Since 1983, the Liga Endesa (ACB) has been dominated by three clubs: Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Saski Baskonia. Every final since the league began has involved one of those three clubs, and though this year continues that trend (Real Madrid), the top-heavy stranglehold has been challenged a bit. For the first time since 2010-2011, we will not see an “El Clasico” (Barcelona-Real Madrid) ACB Final, as Valencia Basket punched their ticket to the Final after beating Baskonia 3-1 in the semifinals.
For Valencia, this ACB Final is another crowning achievement on what has been for the most part a stellar and historic season in a variety of ways, as they have reached the Eurocup and Copa del Rey championships this season. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to capitalize on the championship opportunities, as they fell to Unicaja Malaga in the Eurocup final, and Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey championship. Despite being heavy underdogs to one of Spain’s premier clubs, Valencia is hoping that their third shot at a trophy will be the charm.
Valencia finished 23-9 during the ACB regular season, tying for second-overall, but ceding to the third spot due to a tie-breaking loss to Baskonia. Valencia has thrived at home at Fuente de San Luis, as they went 18-2 at home in the regular season, and 4-0 during the playoffs. Though they were nearly a .500 team on the road in the regular season (10-9), they did win a huge game 1 against Baskonia in Fernando Buesa arena that ended up being the difference in the tight, competitive series.
The No. 1 seed Madrid had the easier path to the Finals, as they beat a young, but inexperienced 8th seed Andorra in the first round (2-1) and then swept Eurocup champion Unicaja 3-0 in the semifinals. On the other hand, Valencia had a “more difficult than you think” route, as they beat a Barcelona team that was desperate to salvage a disappointing season (2-1) and beat a Baskonia team that not only had an edge in terms of talent, but also got a late-season reinforcement who happened to be one of the best 1-on-1 scorers in the Turkish BSL this year (Ricky Ledo).
That story has been a familiar one for Valencia this off-season, both in ACB as well as European play. On paper, Valencia doesn’t really jump out at the casual basketball fan. They had to face VTB MVP Alexey Shved and Khimki in the Eurocup playoffs, and Valencia came out on top. They had to face former NBA All-star Amare Stoudemire, Euroleague Final Four coach Simone Pianigiani and Hapoel Jerusalem and they came out of that series victorious. Valencia was also considered heavy underdogs in the semis, as many figured Ledo was just the cherry on top that Valencia couldn’t handle, and yet it’s the Southeastern Spanish coast team that’s in the Finals, not the Basque club.
The same situation will be true in the ACB finals against Real Madrid. Valencia didn’t have much success against the top-seeded club this year, as they lost 94-75 in Round 2 at home and 85-71 in Madrid in Round 18. They fell short again in the Copa del Rey, but were a bit more competitive, as they lost 97-95. To imagine that Valencia can win three games against the King of Spanish basketball when they weren 0-3 against them in 2016-2017 seems like a tall, if not impossible task.
That being said, don’t expect this Valencia club to go down without a fight.
Valencia is a team that is as strong as the sum of the parts. In other words, they really depend on the “team” rather than one individual player. They don’t have that star guy who can take over a game. They don’t have a Sergio Llull or Anthony Randolph or even Luka Doncic like Madrid. But, they play incredibly polished team basketball on both ends of the court, as I have chronicled about after their loss to Unicaja in the Eurocup final. That is a credit to head coach Pedro Martinez, who has had tremendous success not only at Valencia, but in the past with Gran Canaria.
If Valencia is going to depend on a player, that honor would go to either center Bojan Dubljevic or forward Fernando San Emeterio. Dubljevic really is the heart and soul of the team in many ways. The Montenegrin post led the team in points (12.4 ppg), rebounds (5.6) and PIR average (14.7). Furthermore, Dubljevic’s impact goes beyond the court, as he connects with teammates and fans alike. He garnered a lot of fans beyond Valencia for his “Will Griggs”-inspired performance in front of the Valencia faithful after their clinching game 4 victory.
San Emeterio doesn’t have the “big” personality of Dubljevic, but nobody came up bigger in game 4 than the 33-year-old Spaniard. In game 4, he scored 19 points, and had 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals in the deciding victory. What made his performance even more impressive was his perfection from the field. Yes. He was completely perfect, as he went 4-4 on 2-pt shots, 3-3 from beyond the arc, 2-2 from the charity stripe. That is some Christian Laettner-esque shit right there.
