By Panos Katsiroumpas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
After a tumultuous week for Panathinaikos, that began with the defeat at the Peace & Friendship Stadium by Olympiacos and the termination of their collaboration with Argyris Pedoulakis, came the agreement with Xavi Pascual to put things back on track in terms of playing. The Catalan coach is very well known to all of us since he was Barcelona’s coach for eight years. A period in which he won many titles, he was considered by many as the new coaching miracle in Europe, while he also experienced some very painful defeats that provided a footing for his critics to deride him.
In reality, Xavi Pascual is an excellent coach, with great ideas about the sport, with a lot of love and variety for the attacking game, but he also has his weaknesses, most of which have to do with the way he handles situations in a game. Sometimes he has also been criticized about the staffing of his team, especially in the center’s position. But first, let’s see who the Catalan coach is.
Xavier Pascual Vives, as is his full name, was born in a suburb of Barcelona in September 1972. He got involved with coaching from a young age and started working in teams at the age of 20.
After his “internship” with some small teams in Catalonia, he was hired by Barcelona where he took over the club’s youth team. In 2005 he was promoted to assistant coach in the men’s team, a position he kept until 2008. That year Barcelona had Dusko Ivanovic as their coach and he left the club not on the best of terms, with Barca’s management handing the keys of the team over to the then 36-year-old budding coach.
From 2008 until 2016, Pascual won everything with Barcelona and, aside from club titles, he received several personal distinctions. He became the youngest coach to win the EuroLeague as it was formed from 2000 onwards at the time of the split, at just 38 years of age in 2010 in Paris, facing Olympiacos in the final.
In domestic competitions he won the Spanish Championship four times, the Supercopa another four, while he also won the Copa del Rey three times. He emerged as the best coach in his country three times, while the year he won the EuroLeague he also earned the title of the best coach in Europe.
Playing style and characteristics
Pascual is a coach who really likes team play, the basketball of collaborations. He loves good offense in set plays and he really likes a lot of screens, movement without the ball, and automatisms. It’s telling that, in regards to the halfcourt game he had one of the most comprehensive system playbooks for creating ideal conditions for his players to execute. He likes big men who can post but also create at the same time. Besides, it’s no coincidence that he turned an attacking post up player, Ante Tomic, into an amazing playmaker inside the key either from the post or as a stepping-stone in the pick-and-roll. He likes the pick-and-roll, he wants to run it with many different players, while he engages almost the entire team in it, when most coaches are fond of the 2-on-2 game when they play the pick-and-roll.
He wants to see his players cut inside the key from the baseline and in general, he wants to see movement, screens, and players that are never static. Overall, in set plays he presents an offensive completeness of systems that is hard to be read or dealt with. From the information that we have of him so far, he likes to win titles and games through offense and not through defense, something for which many journalists have criticized him.
Another characteristic is that he likes players who have great range in the ways they can threaten in offense, while we often see him seeking players – especially in the ‘3’ and ‘1’ positions – who are able to post either to score or create.
Aside from the very good elements that Pascual has in creating offensive plays, he has been criticized for some obsessions regarding his playing style but also the kind of players he selects to staff his team. For a long time he had guards that weren’t the epitome of the scorer while they were rather mediocre – or even bad – shooters (Rubio, Sada, Huertas, Satoransky). As a result, he gives defenses the chance to “let” a player wide open and focus on the others. A great example of this is the 2011 playoff series against Panathinaikos, with Barcelona losing because of the very bad shooters they had then in the guard position. Furthermore, he has been criticized for his unwillingness to follow the dictates of modern basketball regarding the center position, which has resulted in him looking for a fast and athletic center during the regular period, who can able to play switching defenses. The example of Dorsey, who was acquired for two seasons shortly after Christmas, is an indication of this coach’s not exactly tremendous
love for players of this kind.
Another area of criticism is his reactions during the game. Many think that while he can be excellent in preparing his team, he’s not so flexible in stepping in and changing things if his game plan is not going so well.
What he’s going to bring to Panathinaikos
The only thing for certain is that every coach has his own characteristics, his own favorite basketball style, and this entire conversation about pros and cons is more or less subjective. The point is what he’ll want to add to Panathinaikos and the extent to which we’re going to see from him a similar kind of basketball that Barcelona played or a kind of basketball with variations that is more in line with the tougher playing style that characterizes Greek teams. The point is for him to have the time that is required to present the team that he wants, with his own characteristics and touches. Unfortunately in Greece this is not customary and when it does happen it’s probably the exception that proves the rule.
My personal opinion is that, since he loves big men who can play and know how to post, he’s going to try to approach another such player in order to have another option aside from Bourousis in this area. We shouldn’t forget that there was a year in Barcelona when he even had three such players (Tomic, Lampe, Lorbek). He will certainly want a backcourt player with different characteristics than those of Calathes, a player whose style Pascual likes. So he’s probably going to look for a player who’s more of a scorer, while he’s definitely going to give time to players who shoot well. This as a mini forecast for the near future. The rest will probably be said on the court very soon.