Minister of National Defence

Calathes’ last defensive play that was as pleasurable as a winning shot, Olympiacos’ problems in defence against  the nature of Brose’ offence, and Zoc’s spiritual nirvana in Moscow. Hoopfellas gift wraps the Christmas post to its readers and hands it to them…

Good afternoon everyone… Happy Holidays and my warmest wishes…

Hoopfellas never stops. Not even on these joyous days. Especially after such a Euroleague week with high level basketball… Let’s comment on what we saw before the end of the first round, just before 2016 leaves us.

The lineup of Granger-Paul-Honeycutt-Thomas/Brown-Dunston that was used by Perasovic in the fourth quarter of the Turkish game against Galatasaray looked like a war tank. Its physical and athletic predominance was evident on the court from its first plays and the first loose balls. Paul is a quality player (otherwise I would not have mentioned him in the site’s lists) and once he gets a good grasp of the game at a higher level, he will help even more. In total, Anadolu must be more effective on defence. It is unacceptable for a team that has so many individually defensive players and one of the best physical packages of the competition. When and if they reache a defensive consistency, Perasovic’s team will become a real threat, as this roster is built to instantly convert defence into offence.

On Friday night, the mastermind from Cacak added another chapter to his career’s book, this time in Moscow against the team and the coach that deprived him of the title last season. You know, when Obradovic is on the ropes, humiliated, as a boxer that get pounded and holds on with all he’s got to not fall down, he is at his best… It is at that point that you should get ready for a “miracle”. This psychological situation (remember Bologna or, even better, the second half of last year’s final) activates hidden powers and leads him to deeper mental paths that only few have walked. I don’t know if you felt it, but this self-denial was passed to the defensive performance of his players.    

In the final minutes Zoc plays the match possession-by-possession. He has withstood some of the best punches of his opponent and gains momentum through his defence’s energy. We witnessed the best of playing with Big line ups, in which Antic was playing next to Fener’s twin towers, Vesely on Jackson, Nanaly-Kalinic as the backcourt pair and other fresh ideas off the Serbian coach’s journey to another dimension. Obradovic wanted size and athleticism against his opponent’s final effort, while targeting two players that could give the final blow (Teodosic and Jackson, Higgins was “off” early). Fener’s total switch defence was at its best when (in conjunction with CSKA’s playbook, of course) Vesely was able to play on the base line (quick reaction in recovering, good sprints on the Russians’ corner shots). Its weaknesses were Antic’s close outs and Kalinic’s reaction times, but their size and energy led to a very important thing. To make their opponent (THIS opponent) feel insecure and transfer the ball from the strong to the weak side (23 turnovers, 9 by Milos)  of their offense, which usually makes them unmatchable, as it allows them to create half-court fast breaks on the wing by playing with one more player (their execution is by far the best in Europe in these plays). This led the Russians to play with individual efforts and take the bait in a match where DeColo was not available.

Bobby Dixon was (again) the go-to-guy for Fener and his overtime performance was inconceivable (Augustin’s light foul in the end of regulation time that gave the opportunity for a three point play to the American was a crime). Obradovic’s PG does not have the quality of Teodosic, but he is one of the most hard-nosed and competitive players around and he has the heart of a lion. Remember last year’s Euroleague final or Carsiyaka’s playoffs title journey.

This win and mainly the way it came may be a turning point for Fener that is not playing well this year, and it is evident that they are still affected by last year’s defeat in the competition’s final. CSKA is admittedly a better team today. However, this collision (even though the battle was within a special context for both teams) may change the tone in their match up, which is beginning to have its own appeal. 

-After the 2015 Summer League in Orlando, we had stressed Scottie Wilbekin’s gradual improvement in many fields of the game. We did the same last year as well as this year here in our website. However, to be honest, I was expecting Blatt to have another leading guard and the former Gator to be coming of the bench with a “supporting” role. Blatt only got Wannamaker and gave Wilbekin more things to do on the court and he is responding is a very persuasive manner. I think he was one of the “people of this week”. After Dixon’s head- butt, he was more “angered” and he was the key to Darussafaka’s away win against Fener; he was also really exhilarating in the dogfight against Maccabi. Wilbekin has made real progress in individual defence (excellent footwork) and he is very effective when he executes under pressure at the end of close matches. We have to stress that this is a player born in 1993 (on April). He is not even 24. His collaboration with two of the great masters of the game (Donovan, Blatt) may prove to be decisive for his carrier. This is a blessing.        