San Emeterio’s hard-nosed defense will also be needed to neutralize Madrid’s wings, especially sharpshooter Jaycee Carroll, who can get hot from three quickly, and Doncic, who can be a do-everything playmaker. But for Valencia to have a shot at all this series, they will need their posts to have big series’ in order to neutralize Madrid’s depth in the frontcourt. Madrid has not only the best frontcourt in Spain, but in all of Europe, with Randolph, Gustavo Ayon, Felipe Reyes, Othello Hunter, and Trey Thompkins playing in the paint. Obviously, Valencia can’t match up with that kind of star power on paper. However, if they can get physical with the Madrid frontcourt, force them out of the paint, and get them out of rhythm, they’ll have a shot. Teams who have beaten Madrid have been able to employ that strategy, whether it’s forcing Ayon or Hunter off the block, or forcing Reyes, Randolph or Thompkins to be jump shooters. If Valencia wants to win, they will need to to outwork and outhustle the more talented Madrid posts with Luke Sikma, Will Thomas and Pierre Oriola, while also getting some offensive production on the other end.
Valencia has accomplished a lot. Appearances in the Eurocup, Copa del Rey and now ACB finals are nothing to shrug off, and they have apparently qualified for the Euroleague next season as well (though the EL does have a provision preventing more than 4 teams from one country being represented in the competition). And even if they don’t pull off an upset against Madrid, they should not be disappointed. Nobody outside of the city of Valencia is expecting this club to pull this upset off. Madrid has too much depth, too much talent, and too much pedigree to lose this series.
But you never know. No club has won the ACB outside of the Madrid, Barcelona, Baskonia triumvirate outside of Unicaja in 2005-2006, and before that, Manresa in 1997-1998. Will Valencia join that small, but illustrious group?
We’ll know Valencia’s chances of pulling the miracle off after Game 1 on June 9th.
Mid-season transfers, much like any professional sport be it here in America or Worldwide, tend to be common fare. For some Euroleague clubs, the risk of perhaps disrupting team chemistry on and off the court is well worth it, especially if it can help a team solidify or boost their playoff and Final Four chances. At this time of the year, with some teams’ playoff chances fading faster and faster with each coming week, the need to make a drastic change in the roster now can feel urgent, not just to salvage the season, but also one’s status for next season.
Let’s take a look at what each player will provide their respective club, and if this will affect their playoff chances in a positive or negative fashion in the second half of the season.
Barcelona Banking on Brazilian Boost (On Offense…)
(And yes, I was purposefully trying to get a four letter alliteration…sorry grammar and AP style nerds!)
Barcelona basically traded posts, essentially, as they signed Vitor Faverani from UCAM Murcia, and released Joey Dorsey to make room for the Brazilian national. Management’s decision to let go of Dorsey was probably not an easy one: they signed him to a two-year contract extension this off-season, and he is the team’s (and perhaps the Euroleague’s) best rebounder, according to rebounding rate. However, Dorsey has not only struggled to stay on the court due to injuries (which has caused all kinds of hoopla on Twitter; Dorsey claims that the Barcelona medical staff neglected treating him for a lot of issues, which in his eyes, sabotaged his season), but also has failed to help a struggling Barcelona team put points on the board. He averaged only 5.5 ppg on 54.8 percent shooting in 17 mpg (and he was dismal at the line, shooting around 54 percent). Considering his athleticism, strength, and the lack of depth in the frontcourt, head coach Georgios Bartzokas and Barcelona expected much more from him in the beginning of the year, and it makes sense they decided to cut their losses now considering they are still in the playoff hunt, and can’t afford many more losses.
With Dorsey gone, in his place comes Faverani, who had a cup of coffee with Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv last season (he played two games) before spending the past year and a half in Murcia with UCAM. Faverani is the opposite of Dorsey: he doesn’t offer the intimidating presence, but he makes up for it with a deft skill set on both the offensive and defensive end. Last season, UCAM was boosted by the high-low combo of Faverani and Argentinian “Wunder-Guard” Facundo Campazzo, who helped UCAM to a 18-16 record, and a 7th place finish in the Liga Endesa (which produced a very entertaining first round series between them and Real Madrid, which Madrid won 2-1 in a best of three round). There was a lot of hope that with another year together, and a spot in a weakened Eurocup competition (due to the defections of many clubs to FIBA’s Champions League), that Faverani, Campazzo, and UCAM would be a dark horse of sorts this year.
Unfortunately, the change in coaching staff from Fotis Kasakaris (who left for Lokomotiv Kuban; and was fired mid-season, ironically) to Oscar Quinatana has not been kind: neither Campazzo (turnover and shooting issues) nor Faverani has been as effective this year, and currently UCAM sits at 5-11 in the Liga Endesa and 1-2 in the Top 16 round of the Eurocup.
