Hoopfellas 2017-18 EL Playoffs Predictions

 

Eight teams, four matchups, one title. This is a time for heroes and strong minds. This is where history is written. Hoopfellas and coach Banchi analyze in this gigantic post the great battles to come and make their predictions on the basketball madness we ‘ll get to live in the following weeks. The gates of Hell are now open. Welcome to the Euroleague Playoffs…

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Greetings to our community.

 

I am looking for the proper word and “excitement” is what best described this Euroleague’s Playoffs. I can see it in the way the members of our community have been expressing themselves in the past few days. I believe that starting today (as the time is closing in) we will get up in the morning with this well known smile and the shining in our eyes in light of the upcoming games. This is the time we’ve been expecting the entire season. . Hoopfellas is, of course, here and we’ll be revving up, starting with the established gigantic analysis of the four matchups, which includes our thoughts for each of the series. This year we are honoured by the presence of Luca Banchi, the Italian coach of Brose Bamberg, who will give us his predictions for the great battles that lead to the F4 in Belgrade. Without further ado, we go to the coach and Hoopfellas’ analysis will follow…

 

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“Ciao, Jim and Hoppfellas’ readers. I hope you are all well… I am more than happy to be among you and share my (probably wrong) predictions. Let’s go…

 

CSKA-KHIMKI: 3-2 for CSKA

Were you surprised…? I believe that the Moscow derby will be quite balanced, more than expected. Khimki has the roster, the talent, the versatility, great coaching and… absolutely nothing to lose!

It will be hard for CSKA to replace Kyle Hines, who will probably miss a few games. Game 3 will be the key for a long, exciting series. Hunter and Gill will be the key-players, as will the matchup between the two Greek coaches.

 

 

FENERBAHCE-BASKONIA: 3-0 for Fenerbahce

The home court advantage plays a major role for the Turkish team, as is their readiness (like last year) to play their best in these games in the most clutch period of the season. Baskonia have been playing very well lately. They probably regret losing to Anadolu in the last game of the regular season. If they were up against another team, maybe they would have their chances. The key matchup for this series is Wannamaker versus Granger…

 

OLYMPIAKOS-ZALGIRIS KAUNAS: 3-1 for Olympiacos

It’s time for Olympiacos to assert themselves with their defensive systems. If their roster is complete, without any injuries, they have the tools to limit the activity of the greatest surprise of this year’s Euroleague. Saras is my personal choice for the coach of the year award. The key players in this matchup are Printezis-Jankunas.

 

 

PANATHINAIKOS-REAL MADRID:  ..

Oh, my God…! I honestly don’t know…! Home court advantage is important for Panathinaikos, but what if Llull is ok? How are they going to stop his collaboration with Luka Donsic? Maybe the duo of Calathes-James is the answer… the battle for the rebounds, rim protection are also important… The coaches… Pablo and Xavi know each other so well… Forgive me, but I give up. It’s time for me to tune in and enjoy the Playoffs! Our own April Madness is coming,,,

 

I wish everyone well and… Forza Brose Bamberg!!!”

 

 

I think it’s clear why we love Luca Banchi… We thank him once more for his comments. Let’s move on to our analysis, which, I believe, was worth the wait of our community for the games to come…

 

CSKA Moscow vs Khimki

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Khimki couldn’t keep up with the teams of the “first class” (TOP-3) and didn’t make it to the top 6 spots, losing 5 out of the last 7 games in the regular season. It is a period where the level of their defense was very low, and sent them to match up against Dimitris Itoudis’ CSKA.

 

Can Khimki really run “together” with CSKA?

 ÃŽÂ‘ποτέλεσμα εικόνας για cska khimki 2018

It won’t be easy. The biggest advantage of coach Itoudis’ “armada” in the series is that they feel comfortable against Khimki. They are better in individual battles in terms of physicality as well, not only because they have more “tools”, but also because they play together and process at a great speed every new piece of information that appears in the course of the game.

 

Last year we were talking about the “unbeatable Runing Hand Off [please insert English version à http://www.hoopfellas.gr/en/2017/04/21/hoopfellas-2016-17-el-playoffs-predictions-why-is-always-dante/]” of CSKA in the half court, and the way they moved the ball and took advantage of every inch of the court in set plays, this year – as we had talked about here before the tip-off of the season- there is a whole different ball game for them. This year’s CSKA team looks like a prologue for Dimitris Itoudis crossing the Atlantic. The team was structured to play this up tempo game of 1 on 1, but MAINLY looking to survive in these close games in the end of the season, which go to 1 on 1(in both sides of the court). This is what they had in mind when they made their moves in the off-season…

The old school off the dribble midrange execution of the main ballhandlers (Rodriguez, De Colo, Higgins) of Dimitris Itoudis is in fact a great weapon in modern basketball, and CSKA uses it to shape the format and limit the defensive options of their opponents in ball screen situations, gaining significantly in “spaces”. This is the key word when we are talking about players with these assets. They way and the speed most of coach Itoudis’ players change roles, in the same offensive play within a few seconds, turning from fundamental screeners to creation or execution shows the great work done in Moscow.

