Second thoughts: Week 5 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.
The first part of the Regular Season is behind us and it finished with style. Once again the majority of the games were close ones, we saw two huge last minutes runs by the visiting team, two great upsets in Group B, another performance for the history books by Dusan Kecman, Jaycee Carroll making his way into the books and history taking place in Group A. Week 5 provided too many things to mention them all. Here's a taste.
Kecman does it again
At the end of the game in Tel Aviv one person from Spirou Charleroi was curious what was going on in Milano. "It's an 18-point game, last quarter. Milano will win," was the answer he got. Well, wrong. Partizan made a clutch performance it usually keeps for Pionir Aarena. A little over five minutes to go it was still 62-47 but then walked in Dusan Kecman and made miracles. Up to that point this season, in four games and 35 minutes Kecman, collected only 19 points and 11 rebounds. In the remaining five minutes he added 9 points without a single miss and 3 rebounds to lead a 1-20 run that shocked Milano. The loss complicates things for the EA7, more than its 2-3 record. In the next game head coach Scariolo's team head to Tel Aviv, then a home game against Real Madrid and then a trip to Istanbul to meet Efes. Yikes. To cap the fun, the last game of its regular season, which could turn out a crucial one, will be in Belgrade, probably the last place in Europe you want to play a crucial game.
Group A - where anything can happen
Group A created a unique situation in the Euroleague. For the first time in history, the leader of a group after five weeks has less than four wins. With three teams at 3-2 and the other three at 2-3, with big dramas and upsets every week, with the majority of the games decided by up to 5 points, the more than well-respected performances for rookie clubs as Bennet Cantu and Gescrap Bilbao and the domination of Nicholas Batum, Group A becomes the most interesting show so far and the closest race in Euroleague history.
Batum's domination can't be ignored, though it must be said that this week it was limited. Batum fell from the clouds and seemed human after four weeks high up above us. With near triple-doubles in his first two games and posting performance index ratings of 36-29-35 in the last three, he fell to his first single-digit performance with 9 points and an index of 14. It wasn't without a reason. Coach Duda Ivkovic came ready for that. Michalis Pelekanos, who played less than five minutes so far this season, came off the bench for more than 23 minutes and not only had 11 points and 5 rebounds but mostly exampled great on- and off-ball defense on Batum. Yet it certainly wasn't a one man job. Olympiacos rotated defenders on Batum the whole game and showed great team defense on Nancy's star. Bravo!
Execution Siena style
Montepaschi Siena is back on the winning track, but the big story in Siena is an ongoing one. A phenomenon that can't be overlooked, not after five weeks. When teams relay on high shooting percentages, it's often by the bigs and around 60-65%. But head coach Pianigiani gets it from the back court and at a much higher accuracy. One that is close to being illegal. Bo McCalebb isn't only scoring 17.4 points in 26:31 minutes, he's close to being impossible to stop. With his 1.83 meters, the lightening quick point guard is scoring at 75% two-point range and 77.8% from behind the arc. His teammate Rimas Kaukenas isn't too far behind, scoring 14.8 points on 54.8% two-point shots and 80% behind the arc. If you take out the 3-for-11 shooting performance against FC Barcelona Regal, Kaukenas even stands on 70% inside the arc. There are several guards with an exceptionally high level of execution this season, and more on that perhaps next week, but having two that are so high and on the same team is scary.
Prigioni the pest
It wasn't the first time Aaron Jackson faced Pablo Prigioni, but it was certainly one he'll never forget. It was Caja Laboral's leader that drew the first foul from Jackson already in the first quarter, but entering the second half there was still just one light next to Jackson's name. Then it started. In the 22nd minute Prigioni stole the ball from Jackson and trying to stop his rival going on a fast break the refs called an unsportsmanlike on Jackson. In the 27th minute Prigioni glued himself to Jackson and made him use his hand to get space and that was an offensive foul. One minute passed and the exact same arms pushed Prigioni away again, resulting another offensive foul this time followed by a technical. Jackson committed all of his fouls on Prigioni, one on defense, then four more in a span of six minutes, two of them on offense, one on a loose ball and another technical. Prigioni's 101 class on how to get an opponent out of his zone.
With Jackson out, head coach Fotios Katsikaris went for Josh Fisher and earned from him a great performance. 2 points, 1 rebound, 1 steal, 1 block, 0 turnovers and 4 assists - the first of them a big alley-oop with D'or Fischer and 2 during the big run. What run? Bilbao entered the last two minutes down 81-76 but then made a huge dash scoring 11 points in a row. "When you lose like we did, nothing looks good," said Prigioni after the game. "Everything looks very bad," he emphasized. Prigioni missed 2 shots from behind the arc, and saw teammate Kevin Seraphin commit back-to-back turnovers from the same spot in that span of time. Bilbao finished all its possessions with points to take the game and assure anything can happen in Group A.
Not to underestimate KK Zagreb...
