1 amazing streak; 1.5-1.5 record
Take your time and try to think of a team that had three games in a row that went into overtime. The Christmas break kinda seperated this streak, but Lottomatica Roma played their third over-time game in a row this week in the Euroleague. Pretty amazing…
The first was a home game versus the worst team in the group – Olimpija, which the Romans eventually won. The second was a game for the group title against the strongest team in the group – Tau Vitoria, which the Romans eventually lost.
So one win and one loss. The third game will have to break that equality, right? Hmmmm, yes and no. UlkerFener lost by 9 in Roma, and needed a 10 point win over the Gentile gang to finish 2nd in the group. For them going to overtime was a good thing, and indeedly doodly with two minutes to play in the extra period the Turks held a 9 point lead. Then came Sani Becirovic and in the same ease anyday people take a shower, he drilled two three-pointers to make it just a four point loss.
So…on paper Roma lost in Istanbul, but they also won the tie-breaker so in total their overtime record is 1.5-1.5.
3 way-tie in 3 pointers
The closeset race of the season was in the “Three points made” category. Three players – Damir Mrsic, Thomas Kelati and Mirza Teletovic finished on top of the stnadings with 26 made hits each. Each of the three had only a single game without hitting a long range shot. Kelati and Mrsic had the best perfrmances with 5, while Teletovic hit 4 in four different games. The Bosnian forward also holds the ‘loser’ title of the three, as he missed all his four shots from three point range for this week. If one had went in…
They say he got old, they say he’s not the same as before, they say he’s he can’t dominate like 2-3 years ago, but even if all that is true (don’t bet on that…) Theo Papaloukas proved in the last 10 games he still got lots of juice left, the type so few players have a chance to ever get.
When you get older you use your experience to know how to jiggle things in the most efficient way (although in some cases you might need a viagra to pull that trick). You learn how to cover for problems ageing brings on you, know how to focus better on the things you do well and spend as few energy as needed to achieve the goal. Theo, even in his Euroleague debut season, wasn’t forcing things, but take a look at his stats and see the beauty.
First of all he’s the top passer of the competition with a round 5 assists per game. Exactly one assist more than the runner-up, Omar Cook. If that’s not efficiency in the run for the gold, what is? Regardless of how many minutes he played, the Euroleague champion dished never below 4 and never above 6 assists.
Yet that’s not the only category Theo leads at the end of the regular season. In the six seasons in Moscow his 2pt percentage went from a low 56.4% to a high of 66.4% in the one before last campaign. This season he maximized his accuracy, by shooting no less than 81.8% in that range. In fact in the last 6 games Papaloukas didn’t miss a single shot, and stands on a 15/15 streak.
If that’s not enough, he’s also leading the ranking of the best overall field goal percentages with 70.45%. Better than any inside player in the Euroleague. Most of them hardly shoot outside the paint. The 2nd guard on the list is only on the 13th spot, and he is… a team-mate of the % king – Yotam Halperin.
After two seasons in the top of the Euroleague with Maccabi and Tau, Lithuanian forward, Simas Jasaitis, found a new home in a Badalona. In a smaller team he still didn’t manage to excel as much as he did in that season with Rytas. Decent season, nothing outstanding, nothing degrading. Once again it was a season of ups and downs. Four games in double-figures, six games with one or less three pointers. In one aspect Simas was one of the most stable players in the Euroleague. Check out his stat line in the two games against his ex, Tau Vitoria.
Shot blocking Match-up
No less than 13 blocks were registered in the Unicaja-Maccabi game, and 10 of them were equally divided between two players. Boniface Ndong and D’or Fischer are very similiar players. Around 7 foot tall, but their wingspan is spooky. Not too strong, and not the physical type, but run the court quicker than most big guys and use what they do have very well. No big post up game, here and there some mid-range shots, good but not super rebounders and most of their points will be off assists from slashing small guys or off offensive rebounds. The bottom line is they make very few mistakes, but aren’t target players and as a result are great back up big guy on a big team, which is not an easy thing to find.
Ah, right. They are also great shot blockers. Ndong stands on above 1 per game since coming back from the NBA when he played in big leagues as Russia and Spain. Fischer had above 2.5 per game when he played in the leagues of Germany and Belgium.
This week each had five blocks, and the anecdote was that each blocked the opponent point guard (Arroyo-Cabezas) twice and spread the rest on three different players. Maccabi’s big guy had a small edge in this run, as he wrote one of his blocks on Boniface. Only the third player in the history of the Euroleague to do that.
Israeli team under attack
Maccabi arrived to Malaga with a lot of momentum. Four wins in a row, a big one over Olympiacos and Pini Gershon, who most of the times had fun in Spain with Maccabi, on the lines. The answer Aito and Unicaja had for them was a blitz. By the 8th minute Unicaja held a 21-4 lead as all of Maccabi points came from the charity stripe. By then the Israeli powerhouse missed all their first nine attempts from the field, while Unicaja had a perfect 4/4 ratio from behind the arc. Game over. Done deal. Next!
