Ball in Europe contributor Francesco Cappelletti offers his take on week one Euroleague action in the first of a regular series to run throughout the season. This week, Francesco looks at Madrid’s woes, Barcelona’s dominance, Asseco Prokom’s obsession with individual stats, and the waste of Tiago Splitter.
Sergio Scariolo seriously wanted two Spaniards on his Khimki, even if he could choose from among the best stuff the market could offer. One of his choices, Carlos Cabezas (not yet Raul Lopez) has shown why. That’s his branding on Real Madrid’s first false step: 20 points (including 15 in the last 15 minutes) off the bench, added leadership and the final key steal that made Ettore Messina’s comeback to Russia unlucky, after he believed he had won with Novic Velickovic’s layup – blocked by Paulus Jankunas – at the end of fourth quarter. It was the first Euroleague game in the team’s history and the first win for Khimki, against a squad whose absentees Felipe Reyes and Tomas Van den Spiegel were decisive, figuring the rebounds taken (33 against 44) and the depth an amazing Darjus Lavrinovic (32 points, 8-of-12 shooting, 11 fouls received, 49 ranking) couldn’t guarantee only by himself, because Jorge Garbajosa and Velickovic stayed far from the paint where Jankunas-Javtokas-Mozgov controlled the boards.
Who can beat Barcelona?
OK, it’s very early in the season to ask a question like this, but Barcelona has given serious notice to all the contenders. Fenerbahce Istanbul is built to get to the Final Four – no shame in saying that – and Barcelona simply destroyed most of Bogdan Tanjevic’s convictions. Ricky Rubio needed an opening 2-for-2 in his face by Will Solomon to turn on the defensive mode, then it became another story for him and his teammates able to keep a talented Fenerbahce roster at 21 points after 20 minutes. Fran Vazquez stayed on the floor for 23’58”: most among Barcelona players, because coach Pascual has to spin men and grant minutes to all his 11 players, from the 05’48” allowed Jordi Trias to the 16’29” reserved for Roger Grimau. What was stunning about Barcelona was its great variety of solutions, due to a roster full of versatile players. Fenerbahce went crazy trying to understand why Pete Mickeal took the ball shoulders to the basket while Erazem Lorbek and the big men attacked from the distance; at the same time, the great benefit brought by the opportunity to switch in nearly every situation is undeniable.
Searching for the go-to guy
Efes Pilsen and Caja Laboral are elite teams, no doubt. But how could they be helped by handling 10 excellent players without any identifiable stars to go to when the ball is heavy? The first round of Euroleague said these teams are in such a situation. Analysing the cases, there’s something different between Istanbul and Baskonia. Efes Pilsen has probably the best scorer since Euroleague’s birth in Igor Rakocevic in the mold former NBA starter Bostjan Nachbar. With the Slovenian forced to play power forward in some instances, and Preston Shumpert pressing Rakocevic, Smith and Thornton to find his space, the predictable result was that nobody was able to erect himself as main threat: The boxscore for the Lietuvos Rytas-Efes Pilsen game tells us that none of the aforementioned players went for more than nine shots in a game in which Vilnius has gifted Ergin Ataman’s team with 20 turnovers. Caja Laboral, still without Brad Oleson and Walter Hermann, gambled on Carl English and three false point guards like Pau Ribas, Marcelinho Huertas (a disaster not indicated in the numbers) and Chris Lofton. Lottomatica Roma dominated – it’s not correct to say they merely “won.” Now, I’m talking to you Dusko Ivanovic: Who can feed that NBA material called Tiago Splitter? It’s irrational having a gun like Splitter and not exploiting it because your coach has bought only shooters and no playmakers. Pablo Prigioni is no more in Baskonia; someone please inform Ivanovic.
Nice to watch
First impressions about Lottomatica Roma after two Serie A games were not so good. Defense hadn’t arrived yet, and the offense was solely in Ibby Jaaber’s hands (he scored 28 and 32 points in two games). Against Caja Laboral, Nando Gentile shook up his players, getting from them a concentrated exhibition on both ends of floor. Roma owns many skilled players able to create off the dribble, and many times isolation is the preferred solutions; however, when the defensive pressure is high like on Thursday, things get better for a team hard to stop when running. Euroleague newcomer EWE Baskets Oldenburg deserved to win in Poland over an Asseco Prokom too focused on individual statistics rather than fighting against the hungry German champions. If David Logan & Co. look like an addition of talent lacking in toughness (especially in the paint), Oldenburg is counting on the same group (except the positive addition Joshua Carter, arriving this summer from Texas A&M) of recent years, excellent in mentally approaching a competition that doesn’t excuse a team not ready from the go.
Cibona Zagreb seems to have totally failed in choice of US players: Jamont Gordon is interesting until he doesn’t have to take care of the ball, and Antonio Graves, well, he passed a throw-in to Montepaschi .. There’s a way for youngsters to debut in Euroleague: Martynas Pocius (Zalgiris Kaunas), Martynas Gecevicius (Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius), and Branislav Dekic (Partizan Belgrade) are the names for the future … “Never underestimate the heart of a champion,” said coach Rudy Tomjanovich many years ago. Today we can say the same for CSKA, victorious at the buzzer thanks to a mad three-point shot by Viktor Khryapa and just for this reason ready to deny all those critics that forecast a grey season for the Russians … Ksistof Lavrinovic was more than Terrell McIntyre and Alan Anderson was more than Maciej Lampe: an average yield with the numbers of their first game could carry Montepaschi and Maccabi straight to Paris … Panathinaikos and Olympiacos didn’t force it: Vassilis Spanoulis and Linas Kleiza only gave us a taste of what they could do, whenever they wanted … An awesome catch by Unicaja Malaga: With available minutes and teammates not so gifted offensively in the paint, Georgios Printezis started his Euroleague with an 8-of-8 from the field in Belgrade. This risks becoming the rule…