-I think that everyone understands why Hoopfellas has been following Bamberg and the work being done there so closely. Olympiacos fell without a fight (in relation to what the Reds represent) against a good team that worked perfectly on both sides of the court in the first half. The way Brose moves the ball, which is a trademark of Andrea Trinkieri’s basketball (remember his years in Kantu) is one of the most complete spectacles in European basketball. His work in the small details is excellent. Just watch how he creates spaces and good chances to execute without even using screens. Also watch how he works away from the ball in order to produce execution. The pair of Melli-Miller was decisive, and posed great problems for Olympiacos. It is obvious that they are great players and their strengths have been absorbed very well in the team cooperation, space creation and team adaptability basketball of the Italian coach, as they have high IQ and good knowledge of the basics of the game.    

Olympiacos showed no spark and for the first time this year he seemed to have accepted his fate. From last year Giannis Sfairopoulos’ defence showed that it has problems when facing this well-constructed offence by the Bavarians at a level of (defensive) cooperations, but this year, the Reds have problems in individual defence as well, which created gaps. So, when you allow such an offence what it is trying to achieve, you are in a really sticky situation, as you give them the chance to execute plays they have worked on really well. In a nutshell, Olympiacos was not able to put the pressure on and push their opponent with his defence “outside” and he was forced to adopt an one-sided backcourt character. You just can’t allow the entry pass to the post so easily and stay behind the opponent without a fight. You can’t allow the opponent to create an immediate advantage with a simple give & go. This level of concentration in several defensive transition situations is not allowed against one of the best shooting teams of the competition.

Birch had one of his few bad nights (he had showed remarkable consistency up to now), Printezis was off, as was the defensive stopper named Hackett, and Olympiacos was less aggressive than ever. Coach Sfairopoulos’ team does not execute with the same level of effectiveness the same defensive choices when Young in on the court and this affects their total attitude. The American’s main problem at this point is that he cannot control his body. Just watch how he moves in small spaces. He can’t stop after a sprint, he has no control. It is obvious that Olympiacos needs a guard, and he needs him now. Green is not Law and he cannot change skin in one night and become a defensive stopper. The Reds need such a backcourt player in order to become more aggressive in their peripheral defence and use the attributes of the rest of their rosters with greater ease. I think that we will soon be having news.

-By order of the … Minister of National defence (he deserves the title), Nick Calathes, Panathinaikos was still standing after a very hard night against Baskonia on Friday. To be honest, the last play (concentration, readiness, reflexes) with the international PG’s defensive play and the lockdown of the really talented Beaubois was as pleasurable as a winning basket. Calathes (possibly by order of Pascual, who has helped him a lot) made an ICE-like (as it was not in relation to a side pick, Bouroussis did not have time to lower his body and leave Diop’s midrange) play in the middle lane and kept Beaubois on the side and directed him to execute the last execution of the Basques on him. I think that if the home team could have asked Santa Clause for a present in the final seconds, it would be for the last shot (of the hot Beaubois) to be on their best defender…    

Everyone understands now how important it is to be able to win games in such nights. This win is gold for Panathinaikos, in a match that went the wrong way for them not from the beginning, but (even worse) after the first period. It is obvious that every time Nichols has foul trouble (which puts him off) the Greens will have a problem in defence, as they are forced to go small or to play both big guys, as Gabriel is very weak in this. If the “Clover” people believe that Gist will be back sooner than expected I can understand (in a way…) the thought, but, on the other hand, it is so obvious that the team would be much stronger with a player like e.g. Tillie (since we are talking about Baskonia today), i.e. a high energy F/C who could fill Gist’s shoes. Sengelia “hurt” Panathinaikos a lot and the same can be done by Printezis in the future. Singleton had a great start and carried the team in the first quarter (Pascual’s big guy had great numbers) and it should be noted that the fact that the coach seems to trust more the two-guard line up of Calathes-James (which absolutely needs a good shooter in the “3” position). Remember how much we insisted on this last summer.      

