 3) and 6 rebounds. Abalde has legit Euroleague small forward height (the minute-weighted SF height average this EL season is 197.7cm) and was defending positions 1 to 3 yesterday. Abalde is handling the ball a lot on offense as one of his team’s key shot creators. Had a drive along the baseline for a spectacular flying reverse layup in the 1st half.
Joventut got a super performance, too, from point guard Xavier Assalit (188cm, 17.9yrs). Assalit played lock down defense all game, which goes in line with his strong defensive profile from Hospitalet, where he posted elite steals and blocks numbers in point guard context – hardly a proper measure of defensive performance, but an indicator for length and athletic ability. Assalit also got to the foul line 15 times to finish as Joventut’s top scorer, with 17 points. He does, however, lack a 3 point shot at this point and his assist numbers are consistently low in point guard context.
Red Star’s long and talented Marko Tejic/Dusan Ristic front line failed to produce. Although Ristic finished with 12 points on 6 for 9 shooting, he failed to rebound the ball and had difficulties dealing with Joventut’s lighting quick double teams that were coming all the way from the weak side corner. Tejic finished with 1 for 9 shooting.
Spars Sarajevo vs FC Barcelona Regal 49-53
This one was interesting – largely due to Doko Salic‘s truly terrible performance against a Barcelona defense that lacked a strong body but crowded Salic with two help defenders on every catch. Salic finished with 16 rebounds (6/10) but went just 5 for 15 from the field and had 7 turnovers in 40 minutes. Salic forced shots against triple teams that missed the rim entirely, but even more concerning were his poor screening (if at all), complete failure to box out on the boards and generally poor defensive performance. This was more Kasun than Pekovic.
The rest of Sarajevo’s big three (playmaker Aleksej Nikolic and forward Nedim Buza) played 40 and 38 minutes, respectively. Buza had 14 and 12.
Mario Hezonja limped out in the 2nd quarter with what looked like a sprained ankle, opening up space for Marc Garcia, a standout already for the Spanish under-16 team last summer, to showcase his magnificent shooting skills (21 points, 3/5 from 3). Garcia is incredibly smooth and scores most of his points on jump shots: catch-and-shoot coming off the baseline screen, or a quick one-dribble pull-up. His Nowitzki-ish ability to keep the ball up high on the catch-and-shoot – instead of taking it down and back up again – buys him valuable time versus the close out.
Barcelona got 10 rebounds and 5 blocked shots from Adria Cantenys and 10 rebounds and 3 blocks from Milovan Draskovic. Both play well above the rim.
INSEP vs Team England 79-75 OT
Did not watch this one, but it appears Damien Inglis disappointed yet again – this time finishing with 6 points on 2/11, and 8 turnovers.
Big man Ywen Smock (203cm), one of the youngest players in the tournament at just 16.6 years of age, finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 6 blocked shots.
Despite the absence of automatisms due to the limited time Team England had spent together prior to this tournament, the British are no pushovers. They’re playing their hearts out and are getting plenty of activity from playmaker Luke Nelson, who had 16 points, 8 assists and 6 turnovers.
NIJT Day I Notes
Lietuvos Rytas vs Joventut Badalona 65-77
Joventut took this one over an out-of-sync Rytas team, at least when compared to last year’s finely-oiled machine that took home the title in Istanbul.
Multitalented PF Jose Nogues (11 points, 7 rebounds) is the star of this Joventut team, but it was 17.4 year old SG Alberto Abalde (195-198cm, depends where you’re looking) who stole the show with 21 points, four rebounds and plenty of quality decision-making. Abalde had shot just 44.1 eFG% in the Hospitalet tournament, including 9 for 27 from two point range. He’s long, a quality ballhandler, did not hesitate to attack the basket off the bounce and has a sweet stroke from long range … that, at least, was consistent with his rest-of-the-season data.
Rytas’ mobile, long, versatile 4/5 (played both positions today) Gediminas Zalalis had 14 points. Had caught my eye by posting pretty good assist numbers (>11 AST%) for a PF/C prior to this tournament.
Team China vs Crvena Zvezda 61-86
This one was never in danger. Red Star played with two bigs (Tejic and Ristic) most of their minutes and those trees just dominated a short (in height and depth – they had just seven players available) Chinese selection at will inside.
Dusan Ristic (207cm, C) had little trouble finishing baby hooks with either hand against an outmatched Chinese front line but what he did impress with, was his passing game; Ristic found cutters with perfect timing for lay-ups.
Their 3, Marko Guduric (196cm), continued his strong allround play with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists, but had careless turnovers and an argument with his coach on his down side.
For Team China, national team player Heng Yifeng showed glimpses of quality in the absence of volume scorer Gao Shang, who had stood out of the Chinese selection in last year’s tournament.
INSEP vs Spars Sarajevo 57-76
An intense first half brought a so-so outing from INSEP small forward Damien Inglis and a dominating 23/9 performance from Sarajevo center Doko Salic. Salic’s similarity scores indicate a Mario Kasun-ish game (minus the fouls) and that’s what he brought today, crashing the offensive glass and outmuscling opponents in the post, never showing the same type of intensity, however, on the defensive end.
Inglis, with his “pro” body, looks literally like a man amongst boys out there, but had a quiet outing after a trio of near triple-doubles in the Belgrade tournament. This is what his profile had looked like thus far …
Salic had fantastic support from Nedim Buza (17/11) and Aleksej Nikolic (18/8/9) who had a near triple double. Sarajevo are playing key players extended minutes, with 3 players netting more than 36 minutes today.
