Second thoughts: Week 2 insights
Basketball junkie Yarone Arbel has been traveling the globe to watch games for almost a decade. He works as an analyst for official websites of the top competitions and events in European basketball. He also uses his experience and broad network of connections to provide consulting and scouting services for clubs at all levels.
If the opening week of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague saw the road teams dominate, in Week 2 only three teams lost in front of their fans. This was a week of trends. All the Spanish team that played at home won. The one that played on the road lost. Both Russian and Greek teams won. All three Turkish teams lost, all in close games, two of them at home. More than enough to give me some second thoughts.
A more than worthy runner-up
Nicolas Batum grabbed Week 2 bwin MVP honors, but do take a look at the runner-up Giorgis Printezis of Olympiacos too. The new version of the Reds is made of one superstar in Vasilis Spanoulis and around him several players of whom none is a big star, but each night any of them can perform as one, backed by several prospects. This week it was the turn of Printezis to step up. In the key win over Fenerbahce-Ulker he came off the bench to collect 21 points – 17 of them in the last 15 minutes – while making all his 5 shots inside the arc and both attempts beyond it. He missed a single free throw in 6 attempts to miss just by a centimeter a perfect shooting night, and added 7 rebounds and a total of 31 index rating points. The index and the rebounds are his Euroleague career highs. And Olympiacos won.
Five minutes snowball
Bennet Cantu, in its first Euroleague run, started the competition with a home win and right before the third buzzer in Vitoria were tied with the favored hosts, but just when it seemed an upset was brewing, a few minutes in which Cantu lost focus exampled how that is something you just can't do. Not against a team like Caja Laboral. Not in Vitoria. For the next five minutes, Cantu wasn't there and if it's any consolation to Coach Trinchieri, it was a team effort. In that time frame, that the hosts used a 14-3 run and decide the game. Cantu missed 4 shots, each by a different player and turned the ball over five times, once again nobody did it more than once. In the other 35 minutes, Cantu committed a total of 9 turnovers. Trinchieri tried to stop the snowball with no less than six subs in four minutes, but Laboral was already far ahead. And if you didn't see Mirza Teletovic's one hand dunk late in that run, find the time.
Nervousness time. Already.
It's only the second week of the season, but with a 10-game regular season, every game counts. It's felt already now. The Game of the Week between Olympiacos and Fenerbache Ulker presented that in the last minute of the close-close game. The 7-point gap at the buzzer will fool you. It was just a 2-point game within the last ticks. What exampled just how important this game was for both teams was the nervousness in the last minute. No less than 6 turnovers, 3 by each side, and each of the 6 by a different player, written inside the last minute of the game. Certainly not an everyday scene.
AK 47 is the tool
The first signs were already on opening night when CSKA Moscow won at Zalgirio Arena. The first quarter in Moscow this week gave the final stamp. Andrei Kirilenko is putting on display that is among the most impressive the Euroleague has seen. True, it's still not powerhouses he's facing (@Panathinaikos in Week 4 - mark your calendar!). Yeah, it's only two games so far. Sure, there are and were lots and lots of great, great players in the Euroleague since its foundation, but the composer of this blog can't remember a player that made so many things look so easy and could seemingly do whatever he wishes on the floor. Perhaps a big part of it is that Kirilenko has great skills on both sides of the floor and he can really do whatever you need him to - scoring close and far, passing, stealing, blocking, rebounding. He's the complete package. Something only very few of the real top could deliver. It's the real deal. Kirilenko is playing like no one has played before him. Perhaps it's a phase. Perhaps soon he'll become human. Until then do not dare to miss.
The trick to winning in Istanbul - Part I
Before Wednesday night started, it seemed like one of the least interesting nights in this Euroleague season. CSKA vs. Brose Basket, KK Zagreb vs. Panathinaikos, Efes vs. Spirou Charleroi and Caja Laboral vs. Bennet Cantu are four games with clear favorites. Yet this is still the Euroleague, and when you see a bag full of favorites, there are more than good chances one will slip up. This time it was Anadolu Efes, which was shocked in front of its fans by one of the most dangerous underdogs in the competition. What stood out for the guests was their great execution in the last minutes. Charleroi scored 11 points in the last four minutes to decide the game (the last two were a pair from the foul line to ice the win) and all of them were far from the basket. It started with back-to-back three pointers by Caleb Green, followed by another three pointer shot by Demond Mallet and finished with Justin Hamilton's tough jumper a step inside the arc with shot clock pressure. The visitors hit in the deciding minutes 4 of their 9 attempts from the floor, all far from the basket, and covered for 2 of their missed shots with offensive rebounds in the last minute with the score tied.
The trick to winning in Istanbul - Part II
Twenty-four hours passed and it seemed like winning in Istanbul with long range hits in the closing minutes became a trend. Galatasaray hosted UNICS Kazan and with the final buzzer the first recorded their first ever Euroleague loss, while the guests picked up their first ever Euroleague win, and it was all thanks to three-pointers. Down 62-57 with a little over three minutes to play, UNICS started to bomb. Mike Wilkinson was the first, followed by Terrell Lyday, who made it a 1-point lead for the visitors with his only field goal in the game in 6 attempts and the final bomb, one you can't allow yourself to miss, was by Henry Domercant. With his team up by a single point, the shot clock about to expire and one of the best guard defenders in the Euroleague in Jamon Lucas in his face, he took a tough three-point shot that went in. What a bomb... UNICS made in the closing minutes 3 of their 5 attempts from the floor, all far behind the arc, and fixed one miss with an offensive rebound that led to free throws.