The big Barca
After the draw set Barcelona in the same group with Pao and MPS it was easy to think they could finish 3rd without being too grumpy, but reality showed a different story. Barcelona not only took the first spot, and hold the best record (9-1) behind a seven wins streak. They have also done that in the most convincing way the Euroleague has ever seen.
Remember the 2004/05 CSKA team that reached the Final Four with a 21-1 record, lost their first game only after 17 wins in a row (Until they faced…Barcelona) and seemed like one of the strongest teams the Euroleague ever witnessed? That CSKA won six of their first ten games by 5 points or less.
Barcelona did drop a game in Siena, god forbid, but in their 9 wins the smallest margin was…11. It was the game in Athens that could have easily be done with a 20 point difference. Same goes for the two 12 point wins over Prokom.
True, six of their games were against Nancy, Zalgiris and Prokom, but in the ones they demolished MPS and Pao it was proved Barca is one of the most dominating teams the Euroleague saw.
The fact they have done that with JC Navarro in a so-so return season so far, David Andersen with an adjusting first leg and a role like any other inside player since, Jaka in his usual instability and basically not one player you can take to the All-Euroleague Regular Season team, shows what a great thing is happening there.
Barca is for real.
And now a surprising fact
Barcelona is ranked 23rd, one before last, in reciving fouls. The team of coach Pascual do take over 20 three pointers per game, which isn’t a shot that draws a foul normally, but there are teams who shoot more than that but also draw more. You might think their opponents didn’t play aggressive enough with them, but Nancy, Prokom and Pao are spotted well in the mid-section of the Euroleague in fouls committed, and Montepaschi’s defense isn’t really that soft (Although it depends on the line-up).
The reason for such a low numbers of drawn foul could be the many “garbage time” minutes in their games. Those dead minutes, when the game is already over and decided, and the defensive effort is losen up.
Anyhow, with Barcelona ranked 4th in FT%, sending them to the line might not be the best way to crack their system. At least not now. Maybe in the big games, when hands are more shaky…
No surprise in Ricardo Greer finishing on top of the turnovers standings. We have been following his performance on that aspect for weeks now. Greer holds the highest rate of turnovers per game, in a regular season ever in the Euroleague under ULEB wings. His final figures are 4.7 tpg, far above the second place with 3.0. If there’s any consulation for Greer it’s that he’s only 2nd in Turnovers per Minute. On top of that ranking is the big Sofo with 0.19 turnover per minute. Greer loses a lot of balls, but he’s a smart fella, which you could see in the sense that he kept distance from the Greek beast with “only” 0.14 turnover per game.
The fall of the US Guards
The Regular Season of 2008/09 didn’t give a great welcome for lots of US guards. Sure, some are still kicking and rising like Langdon, Kelati, Domercant, McIntyre, Greer, Thornton and Hawkins but much more would want to delete this season from the resume either for their general performance or the their mean weapon – the outside shooting.
J.R. Holden missed his first Euroleague games ever with a broken finger that kept him out for several weeks, but he’s the only one that has an off-court reason. Take a look at two of the veteran and respected US shooters in the past years – Louis Bullock and Drew Nicholas.
The first is having his worst season so far, standing on a poor 8.3 ppg, a terrible 12/42 from distance after being a 35% shooter and up for many years and his index rating is 5.7, including the memorable -11 performance @Panionios. Drew didn’t find his role in a big team as Pao so far, and after several great seasons average only 5.5 ppg, the same 12/42 three point ratio and a terrible 3.1 index. In 7 games he hit one or less three pointer.
The story goes on with other big names but also less familiar face or glory players. Charles Smith is also standing on below 30% from long range in a so-so season, and just like Drew didn’t hit more than one three pointer in 7 games. His team-mate Preston Shumpert, who already showed with three Italian teams he can be a threat from distance in the Euroleague, connected this season just 1 out of 10 and didn’t leave his mark in any other field.
FenerUlker’s Marques Green and Devin Smith were expected to deliver more than what they have showed so far, as Smith stands on 8/38 from the mentioned range. Dewarick Spencer recovered his credits in the last two games, but before that the same player who hit in 47.6% last year was 12 out of 42 this round.
More? Ibrahim Jabeer was never a great shooter from long range, but without a single 4/8 night his numbers are 2/18. In seven games in a row Brandon Jennings carried a 3/18 ratio. Andre Barrett is a less dominating power than people expected him to be in Europe with only 4.1 ppg and 1.5 rpg so far. Prokom’s David Logan was shooting whenever he had a chance, and sometimes even when he just had the ball without a chance, and by the end of the regular season stands on 27.6% from distance. If you count only the last nine games of the season it’s a disturbing 11/48. Mustafa Shakur will try to make his break in the future as the regular season won’t provide him with better credits for the future and last but not least is Willie Deane the 3rd.