However, UCAM’s loss may be Barcelona’s gain. Faverani adds much needed scoring to a frontcourt that has been plagued by injury and ineffectiveness. In addition to Dorsey’s issues, Barcelona has struggled to get anything in the post beyond Ante Tomic, who is their main frontline scorer, as he is averaging 10 ppg, 4.9 rpg and has a team leading 13.7 PIR per game. Justin Doellman, who has gone through injury issues himself like Dorsey, has been primarily regulated to a jump shooting stretch-four when he is on the floor (he has only appeared in 11 games). Additionally, newcomer Victor Claver has been a slightly better, but different version of Doellman, as the Spaniard has had more of an effect on defense and on the glass (4.4 to Doellman’s 2.6 rpg), but scores less than Doellman (5.5 to Doellman’s 6.9 ppg).
Those are not good signs for an offense that ranks in the bottom of the Euroleague not only in terms of points scored (71.4 ppg), but also in point-differential (their -58 point differential is third-worst, ahead of only Galatasaray and Olimpia Milano) and offensive efficiency (their 90.9 rating is worst in the league). However, there is hope that the 28-year-old Brazilian forward will help improve those numbers during this week 18-30 stretch.
First off, Faverani is a skilled big with good touch around the rim. Faverani averaged 11 ppg on 55.6 percent shooting this year in Eurocup play, and 9.7 ppg on 56.8 percent shooting in the Liga Endesa. Those numbers are down of course from the 10.5 ppg and 61.5 percent shooting clip he put up in the Liga Endesa last season, but it still demonstrates that Faverani can be a productive player in the post on the right team. Considering that Barcelona struggles to get consistent scoring from anyone on the roster beyond Tomic and guard Tyrese Rice (who has had his own inconsistency issues this season as well), Faverani certainly will have the opportunities and chances to have an impact.
Now, the one knock on Faverani is that he’s not an explosive athlete. He relies on his crafty skill set to score baskets, and even his made shots can be painful to witness on occasion. Faverani had some good outings in his short stint in the NBA with the Boston Celtics in 2013-2014, but even in the highlights below, he can lacks grace and fluidity on occasion in his offensive game. Nearly three years later, it hasn’t gotten much better, but at least he has been able to use his experience to make up for these shortcomings.
The one positive about Faverani’s arrival is that he shouldn’t affect this team defensively, which has not only been the key reason why they have stayed in the playoff race, but also a calling card of Bartzokas as a coach. Faverani is tough and doesn’t give up easy baskets around the rim, and he is also a much wiser defender than Dorsey. It was common to see Dorsey get in foul trouble, unable to harness his aggressiveness or frustration consistently (a knock he has had ever since his days in college at Memphis). Faverani still is a tough, and aggressive player, but he is much better in terms of playing defense without fouling in comparison to Dorsey. Not only will this help keep Barcelona’s defense humming down the stretch, but it will also provide dividends on the other end of the court: the more Faverani is playing, the better chance their offense will have from escaping the garbage dump they currently sit in now by the end of the season.
Faverani might not single-handily save the season for Barcelona. They still have to get past Brose Bamberg, UNICS, Efes, and Red Star, not to mention hold off Maccabi, which still has a puncher’s chance with the trio of Sonny Weems, Andrew Goudelock, and Quincy Miller. That being said, trading Faverani for Dorsey is a positive upgrade for Bartzokas’ squad, as they improve considerably on offense without sacrificing too much on the defensive and rebounding end (though Faverani is not quite the rebounder Dorsey was; but then again, few in the Euroleague were).
Laprovittola adds depth at the point for Baskonia
He’s been dubbed the next “Manu Ginobili” by some. Some have even ventured as far as calling him the “Argentinian Steph Curry” thanks to his sweet and streaky shooting stroke. However, after a brief 18-game stint with the San Antonio Spurs, Nicolas Laprovittola returns to Europe, this time with a Baskonia squad that is hoping to return to the Final Four.
The addition of Laprovittola is just the latest move by Baskonia management to add depth to the point guard position behind Shane Larkin. Though Larkin has performed well, he is still in his first year in Europe and in the Euroleague, and he has had some performances that have left more to be desired as of late. Against Panathinaikos and star player Nick Calathes, Larkin really struggled, as he had only 6 points and 6 turnovers in a narrow 69-68 loss. While Rafa Luz has given some nice hustle and defense, his physical limitations and lack of production on offense have been a big reason why Baskonia has been so active during the year in finding another guard to relieve Larkin off the bench.
And luckily for Baskonia, that greener pasture for the free agent guard happened to be in Vitoria.
As you will see from his highlights below, Laprovittola brings a much needed skill set to this Baskonia squad. They have been solid in the post thanks to Johannes Voigtmann, Tornike Shengelia, and Kim Tillie; and on the wings with Adam Hanga and Chase Budinger. Along with Larkin, Laprovittola could prove to be a missing piece to the Baskonia puzzle: he offers up much needed outside shooting (they score a lot less from beyond the arc this season than a year ago) as well as playmaking, which they struggle to get when Larkin is not on the court. I don’t know if Laprovittola will live up to that Manu or Curry hype, but it is easy to see him being productive immediately for Baskonia under coach Sito Alonso, who has already done a hell of a job coaching this diverse bevy of talent thus far.
