Absolute Beginners..

By Jim Katsionis

Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για david bowie poster

At the dawn of 2018, the two “eternals” are called to add to the winning know-how of Greek clubs with the thirst for distinction that come with a new team. Hoopfellas analyses the games at San Lluis and Zalgirio Arena with its first post of the season..

 Φωτογραφία του χρήστη Hoopfellas.gr.


Happy new year everyone…

This is the first post of 2018, today ον 1 January. It was 29 December 2016 when we moved to our new home (website). The one we are today… I still remember the article “Against your own demons” (Alessandro Gentile) which was the first article ever; the Hosting company (I am paying for the expensive package) thought we were “under attack”, as the mass visiting of the page was inconceivable. It’s been one year since then and my (I have to say they were high, deep inside) expectations of Hoopfellas’ success have been surpassed by far. The dynamic of our community is so great that any prediction on where this can go (in many levels) has a small chance of being confirmed. Above all, this is “our place”. The place where we want to hang out. So, let’s continue with the thirst of the beginner, as David Bowie put it. Before we continue, I just want to thank you for our “ride” together…


Before we start talking about our thoughts on the games, take a look at a stats table from Statsli. On the top left quarter you can see the teams that are good on both ends of the court. Two-way teams…




San Lluis

Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για valencia pao 67-63

Panathinaikos showed us something that was quite close to what we suspected after Nick Calathes was injured. Even though the Greens handled the game against Maccabi very well, and got the road win at Belgrade, they “fell” to Valencia, as they had lots of ups and downs within the 40’, and they had no leader, as the safety Nick Calates was missing, as was the clarity of Xavi Pascual.

-Panathinaikos are called to handle the way their opponents attack when either Vougioukas or Auguste play at “5”, especially since the main volume of possessions has to do with middle Pick n Roll. Valencia managed to see the light through this offensive direction, relying on creating imbalance, not straight execution, targeting the roll. Without the Ball Hawk, the very talented Defensive Stopper called Nick Calathes, Panathinaikos’ defense tried to surprise the Ballhandler with a more aggressive behaviour by their big men, which looked more like a trick, rather than a conclusion after deep thinking. Auguste’s defensive weakness made his teammates (especially the base line defender) to continuously float towards the middle lane in the opponent’s roll, in order to control his movement towards the rim, until the former Notre Dame Center recovers, which has a negative effect on the timing of the team in its defensive rotations and close out defense. Especially teams that work with the weak side and have the patience to move the ball and look for the extra pass, such as Valencia, pose problems. Against the “Bats” of 68.0% AST% (they relied on the cooperation after a breach/defensive imbalance, rather than 1 on 1, especially on a night that San Emeterio was not playing…) Panathinaikos should have structured their defensive plan on their objective to direct the ball and “lock” it in a match up that would be in their favour in the final seconds of the possession. Ian Vougioukas (he was good on offense) was poor on off the ball defense, and lost many positioning battles down low. The home team’s two big men (Pleiss, Dubljevic) scored 24 points with 10/15 two-pointers… Panathinaikos had their best defensive stint in the beginning, when they methodically pressured the entry pass, and sent the ball to 1 on 1 in the middle lane on Gist, with Antetokounmpo in the back line of defense.


“ΙSO Shamrock”..

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Panathinaikos’ deployment on offense posed several problems to Valencia. I think this happened more than any other time this year. Last week we highlighted the way Xavi Pascual relied on James Gist and gave him the part of decisions, playing him as the High Post playmaker. The American Center had a bad night (and with the safe plays with Calathes, which could have brought him back in the game, being unavailable) the Greens were led to 1 on 1 plays, while desperately looking for new sources of creation. Except Gist, the lack of a floor general affected Rivers as well; K.C. run a lot around the screens, but he didn’t have the guard that would give him the ball in the right time and at his good spot (1/7 three-pointers, lots of contested shots).


