In watching and commenting the game, a word that oh-so-often comes to mind is "approach". A certain team had the right or wrong approach. A certain player came to the game carrying the right or wrong face. And on it goes.
I say this not to deny that mentality is a big part of the Game. It is indeed the biggest part of it, no doubt at all. It's just that without going deeper into this concept, we unwillingly suggest sometimes that this "approach" is just something that you put or don't put in the gym bag before leaving home. On the contrary, I'm afraid it's a little bit more complex than that, since getting the right approach is only partially a matter of wanting it. It is much more a by-product of many factors, not always entirely under a person's control.
I mean, we can definitely perceive the difference between right and wrong approaches. If, for example, you witnessed the Virtus Roma-Real Madrid game last week, it did not take a scientist to see a difference in effort. The Spanish team was really picking up intensity by the play, while its Italian counterpart was flatter and flatter by the minute. That, obviously, had a lot to do with Real Madrid's lead getting bigger and bigger, therefore boosting one team's morale and deflating the other's. You can bet that a good way of judging a team's value is by watching it play under duress, and Roma did not do a good job of fighting adversity. But the difference between what Roma did in two victories to open the season vs. what Roma did in last week's game was so striking that you have to exclude the possibility of them being able to choose the right (or wrong) approach on purpose.
The reasons why a team clicks or not are largely mysterious and hard to investigate. When you are associated with a successful organization, you like to think that you discovered the method of blending individuals into a successful unit. Then, you get different individuals (maybe even better ones on paper), you use the same approach, and yet the results can be drastically different. The only ingredient that definitely helps the process is time. The only other way to pursue success under this regard is trial-and-error. And that is why you should not believe too much in a couple of good or bad games until a trend is established. Nor should you believe too much to the right or wrong approach …
Seeing is believing
Having talked about intangibles, the other reason why we love this game is that strategy has a lot to do with it. With all the unpredictability and mystery connected with basketball, the coaching is so important. Take the Barcelona-Fenerbahce Ulker game for example (a helluva game by the way). A big part of Fenerbahce's win was bad three-point shooting by Barcelona; the champs 3-for-19 in all from long-range, missing their last 6 and 13 of the last 14 attempts. That might have had something to do with luck and something with approach of course. But it also had to do with Fenerbahce's game plan. Those triples were coming mainly from transition and screen-and-rolls. The Turkish team decided to play the latter by being very aggressive on the ball, closing out very hard on smaller players and taking a chance with the bigger ones on Barcelona, who were left virtually open to take an unguarded three-pointers. It goes without saying that if Lorbek, Morris & Co had made a few of those shots, the Fenerbahce defensive strategy would have paid fewer dividends. But the risk was a calculated one, and what I particularly liked was the level of execution Fenerbahce showed on defense. It looked like they really believed in what they were doing, and I'm pretty much convinced that the Gods of basketball can recognize that. Also, it's not the first time since the whole thing started that I get this impression from Fenerbahce Ulker. Standing on top of their group at 3-0, they play Siena this coming week, a team with a system that can be compared to Barcelona's. Before counting how many threes Lavrinovic or Ress will make, I'll be curious to see if the Turkish team can avoid complacency after such a big win.
Never say never
What's wrong with CSKA ? Going 0-3 is not the end of the world. They had a rough start also in 2005, and their Euroleague season ended in triumph with Ettore Messina sent flying in the air by Vanterpool & Co. in Prague. Also, injuries are playing such a big part up until now that we are not talking about the real CSKA. And trying to adjust to Coach Vujosevic's system while playing tough games on the road isn't so easy, either. Having said that, consecutive losses by 15 (at home), 14 and 25 points are hard to ignore. Especially hard to ignore are the facts. The team that was envied by the whole Euroleague for effortlessly moving the ball is playing too much isolation basketball, a clear reflection of problems in jelling. Also, the defense is particularly weak, coming back in transition with a very small degree of efficiency and having a hard time containing dribble penetrations. This week CSKA plays surprising Union Olimpia Lubiana, a high-octane offense with not much to lose at this point. The consensus, and my idea for that matter, is that Moscow will cancel the zero in its loss column, but once again, never say never…
Flavio Tranquillo - Milan, Italy
Monday, November 08, 2010