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Logic dictates that coach Itoudis will again choose a big man to stop Shved. Kurbanov is the safest choice, as he is great in the execution line of the Khimki’s “demonic monk”, that is, the main lane. In similar cases this year’s CSKA team set up its defense with a tendency to load players on the main lane and allow execution from the wings in several Khimki players (Markovic, Thomas, even Gill), and bet on the quick recovers guaranteed by their small lineups. This is why Khimki’s outside shooting will be a very significant factor for the way this series will play out, especially since the several games these two teams have played against each other this year, have led us to the conclusion that coach Bartsokas’ team is finding it difficult to produce against CSKA.

 

Coach Bartsokas knows that something has to change. CSKA has shown us this year that, if you want to beat them, you have to make their outside shooting numbers drop and control the rebounds. The way the “Bear” plays on offense leaves no room for many turnovers that will allow you to run the court.

I think that the rebounds were the “Achilles’ heel” for Khimki throughout the season, and one of the main reasons Giorgos Bartsokas’ team did not climb higher in the standings. Khimki has players with good attributes and rebounding skills, but they are behind in working “together” in this, and run the process that will guarantee them good numbers in loose balls. On the contrary, CSKA showed us exactly what their new structure directed them towards. Last summer, we had stressed that the “newer, quicker version of the Russian team will have problems in defensive rebounds, and possibly even in the heart of the paint”. However, they are quite good in offensive rebounding, which is one of the products of their decision to replace pure height with very strong feet and great wingspans. In the single game of the season that Khimki were close to CSKA in rebounds, CSKA did not have Kyle Hines available, and this is the first element, on which coach Bartsokas can rely. Khimki have to balance the battle of rebounds if they want to have the slightest of chances in this series. This is a prerequisite.

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So, starting from the introduction on this vital area of the game, I would like to express my belief that coach Bartzokas will play the card of Thomas Robinson, and invest on him in this series. The American came to Moscow to help Khimki match big men like the ones of CSKA and provide the necessary size in the Russian paint. He started the season very well, and he was one of the best Centres of the Euroleague, but he is a totally different player since he came back, showing small signs of improvement in the last games. Let’s not forget that he is a rookie in the Euroleague, and mainly that he didn’t have the experience to properly handle his return (this is why he lost his temper several times), after everything he went through. With Hines sidelined, Robinson can be a factor in the series. He has the ability to balance the advantage of Hunter’s dynamic against Malcom Thomas, he can clean the boards and put the ball on the floor with short drives, starting from the charity stripe. Mainly, though, he will be able to support lineups with him at “5” and Thomas-Honeycutt at the forwards, as Khimki tries to play Big and change things around. The hard part for him is to stay focused….

 

The key-players: Nikita Kurbanov-James Anderson

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I didn’t use the term “The match-up” as in the other series, because I don’t want to focus on the matchup (the may not go against each other at all), but on the role of the two SFs. I believe that in the next month and a half, Kurbanov’s performance will be very important for CSKA’s road to the Euroleague title. It is the other combo-F, Will Clyburn, that has the spotlights on him, but Kurbanov is crucial for the defensive coherence and the compact character of the “Bear”, especially now that Kyle Hines might miss a few games. Kurbanov will be called to lock down the middle lane in CSKA’s defense and brings balance to the rebounds. In the 4 games of these two team this year he was excellent (13.3 points with 9/11 3pointers), and his presence on defence was the main element that allowed the deployment of Dimitris Itoudis’ team in transition. It should be noted that, especially now (in the Hines-less CSKA) the Russian forward’s presence in various lineups and the combination of his athletic/physical attributes and his defensive intelligence, increases the level of functionality in CSKA’s multi-forward lineups.

On the other hand, James Anderson has to improve his performance, if his team wants to have any kind of chance in this series. His role is crucial, given the fact that he might be the only player that is able to produce from 1 on 1against a defense that has been structured in such a way as to lead their opponents’ offense in this direction. Anderson has been underperforming after the start of December and he has not been able to get to his high standards after that. Furthermore, the American G/F has to be ready to play at the “2”, “3” and “4” position for his team against a CSKA team that “changes its skin” easier than any other team in the competition in respect to the nature of the lineups they may play. With the defense of the “Bear” adjusting on Shved, Anderson has to produce and give a boost to a rather weak half court offense. His latest performance does not make this very possible, but it can give both him and the Khimki staff the required motive.

 

Prediction

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I remember Giorgos Bartsokas in the Olympiacos-Real Madrid series in the 2014 Playoffs, where the Reds (who were trailing 2-0 after the Madrid games) took the “Queen” to Game 5. The coach was up against a great and very talented team and he knew that they were the outsider, but he also had a very experienced squad, hard-nosed players and a very strong home court to support this effort (what a defense they played in Game 4 …). The Khimki organisation does not have this background. This is why it will be a great addition to his résumé if he can give us a really competitive series. Dimitris Itoudis’ CSKA is a better team and even if they find themselves against the ropes, they know how to react. The coach will use Hines’ injury to rally the team together, knowing that CSKA’a psychological advantage against this specific opponent may prove significant, especially on road games. Certainly CSKA are the favourites here. 67&-33% for CSKA.

