The pursuit of happiness

Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για οσφπ παο 62 70 λοτζεσκι


By Jim Katsionis on 13 November 2017



Xavi Pascual’s Panathinaikos were well prepared and stayed committed to their principles, beating Olympiacos, without performing too well, with the hero of the night being Lucan Lekavicius. The Reds were disappointing in terms of deployment and execution, and they are paying the mistakes they made in the Offseason “the hard way”. If you read us, you knewHoopfellas analyzes

Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για οσφπ παο 62 70 γκαμπριελ

In the pursuit of happiness, after a difficult period for both “eternal enemies”, Panathinaikos can say they are temporarily relieved, after beating Olympiacos for the second time this season. The Greens were better, none of the teams played very well, and they have a long way to go in order to improve. They need “feet” and clear mind. Let’s take a look at our notes from the Greek derby, just before we enter the second double-game week of the Euroleague (mayhem is upon us)…


Thoughts & Quotes

 Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για οσφπ παο 62 70 γκαμπριελ

– Xavi Pascual sought to make Matt Lojeski connect with the basket from the beginning, which became obvious by the part of the offensive playbook the Greens run in the beginning of the game. Either through Horns with a Wide Pin Down screen (typical safe play for Rivers, whose efficiency goes way up with the face up/post game of the screener, Chris Singleton, the Spanish coach has been using this play since last year), or through Diamond, the target was the same: the American sharpshooter form Wisconsin, was to enter the middle lane with the ball and put the Reds defense to the test (in terms of decoding) with his ability to execute after dribbling. Lojeski handled this situation very well, and he was aggressive in the seconds from the “Show” until the “Recover” of Milutinov, as well as against Flat.



Regarding the Greens’ shooters that are the main part of the champions’ offense… Olympiacos were prepared to defend against the Pin Down screens Pascual uses for Rivers, but they were caught off guard in the exact same plays their opponent used for Lojeski. Did they underestimate th former Reds wing? Did they think that his stamina will make him easily controlled by the Reds’ athletic SFs…? No one can know for sure. The so called Stay in Contact, on which everything relies against a Pin Down screen (especially for such good shooters), was nowhere to be found, whereas it worked very well against Rivers. K.C. is another story altogether… A great player. The way he gets in these matches changes Panathinaikos’ entire character, who rely on the aggressiveness and the winning culture of the American. A we have pointed out in the past, Rivers has the ability to execute on good defenses with the confidence and the efficiency of a NBA veteran scorer. It’s not easy to find this asset in Europe… On Friday, the American wing made one of the best defensive SF duos bow before his class.


Against Papapetrou the Greens were excellent in shooting the ball (40% in three pointers and 55.6% in two pointers with him on the floor, Defensive Rating 119.4). When he was on the court the Reds were -14. With Papanikolaou these numbers were 40% and 58.8% (Defensive Rating 121.4)… Rivers was the main reason for this. Without doubt (especially when you can mess with your opponents’ head by scoring in succession against their best defenders) he is a point of reference for the Greens in these games. Unfortunately we didn’t think to copyright the “New Sheriff in Town” we said about him last year, and it has now become a very common expression. This is nothing compared to losing “Saint George” for Printezis a few years back…


The advantage of “single” Post defense against this Olympiacos team…

 Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για οσφπ παο 62 70 γκαμπριελ

The basis of the defensive strategy and, the way things turned out (once again), the key to success for Panathinaikos was their choice to defend without help in the low post against Printezis. Singleton is one of the most efficient defenders for this mission. The American player has great hands (that allow him to follow the Olympiacos star high when executing) and works properly on the ground in order to match (the best way possible) Printezis footwork. His experience after a season of matching against the Greek forward has helped him decode his game to a great degree. The Greens followed the same approach with Gabriel, and they played 4/4 defense against Milutinov (making him work on the ground and get tired) and took advantage of the Reds weakness in the entry pass on the low post.


This is where the battle was essentially won. Panathinaikos “locked” the Reds activity in the Low post (the “engine” of the Reds offense, as their main frontcourt had 3/15 FG in this game), and they had the upper hand. In my opinion they should have finished this game much easier against this Olympiacos team. This is important for the performance of both rivals… At the moment, Olympiacos are trying to play in their offense something that is outside the specifications and the characteristics of the players of their roster. They don’t have the guards to run this playbook in half court, and it’s a big mistake to expect from players of an entirely different direction to deliver, and expect of them to become playmakers or slashers, since their abilities are far from what you are asking them to do IN THIS offensive context.