In Madrid we saw EA7 Emporio Armani Milano fight the local Real for a 2-0 record in a game that went one way for the first two-and-a-half quarter and the exact opposite in the last one and a half. The score was the most obvious one, from a 40-53 lead in the 24th minute to an 85-78 loss at the buzzer, but there were two main reasons why Madrid scored no less than 45 points in the last 16 minutes. Until the 26th minute, each side registered the same 8 turnovers, yet from that point until the end the hosts managed to keep the ball in their hands and not to drop it even once, while Milano added 4 more (and an additional when the game was decided). The second aspect was three-point shooting. Milano reached its top gap by hitting 5 three-pointers in 11 attempts, but in the last 15 minutes hit just a single attempt in 8 tries. Madrid was 5 of 13 in the first mentioned period, but 6 of 11 until the buzzer. Sure Jaycee Carroll had his first big Euroleague game, scoring 10 of his 21 points in the last quarter, but actually hit just once from the arc in the "good minutes". It was a team effort and one sub - Carlos Suarez in a bad game out and in goes Marty Pocius - that gave Madrid the needed balance.
Sonny Weems seems so far as one of the better off-season moves in the Euroleague. Zalgiris enjoys his great athleticism, shooting, slashing and rebounding skills. So far he scored 16 points against CSKA and added 21 this week at Malaga. Yet luck wasn't on his side down the stretch on Tuesday night and in the closing two minutes of regulation. When Weems had the ball he was playing football more than basketball. With the scored tied at 63-63 inside the last two minutes, he slashed from the right wing but the ball hit his foot and moved to Unicaja's hands. Then with 9 seconds to play he grabbed a defensive rebound, still a tied game, and a great chance to win it for Zalgiris with a quick play. Yet his first dribble hit the foot of Robertas Javtokas and the ball returned to Unicaja's hands.
Gimme some mo' Moerman!
Nancy's Adrien Moerman isn't a very familiar name yet around European basketball. A 23-year-old power forward that was always in the shadows. With the youth national teams he won two European Championship gold medals and bronze in the World Championships, but was always in the shadows of his current teammate Batum, Le Man's Antoine Diot, Alexis Ajinca and even Asvel Basket's Edwin Jackson. Now it's Moerman's time to blossom. The young prospect is playing tough every night. He's not flashy or a highlight player, but uses his energy and strength to get things done. In his first Euroleague season, back in 2009-10 with Orleans, he was still mellow posting 6.2 points and 2.9 rebounds. Now, more mature and ready, after two weeks in this season he's already standing on 14 points in 50% from the floor, 4 rebounds and 1 block. Actually counting back to that season with Orleans, Moerman holds a streak of one blocked shot in each of his last seven Euroleague games. Very, very few players have done that. Among them even fewer, if any, are 2.01 meters not crazy athletic players. Moerman posted 15 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist, obviously 1 block and only 1 turnover to reach an index rating of 17 this week when Nancy got its first win. Kudos. Yet big tests are ahead of him. So far he faced Bennet Cantu and Bizkaia Bilbao Basket. Two teams in their first ever Euroleague season. His next three weeks hold encounters with Fenerbache Ulker, Caja Laboral and Olympiacos. If Moerman shows he can perform this well against the big boys too, he'll be under a magnifying glass.
The offensive side of the glass
Not many teams get to finish a game with a shooting percentage lower than 35% and still prevail, but Unicaja Malaga showed on Tuesday night timing is everything and that offensive rebounding can do wonders if you miss a lot. After chasing Zalgiris almost the entire game, Unicaja stepped up in crunch time. Never-ending Berni Rodriguez scored 7 (of his 9) points without a miss with a three pointer, layup and free throws when Unicaja came back from 54-61 inside the last minutes to force overtime. In that period the hosts didn't miss a single shot from the floor and committed just 1 turnover. When the extra time started Unicaja nearly finished a possession without scoring. No less than 4 missed shots by the locals were fixed with an offensive rebound. Five other possessions finished with points. Unicaja grabbed no less than 52 rebounds on this game - a new team high in its long-long Euroleague history. Of them 19 were on offense.
Quick question - quick response
Coach Vlade Jovanovic was asked if his team, Partizan, is in trouble after going 0-2 in such a tough group following the loss to Maccabi Electra. He quickly fired back: "Two years ago we started the season 0-2 and made the Final Four." To add detail, Partizan had not started 0-2 since the 2005-06 other than that magical season. Five other teams are still without a win. Two of them have at least the Top 16 on their minds in Zalgiris Kaunas and Fenerbahce-Ulker. Jovanovic's quick hit is a message sent to Kaunas and Istanbul as well. There is still a long, long way to go.
One last short bit on CSKA's 20-point win over Brose Baskets. To win big is one thing. It happens often to a powerhouse, especially at home, when underdogs come to town. Yet check out the quarters splits for Coach Kazlauskas. 24-23-24-23. in two quarters against Zalgiris in Week 1 his team scored 23 and 25 and the other two weren't very far from there. The wheels are already oiled in the new CSKA system. It shows the quality isn't hurt when subs come off the bench. Though playing at Athens on Week 4 will be the first big test for the system.
YARONE ARBEL - Euroleague.net
Friday, October 28, 2011