By Kostas Psimoulis/ theweakside.net
From the first moment he was hired as the new coach of Panathinaikos, Argiris Pedoulakis made known that his main ambition was for his team to play “thinking” basketball. The essence of this term is the constant reading of the situations happening on the court by the players. The “read & react” offense demands for players with high basketball IQ who can read the mismatches and create through them high percentage shots. Those shot should be taken in their majority in the paint. That’s why everybody can see that the coach of Panathinaikos insisting on getting the ball at the low post, by driving and cutting to the basket and also by putting emphasis on offensive rebounding (Panathinaikos is seventh on the Euroleague list of offensive rebound percentrage).
Shooting by 83% on free throws!
Sofoklis Shortsanitis is the focal point of the offense every time he is on the court, having the 43.3% of his team’s plays (USG%) designed on him. His almost supernatural strength and his ability to finish plays inside the restricted area force the opposing team to face him with defensive helps and many versions of match up defensive skims. It will not be exaggerating to say that nobody can face him in straight man to man defense. Fouling was a weapon for the defense in the past, because Sofoklis had a really low free throws shooting percentage. This year, however, he is improved, calm (and this is vital for everyone on the charity line) and consistent on the way he shoots. That translates to 74% shooting percentage in Euroleague and 83% combining his Greek league stats.
Having a player like Sofo in the paint (even in the relatively limited time he can endure being on the court), his team should produce many good shoots, take advantage of the open lanes to the basket and secure many offensive rebounds. Only the last think happens for Panathinaikos in a regular basis. The problem is not the plan of Pedoulakis, nor the open space for Sofo to attack – those two are there – but the slow reaction time of Shortsanitis in combination with his mediocre passing skill.
The demands are…
Teams in general are helping in defense when they feel that they are in disadvantage playing straight defense. Every help means that somewhere there is an open player in the offense, waiting to take a good shot, cut to the basket in order to score or take the offensive rebound (that’s way Panathinaikos takes 30,9% of the rebounds after his own missed shots). Sofo is regularly double or even triple teamed and in consequence one or two of his teammates are usually open. The tricky part is that Sofo must take the right choice in order for the plan to work. He must finish the play if he can, but if the defensive help reacts effectively, he must pass the ball with the right timing to his open teammate.
Defenses are betting on the lack of patience, on his hasty moves to avoid the helping defender (something that usually leads to turnovers), on his belated reading of the situation and on his underdeveloped passing skills. Many times Sofoklis limits his passing angle and when he stops dribbling, the defensive help have already recovered, the open player is covered again and there isn’t any open shot. The ball moves faster than the player, but only if the timing is right.
Fast thinking and on court awareness…
The results of bad choices is the transformation of the theoretical advantage to a practical disadvantage. The defense has the time to reorganize and crucial seconds are spend without any gain. The end result is usually a bad shot at the end of the 24 seconds. The defense has to take a gamble in order to stop a dangerous opponent. When this opponent is a complete low post scorer, the gamble is open shots in the perimeter, but in Sofoklis case, the defense is also counting in his inability to stay consistent into making the right choice in the play.
The “thinking” basketball of PAO’s coach gets into trouble every time Sofo doesn’t made the right choice (on the contrary Jonas Maciulis did everything almost perfect when he was used in a simular role in the low post against Union Olimpija). It’s a shame, because Shortsanitis improved many aspects of his game. He is in great shape, he shoots better in the free throws line and he also reads defenses better – and than means also passing better – than he did in the past.
He is not yet, though, to the level he should be in order to take full advantage of his abilities and make his team better in a consistent basis when he is on the court. A player can be considered really good in offense only when his team is better with him playing, in comparison with him being on the bench. He has the chance to take the next step and develop even more his game. Only then he will be a real threat for every defense, only then his teams will be better with him on the court.