 

Fenerbahce vs Baskonia

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The Basques fell of the trap of complacency and lost in the last game of the regular season, to the motivated (after the fine imposed by coach Ataman on his players) Anadolu at Buesa Arena after six straight wins, which sent them directly to the champions, Fenerbahce, a matchup that wasn’t exactly what the Spanish team was dreaming of for this year’s playoffs. Baskonia have shown this kind of instability in a similar (in terms of importance and nature) game, when they lost at home to Milan in the January double week, at a time when they were trying to make up for the ground they had lost in the standings on their way to the top-8 teams…

Baskonia will attack on the “feet” of the Turkish team, but Fener will attack the mentality of the Basques…

 ÃŽÂ‘ποτέλεσμα εικόνας για fenerbahce baskonia 2018 granger

Truth is that for Fener a matchup with Khimki, or even Zalgiris would have been more compatible, it would be read more easily, compared to the diversity the Vittoria team brings to the “battlefield”. The main problem Zeljko Obradovic has to face is related to the nature of their opponents roster, which doesn’t allow him to feel as comfortable when “playing” with the size of his lineups. The strongest card coach Martinez has, is arguable the most versatile frontcourt of the league, which allows him to make several combinations that can guarantee certain performance in terms of speed, and a plethora of attributes/skills without his team losing on “length”.

Of course, we are talking about the “Dante” of the Euroleague (last year before the playoffs we were saying “Why is always Dante”)… This is the time where Zoc traditionally sinks himself inside his own “nirvana” and sees every difficulty as a challenge, which allows him to go deep and find a solution (even if this solution does not fall within the description of conventional) for every problem. The playoffs are the time for adapting and role-players that can change the balance taking the form of “aces up the sleeve”. The Serbian mastermind is just the best in playing such hands…

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It is clear that, in terms of pace, the context these games will be played in, will play a very important role in the outcome of the series. Fener will try to take the games to the half court. They are the best (and the team with the most “automated” operation) half court offense in Europe this year. The typical “Gritty Basketball” the Serbian coach activates in this part of the season will be the “tool” he will use to lower the tempo and take the series to valuing possessions game. However, he will need tons of energy and a very aggressive defense to get there. He knows that the Vittoria team has a very fragile mentality. When you get into their lines of communication and spoil the automated deployment and execution game they play, they can fall apart. The Turkish team will need to direct the ball in their defense and get the rebounds against a squad that is very strong in this area. Granger and Shengelia will be the main focus for Zoc. If something was missing from Fener’s defensive performance this year, it’s the guard that will put pressure on the ball…. I think that coach Obradovic will rely on the 3&D nature of Nunnally (he shot 14/19 3-pointers in the last 8 games in the Euroleague, he finished the season with an exceptional 59.5%) as well as Dixon, in order to put pressure on the guard from Uruguay, and he will also try to control the Georgian “bull” in the post by interchanging Kalinic and Melli in the forwards matchup (it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Italian forward guarding Garino and the Serbian on Shengelia), with Vessely (who must be protected) being the “final level” of defense against the Baskonia star. Zoc had trouble in January’s game where he activated traps in the low post for Shengelia, and he knows well (depending, of course, on the situation of Duverioglou, it will be important for him to come into the game, even as a starter at the “5” position) that he may have to play with the Big lineup of Vessely-Thompson for more minutes than usual. Speaking of role-players, the American Center (don’t be surprised if Fener gets the ball to him in the beginning of the game) may be a factor in the series for coach Obradovic…

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On the other hand, Pedro Martinez is looking to present a team that will make some noise in these playoffs. As I ‘ve highlighted in the past, he is one of the best half court coaches around, and this set game boost he brought when he came to a squad of “lightning quick” athletes gradually turned Baskonia into one of the most versatile, complete teams in the league. It’s a fact that the Spaniards will try to run and aim to force Fener play small, which, in turn, will help them look for the mismatches in the low post. Coach Martinez knows that this won’t be easy, but I believe that he sees the “chance” somewhere in the horizon. Baskonia will probably have this chance in a close game in the beginning of the series, at Istanbul, and they can exploit it. However, they must first have a very good defensive result. Fener finished the season with the highest percentage of points through teamwork (67.3%). The 18.1 assists the Basque defense allows is a quite high number and the Spanish coach has to work on that. Coach Obradovic’ snipers (Datome, Nunnally) will be very aggressive from the start. They will get in the court to hammer on their opponents’ defense, especially with their short 3s from the corners. Coach Martinez will also have to make up his mind about the extra guard at the “1” position. Huertas has the experience, but he is not in a good shape, especially on defense, and the offense that produces the best reads (together with Zalgiris) will use that. So, the way Vildoza plays might be the “barometer” in the minutes Granger rests on the bench. Baskonia managed to get to the open court much easier when Garino, who has the ability to get to the ball first on defense and turn defense into offense, moved up to the starting lineup. The Basques run Spain Pick’n’Roll situations in an excellent manner (especially with Janning as the back screener that goes up middle lane to shot), whereas they used baseline cuts in the January matchup and they were very efficient with using extra passes on the back of the Turkish defense.Of course, they have to be very good in terms of communication in half court defense, in the 5-out offense Fener will probably use against them again. The key player for coach Martinez will be Rodrigue Beabois. He is the one that will be called to make the decisions and take the big shots in the end of a close game. It’s important that he does not turn the ball over against a defense that will lead him on Vessely.

