The revenge of silence..


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By Jim Katsionis on 26 November 2017

Showing great mental reserves and taking advantage of KC Rivers’ and Jamel McLean’ killer instincts, the two Greek teams got to two great victories, and establish themselves on the top of the Euroleague standings. Strelnieks the “killer” and the key presence of “Gist, Gist, Gist…”. Hoopfellas analysis

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Hello everyone. Great wins that were decided on the last possession for the Greek teams this week. But most important… On nights where everything seemed to be going bad…



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Olympiacos got a very important road win at Mediolanum, in a game that became a gamble, and in the last minutes gave us the feeling that it would go to the home side. It was also a game where we emphatically saw certain things on which we spent several hours  of discussion in the summer regarding the new face of the Reds. Let’s see our notes from Thursday’s game…

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-Jamel McLean (22 PTS- 10/14 FG- 7 REB) was the player that led the Reds to the win, giving answers to the environment which he left last summer, also leaving them with a feeling (I know this very well) of “a good player, a fighter, but we are looking for a better player” at Milan. It is also a very good example of the key role the environment a player is in and the things he is called to do for his individual evaluation. Mclean was a bulldozer at the Forum and brought to the Olympiacos offense the diversity they were missing last year from the “5” position. His ability to play with the ball on the floor and take advantage of his low centre of gravity, together with his good midrange are assets that Olympiacos’ frontline didn’t have. Jamel McLean is not the player that can “clear” the paint on defense, nor is he the one that will turn the key to a “minefield” and protect the Reds’ rim. On a night where Milutinov was off, the two Milan Centres (Gudaitis and Tarkzewski) had 26 points and 20 rebounds (9 offensive out of the 15 the Greek defense allowed), and the Italians had a small party when attacking on the middle lane.


Remember that last year the foundation of the Reds defensive philosophy was locking the middle lane with Papanikolaou and Birch, and their excellent Post defence, the best in the Euroleague. So, on one hand I am very optimistic on the productive ability of several players of this roster, after Vassilis Spanoulis comes back, on the other hand the problem in defending the middle lane (which every team defends as best as they can in order to feel safe) and rim protection is a cause for concern. Olympiacos is lucky this year to have an excellent defender in Papanikolaou, but it’s obvious that mistakes in the first line of defense cannot be forgiven. The Italians chose to run PnR actions from the beginning and isolate Roberts and Strelnkies high in the perimeter, as the Reds were unable to control Gudaitis, who is very talented for a player of his body (we have talked about that in the past).



S t r e l n i e k s gentlemen…


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It hasn’t been long since the season started, and everyone understands the efficient nature of  Olympiacos’ choice to get Janis Strelnieks in their roster. Without making much noise, or playing a fancy game, the Latvian is becoming a key player within a completely different offense compared to his years in Bavaria. Strelnieks has 14.3 points (9/12 2PTS-10/17 3PTS-9/9 FT) in the last 4 games and 48.5% three pointers from the beginning of the season (13/13 FT), and he is the best passer of the team with 2.8 assists for 1.3 turnovers. He was Hoopfellas’ main suggestion for Panathinaikos’ backcourt as the guard that would highlight James’ game and would decompress Calathes…




I have to say that I liked the way Olympiacos worked for the Latvian in Milan, giving him the role of executive shooter in their offense. Strelnieks has gradually found his good shots within the Reds offense, and, at this stage the team is looking for him instinctively. In the cases where his feet are well positioned before execution, and taking into account his appropriate choices in execution, defense plays a very small role. Olympiacos worked well for him through 2-3 High PnR (the Latvian being off the ball and sprinting to the perimeter through the middle lane) and they looked for the vertical screen, which would give him instant execution in Horns. In the final stretch of the match, when everything was on the line, Giannis Sfairopoulos trusts him on the “top” of 2-3 High PnR, and changes his position with Roberts; the Latvian rewards him with an excellent vertical pass to McLean. Excellent…



-In the same context, remembering our chat about Weave offense and screens a while back.




We can see that the Reds are trying to dribble less on offense and place their guards in a better context for their individual skills. This is one of the main reasons why Olympiacos’ offense works better, and we can see this in their numbers. The Hand Offs (it was so very odd for coach Pianigiani to play Flat against shooters such as Roberts and Strelnieks, only in Milan for a few more shows, gentlemen…) Olympiacos uses (a trademark of Weave Plays), provide a safe pass together with a screen. This view is within a broader context that wants the team dribbling less (under pressure) and better off the ball movement, which leads to better peripheral execution and less 1 on 1 from the guards. Even their Post Isos with their SFs (with Printezis the primary goal is to execute) the big men’s two off the ball Flare Screens along the middle lane (Low to High Post) indicate passing the ball to the weak side guards. It was expected that Olymjpiacos would find their chances against this defense. However, it should be noted that in several cases (taking into account the absence of the pillar called Milutinov) they worked well to take advantage of them…