On one side there was a smiling coach - Vladimir Androic of KK Zagreb - as his team grabbed its debut Euroleague win after losing four games in a row in a total of 105 points difference. On the other, Alekandar Trifunovic of Zalgiris wasn't satisfied to say the least. "I don't want to underestimate KK Zagreb, but this is a game we needed to win," said Trifunovic. And it's not that Zalgiris didn't have a chance. Paulius Jankunas, on a great night, went in the last minute to the foul line to shoot twice down by a single point, but made just one. Then, Zalgiris made a smart move by fouling a subpar free throw shooter in Mario Kasun, but saw the Croatian big hit one shot. Once again down by a point, now in the closing seconds, Sonny Weems, in his first bad Euroleague performance, made an awful turnover. Zagreb kept Zalgiris alive by once again making just 1 free throw, but the best Zalgiris could bring out of its final attempt to save the night was an off balance shot in a crowd that was nowhere close to going in. "We decided to defend their last possession and that was more of a wish of my players than me. I asked them if we are ready to defend, they said they are ready. I felt energy and determination in them in that moment," explained the coach. Not to underestimate KK Zagreb, but the way Zalgiris executed, especially in the last minute, made going with defense in the last seconds the smartest choice of the night.
Bad memories from Germany
Panathinaikos doesn't have great memories from visiting Germany. Back in the 2004-05 season the Greens suffered a huge upset with a 68-66 loss to Opel Skyliners that nobody expected. Last night it was Brose Baskets who made the upset 79-76 and used the second-worst free-throw shooting performance in Panathinaikos's history. Just 5 made shots in 11 attempts were the second time in history PAO dropped below 50% from the foul line and that's already a second loss in a row for the champs. "Something I have learned over the years is that every time we take the European title, the following year every team played us with a lot of motivation," shared Obradovic. Keep an eye on that.
The sweet moment
"I am going through a sweet moment in my game right now," said Jaycee Carroll after another scoring performance when Real Madrid beat Anadolu Efes by 20 points and became the only team to reach 100 points twice this season (actually only Montepaschi Siena reached that too and just once). Let's break down that "Sweet moment". In his Euroleague debut season, Carroll is averaging an index rating of 19 with a points average of 18.6. These numbers are parallel for a good reason. There's not a lot more Carroll brings to the floor other than points, but his scoring ability is something the Euroleague had not seen before. Despite being a unique automatic three-pointer shooter, his shots are divided almost equally inside and outside the arc. He has scored so far 19 times from behind the arc at 67.9% and that's not even the most impressive thing because he's doing that in just 21:50 minutes per game. Think about the greatest three-point shooters in the history of the Euroleague. David Blu, Juan Carlos Navarro, Gianluca Basile and Marko Popovic averaged 0.07 three pointers per minute. Mirza Teletovic, Drew Nicholas, Carlton Myers, Louis Bullock and Charles Smith stand on 0.08. Terrell McIntyre, Aleksandar Djordjevic and Tyrone Ellis on 0.09 and only three players made it to 0.1 and stand on top of the standings - Damir Mrsic, Thomas Kelati and Rudy Fernandez. Where is Carroll at the moment? 0.17. Five games aren't enough to indicate an entire career as all the mentioned shooters had, but if Carroll continues this way he'll be in a totally different shootings sphere. Until make sure you get a taste of that sweet moment yourself. At least by watching.
The medical insurance in Turkey became a must-have item this season if you're a fan of Fenerbahce Ulker. Five games inside this Euroleague season and the Turkish fans saw their team go through five thrillers. A 3-point home loss to Caja Laboral, a 7-point road loss to Olympiacos that extended to seven only in the last 10 seconds and then three wins in a row – a 4-point gap over SLUC Nancy, 3-point win on the road over Gescrap Bilbao and this week an overtime 2-point win over Bennet Cantu. It was that close for FB Ulker to be 5-0 or 0-5, but with a good balance the team stands on 3-2. Oddly enough - five close games and none were decided with a buzzer shot. For the next set of games teams better run their scouting on clutch minutes performance. Small hint - Mr. Omer Onan might be the key. Ah, and if you missed Thabo Sefolosha's put back during overtime, make sure you grab it. Not only a huge play but also one that won the game eventually.
Bennett Cantu returned to the Euroleague after almost three decades with a totally different face and prestige, but under head coach Andrea Trinchieri they have not only the coach with the coolest glasses around, but also a great team. No big stars here. Not one player that will pop out for the average observer, but there's a group of players that execute and brought Cantu within one shot of a huge road win in Istanbul and a 4-1 record nobody expected. This week's game told the story of this "team job" perfectly. No less than eight players scored between 8 and 12 points for Cantu on Wednesday night. The same eight had an index rating between 7 and 11. From Italian veterans Nicolas Mazzarino, Denis Marconato and Gianluca Basile to youngsters Giorgi Shermadini and David Lighty (finally in his first good Euroleague performance... more to come) to a forward trio of Manu Markoishvili, Marty Leunen and Vladimir Micov it was difficult to know who to focus on this week. The beauty? Actually it's every week and more difficult than it looks. Trinchieri also has Andrea Cinciarini and Marko Scekic, who already scored in double-digits in two games this season, to thicken the spread of his roster to 10. No less than nine players average so far between 6.8 and 10.2 points with Lighty (only 3.5 ppg.) soon to join that group. They play tough, they play together and they play to win. Coach Trinchieri built a team that can make the Top 16. Not many expected that.
If you get tired of reading about Andrei Kirilenko, almost every week, raise your hand. So let's keep this one short. AK won the Week 5 bwin MVP with an index rating of 39 despite making just two field goals. 39 index rating on just two made shot. Oh my…
YARONE ARBEL - Euroleague.net
Friday, November 18, 2011