By Panos Katsiroumpas/ email@example.com
We have reached the 9th week of the first Euroleague round and only few spots are left in order to complete the two Top16 groups. Let’s see what happened in this week’s game through the magnifying glass.
One strange team
The most strange team in this year’s Euroleague is Neptunas and this happens for two reasons. The first is the way they play, that is way different from the way most Euroleague teams prefer to play. Neptunas does not use so much the game between the point guard and the center with many pick and rolls. They prefer to create isolation plays for their forwards that can all attack the basket, or can shoot in the face of their opponent. They are a difficult team to match because everyone can create isolation plays, everyone can pass and also everyone can create threat from outside.
The second is the huge gap of performance between home and away games. In Klaipeda they have won four of their five games, losing only against Olympiakos in overtime and they have scored more than 80 points in every game (average 84 pts). In their wins they have almost 60% efficiency in 2pt field goals and more than 40% in threes. On the contrary when they play on the road they are really bad. They lose their games by an average margin of 18 points and their scoring is in a free fall. In three of their four games they scored less than 70 points and only against Olympiakos in Athens they reached almost 80. Despite this unstable behavior they are very close to qualify for the Top16, something they deserve totally with their home games performances.
On Thursday night we took a flavor from things to come. A flavor of Top16 with three big games that included teams which we are going to see in the next stage of the competition.
Barcelona vs Fenerbahce
In Barcelona we had the battle between the host team and Fenerbahce. The Turkish team proved once again that they have improved their game and they start finding some automations in both offense and defense. They tried a lot of things in their game, mainly in the frontcourt, and they found the needed solutions by playing small ball. With Bjelica and Vesely in “4” and “5” they created a lot of problems with their quickness and their athleticism. Fenerbahce took many points in transition, shared the ball well and found some open shots with Bogdanovic. Goudelock faced many difficulties from the extremely offensive defense of Hezonja. Additionally Barcelona chose to send a second player when Goudelock started to dribble in order to force him to pass the ball. But Fenerbahce punished them with good vision of the court and easy baskets in the miss matches and the open spaces.
For Barca this was a loss with many positive aspects. They played the game without Navarro and Oleson and during the game they saw Nachbar and Abrines getting injured. Despite their major absences they fought until the end. Marcelinho played a huge game, sharing the ball and executing almost perfectly. He finished the game with 25 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists. Moreover Thomas was also impressive being the 3rd player with the touch before the basket in many plays of Barcelona in offense. He can do many things on the court, he can run, he can attack the basket, he can be the player cutting from the base line after pick and roll in order to take the extra pass.
He can read the plays and he can also go to the post to create threat from there. He has the talent to give a lot to his team. Speaking about talent, we have to say something about Hezonja. He stepped on the court without any stress shooting and scoring some big threes mainly after screens and he played very impressive defense against Goudelock. He made some turnovers but this is normal. He has a bright future. A shooting guard that he is tall enough to shoot over his opponents, can run the fast break, can create plays for himself with the ball on the floor and has a very nice movement behind the screens. It is very fun to watch players like him grow, he has all the potential to be one of the greats.
Olimpia Milano finally got a big win against a team with a better record. The game was decided by the following facts:
- Pressure on the ball with Hackett, Moss and Cerella
- Stopping the pick and rolls with Batista
- Daniel Hackett on the offensive end
Milano played a very attacking defense in the perimeter and they preferred to close all the lanes to their basket, taking the risk of some open three points shots. This had as a result Panathinaikos finishing the game with only 10/27 2pt field goals which is a negative record for 2pt shots made in this year’s Euroleague. The Greens couldn’t found the way to feed Batista after pick and rolls. The Italians send an extra player to Batista in many plays to stop his dive in the paint. The result was Batista finishing with 4 points in only 15 minutes because he faced many difficulties in the defensive end also.
The press of the Italians forced Panathinaikos to make many turnovers and another big problem was that if we exclude Diamantidis they couldn’t find creation from other players. Diamantidis had 11 of the 15 assists of the Greens with only 3 turnovers, while all the others had only 4 assists with 18 turnovers!! In the end of the game the turnovers were 9 for Milano and 21 for Panathinaikos.
Another aspect that we mentioned the previous weeks was the change of the offensive game of Milano. Now Hackett has the leading role and this transformed Milano for the better. They share the ball better and in the last three games where Hackett took this role they have two wins and one tough loss in Barcelona.
A dramatic game was also played in Malaga with the hosts facing CSKA and both teams missing key players. This game could have gone either way and each team had one half of domination. In the 1st half it was all Malaga with the offensive rebounds playing the most important role. The hosts finished with the unbelievable number of 25 offensive rebounds against a very good rebounding team. They score many second chance baskets and created double digit margins.