 

The matchup: Kostas Sloukas vs Jason Granger

 

The “barometers” of the two teams. They are the main creators, the main decision makers of their respective teams. We have stressed the importance of Sloukas’ efficiency this year since last summer, as Zoc doesn’t have the computerised (in terms of decisions) game of Bogdanovic. When Sloukas is not particularly efficient, the offense of the Turkish team, especially in the half court, is easier to read. In the last 8 Euroleague games he has 4.8 assists for 1.8 turnovers, and he’s been better from beyond the arc (19/34 3pointers). At the same time, Guduric has been having 3.3 assists for 0.8 turnovers, which, combined with Meli’s creative activity in the High and Low Post, can put the train of the Turkish offense on its rails. On the other hand, Granger brings great leadership for the Basques. Last year, playing for Anadolu, he posed several questions to a defense such as the one of Olympiacos, and he will try to do the same thing for Baskonia this year. Obradovic will throw… everything he has against him (ideally he will try to switch with Vessely in the middle lane and involve Kalinic in this collaboration), aiming at allowing him to execute, rather than create. It is the mental strength and clear mind of the guard from Uruguay that will decide several things in the series…

Prediction

Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για obradovic fener

Fener is too experienced to question their home court advantage in the series. Mainly because they are a team that can come back, if they find themselves on the ropes. Chances are that Baskonia will have their chance to fight for a break. Even if they get to that break, it’s doubtful how they will handle it. The team’s structure is a difficult matchup for Fener. They have the size and the speed to pose several problems, but when you get there and you feel that you have done so well, first of all you will need you need to be focused to finish the job. 62%-38% in favour of Fener…

 

Olympiakos vs Zalgiris Kaunas

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A while back I confessed to you that, in terms of technical approach, this is the pair I would most like to see in the playoffs of this season’s Euroleague. The “friction” created between the Lithuanians’ fundamental offense and the best defense of the league (Olympiakos) produces tremendous competition reflecting the clash of two different worlds in contemporary European basketball. Zalgiris isn’t the ideal opponent that I would personally like to see match Olympiakos at this particular time of the season. In my humble opinion, the Greek team would be up against more favourable conditions if they were up against Baskonia or Khimki. We had pointed out that even though they are two very athletic teams with runs that are able to “suck the air out” of their opponents and players with versatile defensive character, they lack the strong spirit that a team needs to beat the Reds without the home advantage. And most important: they “don’t come back”. I think that this would help Olympiacos manage the series with less difficulty (in more than one aspects).

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On the other hand, the inexperienced playoffs-wise Zalgiris has shown that they can weave their way back to the light when they find themselves in the… gutter, the result of the team’s blind faith in the system. This is what they work on day in day out. This is the “invisible” leader behind the creator (Saras) at the edge of the bench, whenever things get tough. So, this is not an easy mission for Olympiakos. They must play high quality basketball capitalizing on the experience of “been there, done that” and prove that they are still the team with the most intangibles in Europe.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster: Olympiakos’ “Trojan Horse”

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I think that sometime in the future (maybe after the playoffs) it would be good for our community to delve into what it is that Saras’s Hoosiers really play this year, which (regardless of how far this team gets in the end) is maybe the best export product of the European basketball this season for the American coaching market, which is open to new influences. We are going to do that at some point and I believe that you’re going to like it. Today, however, just a breath away from the “playoffs hell”, it’s important to focus on how Olympiacos can walk away alive from this clash in which, needless to say, they enter as the favourites.

We said right after the season tipped of that Zalgiris, the team with limited finances and lacking star quality, can make every jaws drop if they improve their defensive game. Since they did that, their vibes cried “F4 material”. They are that good… Whether or not they actually get there is an entirely different debate that should take into account several different parameters. Offense is the Lithuanians’ trademark and exactly where Giannis Sfairopoulos will focus his strategy in his attempt to return to Euroleague’s F4. It is essentially a mixture from the pool of Read & React offenses with principles of the related Motion (important note: this is not Patterned Motion offense with automated movements/positions, besides this is sets Europe). To understand what I’m saying, I must remind you that in an offense with Read & React character, the initiative, in terms of development, lies within the offensive player and the procedure unfolds depending on the decision that this plays will make. Offenses from the Motion platform (its derivatives, usually with shared principles) depend on what the defense gives them.

Zalgiris has the offense with the best communication between strong and weak side, performing in impeccable time and, from a hierarchy point of view, with the same gravity across the entire half court, no matter where the ball is. It is what we envisioned in the summer for the Panathinaikos team of Xavi Pascual, who never quite managed to get there, possibly because they didn’t want to (coach decision) or maybe because he simply didn’t have the abundance of creative skills in different positions which is the trademark of the Baltic team. The pair of Pangos-Micic aside, players like Jankunas or Ulanovas “break” the defensive pressure in half court, forming creative poles in low or high post having the advantage of putting the ball on the floor. This is one of the main reasons Zalgiris is the second best team of the league without really having many great shooters in the roster. It’s also the team shooting the fewest three-pointers (by far) than any other team in the league. However, they are difficult to read because on top of their alternative creative sources, their coach (and this is one of the keys for success) has managed to garnish the traditional Heavy post up character of their offense (“decompression” is the right word) with exemplary movement off the ball. This is why the Lithuanian team continues to be so effectively inside the paint, being, however, much more exuberant in relation to the nature of their execution.