FC Barcelona Regal vs Team England 69-58
An incredibly poor outing from Barca in general and Mario Hezonja in particular. No need to say more.
In-the-game and our friends from European Prospects and Eurohopes were denied media credentials for the London Final Four. Although I still managed to obtain a press seat thanks to the initiative of a number of friends (again, I thank you for this) and, crucially, the absence of one friend of mine who passed his seat on to in-the-game, this is not a development I had expected after a rather successful year of 2012 and early 2013, including accreditations for the Istanbul Final Four and the Charleroi EuroCup Final.
I leave the evaluation of our (Rod, Cagri and myself) work here to others. From what I hear from the magnificent people I have been in contact with through this site – interested fans, bloggers, journalists, agents, scouts, coaches from all around Europe including Euroleague assistant coaches, NBA statistical analysts, video coordinators and assistant coaches – our work appears to be well-appreciated. Not by everyone, it seems.
But the real travesty is the fact that my friends from Eurohopes and European Prospects, pillars of the coverage of European basketball, have been denied media access to the Final Four … not just this year, but categorically, consistently, for years, for reasons I cannot possibly imagine.
And beware: If you are a writer for or the owner of a site that puts up genuine, self-made content, it might hit you next year.
Here’s our letter. I’d appreciate if you could share it – for egoistical reasons or because you value our work, no matter what.
Dear Mr Bertomeu,
As every year, your main event is coming closer and the fans are getting excited about the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four. This year, London will be the host of the party but Europeanprospects.com, Eurohopes.com and In-the-game.org have been denied an accreditation for the event. This is particularly sad to not use other words as these websites are covering European Basketball for more than 7 years, more than any other English-speaking blogs about European basketball and other than Eurobasket.com and Sportando, nobody spreads the magic of European basketball to the world more than us. We are not that much into self-marketing but we can proudly say that our websites are true pioneers in reporting about Basketball in Europe – each in its own way.
We totally agree to your position in terms of security so that you can only give credentials to a limited number of journalists but wonder how come, year after year, there’s no space for our websites. We don’t wish to point at other media who were approved and say we should have won their spot. This isn’t our style. We have readers throughout the world and the fact that we can not report properly about the Final Four is not something to overlook. We believe it’s common knowledge that sites like ours – who are fully and solely dedicated to European basketball – should be accredited for the biggest celebration of our sport. We challenge you to count how many websites that are fully and solely dedicated to European Basketball, in English or any other language, are out there.
In our eyes, it is a scandal that people who are innovating in their coverage of European basketball get banned from covering the main event. During the Final Four, you are organizing an “Innovation in Sports” summit but on the other hand, you deny the accreditation request by some of the most innovative websites in Europe. Europeanprospects.com posted a first message on Twitter back in 2008 and is certainly one of the first Twitter users in European Basketball at all. Today, the websites of Europeanprospects.com, Eurohopes.com and in-the-game.org combine more than 10.000 followers on Twitter and our Tweets cover European Basketball in an analytical way like only very few other writers in the world.
We are in 2013 and Social Media have a major importance in the communication of young people and basketball fans in general. Our Twitter followers include multiple GMs, Coaches, Scouts and other executives from Euroleague, NBA or NCAA teams. We invite you to check our websites and see how In-the-game.org is a true and only innovator in analyzing the statistics of the Euroleague, covering your league in a way that NOBODY else does, and far more advanced than most of the teams in your league. How Europeanprospects.com and Eurohopes.com cover the future stars of European basketball in a more thorough way than most teams in your competition do. The added value to the fans of the game should be clear.
Eurohopes.com was founded in October 2009 and has basketball fans from 187 different countries from all over the world, including the United States, Spain, Serbia, Italy and Turkey in the Top 5. Although the website has been growing systematically as evidenced by our subscribers, such as NBA franchises, Division I NCAA schools and top European clubs, unfortunately we have never been approved by the Euroleague to cover the Final Four.
In-the-game.org was founded in December 2008 and has basketball fans from 190 countries with the United States, Greece, Germany, Turkey and Spain as its top visitors. The site’s articles and statistics database are regularly visited by fans and journalists as well as scouts, coaches, video- and statistical analysts from both Euroleague and the NBA.
Europeanprospects.com was founded in September 2005 and has readers from 193 countries in the World. The United States, Germany, France, Spain and Italy are the main locations of its readership which is composed of mainly club executives, coaches, agents and scouts from all levels of professional basketball.
We have never been dismissed to any event, is it by FIBA, FIBA Europe or by Euroleague clubs, while this isn’t the first time we weren’t approved for your event. Though granted a media pass for the Istanbul Final Four 2012 and the Charleroi EuroCup Final 2013, in-the-game.org was originally denied media credentials for the London Final Four, before being approved as a substitute (thanks to the lobbying of other media members) when a vacancy occurred due to the absence of one media member.
We think that it’s time to change your accreditation policy, open your mind and give a possibility to those websites that make European Basketball move ahead and who are not just limited to pure reproduction of press releases or rumors to cover the Final Four. Denying us takes away quality coverage of your spearhead event which is not only a pity for you but for the coverage of European Basketball fans in general.
We will publish this open letter on our websites on Tuesday to inform our readers about the situation. We will also invite other websites to support us in our cause as it is our legal right to share our opinion of this unacceptable situation. We strongly believe that it is in favor of European Basketball and of Euroleague Basketball specifically to adapt your accreditation policy and re-think your decision.