Typical Pianigiani…

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Milan got into the game aiming at hitting Olympiacos in the heart of their defense through typical Pianigiani offensive actions, used by the Italian coach in his stint in Tuscany. We saw a traditional 1-4 High Set Offense, an offense aiming at maximising spaces for guards in the paint, making the opponent big men go to the perimeter, which “launched” the ability of McIntyre and Mccalebb to attack directly to the rim, so Theodore can find space to go to the rim. We also saw an introductory 1-4 Low Set for the 2-3 High PnR, again aiming at getting the American PG in the middle lane and supporting Pop outs by the wings for outside shots. We also saw Box Format for Side Post by an excellent Gudaitis. In reality, the safest actions for the Italians were Micov’s activity in the middle lane through middle PnR as a part of a broader view that was concerned with this area in the Reds defense. Armani used the middle lane more than any other team in the last two years against Olympiacos and scored most of their points playing on it. Coach Pianigiani had also prepared a 2-2-1 Press defense, which he often plays with 3-guard Lineups this year, but they didn’t execute it very actively, showing that their only goal was to delay their opponents’ offense, not so much to change the pace, which, after all, is not consistent with this year’s Low Pace philosophy of the “scarpette rosse”.

We saw no Double Drag Screens, often used by Armani in transition offense for Theodore.


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Also, the Italians’ communication on defense corresponded to their problematic defensive structure. They are finding it very difficult to work together when their opponents pass the ball, and get the ball outside a position for execution, testing their perception and their defensive rotations. The deeper you go, the more ruins you win find regarding how much they have worked on their defensive rotation. In my humble opinion, if Olympiacos had a guard that could act as a playmaker and put pressure on their defense and go to the rim (Spanoulis) we would be watching “another” game. The last possession of the home team must have made lots of people sick.


With three pairs of “hot hands” (who had an advantage against the defense of Micov-Theodore-Gudaitis) on the floor, Jerrells chose the very definition of inefficiency, playing on their opponents’ best defender, leaving Micov all alone on the top hoping for a pass that could have unlocked the door to the Reds basket. Jerrells, who has been extremely clutch lately, has done that lots of times in the past. Even in the most iconic shot of his carreer in Siena’s Palaestra (6th final, 2014) he hogs the ball from the beginning and leaves Gentile with the same Micov-like look on his face. Of course, the result was quite different that time…


From Hell..

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Panathinaikos gave their fans one more night to remember, with a great comeback in the second half playing great defense, after the “coma” of the 15 minutes of the first half. It seems that when the “Clover” is slipping down the cliff, the arms that reaches out to grab a branch, the last outpost that has to fall for them to give up, the last drop of strength they use to survive are written on the phrase “unlimited aggressive defense”. We saw in against Fener… The most important element of the effort of this team in the one year they are playing under Xavi Pascual is in the smell of the OAKA atmosphere. Something is starting to change… Regardless of the individuals, Panathinaikos is methodically rebuilding a winning culture in close games with the elite Euroleague teams, and manage to be the last ones standing on nights that are not going their way, when a comeback seems very hard. It’s really difficult to come back against these teams, after your connective tissue has had hard blows, and this is what separates good EL teams from elite EL teams…



Basketball is a game of decoding and adjusting…

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For the preview of the game in my Stoiximan blog, I wrote that in this matchup, Panathinaikos should “grab them by the neck” from the beginning and keep hitting them relentlessly until they are out of breath. I assume that this was coach Pascual’s approach, if we take into account his plan in the beginning. The Real Madrid team you are seeing lately is a completely different team from the one we were used to seeing the past few years. They still have high standards of quality, but they are at a position where they must rebuild new “defensive” mechanisms and constants (with new players) in order to be as difficult to beat them. It’s very …shocking (both in terms of their game and habit) to be called to “change your skin” at this point in the season, especially when we are talking about a team that has cultivated a certain coherence level throughout these years.


Panathinaikos relied on Matt Lojeski in the beginning and the “triangles” they work so well on the side through Flare (when the ball is on the Low Post) or Pin Down (when the ball in on the top). This type of offense is by far the safest for the team (as we saw in the game against Olympiacos), and that’s why the coach uses it in the beginning, when his team is trying to get in the game and sit on the driver’s seat.




Coach Pascual chose Pure trapping against Madrid’s Ball Screens for Doncic, aiming at getting the ball out of his hands, and the young magician himself off the final cooperation before Madrid’s execution, making them change the timing of their offense (their ultimate goal being the open court), and this was an approach in the same direction; the home team entered the court with this approach. However, basketball is a game of decoding and quick adjustment to the new data that “run” on the court. Coach Laso didn’t have his best perimeter defensive stopper (Taylor) available, and started with young Yusta on Calathes, and Doncic at “4”. Against this defensive approach (where players of the class of the Slovenian will surely adjust, the question is how long it’s going to take him to adjust) by Panathinaikos, the Madrilenos capitalised on the possibly greatest asset of their team, which is a great weapon in modern European basketball. I am talking about the fact that they have several players (A-Class players in this) who can play with the ball in their hands, create and execute, producing in succession new difficulties for their opponents’ defense from different spots of the court. Curling or PnR with Causseur, who played on Lojeski, Floppy for Rudy (plus the efficient Face Up game of Reyes-Tompkins). Madrid can attack without Doncic as well, but when he is part of the last stage on the offense they are at another level…