“Playing out” the series in my mind (whatever…), my faith regarding the adjustments the Reds must make in order to stop the Lithuanian offense was reinforced. This is where the individual skills and the nature of this team point to. In my opinion, a Big Lineup with Papanikolaou (facilitator)-Papapetrou-Printezis-Milutinov next to Spanoulis may become coach Sfairopoulos’s “Trojan Horse” in this series. The lack of a defensive stopper in the guards, the battle for position off the ball and the development process of Zalgiris itself in half court requires that this formation gets out of the drawer at some point.

Olympiacos must push Zalgiris’ offense to the point where they will be forced to express themselves more through 1 on 1. To get there, however, the Red offense must work hard off the ball. This is the only way to cancel the movement of the ball, the clear shots from behind the line and the extra pass, forcing the opponent to put the ball on the floor and, under the pressure of time, to attack directly. “There”, in this “court”, the Greek defense is devastating. This is where they want to bring their opponents. Just think the above formation a little bit and how it could work against Diamond, Flopy actions or the weakside Staggers activated by the Lithuanians for Milaknis (execution from the wing). Even better, think how constructively effective this can turn out to be against the “Stockton to Malone” character of the Pangos-Jankunas PnR when Zalgiris go to their captain’s Pop out.

The famous Stay in Contact (which aims at dealing with such situations, we have analysed that both last and this year) must be nailed on the Reds locker rooms throughout the series… This Big on the one hand, fast on the other, lineup may give the luxury of “immediate” switch by, let’s say, Papanikolaou (from Pangos to Jankunas, the Canadian is an excellent creator, having a very effective pull up and the keys of the team from Saras) or a third player being included in the defensive play quickly, since the combination of length and “feet” will be there. Above all, however, it can force turnovers from an offense that has the most turnovers in the league. Automatically (even if the exceptional transition shooter Strelnieks isn’t in the court), with the triad of forwards who are the best finishers Olympiakos has in open court and Spanoulis’s playmaking, the Reds can go after fast break points. Of course, since basketball means continuity and since it is played on both sides of the court, the spot shooting from the “2”, “3”, and “4” positions will be key in such a lineup. This goes without saying, if this lineup wants to stay in the floor…

Dangerous when playing “smaller”…

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This year, Zalgiris was structured to be more athletic and they have done an excellent job at it. When Saras decides to play smaller (Ulanovas at “4”, White playing both positions in frontcourt) Zalgiris is really dangerous. These small lineups have helped the Lithuanians to come back from several difficult situations throughout this season. They raise the intensity together with the pressure line of their defense while they have greater speed an offense and more space since the face up-post up game of several players (guards or big men) allows that. It is clear that Olympiacos must be selective in the use of switching or traps in the backcourt against a team that reads and above all passes the ball very well.

Coach Jasikevicius is getting Toupane and Ulanovas ready for Spanoulis. The Lithuanian coach has read the Greek super star very well and his defensive approach against him is correct in general terms. However, Zalgiris’ “Achilles heel” on defense lies in the weaknesses of its guards. Several leading guards in this year’s Euroleague did them a great deal of damage. Spanoulis is second to none in reading defenses at this level and coach Giannis Sfairopoulos will rely on him in the half court. The Reds’ captain is in great shape lately (he breaks through the defense like he did a few years back, he is comfortable finishing inside the paint) and will be the spearhead of Olympiacos’ attempt to aim for the weak side, something they did successfully in the last game between the two teams in the regular season finale.

The alternative road for weak side execution (which leads to close out) goes through the hands of Nikola Milutinov. The Serbian Center and his presence in the High post may act favourably, as a “stepping stone” when the Lithuanians choose aggressive defense to get the ball out of Spanoulis’ hands. He has court vision, his passing technique is good for a player of his kind, he doesn’t panic when he can’t pass the ball early. Olympiacos has several shooters (Strelnieks, Roberts, Brown, Thompson) who can act supportively both in the space of a pass from Spanoulis and in the weak side although their management should be very detailed, given their weakness to go towards the rim in close outs. Zalgiris will gamble with the execution of the forwards of the Greek team by loading up bodies in the middle lane and the paint with the now classic “help the helper” approach of the help side defenders. In smaller lineups, in particular, these help side defenders have the ability–as the ball is moving- to turn into ball side defenders pretty fast. It should be taken for granted that in such a situation, Olympiacos will target Milaknis…

The Match up: Georgios Printezis vs Paulius Jankunas

Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για OSFP ZALGIRIS 73-64 GAZZETA

Must watch… Two of the players whose performance has a special significance for the outcome of the series. I think that Printezis is the most crucial player for Olympiacos in the series. I have trouble seeing the Reds achieving many of their goals in the games without their international forward in good shape. To put it differently, Zalgiris are smart and capable enough to manage an offense like the one Olympiakos play without Printezis in the equation (i.e. pretty productive). The stamina of the 33-year-old forward (which affects his finishes) will be a key part of the series.