Unlike Barcelona, who is just fighting for a playoff position, Baskonia is probably safe in terms of finishing in the Top-8 by the end of Round 30. They currently are 11-6 and sit in fourth place now, one game ahead of Panathinaikos and Fenerbahce, who are tied for 5th at 10-7. Barring a major collapse or a huge rash of injuries, Baskonia fans can look forward to Euroleague playoff basketball in the Spring.
However, the goal for Baskonia is not to just get to the playoffs, but make it back to the Final Four. With the point guard issues surrounding this team, as well as Andrea Bargnani’s health a major question mark, this team needs to solidify their rotation a bit if they want to keep themselves in this Final Four discussion. Pana certainly is getting better not just with the arrival of Gentile, but also due to Mike James, who is finally healthy, and coach Xavi Pascual getting more comfortable coaching this team. Fenerbahce could also see a big boost with the arrival of Bennett. Hence, it makes sense to see Baskonia make a move to keep up with those two clubs who are coming up quick on Baskonia’s heels in the standings.
Now, will Laprovittola be an impact player? It’s hard to tell. He played so little this year with the Spurs, he has no Euroleague experience, and the clubs he played for (Lietuvos Rytas of Lithuania and Estudiantes of Spain) weren’t necessarily “spotlight” teams by any measure. Without a doubt, other than his stint in the NBA, this will be the most pressure Laprovittola has faced on a professional level. Will he be able to handle it?
We’ll know for sure whenever he dresses in that Baskonia uniform and steps on the court (I doubt considering the circumstances he’ll be ready for this round’s Euroleague’s games). That being said, this signing definitely has thrust Baskonia into the list of Euroleague teams worth following closely for the remainder of the regular season.
“It’s clear that we didn’t know how to take advantage of the home-court advantage we had to close the series. We had that opportunity in the fourth game, after winning the second one here, but like today, we couldn’t make shots in the last quarter. It has been a beautiful series, as I said, and we had our options to win it.” –Xavi Pascual after their Euroleague Game 5 loss to Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnador.
For the second straight year, proud European basketball club FC Barcelona will not be hoisting any major trophies this year, and there are major questions that need to be answered this summer when it comes to the future of this Spanish basketball power. In the Euroleague playoffs in late April, despite a 2-1 series advantage with Game 4 at home, the Catalan franchise fell 3 games to 2 to Russian club Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnador (a club that was playing in the Eurocup a year ago) for the remaining Final Four spot in Berlin. The loss marked the second year in a row Barcelona failed to get out of the playoff round in the Euroleague, a rare and remarkable occurrence since they had only missed the Final Four once from 2008 to 2014 (in the 2011 playoffs they lost to Panathinaikos 3-1).
Things did not fare much better in the ACB league in Spain. Sure, one could say that the season overall turned out to be a success in the Liga Endesa. Barcelona had the best regular season record at 29-5, and they made quick work of a scrappy Fuenlabrada team in the first round, 2 games to 0, and in the second round, outlasted a strong Laboral Kutxa Baskonia team that had made the Euroleague Final Four, 3 games to 1. Furthemore, according to Eurobasket.com’s Top 100 Club ratings, Barcelona ranks No. 3 in the World behind only Euroleague championship participants CSKA Moscow and Fenerbahce Istanbul, respectively.
But regular season records and preliminary ACB playoff rounds do not matter with the Catalan basketball fans. Much like the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball, the Boston Celtics or Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA or even their own futbol franchise, what matters at the end of the day are championship trophies. There are no such things as moral victories or consolation prizes with a fanbase that demands the highest degrees of success on an annual basis.
And once again, for the second straight year, Barcelona fell to their Clasico rivals Real Madrid. After Barcelona’s thrilling Game 1 victory at home 100-98, Real Madrid cruised to the three straight victories in the Liga Endesa Finals, outscoring their rivals by a combined 44 points over the three-game span. The loss was particularly humbling for the Catlan squad considering their ACB first place finish in the regular season as well as stronger performance in the Euroleague, where they had a better record in the Top 16 (8-6 to Real Madrid’s 7-7 mark in Top 16 play) and Playoffs (Real Madrid was swept by Fenerbahce).
Nothing is official in the latter’s regard of course, as Xavi Pascual, who has been the head coach since 2008, is still officially the coach of Barcelona despite another disappointing season. Nonetheless, things have stagnated for the Spanish basketball power, and it is clear amongst basketball fans that all kinds of changes need to be made, not just in terms of coaching, but talent as well.