Last year, in the ULEB Cup, he was the MVP of the season and top passer – 18.5 ppg, 50% from both ranges, 4.1 rpg, 5.8 apg and an index of 20.9. In his five games with Zalgiris he wrote a positive index just once (3!!!) and finished his short Euroleague career with a probably first ever career average of -3.2 in index, and totals of 16 points, 5/23 from 2 point, 1/4 from distance, and 13 turnovers.
The index rating isn’t a perfect tool to evaluate players and teams, but if somebody needed a proof it’s a good tool, take a look at this table. The top 6 ranked teams in this category are also the top six teams in the Euroleague – four group winners and two best runner-ups. Actually, among the top 12 teams there’s only one – Joventut – who didn’t finish in the top 3 in each of the four groups.
His name is Luca
it’s easy to miss but Armani Jeans Milano is one of the hottest teams in the Euroleague coming to the Top16. Their 5-5 record and the fact they weren’t in the top 4 of the group until the buzzer of the last week kinda put a shadow on their season so far, but Milano is one team to be hidden from right now. They started the games 0-4 but since then took a great run of 5 wins and one loss, on the road against…Efes Pilsen.
Looking closer on their terrible start it seems somehow logical and reasonable. Three of those games were in Moscow, Beograd and Madrid. That last one they should have won, but lost a 5 point lead in the last minute to drop a game by a single point. Patience has paid off.
But it wasn’t just patience. One big change in Milano is Luca Vitali. The 200m young point guard, who was marked as a big prospect in his youth, but kinda fell from grace for most scouts during the last years. Not too many 2m playmakers out there, but Luca, who grew up in the Montepaschi youth program with Luigi DaTome, eventually made his break. He returned from an injury only… in that game in Madrid. Obviously he’s not the sole reason, but surely deserves a lot of credit, especially in two crucial wins – vs. CSKA, that gave the team a lot of confidence and a big push and @Panionios, the game that put them in the Top16.
Luca stands on a great shooting performance so far. He’s hardly taking shots inside the arc, but stands on 5/8. From distance he’s impressive with 1.6 three pointer per game in 50%, while on the charity stripe he’s ka-ching with just a single miss in 23 attempts.
The problem is the three point ratio is cheating. In 5 of the games his record is a poor 4/17 but in those two mentioned above Luca was on fire, and combined a crazy 12/15 long distance shooting nights.
Against CSKA it was 5/6 and in Greece, the game to decide the season, a better 7/9, on his way to tie the Euroleague season high in points with 32. The 22 year old Vitali proved he steps up in big games, when the money is on the line. Stability comes with experience and age, but to show up for the deciding days it’s something very few can be taught.
Some of these three pointers were coming out of nowhere, and felt like for Luca the rim is bigger that night. In the Top 16 the big games come more often. No time to play cards. Already done with one great streak, the tall point guard will need to face new ones, bigger ones. Time for another step up.
The season decider
And one joint about the future. The one that will be decided in a few hours in the Top 16 draw.
As long as the system remains the same and the number of “big clubs” is roughly the same every season, the success or fall of a season for many teams is decided in the Top16 draw, when you know not only who you’re going to face, but also who could you play in the quarter-finals.
Two years ago Maccabi had Tau in the same Top16 group and CSKA in the parallel one. To finish above Tau was close to impossible for that Maccabi, and eliminate CSKA without home court advantage was stickily not in reach. Last season the same Maccabi got less intimidating Real Madrid from the top seed of the Top16 draw, managed to snap the top and face an unstable Barcelona in the QF on the way to the Final Four with a very average team.
This is the case for many teams this year too. Lottomatica can be drawn with CSKA and Pao or CSKA and Maccabi. Two totally differnet story that can make the difference between a great season or just another one with nothing more than a Top16 tour (at least if you check the bottom line). They can be matched with the parallel group of CSKA and Montepaschi or the one of Unicaja and Real. One scenario will make their road to the F4 very hard, another more than likely.
Making it to the F4 or not is much more than just the prestigous feel in May or the bottom line at the end of the season. If Roma makes to Berlin or not can influence their position in the market next summer. Players like to play for F4 teams. Agents want their players to be in successful teams. They will be more flexible to be on a team that can play for the title. Also it will send a totally different note to the fans and media. Getting stuck in the Top16 one more time will put pressure to make many changes. Making it to the F4 will result medicore changes in the right places (As Roma should do).
Roma is just one example. That’s not only the case of an underdog as Lottomatica. Take F4 favorites as Montepaschi and Tau who can be in the same group and one of them will finish second. If the parallel group will be the one of CSKA, and one of them will travel to Moscow without the home court advantage we will have a Final Four without one of those favorites. If their parallel group will be of Unicaja and Lottomatica everything can be different.
Whatever you have done so far is just the foreplay. You could have finished 1st and get a tough draw that will make the road to Berlin a nightmare. You could have finished 3rd and get a decent draw that opens more than a crack of light to the highest stage.
As long as the system remains the same and the number of “big clubs” is roughly the same every season, the success or fall of a season for many teams is decided in the Top16 draw.