The second half was a totally different story with CSKA playing much better defense and making all the defensive stops needed in order to come back. They allowed only 23 points and in offense they used the perimeter as their main weapon. De Colo and Weems scored crucial points with both of them finding ways to penetrate to the basket either in isolation plays or after screens on the ball. The defense of Malaga was poor leaving CSKA taking advantage of all those miss matches of the center guarding mainly De Colo and also Weems. Both teams will appear stronger in the Top 16 with the additions of Toolson for Malaga and with the Russian team waiting Teodosic and Khryapa to come back from their injuries. Teodosic is a key player for CSKA in terms of offensive variety because with his passes he creates many easy baskets for the forwards and the centers in the paint, something that De Colo cannot do consistantly.
Khvostov and Mclean save the day!!
Nizhny was searching the win in Istanbul in order to stay alive and have a last chance against Unics the final week. Without Rochestie this was like a suicide mission for the Russian team playing against Efes in Istanbul. After a bad game with defenses playing the major role, the young Russian guard hit two crucial three point shots in the last 90 seconds to give his team the big win. The defense of Nizhny was the difference with Parakhouski being the factor. He stopped all the penetrations and was the total rim protector for Nizhny. Efes had a second straight game with many problems in the offensive end and their defense was not in the same level as it was in Kaunas.
Another player that led his team to the Top16 was Jamel Mclean of Alba. He played another great game against Limoges and his team took the win needed and they are part of the Top16. He was impressive in both ends, playing great defense, stealing balls and making deflections that opened transition plays for Alba Berlin. In the offensive end he was crucial again finishing the game with 18 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. Alba used their defense as the weapon to succeed in this game. They didn’t let the French team open their rhythm or find ways for easy baskets. Only Jamar Smith had some open looks and created some threat for the German team. Alba is a Top16 team and we believed that from the beginning of the competition. They will be very competitive also in second phase.
Valencia is out of the competition after their loss in Vitoria against Baskonia. Despite their quality roster this is a fair result because Valencia never find a good rhythm in the competition and played terrible defense in the majority of the games. They lost some games in the final minutes like the 2 games against Olympiakos and the games in Istanbul and Klaipeda but this is not an excuse. In the first games they seemed very confused with the absence of Dubljevic and the presence of Buycks who was never adjusted to European Basketball. In the last games Valencia paid their inability of playing consistently good defense. They lost two key games in Klaipeda and Vitoria allowing their opponents to score more than 90 points with high percentages. They were a team with high expectations, in theory maybe better than last year but their performances proved the opposite.
Baskonia without Heurtel
In the very crucial game against Valencia we watched the new version of Baskonia for less than 20 minutes in the court. The Baskonia after the Heurtel era. The team seems to change a lot their gameplay. With Heurtel on the bench and James on the court, James was used as a point guard only in the first seconds of the possession. They didn’t set pick and rolls with James and they used mostly three new sources for creation. After an off ball screen either Causeur or San Emeterio are coming from the wings to the high post to take the first pass and then they try to attack immediately or get another screen in the high post and then try to take advantage of the miss matches. This was the way to give space to Causeur to run plays and attack the basket all night long.
The third source of creation is Shenghelia who runs the play either from high post, because he is a player that can attack to the basket with dribble, or after screens in the base line he takes the ball in the high post and he looks for creation and execution from there. In the first half when Heurtel played almost 6 minutes we saw Baskonia scoring more than 50 points with an unbelievable 70% in 2pt field goals. For sure Heurtel will be a huge absence for the team from the Basque country but we are curious to see how they will continue in the Top16.
The game between Olympiakos and Red Star had beautiful things to see off the court but few things to see inside the court. It was an ugly game, with Red Star playing their usual physical, aggressive defense (we have mentioned from the 1st week that they are the best defensive team in terms of individual defenders) and in the end falling to Olympiakos because the Greeks scored big time threes in the end. From this game we want to focus again on the MVP of the group stage. This is no other but Boban Marjanovic. The improvement of this guy is huge. Even in the day that his opponents found ways to stop him he finished the game with 17 points and 13 rebounds. His technical adjustments in offense are great.
He is improving his post-up game and also his court vision. For a player that tall his passes are really insane. In defense he is a monster in the paint and he can be very effective also in pick and roll defense after switches. Only in the end when he was tired, he couldn’t follow the guards in the perimeter after the switch. He is finishing the 1st round averaging a double double (17pts and 11rebs) and in our eyes he is the MVP of the Euroleague till now. And something more for Red Star. They are one of the toughest teams we have seen in Euroleague. No team will have an easy night against them. Big respect for them.