Pascual has been the head coach of Barcelona since 2008 and probably has had one of the most successful tenures of any coach in Europe in that time span. In his coaching career, they have won four ACB Championships, and have been runner up in seasons when they have not won it all domestically. In the Euroleague, he led them to a 2009-2010 championship, and has seen his club participate in the Final Four on four other occasions (2009, 2012, 2013 and 2014). He is a four-time ACB coach of the year award winner as well as a Euroleague coach of the year winner in 2010 when Barcelona won the Euroleague Championship over Olympiacos. Quite simply, it would be hard-pressed to find a whole lot of others coaches in Europe that have been as accomplished as Pascual as of late.
Unfortunately, the past two seasons haven’t been kind to him, as Pascual has been widely criticized for his coaching style and strategy which have included an emphasis on methodically playing in the half court, and an over-reliance on aging veterans past their prime. Despite other Spanish clubs like Baskonia and Real Madrid pushing the pace and producing an exciting brand of up-tempo basketball to various success, Pascual employed a much slower pace this past season that involved draining the shot clock and putting less of an emphasis on transition. In the Euroleague, Barcelona was the slowest team in the Euroleague Top 16 in pace at 70.4 possessions per game (in comparison, Baskonia ranked third-fastest at 74.7 and Real ranked sixth-fastest at 73.4). While that was not necessarily a bad thing (Barcelona’s net rating was actually better at 3.6 than Baskonia’s 1.9 and Real’s 0.1 in Top 16), it didn’t endear them to general European basketball fans who were used to seeing much more exciting styles of play from other Spanish squads in Europe’s premier club competition.
And the slow pace wasn’t the sole wort for this Barcelona squad this season aesthetically. Pascual emphasized a rather conservative defensive approach, as his teams tended to rely heavily on zone looks against much better competition and de-emphasized producing turnovers (they had the 6th-lowest opponent turnover rate in the Top 16) and blocking shots (they had the fourth-lowest block rate in the Top 16). The rather risk-averse approach had its advantages, especially if opposing teams were not shooting well from the outside. That being said, if players or teams got on hot shooting streaks (as evidenced by Loko’s Anthony Randolph and his 28 point on 11 of 17 shooting performance in Game 4 of the playoffs), Barcelona found themselves on the losing end, sometimes badly, because they didn’t have the kind of defensive system that would generate extra turnovers and extra possessions necessary to produce big-time comebacks.
Of course, Pascual hasn’t necessarily been this kind of coach, as if you look in years past, he has always been around league-average when it comes to pace. Hence, this year may have been an anomaly. But why? Well, it’s hard to play up-tempo with an aging roster that not only struggled through various injuries, but also couldn’t compete with quicker and more athletic teams.
Which leads us to our next issue: the roster change needed in Barcelona. Despite his legendary status, Juan Carlos Navarro suffered a horrific season by all accounts. At 36-years-old, Navarro doesn’t have the speed and athleticism anymore to compete with Europe’s top guards and wings. Additionally, his shot also deserted him, especially in Euroleague play. In the Euroleague, Navarro shot only 44 percent from the field and 32.5 percent from beyond the arc, some of the worst percentages of his playing career. The combination of his age and poor shooting was a reason he played under 20 minutes a game in Euroleague competition and sat out during key stretches of many big games. In ACB league play, Navarro wasn’t much better, and he was utilized less, as he shot only 35 percent from beyond the arc, and 42.7 from the field. Hence, after such a regression this season, it made sense why Navarro only played 17.8 minutes per game, and was replaced in the rotation by younger wings such as Pau Ribas and Alex Abrines.
But Navarro wasn’t the only one who failed to live up to expectations. Carlos Arroyo, a former NBA guard with the Utah Jazz, Orlando Magic and Miami Heat failed to live up to his billing as he struggled through injuries and ineffectiveness to only average around 15 minutes per game in both ACB and Euroleague play. Guard Brad Oleson was a mess in Euroleague play, as the usually reliable outside shooter, shot a disastrous 26.7 percent from beyond the arc, and had the lowest PIR of any player that averaged 10 or more minutes on the team at 2.6. And Ante Tomic, who was deemed the center of the future for Barcelona after signing a three-year extension last June, struggled to have any kind of impact, as he averaged a paltry 10.9 ppg and 5.4 rpg in about 20 mpg and 0.95 points per possession. To make matters worse, he was a liability on defense who was subbed out in favor of backups Samardo Samuel, Shane Lawal and Joey Dorsey, who often needed to make up for his defensive shortcomings. Tomic was often exploited by opposing guards in the pick and roll as he was neither quick enough to switch or consistently hedge and recover, and his block rate of 0.8 percent was lower than guards Alex Abrines, Tomas Satoransky and even Carlo Arroyo. In all honesty, that is pretty lackluster, if not embarrassing, for a seven footer who was once a NBA Draft pick.