Following last year’s playoffs and this year’s offseason targets, they seem to have a vision at OAKA. They have two of the most well-trained guards in Europe (they both are top in terms of physicality) in Calathes-James, and they hope that in the spring (when it matters the most) their team will be one level above the competition, driven by the never-ending, non-stop/High motor style of these two players. That is, something like (in relation to energy) what Baskonia had to show last year… I would really like to see that, especially if Gist is also involved. 

Following the footsteps of Diamantidis…?

Nick Calathes’ defensive performance and impact in the game have drawn the eye and the first instances of comparison with Diamantidis are made, as was expected. Calathes is really impenetrable. A Ball Hawk of the very few, he annoys every opponent when he is within at least one pass away from the ball and his defence away from it should be taught in schools, he controls the dribble in defensive transition in a way very few can, he is resilient and an excellent rebounder. Last year (when the player was being crucified) we had written in this blog that he is the best defensive PG in the Euroleague. This year, I can tell you that he is the best defensive player in the entire competition, which features these guys called Hanga and Hines. One after the other, the great guards hit the rock that is called Calathes and are lost in the void. However, Diamantidis is the prize itself. The chance to score “on him” was borderline mythical. Like the miracles you hear about, but never actually see… Calathes (a more well-trained, as an American product) is at least as good (possibly better) in going after and locking down a shooter from within a forest of screens, whereas Diamantidis used his vision, insight and his exceptional hands to control the movement of the ball and cause deflections. As a help defender the 27-year-old guard is great, but Diamantidis would have Pippen shout out his performance. And don’t forget his chase down blocks as well as the above the rim defence of the former Panathinaikos team captain.      

This is what we had written in our blog on our 3D special post.

“Of course, since we are talking about defensive responses, the ones that are concerned with his performance above the rim were of legendary proportions at one time, like the winter stories grandmothers tell their scared grandchildren when they gather around the fireplace in villages in Russia or the Balkans, and are passed from one generation to another. Once upon a time there was a “monster” that would choke entire teams with his tentacles. His chase down blocks were the cherry on top. The element that would spread… death all around Europe. How many times have we witnessed a player stealing the ball and run towards the opponent’s basket, only to realise that Diamantidis is after him… The player’s psyche at that point should be studied in detail. It is like watching the Black Rider coming after you and know that the end is nigh. It is a scene from the circle of life in the African Savannah, where the lion chases the scared dear. Heads would be stuck on the backboards, balls would end up in the stands, egos would hit the floor. Diamantidis was simply everywhere. He was a kind of punishment for sinners against the 10 commandments of the green defence… ”

So, lets put things in perspective. Calathes is worth every penny of his contract and is (on merit) the new leader in the new era of the Greens. We should take into account that he is not even 28. I personally love his game and this gritty style that gives the green backcourt another texture. However, Diamantidis is (still) on another level. Not only in regard to their ability in the backcourt, but overall as a game package. The basic (among others) difference of Diamantidis (this is a great honour for Nick) is when the clock is ticking and the seconds are running out. His emotional intelligence, his steady hand and the confidence with he would perform under pressure got him to the top of Mount Olympus. For Calathes (who is now entering his prime) the fact that such a comparison is made, even on their defensive ability, is a badge of honour.    

P.S.: There is nothing better than watching a Christmas game in New York

P.S. 1: The Warriors should understand that in their match up with the Cavs, Draymond Green is their most important player. Basically, it is Green who should understand that.

Kyrie was great again. He stings like very few in the league.

P.S. 2: If all goes as planned, Hoopfellas and with it all of us, as a community, will turn a new page within the next few days. My thought of the new webpage was on making our communication even better, your browsing more functional without losing the proximity. All these for the simple reason that our communication is the heart of what we have built together all these years. You will be informed through the facebook Hoopfellas page and, of course, through the blog.   

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