Real Madrid, A basketball beauty

May 07, 2013 by Print
Frankie SachsAs a Euroleague.net writer and editor since 2006 and the site's correspondent in Tel Aviv before that, Frankie Sachs has had the honor to see dozens of Euroleague games live and hundreds more on Euroleague.TV. One of his claims to fame is being among the very few live witnesses the two greatest shots of this century – Derrick Sharp's miracle three against Zalgiris in 2004 and Georgios Printezis's title-winning basket last season. Now, after years of editing some of the many personalities and journalists who have written and continue to write for Euroleague.net, Frankie will regale readers each week with what he's looking forward to most in the next Turkish Airlines Euroleague games. Follow him on Twitter @MrEuroleague.

The essence of beautiful basketball rests in the soul of Real Madrid. What makes basketball a truly wonderful sport is that teamwork is at its essence. Five players working together, sharing the ball, creating for one another, uniting on defense, etc. will triumph even against five superior players if the latter are not playing as a team. But when it comes to Los Blancos, the real treat is that the brilliant teamwork often comes from a group of players that also boast superior individual talents. From the first player to the 12th among Coach Pablo Laso’s charges, there is passion for basketball and though they all attack the game differently, the end result remains a thing of beauty.

The tone for Madrid’s beautiful basketball begins in the backcourt with the foursome of Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Llull, Jaycee Carroll and Sergio Rodriguez. The various talents and skills of each of these players has been written about in detail throughout the season and will continue to be exalted over Final Four weekend. But it is not just their ability that makes Madrid special, it’s how they go about it. Rudy’s backdoor cuts for alley-oop slams, Llull’s bold shots that may cause viewers to cringe until the ball bounces in, Carroll’s quick release and smooth jumper, Rodriguez’s uncanny court vision and ball distribution. When you see Madrid highlights, it’s not all about outlet passes and fast break slams – though there are plenty of those too – it’s about playing excellent team basketball with a flair for beautiful plays too.

The walking, talking highlight in the Madrid frontcourt is Marcus Slaughter. The big man has one of the highest shots-made-to-dunks ratio in the league; if he gets the ball within two meters of the rim, Slaughter will try to stuff it down. And on defense, the reverse is true; Slaughter will fly high to block anything in site and then pounce up again seeking the rebound. Nikola Mirotic brings his own specialties to the mix. The ultimate all-around forward, Mirotic can shoot like a guard, rebound like a center and becomes a mismatch for everyone with his abilities to back down smaller foes and to race past slower ones. Of course there are a few other stars in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague that have similar skills sets, but are any of them as smooth as Mirotic? I don’t think so.

In building a true team, there must be other players that bring less attractive skills to the court, but none of those players are any less valuable. Big man Felipe Reyes, the senior member of the squad, is still going strong at age 33. This is his ninth season with Madrid and he continues to rebound with the best, starts fast breaks with well-placed outlet passes, sets picks and provides leadership. Most of Mirza Begic’s impact is felt on the defensive end, where he is among the league’s elite shot blockers. Former Eurocup MVP Dontaye Draper, who was a proven scorer and distributor at the previous level, has blended well into the team and accepted his role as a defensive specialist, again, to the benefit of all. To underscore the importance of these players and their roles, Madrid was among the Euroleague leaders and first among the Final Four teams in rebounding and offensive rebounding, steals and blocked shots. The Madrid mix also includes the toughness of Carlos Suarez, the aggressive play of rookie center Rafael Hettsheimeir and, when healthy, the explosive Marty Pocius. Lest we forget, though he is not eligible to play in the Final Four, the Madrid scout team has another star in veteran Tremmell Darden, who – due to joining the club after the transfer deadline – can only play in the Spanish League, but makes the rest of the team that much better in practice.

Thus far, the main points I have made is that Real Madrid is an exciting team to watch and that it is a deep and complete team. But what makes it a serious threat to win the Turkish Airlines Euroleague title in London is the exact point that I opened with. Madrid’s best players work together, they work hard and they want to win. And if something goes wrong – from needing to make something happen as the shot clock winds down to needing to provide a spark when the team goes cold – Coach Laso knows that he has the right players to make things happen.

No one player can take a Rudy Fernandez or a Nikola Mirotic out of the game. And if an opposing team decides to make sure to stop that pair, that means exposing itself to Jaycee Carroll, or Sergio Rodriguez or Felipe Reyes. Behold this amazing stat: eight of Madrid’s top 12 players have scored at least 15 points once this season; 10 of them have scored at least 20 once in their careers! With weapons at every position, can Madrid be stopped?

One last point about Madrid’s mental strength. After each of the team’s first four losses this season, it won at least the next two games… In one case it won the next seven! Then, late in the Top 16, Madrid hit a low points and lost three straight. Since then it bounced back to beat Anadolu Efes Istanbul in the Top 16 final and swept might Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv to reach the Final Four. And even within that streak – though few remember it now after the beat down Madrid gave Tel Aviv, but 10 minutes into Game 1 of that playoffs series, it was Madrid’s players that had to hide their faces. At home, Coach Laso’s men trailed 14-23. What followed was a memorable 24-4 second-quarter march from which Maccabi never recovered as Madrid started to soar towards greatness. This weekend Madrid will touch down in London, but I expect to see Los Blancos soar again. And again!