One could sum up Barcelona’s roster in three words: old and fragile. In the ACB, where there is a much bigger talent gap between the top teams (Barcelona, Real, Valenica, Baskonia, etc.) and the rest, it worked out okay, until the championship against Real of course. But in the Euroleague, where the competition is much better week after week, Barcelona just couldn’t keep up, and it made sense that they fell to a Loko team that had little history of success in the Euroleague prior to this season. Experience is important, but experience can’t make up for lost shooting, an inability to consistently defend the pick and roll and being muscled out by more athletic and physical opponents. And not only did that happen against Loko in the playoffs, but throughout the Euroleague campaign, especially in losses to Khimki Moscow, Baskonia, Zalgiris and Olympiacos in the Regular and Top 16 season. Barcelona just looked like a team over the hill, that had to rely on miracle shooting or lackluster execution from their opponents to pull out victories.
Yes, Barcelona had a mediocre roster, but that wasn’t to say that there wasn’t hope or some youth on the team. Abrines, Satoransky and Ribas were all young players who had pretty good seasons, and looked capable of carrying this team in ways Navarro, Oleson and Arroyo couldn’t. But, Pascual, being a veteran coach, couldn’t seem to part with his veteran players in the lineup, even though all indication statistically said he should have. As detailed in this excellent piece from Rob Scott of Euroleague Adventures, Pascual’s reliance on Navarro and Oleson, over younger and more effective players like Abrines and Ribas, especially in key games, could be one of the reasons for his departure. Here’s an eloquent piece that sums up Scott’s point about Pascual:
Pau Ribas was supposed to be the marquee signing of the summer, but he was underused as Pascual refused to let go of Navarro and Oleson, even Arroyo. The stubborn commitment to ‘his guys’ is probably great for motivation, and every indication is that his players love him. But there must be a point at which the team makes a clean break with the past. It looks like that has just begun
Not a lot of players seem to be safe on this Barcelona roster going forward, not even Justin Doellman a big signing a couple of seasons ago from Valencia, who averaged 9.6 ppg and shot 43.5 percent from beyond the arc in Euroleague play, and 11.9 ppg in the ACB this past season. At 31 years old, Doellman isn’t exactly in that boat of Navarro and Arroyo age-wise, but his style of play (more of a stretch 4 who excels as a spot up shooter) and lack of agility and gifts defensively don’t fix the glaring flaws Barcelona has in terms of speed and athleticism. Doellman, much like other import Samardo Samuels, may not have been a part of the problem in 2015-2016 for Barcelona, but he doesn’t seem like he would be part of the solution in the future either, as what he brings to the table could easily be replaced by someone currently on the roster or another signing.
Pascual returning is probably a miracle (if not impossible really considering the “leaking” of these reports about him going), and all indications seem to point to Jasikevicius being the guy to help Barcelona get out of this “stagnation period” Barcelona has been in the past couple of seasons. Jasikevicius would be an interesting hire, as he certainly is a big name due to his time as a player not just in Barcelona, but all over Europe including Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv, Panathinaikos, and Zalgiris. However, he only has been a head coach for about half a season, and while he did lead Zalgiris to a Lithuanian Championship, his team didn’t particularly do well in the Top 16 under his watch, as Zalgiris went 2-12 in the Top 16, which was the worst record of any team in that round, and had a net rating of minus-16.2, which was also the worst mark of any team in the Top 16 in that category. Granted, Zalgiris was at a much bigger talent disadvantage than the competition (Paulius Jankunas was really the lone bright spot of that club last year), and by the time Saras took over Zalgiris in January, they already were on the outside looking in when it came to a playoff berth. Hopefully for Barcelona’s sake, Jasikevicius has grown as a coach (and his Lithuanian Championship was a step in that direction) and learned some things from his “trial by fire” with Zalgiris that will help him avoid mistakes that led to such a poor record and net rating in the Top 16 last season.
At the very least, Jasikevicius will bring a more “up-tempo” style (Zalgiris was around league average in pace at 72.8) and he will bring a much fiery personality to a club that seemed to grow fatigued with Pascual’s more “subdued” and “political” demeanor. Pascual will not be easily replaced, especially when one reflects back about his eight years as coach there, and the multitude of awards, both team and individual, he accumulated with Barcelona. That being said, Jasikevicius is a fresh, but familiar face that should help bring the kind of new energy on the sideline this club needs to compete again with Real Madrid.
