Second thoughts: Week 3 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.
It was the week of veterans and rookies, a week in which players closer to their 35th birthday showed how to get it done, while others in their debut Euroleague seasons stood out. A week that showed how and why tough Group C is the only one without unbeaten or winless teams, while collision courses were created between undefeaed co-leaders CSKA and Panathinaikos, in Group B, and FC Barcelona Regal and Montepaschi Siena, in Group D. The beauty is that next week, those four giants will meet to decide which of them stay unbeaten, creating something like a mini-Final Four already in November. Until then... here's how the third week of the season struck me.
Probably the best game so far
The final score tells Maccabi Electra beat its archrival Real Madrid 88-82, but if you didn't get a chance yet to see it, head quickly to Euroleague.TV and watch what was probably the best game of the season so far. The intensity, size, athletisicm and skills that were shown on the floor were mixed with small stories that made the game great. It was the Week 3 bwin MVP performance of Jordan Farmar. It was the great performance of Sofoklis Schortsanitis, especially in the second quarter, featuring two dives for loose balls that you just don't see every day from such a big guy. It was the great start of Rudy Fernandez and the greater Maccabi defense that held him to just 3 points in the entire second half. It's the three-minute span midway through the third quarter during which the two teams, led by Madrid's Jaycee Carroll, combined for no less than 7 three-pointers in 8 attempts. It's the big effort by Madrid to rally from a double-digit deficit in the closing minutes. It's Farmar's victory-sealing steal, his only one of the game, from Carroll's hands, inside the last 40 seconds, with just a five-point gap on the scoreboard. It was one helluva warmup for the Panathinaikos vs.CSKA and FCB Regal vs. Montepaschi clashesnext week.
High times in Nancy
When you make your Euroleague debut at the age of 33-and-a-half, you're one of the shortest guys in the competition at 1.75 and three years ago you were playing in the Estonian league (with all due respect), not many people would expect you to smash an all-time Euroleague record set by legends such as Tyus Edney and Theo Papaloukas. But SLUC Nancy point guard John Linehan did just that one Thursday. Linehan dished no less than 15 assists against Fenerbahce Ulker, making his the top single passing performance in Euroleague history! Linehan played over 33 minutes but parcelled his assists in three equal stages. The first five were dished in a span of 5 minutes in the first quarter. The next five were delivered between the 18th and 25th minutes. After one more break, the last five were registered in the game's last 7 minutes, including the record breaking 15th assist with 11 seconds left to play. Nancy put up a great fight and played excellent in the second half, ralling from a 21-point gap to lose by just 90-86 on the road in Istanbul. Nancy was without its second-best performer before this game, big man Akin Akingbala, and head coach Jean-Luc Monschau didn't go deep into his bench, playing only eight players, but getting near the victory. Linehan's record shadowed another outstanding performance by power forward Adrien Moerman. Challenged on this blog last week to show he can deliver against big teams, Moerman stood up to one of the thickest front lines in the Euroleague. He finished with 11 points, no less than 15 rebounds and a block. Only seven players before Moerman have grabbed as many as 15 rebounds before their 24th birthday, among them Jan Vesely, Andres Nocioni, Lior Eliyahu, Mirza Teletovic and Zaza Pachulia. Moerman is not in bad company.
Low times in Milano
Nerves seem to have played a big role in Milano this week as EA7 - Emporio Armani hosted Anadolu Efes with more than just one W on the line. Both these teams could find themselves in a tie-breaker situation down the road of Group C just to survive. The final score of 54-62 hints at how challenging this game was for both sides. For Milano, the tough home loss means that sooner or later it'll have to recover by winning on someone else's court. The team also set two lows in the history of the club. Its 54 points scored was the lowest offensive output for Milano in the Euroleague this century. It's previous low as 57 points on December 22, 2005 against...the very same Efes. Milano also suffered its Euroleague low for the century with just 2 three-point shots made. With Drew Nicholas, Ioannis Bourousis, Antonis Fotsis, Danilo Gallinari and Malik Hairston, Milano hired more than enough firepower this season to expect better offense than 54 points. Milano will have to fix the problem on the road, with consecutive trips to Charleroi and Tel Aviv.
Two winning stories
On Wednesday and Thursday nights, we saw Spanish teams Caja Laboral and Unicaja Malaga win right before the buzzer scenarios that had more than the timing in common. Their winning shot in each case was hit by a veteran guard who spent at least a major portion of his career on that team and is considered much more than a local fan favorite. Neither one is known for his scoring abilities, but is always there when you need him. Finally, both also hit their game-winners right after the opponents had scored a huge three pointer to take the lead. Caja Laboral's Pablo Prigioni had missed all of his five previous shots from the floor, all from the arc, before taking the last ball for his team, racing down court and dropping one from shorter distance. His first made shot of the game proved to be the most important one. Likewise, Rodriguez had not made any attempts inside the arc the entire game. Then, at the finish, the ball fell in his hands and he released a beautiful off-balance shot. Oddly enough, in the two games between Brose Baskets and Unicaja last season, two games that also went down to the last seconds, Rodriguez was the one to score the last points of the game. Caja Laboral and Unicaja have now combined for five wins in the six games this season. Four of those victories were very close ones, as Unicaja also beat Zalgiris in overtime and Caja Laboral edged Fenerbahce Ulker by three points. Clutch plays have made the difference for them between Caja Laboral's 3-0 and Unicajas 2-1 record – or 1-2 and 0-3.
