Luis Fernandez can truly be considered as one of best experts in terms of youth basketball in Europe. He writes for Draftexpress as well as for acb.com and so we are more than happy to have his opinion on one of the most talented teams of the Euroleague when it comes to young prospects.
Overall record prediction: 5-5
It happens all the time: some teams qualify for the Euroleague after delivering an excellent season in their national championships, and then get weaker when it comes to actually play in the top European competition. They just can’t retain –often can’t afford- those top players that allowed them to perform at such a great level. DKV Joventut is just another example in the line. After being easily a top-8 team in Europe last season, playing some of the most spectacular basketball seen across the Old Continent, they had to suffer the departures of Jerome Moiso, Lubos Barton and especially the team superstar Rudy Fernández. Even the head coach, Aíto García Reneses packed his bags.
So it’s quite a new story this season, but still a lot of the old one. Showing less potential –it hurts to lose arguably the top player in the continent- Joventut is willing to keep alive most of the vitals that proved so successful during the last campaign (good enough for Copa del Rey and ULEB Cup titles). Fast tempo, perimeter oriented offense –relying heavily on three pointers- and aggressive defense are the staples of this team’s game.
If we talk about fast tempo, it doesn’t only mean to run the floor, but also to take quick shots. The objective is to get open looks, and fire as soon as the players find them, so Joventut ends up playing a lot of transition ball where players jack-up jumpers before the defense is established. We don’t need to mention that Ricky Rubio will be key here. Actually, he’s expected to become the leader of this core now that Rudy is out, and in a context of transition game, his decision making should emerge crucial to keep things under control for his team while it gets out of control for the opponents.
In the set offense, Joventut suffers a clear shortage of players able to disrupt defenses by themselves. Again Ricky Rubio and the new signee Bracey Wright –who has somehow come to play some of Rudy’s role in the team- should be the main facilitators to come up with individual solutions in the offensive end, Ricky officiating more as a distributor and catalyst, while Wright being more of a scorer (although he can pass the ball too and, for example, nicely executes the pick and roll). Demond Mallet is another option here, although a step behind, while Pau Ribas can provide some pick-and-roll creation.
If you look at the rest of the roster, it’s mostly finishers and role guys, and there are no legit low post threats to run the offense through them (youngster Henk Norel is clearly the most skilled post player, but he’s physically not ready to be more than a complimentary contributor yet). So virtually the whole offensive flow will be generated from the perimeter. Eventually finishers such as Eduardo Hernández-Sonseca or Pops Mensah-Bonsu will execute from around the rim, but expect much more regular long-distant production off the ball movement.
The best proof of the team’s willingness to continue being a major threat from the arc is this summer signings. Getting a couple of specialists such as Simas Jasaitis (who should improve his performing level enjoying a bigger role in Badalona than he had back in Vitoria and Tel Aviv) and Luka Bogdanovic provide a clear message on the issue. They will join forces with Demond Mallet, Jan Jagla, Bracey Wright, Ferrán Laviña or Pau Ribas, enabling the team to occasionally come up with massive scoring outbursts.
On defense, it remains to be seen if Joventut stays as aggressive on the passing lines as in the past. You can count on Rubio gambling there, but after losing both Rudy Fernández and Lubos Barton (with Ricky, the top three ball thieves in the whole ACB League last season), the team might opt for a little more conservative approach. Anyway, they have plenty of size with Sonseca, Jagla, Norel and especially Mensah-Bonsu to intimidate around the rim and cover the perimeter’s back, allowing their teammates to take risks. Still expect different kind of defenses, a variety of zones and full-court pressures. After all, the new coach, Sito Alonso, had been Aíto’s assistant for a few years. All in all, the defense should be the first source of fastbreaks and transitions plays.
In the end we’re talking about an exciting team, limited talent-wise, but still able to battle and beat any opponent if their shots are falling, and yet probably inconsistent for the same reason. Nevertheless, there’s enough meat here to get into the Top-16 without struggles, and perhaps battle for a quarterfinal spot. Much of Joventut’s forecast depends on Ricky Rubio. This should be the season when he establishes himself as a star in the Euroleague, and his habitude of exceeding expectations might carry the whole team in the same direction.
Final Four participants: Montepaschi Siena, CSKA Moscow, Panathinaikos, Olympiacos
Euroleague winner: CSKA Moscow
written by Luis Fernandez
Please note that this preview has been written before the injury of Ricky Rubio. Luis wants to mention that his absence could severely hurt his team options.