Francesco Cappelletti’s regular column with BallinEurope is back as our man in Italy takes a look at the after-effects of Euroleague week two action. This time out, Francesco sees European basketball history returning to the old days on the Continent while Balkan squads fight economic problems but dispatch Western European teams anyway. And early on, what have proven to be the better Euroleague transactions involving big names and bigger contracts? Read on!
The *big* problem
The recent history of European basketball shows an amazing evolution to starting fives full of dynamism and athleticism, but not weight – even in the 5 position, originally land of real big men limited in the paint. We were used to having pick-and-rolls, then pick ‘n’ pops. Now it seems it’s time to go back to the old traditions.
We see teams which play hard, physical, due to a specific choice by the coaches. To win against the Euroleague’s best, you don’t need to run and shoot from outside with your centers any more: This is why some contenders have changed their tactical directions. CSKA Moscow employs three true 5s in Boban Marjanovic, Dmitry Sokolov, and Sasha Kaun; Panathinaikos replaced Nikola Pekovic with Aleks Maric and over to Mike Batiste, Ian Vougiukas, and Kostas Tsartsaris. For his Olympiacos squad, Dusan Ivkovic wanted Rasho Nesterovic and Matt Nielsen to better protect the basket; in Madrid, D’Or Fischer has joined Ante Tomic and Felipe Reyes: all big men, often playing alongside each other.
Thanks to a strong frontline, this week Real destroyed Unicaja in rebounding (54-26, 24 of them offensive), keeping Novica Velickovic – far from becoming a small forward – and shooting power forward Jorge Garbajosa out of the rotations.
But how does it work? What does a team need to sustain a frontcourt with … I mean, Kosta Perovic and Fran Vazquez? Defensively, a first line very aggressive on the ball is required, combined with greater use of zones and matchups. Offensively, good sharing of space plus teammates in the backcourt willing to look to the low/high post before going themselves. Last Thursday, PAO got past CSKA when Zelimir Obradovic called a persistent in-and-out play to move Moscow’s static internal defense. Drew Nicholas, Stratos Perperoglou and Romain Sato put it in from three, but without the dirty job done inside by Batiste the strategy would have not been effective.
In the same way, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s decision to full court press Zalgiris’ guards from the throw in, prevented the not so feet-speedy Sofoklis Schortsanitis and Richard Hendrix from difficult recoveries inside the arc and therefore consequent foul troubles. Someone said the perimeter, moved to 6.75 meters, would magnify the shooters’ ballistics: a huge error, as the big men are again in the fight.
New team, old player?
By signing a much more profitable contract than what they could have gotten with their previous clubs, many Euroleague stars thought the remainder would be easy. Instead, while Sato and Vassilis Spanoulis are close to satisfying their coaches’ desires, most others are one or two steps behind the expected performances.
Right now, Omar Cook can’t be the leader of a talented group like Valencia, because there simply isn’t another go-to player to whom to give the ball when defenses stifle. Remember he is not a scorer but one of the best shoulders in Europe in his role. Marko Tomas lost the personal battle with his former twin Bojan Bogdanovic and generally plays the competition he previously did in Madrid. Same goes for Lawrence Roberts, whose space is not infinite as with Partizan; Roberts must stay at length on the floor and in Istanbul he can’t. The worst case, though, is T-Mc’s. While Montepaschi is trying to decide whether Bo McCalebb is a playmaker or a short shooting – oops, *penetrating* guard – Terrell McIntyre hasn’t succeeded in handling this team, not consistently scoring either after his usual fakes or his speed changes.
It’s not time to judge the summer market moves yet, but time nevertheless is running out and the mid-season wall approaches.
Balkans always on the top
For several reasons – financial, political, philosophical – they can’t stand on the same ground as the biggest European clubs. But as always, the Balkan teams fight and win against them. This year, these teams’ situations are different from one another, but the common thread is a lack of money not to lure big players but to assure ending the season debt-free.
In particular, Union Olimpija has built a solid squad starting with Jure Zdovc who might legitimately represent the new face of Balkan coaching. Olimpija has depth at every position (Giorgi Shermadini as a fifth big man is a luxury); US players accustomed to playing in Europe (Kenny Gregory, Marque Perry, Kevinn Pinkney); a strong Slovenian core (Vlado Ilievski, Saso Ozbolt, Goran Jagodnik); and a former “in-progress” star in Damir Markota. Ljublijana surprised Efes Pilsen via two overtimes in the home debut, then shocked AJ Milano after a slow start when Saso Ozbolt was alone against twelve red-and-white enemies. Olimpija has amassed four points in a two-week schedule of a group immediately marked as terrible.
Partizan Belgrade must always count on its resources, so Maric’s departure was the occasion to launch other youngsters. Then there’s Jan Vesely. Finally, an extra European player perfect for new coach Jovanovic’s ideas: defense, defense, and defense. BC Khimki and its offensive threats ended up scoring 68 points at Pionir.
Cibona Zagreb still has no win in its game bag, and next week visits Montepaschi Siena, coming off a slipup in Varese. I think they’ll follow Ljublijana and Partizan and their results. Bogdanovic’s a top five Euroleague shooting guard, and the frontline excites me. Drago Pasalic is the right broody hen for a trio that is a combined 60 years old.
Until Mario Delas understands how to be effective in a few minutes off the bench, and Tomislav Zubcic reaches a decent level of consistency, the Croatians can rely on Leon Radosevic: He ran up 15/9 against the superhuman Barcelona frontcourt, and a 16/4 when facing Fenerbahce’s Darjus Lavrinovic, Oguz Savas, Mirsad Turkcan, Gasper Vidmar, and Kaya Peker…
Simply the best part of AJ Milano in the 19 minutes he played, Jonas Maciulis watched the final fall against Olimpija from the bench. With nobody able to score among the guards, Piero Bucchi incredibly forgave him … Just some numbers: two games, 33 minutes, 33 points. Name: Sofoklis Schortsanitis … Red alert in Barcelona because Ricky Rubio’s minutes are decreasing in a hurry. He can’t play the same amount of time as Victor Sada … What a nightmare the last 2:30 was in Vilnius: both Lietuvos Rytas and Montepaschi showed zero mind in these type of games, knotted up until the buzzer … Is Brian Roberts of Brose Baskets the fastest Euroleague guard? Maybe. For sure he was indefensible for Olympiacos…