Close to perfection
One of the best performances of the week was perhaps obscured by the bwin MVP show put on by Farmar, but just as worthy of mention. At the age of 34, Monepaschi Siena guard Rimas Kaukenas proved on Wednesday that he can flirt with perfection. Against Galatasaray, he finished his 27 minutes on the floor with 24 points by making 6 of 7 two-pointers, 2 of 2 three pointers and 6 of 6 free throws. One miss short of perfection, in other words. With just a single turnover and one personal foul committed, there were very few points to deduct from his performance index rating, 30, the week's third best. Kaukenas is in top shape this season for Montepaschi, showing that just like a great wine from Tuscany, he gets better with age. In three games so far, he has contributed 16.3 points with amazing shooting accuracy rates: 68.7% from two-point range, 71.4% from three-point range and 100%, a perfect 12 out of 12, at the foul line.
Happy birthday D.D.
A Greek angel whispered in my ear couple of days ago that it's time to bake a cake and bring out the funny hats as Dimitris Diamantidis will celebrate his eighth Euroleague birthday this week. While his real birthday is May 6, the day on which his third successful Final Four started last spring, his Euroleague debut was November 3, 2004. Back then he scored 5 points while going 1 in 5 from the floor along with 6 rebounds, 4 steals (of course), 4 turnovers, 1 assist and an index rating of 6. You know...first times tend to be less impressive than what follows. On Friday against Zalgiris, one day after that eighth Euroleague birthday, Diamantidis nailed 16 points and tied his all-time high with 4 three point strikes. He had the highest index rating for his team with 21. Research shows that last season, on the exact same date, a day after his seventh Euroleague birthday, D.D. had 20 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and a 31 index rating, his highest of the season. Coaches and bwin Fantasy Challenge fanatics, check your calendar from now on.
Bogdangenie, out of the bottle
One thing that separates European basketball from other leagues is the fact that players need to go through an adjustment period from one role on a small team to another role on a big team. That adjustment takes time and, when it takes too long, can lean to frustration at times for fans, media, management, a coach with no patience and, of course, the player himself. Fenerbache Ulker forward Bojan Bogdanovic was nothing less than the franchise player at Cibona Zagreb last season. It's not only the fact that he posted 18 points per game, but more the amount of shots he took each night, an average of 15.1. In the summer, he moved to a powerhouse team, where it's unusual for any single player, even once in a while, to take 15 shots in one night. Obviously, his role is different, and the effects were obvious on the floor. In the first two weeks, both FB Ulker losses, Bogdanovic scored just 2 points, both on free throws. He missed no fewer than 8 consecutive two- and three-point shot attempts. Welcome to the big stage, kiddo. Well, Bogdanovic didn't stay a kid for long. This week, he came off the bench for the start of the second quarter when the score was 23-17. Right away, he buried a pair of shots from the arc. Later, he added 5 more points for 11 in just 6 minutes. By then, FB Ulker was up 41-20. The great sharpshooter was back! Bogdanovic didn't add another point after that, and don't expect him to become the Cibona version of himself very soon, but the Bogdangenie is out of the bottle and ready burn some nets. Welcome back, Bojan.
New kids on the block
Galatasaray Medical Park and UNICS Kazan are far from being bad teams. They have deep and good rosters. They have talent. They have players with long experience, even at the Euroleague level. Nevertheless, when you're a club taking your first Euroleague steps, as these two are, you pay the price. Both teams faced this week two Euroleague giants in Montepaschi, which welcomed Galatasaray to Siena, and FC Barcelona Regal, which visited Kazan. Those two opponents aren't only Euroleague giants, but also two teams that take no nights off, and therefore show no mercy. Both gave their opponent a "Welcome to the Euroleague" lesson. Montepaschi won by 26 points while FCB Regal won by 28. They are better teams, but they are not THAT much better teams to win SO easily. It's just the price of being the new kid on the block and the time it takes to adopt to another level of intensity and talent.
Three players - one learning curve
Yet another "Welcome to the Euroleague" story tells the happenings of no less than three players who share a lot of things. Acie Law of Partizan mt:s, Ty Lawson of Zalgiris and Jordan Farmar of Maccabi Electra are three US-born guards who made their Euroleague debut this season. All three landed on teams with big expectations. All three had bad performances in Week 1, better but still not great on Week 2. They got it right this week, however. Law had 6 points, 6 turnovers and a -6 performance index rating in his debut, improved to 12 points and 4 assists in Week 2 and this week led Partizan to a key win with 26 points, 7 assists and just a single turnover against Spirou. Lawson had 7 points and an index rating of 4 in his debut, then improved a bit to 7 points and 9 rebounds, but still no assist, and an index rating of 8 on Week 2. This week led his team in index rating with 19 behind 14 points, 5-for-6 shooting, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and just 1 turnover. Farmar had 6 points on 3-for-11 shooting and an index rating of 2 in the first week, jumped to 11 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists last week, on Thursday night exploded with 27 points, 10-for-12 shooting, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 8 drawn fouls and an index rating of 35 that bestowed him the bwin MVP award for Week 3.
Yarone Arbel - Euroleague.ne
Saturday, November 05, 2011