In turn, Paulius Jankunas is the “den mother” and leader of the Lithuanians. I’ve been watching with great interest how much better Zalgiris’s execution in offense is during close matches (where decisions are far more important) when the much experienced forward is on the court. Olympiacos must limit his activity and the same goes for Davies (outstanding)-White in offensive rebounds by being careful in their defensive switches in the back line. His positioning is exemplary and he is “there” when the defense makes Zalgiris lose it. Also, his exemplary screens are part of the general tendency of the off the ball offensive movement of the Lithuanians. Pleas note that Zalgiris automatically wins a small but very important battle when the activity of Davies-Jankunas in the low post forces the opponent offense to activate help down low. Some big men know how to pass the ball. This is where the Lithuanian offense is at its best…

Prediction

For some reason, while watching Olympiacos this season I had a feeling (that became stronger game after game) that made me believe that this year the Reds will be more vulnerable in a playoffs series than during the F4 games where the presence of Spanoulis-Printezis and the psychological character of “every decision matters” would probably give them a gigantic advantage. Olympiacos are the most experienced team in this match-up and this alone springs predictions in their favour. However, they must play very good basketball and find their rhythm in the series to beat the Lithuanians. Above all, they must be ready to dominate on a physical/athletic level. Zalgiris is a great team. It is the group that has fascinated me the most since the beginning of the season. I believe that they can beat Olympiacos and go to Belgrade. The result of the Hoopfellas poll with the views of the European community that strongly supports that the series will go to Game 5 says a lot. Zalgiris’ disadvantage is that they are about to tread on new, uncharted emotional territories having faith in their “system” as the beacon that will guide them through the darkness. It’s possible that Game 2 will be the key game for both teams in the series. Equal odds, 52%-48% in favour of Olympiacos…

 

Panathinaikos vs Real Madrid

Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για PAO REAL MADRID 82-80

In the final stretch of the season, Panathinaikos revved up and managed to get the home court advantage in the last game, leaving Madrid in the fifth spot. The two teams have been “measuring” each other for quite some time now, as the chance of them playing against each other in the playoffs was very possible. The “Queen” is a different team compared to the one that visited the OAKA late November. They went over the difficult stage they had in the beginning of the season with coach Laso “disassembling” the bonds in the team’s game and rebuilding it on common principles and on a healthier basis. After mid-December, Madrid have been so much better (they went 14-4). They are a really two-way team that has everything required in modern European basketball at this level. They can beat you on the half court or in the open court (they are quite quick in set plays), the can beat you with their defense or their offensive firepower, they have length and footwork, they can adjust. The talent tank they have (even without the great Sergio Llull) is at the top of the Euroleague and their background and winning culture are important allies in this part of the season. On the other hand, Panathinaikos had a difficult period, not when they lost, but when they added players to their roster. Remember the saying by the great Daniele Baiesi..

“Sometimes, all you need is to add or just remove a player from the roster or the rotation in order to find the ideal combination and the appropriate chemistry”

 

The Greens moved slightly the focus of their philosophy, on which they worked, quite successfully I might say, in the first half of the season (spacing, half court speed) and they looked to their defense (they were No2 in the league) and their athletic attributes, on which they relied to open the gate of the open court, which is more compatible with the structure and the abilities of this roster. What is also important is that the Greens with Xavi Pascual leading the way are in the top-4 in the regular season for a second year in a row. Continuity is everything…

I have a very clear opinion about how the Greek team has to play against Madrid in order to maximise their chances of going to Belgrade. In terms of approach and objectives, Panathinaikos must play “unconventionally” in this series…

 

Make them go Small

 ÃŽÂ‘ποτέλεσμα εικόνας για PAO REAL MADRID 82-80

Madrid’s size, especially when the game goes to half court, is one of the main problems Xavi Pascual will be called to manage. The recent game between the two teams in Madrid (much more representative in respect to the matchup of the two teams) and the problems Panathinaikos faced with Tavares playing Flat on the Greens PnR is a good basis on which the Greens must work. The Greek team must not let the Madrid giant stay low and in general turn into a “factor” of the game. Two weeks ago in Belgrade, coach Alimpijevic handled it very well, and aimed at getting him into early foul trouble.

Panathinaikos don’t have the straight post up big man that can stay on the floor for long, taking into account the defensive issues of Ian Vougioukas (the only Post up big man). This is where Payne’s strong finishing comes into play (we talked about that a few weeks ago with an eye on this series), as are Antetokounmpo’s baseline cuts. At the same time, Panathinaikos has to keep “alive” on their offensive repertoire the off the dribble shots, especially in PnR situations. Let’s keep in mind that coach Pascual has a few very apt players in this (James, Lekavicius, Pappas). Madrid have the tools to play Small, but: 1) they don’t always feel comfortable in these lineups, as they are used to relying on Big lineups, and 2) Without Tavares (even though Ayon-Randolph are overall better players) they are not as strong in rim protection, which can give the Greek team a boost to attack the heart of the paint, and get the benefits that come with it (free throws, a necessary weapon for a team that tips-off the series with the home court advantage)…

As you will see below, I agree with those who say that Panathinaikos have to run in this series and not be afraid of the Madrilenos ability to also run the floor. Getting in the half court, the Greek team has to clear the middle lane, so Gist and Calathes can “breathe”, as it is these two players that have been the main weapon of the Greek offense this year. Madrid are a very good defensive team (their opponents have the worst FG% in the league), but if you’ve been paying attention to Hoopfellas you will know that there are certain defensive areas where they are not very good. Perimeter defense, transition defense, 2-2 defense on the wing. It’s a fact that Panathinaikos will have to shoot the ball very well in this series and get to 80 points, which is the threshold for beating Real. So, the numbers of the player that has the strongest personality in the Greens roster, KC Rivers, will play a major role in the productive performance of the Greens. The American G/F had 16.0 points and 8/17 3pointers this year in the two games against his former club.