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Keep the constant of the post defense on your mind and let’s make another picture. In the final seconds of the Reds offense, the Greens Switch defense has isolated the ball, and with it Olympiacos’ guard on the top of the key. How many guard do the Reds have that can play 1 on1 against players like Singleton or Gist? None. Zero. Xavi Pascual was correct is placing Thanasis Antetokounmpo in the starting unit and strengthen his defense in terms of timing in the rotation process (when Panathinaikos entered this process), and at the same time he had 4 players in his lineup that could defend anywhere on the floor. The home team didn’t even manage to play 1 on 1 against the weak feet of Lojeski (Thompson couldn’t score and he is not very good in 1 on 1).

In Olympiacos’ Short Rolls in the 2-3 High Set (middle PnR), Panathinaikos kept the player deep in the middle lane, and “showed” to the Centre of their opponents the midrange or a pass to the wing (not allowing baseline cuts). In miss matches down low (Lojeski, or a defender that lost his position for a moment), Pascual didn’t just send an aggressive double team, but a triple team, relying on the 26% of the Reds from the 3 point line. This was a similar night for Olympiacos, and the Greens coach saw that from the beginning, pushing the home team toward this situation by applying very simple defensive rules…


Great difficulty in deploying in the half court…


Olympiacos had a great problem in deployment in set plays against a team that was prepared, had specific goals, and found it easy to direct the ball where they wanted. The 1-3-1 (Iverson cut) “screamed” that there was a need for a second playmaker that can put the ball on the floor, run side picks and pass the ball to the low post. When this role is given to Papanikolaou (limited with the ball) you can’t expect much. The Reds found it very difficult to deploy in the half court, as the lack of a point of reference in playmaking led to very poor Shot selection. The few times Olympiacos were able to make a good play were when their guard managed to play on the baseline and properly pass the ball.



Really now, how easy would it be for an offense with these tools (without playmaking) to do this in succession against a team with quick feet and big wingspans…? It would be objectively very difficult, even if Spanoulis was available. Giannis Sfairopoulos tried 5-out formats to make the big men step away from the basket and create space in the paint, but let’s not kid ourselves, Olympiacos is finding it very difficult to go in the paint with the ball – at least in the right timing – since last year, and we have pointed this again and again. In Printezis’ side posts the Reds posotioned the three backcourt players in a distance from the middle lane and along the 45 degrees on the weak side (so their PF would avoid getting double-teamed from the strong side), but spacing was a disaster (traffic within 4 metres). Also, the way the home team tried to score when their opponents put the pressure in the final seconds of their possession shows how much trouble they had in their offense. Only Strelnieks and McLean rose to the occasion.


The Latvian had some very good moments and showed his quality, but even he, a guard with very good numbers and excellent shot selection, will have several ups and downs within a type of offense with lots of dribbling, weakness in communication between the two sides and lack of movement in several occasions. I have to reiterate that a good amount of the shots he has taken up to now are shots he is not used to taking. You always have to adjust to different situations, but this has to happen within your own abilities.


The “Baltic Elf” brings us good news…

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Panahinaikos’ performance wasn’t a great one, but what was required at the time was to react and win, which would boost the team after the hardships of the past few weeks.

Xavi Pascual went for the sure things. He read very well an easily-read offense, and got in the driver’s seat with the advantage of the players that are good in 1 on 1 and have the scorer’s instinct (does this remind you of something…?). I have to repeat myself, and this may sound strange to some, Panathinaikos should have won easier on Friday, again an Olympiacos team that was just unable to produce. Of course I understand that this is a game of special circumstances with a specific background that was fed by the mental status of the away team after a few poor performances recently.

Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για οσφπ παο 62 70 γκαμπριελ

What’s important for Panathinaikos is that they got things from their role-players, who can again feel important, having stepped into the fire (the Peace and Friendship stadium floor). With Thanasis Antetokounmpo in the lineup, the Greens had +11 (No1 for his team) and the motor and ability of the Greek forward on the back line of defense was a great support for the lighter duo of Singleton-Gist in the frontcourt (make a note of this lineup). Gabriel brought with him the 3&D character that kept him in the Greens roster, and James Gist had a great game, even though Panathinaikos were unable to take advantage of his dives to the basket in PnR, which is one of the main plays of the team. Pascual was smart to change the format within the same offense, starting with A-Set that turned to 1-4 Low Set, looking to shorten the spaces for the Rivers screens, and increase his space, by going to the perimeter (starting from closer to the paint),while at the same time increasing the chance for a good look and immediate execution for his hottest player, who was in aggressive mode from the beginning. In the last stint, he used Rivers’ cross cuts on the Reds defense as “bait”, in order to find immediate execution with Singleton from the strong side. However, without immediate execution, Panathinaikos only had 7 assists (only 2 by Calathes) and never found their rhythm on offense. They managed to control the game because they had few turnovers (12, that allowed their opponents an important production percentage) and (mainly) they managed to score playing on the middle lane, the backbone of Olympiacos’ defense.


It’s also very important that Panathinaikos got the upper hand in a key moment of the  game with Calathes on the bench. Lucas Lekavicius (after coach Pascual told him off for playing Under on Mantzaris, when their approach was directed at allowing him to go towards the rim) became the “hero” of the Greens and scored some great baskets, garnished with the audacity that characterises the worthy sons of the Lithuanian school. Lekavicius’ ability to go (and to execute from) anywhere in the court pressured the Reds defense. The Lithuanian Shoot-first PG showed us his intangibles, and his performance is included in the category that can change the mentality of a young athlete in terms of belief in himself and his team believing in him as well. With the Lithuanian at the “1” position, the champions choose more 1-3-1 (UCLS Cut-Middle PnR) and leave a bit behind plays that start with Horns Format. It’s important that the Greens were able to stand on their feet and regain control of such a game without Calathes on the floor. Moreover, the nature of the “package” Lekavicius brings with him is different that the star quality and 1 on 1 of Mike James, and it can have a positive impact on the entire team in terms of balance. At the time coach Pascual is having trouble in finding the golden ratio in his rotation, as he has two Off guards (Pappas-Denmon), who don’t have the required playmaking to run his offensive playbook from the “1” position… The American player was great today against Panionios…



The ones who read, already knew…

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I’d like to mention a couple of more things about Olympiacos. For everyone here, the members of the Hoopfellas community, the Reds performance was no surprise. Nor are the expectations of 99% of Greek media for a team that will “run and play at a high tempo and will be deadly from the 3 point line”. I completely disagree with conclusions that Roberts is a bad player; his game has nothing to do with what he is asked to do at Olympiacos. He is not a playmaker, he is not a slasher, he is certainly a quality player, but he should not have been chosen when Strelnieks was already in this roster. Olympiacos will live and die in the half court, this is what coach Sfairopoulos knows to play (and this is where he is more efficient in terms of thinking). He will wait for Spanoulis to come back (he will make everyone around him more efficient, simply because he is the only guard that can put his teammates to execute from their good spots) and will rely on him until… the sun is no more… Meanwhile, Olympiacos still have the most inefficient offense in the Euroleague. They do not produce offensive transition through their defense, they do not have the finishers or the fast break-makers to open up the court. They will play better, as they are a team with defensive coherence and winning culture at the highest level. When Spanoulis is back, they will see where they can get, and may hope that they will have good timing and play good at the same time.



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However… How much better and more stable would the team be (in their game without their captain) if they had an actually leading guard at the “1” position…? Why was a guard like Granger guard rejected in the Offseason as a “problem character” (unreal!) when he has the entire package (both on the court and as a personality) to upgrade your game? How do you expect your offense to “be deadly behind the 3 point line” when you are missing key ingredients that are necessary for this complex procedure until the moment of execution? Can coach Sfairopoulos present us with something different (and not rely on the individual skills of 1-2 players) in terms of offensive context? These are questions that remain to be answered. The coach is right. Olympiacos is doing well in the standings. However, their image is bad. The ones who read, already knew…



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P.S.: As I said last year the chance for Wilbekin (especially for him) to play and develop his game under coach David Blatt was a blessing. The fact that this year he has the chance to work with him again, due to the fact that the coach has set an exclusive goal of returning to the NBA (thus his refusal to go to a top-Euroleague project) can be seen as a sign from above…

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P.S.1: Sito Alonso’s basketball has put Real Madrid to the test several times in the past, sometimes with teams that did not have much quality. This is the basketball of one, high tempo that “deletes any inferiority complex, regardless of the opponent and the environment”. With everything that comes with it…



Translated by: George-Orestis Zoumpos


Jim Conway