Within this context, in conjunction with the expectations, Lucas Lekavicius was disappointing for the first time this year, as he made everyone nervous and did not give the required calmness to the team’s offense. Despite the fact that the carpet was set for him (Valencia didn’t have players that could pressure the ball and had several defensive gaps), the Lithuanian guard never really got into the game, as we saw him stooping his dribble after ball screens several times, and the Spanish defense was never worried about him. Panathinaikos never managed to bring to the floor the speed that would have given them an advantage against this Valencia team, and the absence of a guard that would take the team on the right track and get it into that mode was obvious.

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We talked about Lekavicius last summer. Some were talking about his efficiency in PnR, but we went deeper and highlighted that he is a Shoot-first PG, thus his efficiency was in respect to producing directly through execution in these plays, and we shouldn’t forget that the offense of this year’s Panathinaikos team is different from the Zalgiris one. At Kaunas the Lithuanian champions run an offense that exploits every inch of the court in set plays (from one side to the other), whereas the Greens mainly work on Sideline Triangles or 2-2 plays on the side. If the defense manages to control the ball and off the ball movement early, these play mostly require dribbling and 1 on 1.


In Barcelona the Spanish coach had Tomic, who was the “bridge” between the strong and the weak side from the High Post. In the Pascual era Barcelona used this “tool” to turn strong side situations into Weak side actions and close out offence on half court fast breaks (with an extra player on the wing), at the time when the cuts of Sada/Pete Michael/Satoranky on the base line put enormous amounts of pressure on the defense, which within 1-2 seconds had to pick its poison… At San Lluis Panathinaikos had no point of reference on the creative part (Calathes would have had much more luck in setting PnR against coach Vidorreta’s big bodies), as the team (except for Vougioukas, who had 4/5 two-pointers) shot 10/27 two-pointers. Moreover, the Greens saw Pappas having a bad game (he got unlucky, as he was injured before the game ended), who was hesitant to go to the rim, even though his coach tried to open up spaces for him in the paint with 1-4 High-stack or 2-3 High Formats (thus making Valencia’s big bodies leave the low post, and allow his players to play a vertical game. With Gist having a poor night, and Pappas’ slashing unavailable, the only way to score in the paint was Vougioukas’ Post-ups; this is why Ian played 18 minutes. I think that in the end, the Greens should have been less conformist and go to the last 10 possession game with a smaller lineup.



Xavi didn’t find the right paths..

 Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για valencia pao 67-63 pascual

As I said after the game, there were “paths” (winning shortcuts) through which the poor night Panathinaikos was having could have led to a win against Valencia. This was one of the few nights that coach Pascual was unable to see these paths… Coaching is like a player’s performance; it just isn’t expressed in the same way. Coaches have good and bad nights, on and off periods of time, and this is concerned with clarity of thought and their readiness in terms of mental reflexes, in order to rise up to the challenge they are up against, and mainly successfully handle the interactive nature of basketball.

It’s obvious that I think highly of the Spanish coach. In general, I like coaches that “adjust” and take risks, being ready to show new things and overcome dogmas. The coach didn’t have a good night at Valencia. After the home team’s comeback on the third quarter (they were down by 10 points), the game turned in their favour. Panathinaikos didn’t manage to play at their tempo from the beginning, even when they were up by a few points, which was the way to disappoint their opponents, whose morale was low. Towards the end, it was obvious that the coach should have intervened and changed the predictable character of the game. He should have played smaller (my opinion with Singleton-Gabriel in the frontcourt, as the former Rethymno player’s unpredictable nature in terms of peripheral execution would have been an ally, giving him a small advantage in the rotation at that specific point in comparison to Thanassis Antetokounmpo) and not follow Valencia’s lineup for such long time. Gist was having a poor night, and choosing him for the last minutes was too conventional a choice. The decision to put Lekavicius on Green was wrong. I think at that point, the only player that should not have defended against Green was the Lithuanian. Also, Antetokounmpo should have played a bit more when Panathinaikos were in need of defensive stops, in order to continue being ahead in the score and “freeze” Valencia’s offense. The coach saw the train coming at them and tried to “shock” the team. It was one of those nights. It happens… Panathinaikos finished an excellent first round at 10-5, and they are at the third place in the standings. Their 2 wins in the 3 games without Calathes would be quite good (and it is indeed good, the teams kept their composure, as its very nature was unavoidably changed), even though the way the defeat against Valencia came leaves us with a bit of a bitter taste. However, it would be better to keep our focus and assess the situation rationally. The new version of the Euroleague is structured in such a way that it favours “surprises” (not that it’s a surprise for any of the 16 teams to win at home) and upsets for the teams that are high in the standings. However, this (the definition of upset) is virtual reality. The quality standards of these teams are high, and the teams are close. This reality can produce several results that are not considered predictable. The teams know that. Panathinaikos tasted bitterness more, as they saw everything in place for them to be on the second place, after Olympiacos’ defeat and Fener’s defeat at their home (one of their main contenders). The Greens must now work on their weaknesses with Calathes coming back. If they are good enough as a team, they will have the chance to climb to higher spots of the standing again…