Of course, a team can only go so far with coaching. The talent needs to upgrade if Barcelona wants to be more competitive. Satoransky, Abrines and Ribas are a good core, Stratos Perperoglou and Alexander Vezenkov could grow into their roles, and maybe Tomic can rebound after a season of regression. However, Barcelona needs to get more athletic on the perimeter, and stronger and more physical in the post, and it will be interesting to see what Barcelona’s new GM will do to address both those issues.
Because a third-straight season of deference to Los Blancos in ACB and Euorleague play?
Well…that may be too much to take for Catalan basketball fans.
The NBA is not the only basketball league having their championship finals right now: in Spain, the Liga Endesa Final series is going on between longtime Spanish rivals (in multiple sports) FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. The best of five series began today in Barcelona, and wow, what a finish, as the top-seeded Barcelona ousted Los Blancos in a nailbiter 100-99, which ended on a game winning shot.
Luckily for us, the ACB posted the last minute of the game in its entirety on its YouTube Channel. Instead of just posting the video, I decided to break it up into chunks so we can go more in-depth in terms of what led to such an exciting finish in the first game of the ACB’s championship series. So, let’s break it down by each possession from when it was 98-97 Barcelona and about a minute remaining.
(Note: not all commentary will be of the serious variety…so beware).
98-97 Barcelona; Real Madrid ball; 57.7 seconds left
Real Madrid gets a quick shot to give them maximum amount of possessions down the stretch, not something to take for granted given Barcelona’s tendency to drain the clock under head coach Xavi Pascual (in the Euroleague, Barcelona had the slowest pace of any club in the Euroleague). However, this goes about as badly as it possibly could for Los Blancos.
Real Madrid center Gustavo Ayon gets caught in no man’s land after setting the pick, as Ante Tomic plays it well enough to prevent the roll, and Rudy Fernandez is in the spot where Ayon would pop to (though he has really little outside game, so him popping wouldn’t be much good). “El Chacho” Sergio Rodriguez could drive and try to take Tomic to the rack to make the layup behind him or draw the foul, but instead he kicks it to Fernandez, who despite an open look, totally airballs it.
For many Portland Trail Blazers fans, there is little surprise here, as Rudy had his share of disappointment during his time in the NBA with the Blazers. However, Blazers fans do wish Rodriguez would have had this beard in Portland. He would have never left the city after being crowned the “Hipster King Supreme” by 2012.
98-97 Barcelona; Barcelona ball; 43.7 seconds left
I like this pick and roll action by Barcelona. Juan Carlos Navarro and Tomic run a high ball screen and roll action with Navarro hitting Tomic on the roll. You could argue Tomic could take this to the rack and at the very least draw a foul, but with it still being two-possession territory time-wise, Tomic wisely picks up his dribble and hits Pau Ribas who is rolling up at the top of the perimeter after setting a staggered screen earlier for Navarro after he passed it. Ribas’ shot look is contested though by a good closeout by Real Madrid defender Sergio Llull, and Ribas takes a dribble and passes it out on the perimeter to wing Stratos Perperoglou.
This is where it gets pretty, and its unfortunate that Barcelona is unable to finish on this end. Perperoglou gives it to Tomic in the post who has gotten good position on Ayon in the left block. Perperoglou then cuts toward the middle as if he’s going to set a cross screen for Ribas, but at the left elbow, he cuts in front of Fernandez (who is in bad defensive position by overplaying Perperoglou on his cut) and receives the ball from Tomic on a beautiful “give and go” exchange.
Unfortunately, Perperoglou doesn’t finish the easy layup, though he looks like he was expecting to be fouled, and Fernandez makes some effort to do so, though it’s difficult to tell if Fernandez deked at the last moment and caused Perperoglou to over-compensate on the finish, or if Fernandez did foul and the refs missed it.
98-97 Barcelona; Real Madrid ball; 22.2 seconds left
The Portland “Hipster God” Rodriguez turns down the Ayon screen and instead dribble penetrates, which forces Tomic to come out and help. This is key because that is one major issue with Tomic: he really struggles when the initial defense breaks down and he has to help, as he has a tendency to get out of position after a lot of switching due to penetration and ball movement. Rodriguez forces Tomic out of the paint, hits Fernandez in the corner, who immediately swings it to Llull on the left wing beyond the arc.
It’s a bit hard to tell here, but Llull really seems to fake out Navarro, as Navarro over-sits on Llull’s right, as if he is going to pass out back to Rodriguez. Instead, Llull drives with his left to the left block, causing Tomic to creep out of the paint to help stop the drive. This causes Tomic to take his eyes off of Ayon, who is rolling to the hoop, and Llull hits Ayon cutting to the right block. Because Tomic had to help for a second on Llull, Tomic can’t recover, though he does an admirable job to use his height to prevent the layup. But the combo of him being a little bit late, and a great athletic move leads to an impressive Ayon finish.