 

 

The “Shamrock” has to score (and take the game to 85 points); you just don’t enter the game aiming at keeping the Spanish team below 70 points (this is out of the question)… Coach Pascual will play the Lojeski card, but is should be taken for granted that coach Laso will target him in his team’s offense. Denmon has to be ready, and he may prove to be a factor in he really gets in the game. The 3&D game of the American off guard and the way Payne will handle his on the floor minutes on defense (he has to make good use of his fouls and cover for his lack of perception on defense) may be the aces up the Greens’ sleeve. For Madrid the performance of Campazzo-Taylor (pressure on the ball, defensive stops on Calathes by both of them) plus Tompkins on defense will be of importance.

Madrid rely on 3pointers more that most teams in this year’s Euroleague. Take a look at the StatsLi graph (Shooting force=Frequency of execution * points per execution from every zone of the court)

Ayon’s performance (the point of reference in the paint) is the “tool” used by the Spanish team to create the context for good peripheral execution. The existence of several creators (in different positions) makes using, for example a Box & 1 defense doubtful and the trapping in Madrid’s PnR (as well as other plays) used in the regular season game at OAKA must be used very selectively and against very specific lineups.

 

In my opinion, the key for stopping outside execution will be off the ball defense, and specifically defense in the space of one pass. Panathinaikos (especially with Rivers-Pappas on the wings) has shown that they can play at high intensity and efficiency levels such a defense, if needed. In the Speed up the tempo we are advocating, I think that at some point a 1-2-2 press with Singleton as the chaser (on the top) and Antetokounmpo-Gist on the baseline (provided it’s a half court 1-2-2, they can take the sprints to the corners) could be used. In half court situations, in conjunction with the need to control the rebounds, I could see a lineup with Singleton at “3” and Mitoglou-Gist in the frontcourt. Antetokounmpo has the physical/athletic package to guard Donsic, but, taking into account the perception and intelligence of the young star, it is doubtful whether he will stay away from foul trouble. Calathes (who must find extra motive in Campazzo’s performance in their last matchup) is the best solution for the “young wizard”, but the Greens star has to stay out of foul trouble in the beginning of the games (Donsic is sitting at the top of the league is areas such as fouls won and free throws won). The battle of the two MVP candidates will be very interesting… No more open middle lane (especially for Causer). Last year’s experience (and the slow reflexes of the coaching staff) with Bogdanovic was too much… Rudy Fernandez is also a significant source of creation (2.6 assists for only 0.7 turnovers, Madrid have the best AST/TO ratio with 1.8) and is also a great shooter from behind the arc. The Greens defense must “push” him, as he’s been avoiding contact in the past few years. We should also note that the latest news is that Sergio Llull is in training in 5 on 5 with contact. At the moment it seems much more possible that the great Real Madrid leader will be on the roster (if needed) in the games played in Spain, but his presence alone may give a boost to his teammates. Of course, he’s been out of action for several months. On the other hand, his class is undisputable. We’ll wait for an update here as well.

 

The Matchup: Ayon-Randolph vs Gist-Singleton

 ÃŽÂ‘ποτέλεσμα εικόνας για PAO REAL MADRID AYON

The battle in the frontcourt (in its entirety) will decide the series. Both teams have depth, but Madrid has more quality and more skill that make up for a higher number of combinations, thus “adjustments” within the 40’. Coach Laso has shown us that he is not afraid to try things (3-2 matchup, 2-2-1 press in several occasions this year) on the defensive end, which indicates his skills as a coach. What troubles me is the possibility of early foul trouble. The two Green big men are in the top-10 of fouls conceded in the Euroleague (Singleton at No1 with 3.37 and Gist at No 8 with 2.93), especially now that they will be up against the arguably most skilled frontline in the Euroleague. Ayon is the point of reference in the paint and an excellent creator (2.8 assists) in the Madrid offense. Also, his mobility is underestimated (he is quite quick for his size). Randolph went through a difficult period, but he’s been improving lately. Tompkins’ 3&D game is a valuable supplement and Reyes’ ability in offensive rebounds and winning fouls is also important. Panathinaikos will need an extra player in the frontcourt. They’ve been looking for one in the entire season, and someone has to step up. Their starting frontcourt duo may put their opponents to the test in a fast-paced game. They will also have the difficult job of locking down the main ballhandlers in coach Laso’s PnR. Xavi Pascual wants Gist-Singleton in the final attempt of Madrid’s guards, but he must find the balance when the ball goes to the back line of defense, and rebounding in total. But what’s more important (in light of this paragraph and the next one) is that Panathinaikos have to run…

 