I think that sooner or later everyone understood that Panathinaikos fell in the mental trap they had set for Madrid. The second period said a lot, when the initial momentum backfired, as the home team were unable to adjust to the new data after Madrid fought back. Forced 1 on 1(with drives or Low Post game), poor ball movement and an adolescent rush to find the big shot that would turn things around and make the fans go crazy, breaking the ice created by Madrid moving the ball in the half court with ease. The untimely outside shots (that allowed Nadrid to run the floor) is part of this bad approach (3/13 3PTS in the first half for the Greens). There’s no way you can trap with Vougioukas, so the away team was able to avoid the traps with ease and direct the ball towards the two shooters that were waiting on the weak side. Initially, Madrid used the 4-guard lineup to “break” the pressure and simply played on everything new the Greens’ rush gave them, finishing the first half with 13/13 2 Pts, 6/11 3 PTS and 10/10 FT, adding up to 54 points in total.


The key for the comeback was the ideal off the ball defense

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In the second half Panathinaikos relied on the parts of the game they know how to execute well that set the foundation of their direction on their way to the comeback. It’s important that the Greens’ comeback in this match came through a playing style, for which the team was designed in the Offseason. It’s true that Madrid have not developed strong communication codes within the context of Small Ball, thus their difficulty to turn the switch on when they are experiencing long poor stints within the game (we saw that in Vitoria as well). Coach Laso chose to decompress Doncic (he again targeted Lojeski either with straight PnR or by including his weak feet in many screens, looking for the momentary “switch” that would create – especially in the Low Post – a new point of reference for execution) playing him off the ball, but a new factor was about to change things around in the battlefield. This was the ideal, except for very few exceptions, off the ball defense of Panathinaikos.


The Greens were close to perfect in this part and their performance in off the ball defense was the main reason for their transformation. The home team would maniacally go after their players, they would sprint like there was no tomorrow in defensive rotations in the corners, not allowing any Corner 3s, they would break through screens and mainly win a lot (A LOT) of duels in 1 on 1 defense against their opponent (Gabriel, who didn’t score a single point in his few minutes on the floor, was great in this). Without a point of reference in the Low Post, it was really hard for Madrid to react and what we saw on the floor said a lot… It was this defense by the Greek team that gradually “froze” Madrid’s ball movement, cutting off the passing lanes and good communication, which led the “Queen” to a static behaviour, and an effort to produce through 1 on 1, i.e. the good part of the Greens defense. The stage was set…

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On offense, the Greens invested almost exclusively in this stint on Horns (going back to basics, as we said…) trying to isolate the PnR cooperation of the Calathes-Gist duo, placing a good outside shooter (Rivers or Singleton) on the strong side. In the Gist years, Side Picks are one of the most efficient weapons of the Greens offense, and Hoopfellas has highlighted this lots of times in the past. The American F/C “devoured” every opponent that was in his way, winning every loose ball and gave a great boost to his team, with the two free throws that decided the outcome of the game being the cherry on top. The very good thing for Gist is that Side Picks for him are on the top of the hierarchy in Xavi Pascual’s offensive playbook.


Take a look at the a-la-Spurs “Side Staggered and PnR” ..






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In terms of performance the Top Gun of this team, KC Rivers, must be placed next to Gist. His aggressiveness on both sides of the court dragged with him all his teammates and put enormous amounts of pressure to Madrid, especially on defense. The former EL champion with the “Queen” was in the zone, and together with Calathes (8/1 ST/TO) and, of course, Gist were the first ones to bring the Not-In-My-House character the Greens had in the second half against Madrid… Pablos Laso’s Zone defense (2-3) that aimed at making the Greens think and reconsider the way they attack in the most crucial point of the game would maybe be “unfair” to deprive Panathinaikos of the win. One last thing…

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For the great Luca Doncic this very dynamic defense he was up and the disappointment of the final outcome of the match will be a very good lesson. As the great professors of basketball say “these are the nights that make you a champion…”




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P.S.: Taking into account the particularities of FIBA Basketball, I honestly believe that this Greek National team (that only had a few days to prepare) and the players that are right behind the fancy window of the “eternal adversaries” could develop into a reliable team under different circumstances, even if it sound strange to some. I hope we’ll get a chance to talk about it soon…

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P.S.1: Last summer we had talked about the possibility of CSKA being weak in defensive rebounding. The presence of the Hines-Hunter duo at “5” allows them to put pressure on defense with their ability to go to the offensive rebound, but on defense they are finding it difficult to secure the required amount of contested balls, and this is one of the main reasons why they haven’t been able to play more in the open court and increase the number of possessions, which was the objective in the Offseason. I can’t wait to see how things will develop…


Translated by George-Orestis Zoumpos


Jim Conway