But the best part? Fernandez, who can’t seem to do anything right in this stretch of the game, clocks Ayon in the head while flying into crash the boards. I do not know why Pablo Lasso kept him in at this point. Blazer fans would be throwing almonds on the floor at this point in disgust with Fernandez. (Yes Portland hates him that much).
99-98 Real Madrid; Barcelona ball; 14.2 seconds left
This isn’t a bad play drawn up by Pascual: get the ball in the hands of your best player (Navarro) and try to cause the defense to switch to get a favorable matchup. Navarro and Justin Doellman set the high screen and roll and Ayon and Llull switch, cross-matching Ayon with Navarro. Navarro resorts to what he does well in this situation: take it to the rack and either score or draw the foul (Navarro has a reputation of lunging into the body to draw fouls).
Remarkably though, Ayon plays incredible defense on this play. He stays off of Navarro so the Spanish guard cannot draw contact for the foul. With the exception of a minor hand check at the top of they key (not to mention a hand check from Navarro in return), Ayon puts on a clinic in terms of how to properly defend the drive, especially in a critical situation. Ayon stays with him with his shoulders square, and he also doesn’t fall for Navarro’s initial head fake when Navarro first picks up the ball. By not falling for the head fake, when Navarro does go up for the finish, Ayon is easily able to block the shot and block it quickly.
Unfortunately, Real Madrid cannot get the loose ball in a scramble, as neither Ayon, Fernandez (God…again!) nor Andres Nocioni (Remember that name? Yes, he’s in Europe now, not on a NBA roster wasting cap-space of your favorite team) can grab it before it rolls out of bounds. A hell of a defensive play by Ayon, but Real Madrid’s inability to grab the loose ball and ice the game gives Barcelona one last shot…
99-98 Real Madrid; Barcelona ball; 3.0 seconds left
Pascual has Navarro taking the ball out in this situation with Tomic just outside the left mid-post, Perperoglou at the top of the key, Doellman right beneath the free throw line, and Ribas standing on the right wing beyond the arc, there to just scratch his balls or something (but in all seriousness, he just needed to be out of this play to clear space in the middle). Take a look at the action that follows after Navarro throws it in:
Doellman begins the action by setting the screen for Perperoglou, who will come off of Doellman’s screen and cut to the hoop. Tomic will flare out to the arc. Ribas will do nothing because that is what he’s supposed to do here: nothing. (Pau Ribas is not winning you this game in 98 percent of situations, so why try?)
Navarro predictably passes it to Tomic, and steps out to get the ball. Llull defends him to prevent the dribble hand-off, and in response, this happens:
Is this is a push or not? Watch the clip above and you can be the judge yourself. However, I am not sure why Llull is playing Navarro like this. I get it, you don’t want him to get the dribble handoff and get a clean look for a three off the handoff (which works like a de-facto ball screen). However, there are two reasons why Llull should have let him get the handoff instead of play to prevent it:
1.) Real Madrid is only up by 1. Whether its a two or three doesn’t matter at this point. I get Llull’s strategy if there was a two point lead on the line, but in this scenario, a layup hurts just as much as a three-pointer. Thus, make him take the longer shot.
2.) Navarro this year was a 33.6 percent 3-point shooter this year in ACB play. He’s has not been a dead-eye by any means, and if he makes the three, then luck was on their side. Poor scouting on the Real Madrid staff to not emphasize this point more to Llull in the timeout.
So, whether Navarro pushes Llull off or not is inconsequential. Llull had poor positioning, which led to this:
Llull is out of position because of the “push off” and Ayon isn’t able to switch so easily off the give and go because of Llull’s lack of positioning. And thus, Navarro gets a clear lane to the hoop. Nocioni has to help and plays to take away the shot by jumping to block it, but as you can see, that leaves Perperoglou wide open, and Navarro recognizes this and instead of playing “hero” ball and going to the rim, he pitches it Perperoglou in the key. And thus…
Perperoglou layup, though Ayon and the Real Madrid defense do their damnedest to prevent it. Despite all the pressure though, he gets it off, the buzzer sounds, the ball goes through the basket and Barcelona is up 1-0 in the Liga Endesa finals after a 100-99 victory.
Overall, it was a wild last minute, and I look forward to not only watching more extensive tape of this game (I don’t have ACB streaming access so it’s harder to find full games than the Euroleague; hence a reason why I primarily focus on the Euroleague and not other domestic leagues), but also the following games in this series. Real Madrid and Barcelona is a great basketball rivalry, and if Game 1’s finish was any indicator, this championship series should be another exciting chapter in the Spanish basketball rivalry’s heated and extensive history.