Open letter to coach Pascual…

Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για XAVI PASCUAL PAO

“Coach, we have now reached the most critical part of the season. Americans call it “money time” but it’s very possible that such expressions don’t suit your aesthetics (I second that). For the second season in a row, Panathinaikos finishes in the top 4 in the regular season standings, in a very competitive league and this is largely due to your own insight and the on-going outstanding work that has given you a place among the elite European coaches over time. This series with Real is a great challenge for the organization but it’s also a huge challenge for you and your career. This is your moment. We all know how difficult this is going to be… No doubt that you have a few excellent players and a pretty good squad. However, in this match-up and for the next two weeks (at least) you are the one who has to make the difference. If this is the point of the season where “the brain is the strongest muscle”, then there is no doubt that the largest part of the “green” hopes relies upon you. This means that you will probably have to take a deep spiritual dive by taking risks and, above all, by inspiring your players even at moments where there is no crack of light around…

Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για XAVI PASCUAL PAO 2018

All our small community wants to say to you (because you clearly know better) is to not be afraid. You will set the tempo. The “change” must begin from you. Don’t be afraid to run, coach. I know very well that set game and half court situations have been your personal “safe haven” over time. You know how to go “there”, when you are the most comfortable and you know all the shortcuts to the victory. However, we are now facing something different. Against this Real Madrid, a team with the several alternative sources of creation and the combination of length and athleticism of their roster, you have to present something unconventional, something that cannot be easily recognized. You must shake the series up by smashing the current norms. You need old school coaching and non-stop inspiration to take the momentum in your own hands but this is why the team relies on you. Don’t be afraid to run. Panathinaikos found their way back to victory late in the season when they spread the defense and looked for the open court. There’s no doubt that your opponent is an outstanding fast pace team, but the players you have scream that victory is within reach at this level. Don’t second-guess yourself and never, at any moment, allow your faith in this basketball style to falter. You are the one that can convince the players that this is the right choice and make them commit to it. The way things have turned out and the still recent memories of last year’s shock with Fener, you have to do everything to present a hungry team in this series. Only then can the chains break and allow something that is maybe even bigger than what you envisioned in the beginning of the season to be born. If, at the first time out by coach Laso (hopefully) in the beginning of the series, you see the “fires” on OAKA’s floor and smokes gushing out from Calathes’ shoes or from your big men when they are coming to the bench, then you have made the first step.

You know better…”

 

Prediction

 

 At the starting line, Madrid is the most balanced team as well as the team with a more two-way profile, required by modern basketball to open the gate to the top of this level. Panathinaikos’ thirst and home court advantage divided the chances for success since Madrid (this year, without Llull) do not have the same strong character they had in previous years. I think that it’s very important for the Greek team to show coaching ideas and adjustments (with risk) away from the so called conventional character that we saw in the season up until now. In a “conventional” battle, the Spanish team has the upper hand. This is Xavi Pascual’s moment to send Panathinaikos to the next level. In case of qualification for the Greek team, I see break after break (possibly). Basically, I believe that a possible qualification of the Greens to Belgrade will come with a victorious passage from Madrid. 50%-50%…

 

Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για david blatt darussafaka eurocup champion

P.S.: David Blatt has now won everything. At every level… For some reason (regardless of Darussafaka winning the Eurocup trophy that sends them to the next Euroleague), he would be the coach I would choose for my team to beat, as another David, a Goliath in a playoffs series. What makes him one with these magical powers of coming back is obviously more than the same name… I remember my enthusiasm this time last year when I was writing the article before EL’s playoffs about what plans he might have to come up with to stop Real by presenting a competitive group…

“Blatt faces a great coaching challenge. He knows that he has to find a way to change the balance and play with his opponents’ mind. He is very able when he has to fight under the status of underdog. Very agile… He knows that the first step must be to state that Darussafaka is a contender of the series. Give his opponent the uneasy feeling of battle and delete any chance of an easy win from their mind.

 

The other night I tried to put myself in Blatt’s place and create a matchup zone, by covering one by one the recorded situations in Pascual’s playbook, and I have to say that while in the beginning the whole thing looked addictive, the deeper I went I found myself in a dead end, when I realised the combinations Madrid is able to come up with, even if you manage to “deactivate” their important units.

 

It is my assessment that the Turkish team will adjust to Madrid’s offensive playbook from time to time. I think that coach Blatt, against the High-Low situations (against a matchup zone) the Madrid team play, will instruct his big men (the PF and C that are on the court) to play man to man On the overload Madrid usually play with a baseline cut by Caroll on the ball side corner, the player guarding him (Batuk, this is who I think Blatt is preparing for the Mormon guard) will follow him until he gets to the forward (usually the “4”) and deliver him there with Moerman/Clyburn staying on the gun from Utah in the corner. It is very important how Blatt will manage the trapping chances this defense gives him, either with the ball on the corners or to disrupt the dribble penetration. Also, affecting the lines of communication (with a pass) of Madrid and the execution on their offense will be of even greater importance (it is possible that Madrid will go to quick shots, it’s not unusual for them). This won’t be easy, as this is a team with Donsic, Llull and big men like Randolph in their roster.  However, if they manage to do that, they will have accomplished a great goal. They key will be the loneliness of the player that will be on the last line of defense with the mission to run the base line. He will need quick feet, size, athleticism and IQ”.

 

Phil Jackson once turned him down because in the interview he thought he was too intellectual. Today, Blatt seems to be the best chance New York have for a comeback…

 

 

 

Jim Katsionis

 

Translated by George-Orestis Zoumpos and Katerina Antoniou