View from the Bench: Week 4

Aito Garcia RenesesWorld-renowned as a master teacher of basketball, Aito Garcia Reneses holds a place as one of the most prestigious coaches in Europe. He won a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics to go with a ULEB Cup, two Korac Cups, nine Spanish Leagues and five Spanish Cup titles, just to name a few of his accomplishments in almost four decades on the benches of basketball powers like F.C. Barcelona, Joventut Badalona and Unicaja. Aito, as everyone in European basketball knows him, is also a regular contributor to the Mastermind Coaching Seminars of the Euroleague Basketball Institute. He joins to give his coach's point of view and analysis on Turkish Airlines Euroleague games.

Hello all. My goal for these games that I will comment on is not to write a recap of them, but to pinpoint some technical aspects, which caught my attention and I think will be interesting for readers.

Union Olimpija vs. Galatasaray Medical Park

Galatasaray dominated the scoreboard throughout the whole game, with some strikes by a fighting Union Olimpija, who was supported as always by its fans even though it is clear that they can’t put the same pressure on visiting teams in their new, bigger arena as they did in the team’s former, smaller gym some years ago. Both teams relied regularly on pick-and-rolls between a perimeter player and the center a little beyon the top of the three-point arc.

Usually there are some moves to be made before the pick-and-roll finishes that leave the three other players open. The most important thing is not using one tactic or another, but to use the chosen one correctly. Both teams did that by getting baskets for the big men rolling to the basket, especially Ratko Varda for Olimpija and Furkan Aldemir for Galatasaray.

Galatasaray employed more alternatives defending Olimpija’s pick-and-roll. At times, the center stayed behind to protect the basket more. On other occasions, he went to aggressively double-team the ball-handler, or at least “showed” in that direction, as the screen developed. That differing strategy was probably due to the fact that for Varda it was more difficult to aggressively defend so far from the basket and still recover to his normal spot in the paint.

It has to be said that Varda played a very good game, and on offense shot with good accuracy. For the Turkish side, Aldemir played an excellent game because he was really quick, not only on both his pick-and-roll offense and defense, but also getting steals and running fastbreaks. For Olimpija, whenever a Galatasaray big men didn't pressure him coming off the pick-and-roll, Aleksandar Capin used the screens perfectly to hit 3 of 3 shots from behind the arc in the first half. And he finished the game 5 of 6 on three-pointers! In all those pick-and-rolls we had the chance to see the baskets I mentioned and also steals because of good defense, or turnovers due to charging fouls or the fouls committed by defenders who they didn't get to their places on time.

The conclusion is that the best tactic consists on setting the pick, or screen, well and on defending it well also. That takes a lot of work on the individual quality of the players, as all of us coaches try to do. The difference for Galatasaray coach Oktay Mahmuti's team was its inside play, in the low post, where both backcourt and frontcourt players made very good moves, first to get position and receive the ball, and then to play one-on-one, whether scoring themselves or sending the ball outside again for three-point shots.

Bennet Cantu vs. Olympiacos

It's been a while since I last saw Cantu, a classic of European competition some years ago, play at home. I saw them last year at the Italian Cup, but not playing at home, so I really enjoyed this game on Wednesday because of the beautiful and great atmosphere at the gym. I already liked them last year in Turin, but in this game they managed to tear down a great Olympiacos defense with even greater offense. Cantu has a team with very good players if we look at their offensive talent: Vladimir Micov, Manuchar Markoishvili, Gianluca Basile, Nicolas Mazzarino and Andrea Cinciarini (who dished 6 assists) in the backcourt and versatile big men who are capable of playing close to the basket or further away as they easily move around the court. Denis Marconato has less mobility, but played very well nonetheless, since he was the one who defended Lazaros Papadopoulos better and even took advantage of the sagging of the Greek big man to score his classic four- and five-meter jump shots. The player and ball movement on head coach Andrea Trinchieris's team was, many times, spectacular.

On the part of Olympiacos, I was pleased with the magnificent defense planned by coach Duda Ivkovic, with aggressive one-on-one coverage and aggressive help from his players, who didn't wait at a distance for the offensive player, as happens on many occasions. However, Olympiacos didn't manage to maintain that defensive level for all 40 minutes. It's worth noting that, even when your opponent is scoring a lot and you need extra effort to stop them, it's very difficult to spend a whole game without relaxing at all on defense.

On the other hand, the Reds were not really dangerous on offense in this game, because they failed to do some things that they normally do better. The only dangerous players were Papadopoulos, who played well in the low post, especially from the left side, as he normally does, scoring or drawing fouls or passing; and Vassilis Spanoulis, who is always dangerous, whether shooting, penetrating or passing, even though he looks like he is still adapting to the many new teammates he has. I would also like to note the good accuracy of Marko Keselj from behind the arc.