Lost in the Baltic mist…

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After a great battle at Kaunas, Zalgiris managed to beat Olympiacos in the final stretch, in a game when action and reaction of the two coaches in terms of choices was quite interesting.


The Reds weren’t bad in the battle of the paint against a team that sometimes plays with a Heavy Post nature in its offense, winning the hustle battle on rebounds, but the quality and versatility of the offensive system of coach Jasikevicius allowed him to find ways to get to the Greek basket. The Lithuanians had 17 assists for only 6 turnovers and shot 47.4%  from behind the arc (9/19), confirming that they are the team that shoots more efficiently than anyone in the League behind the arc. The most important part of this is that Zalgiris is this efficient, not because they have the best shooters (quite the contrary), but because they are a team that works better than anyone on the process of producing its outside shots. No doubt about that. Let’s see what we kept from the Kaunas game…

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-I think that Olympiacos’ defense did not respect Kevin Pangos enough, which may be part of a broader thinking that wanted the Reds (who were playing without Printezis and Milutinov) paying more attention to the protection of their paint. This is a player that is in great shape, his morale is off the charts and he has been playing excellent (apart from the game at Valencia) in his last few games. From the beginning of the season, Pangos has been playing better against elite competitors. 20 points and 5 assists against Madrid, 12+11 against Panathinaikos and a real show against Fener (22 points with 9/12 shots and 7 assists). He is a guard that has improved immensely in the fast-pace offensive environment of Gran Canaria and, after his first season in the Euroleague, he is the general of one of the best teams in this year’s Euroleague. He shoots with 50% at 3-pointers, he rarely goes to the free throw line (15 free throws in 15 games) and dishes out 5.6 assists for 2.6 turnovers. Olympiacos chose to give him shots off the dribble (he is very efficient at that) even playing him Flat in PnR. They used Step Back/Fight Through on Diamond offense (in order to prevent a quick pass to the wing to Jankunas) for the Canadian and in some cases a soft Show & Recover. Olympiacos capitalised on Pangos’ mediocre start and they were not aggressive enough against him as the game went on, which helped him get into the game and become the key player in the final minutes (a big three-pointer and an assist for a White dunk). We only saw Hedge (which would have stopped him from dribbling) once from Giorgos Bogris, who is not the best player to do that.

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-Zalgiris attacked against Spanoulis better than anyone this year. I am talking about how they wore him down with the way they attacked. The -16 in the captain’s plus – minus (the lowest one of the night) says it all. The 137.2 of his individual Defensive Rating also shows the difficulties the Greek defense was up against. Spanoulis created many problems to the Lithuanian in the beginning. The 2 on 2 coach Jasikevicius chose against him not only stopped him, but it highlighted (one more time) his playmaking quality, as his teammates found good looks to the basket. However, as time went by, the home tear wore him down. The way they played on him on offense (especially in the Low Post, where Saras placed Jankunas in the High Post in the space of a pass in order to keep away any vertical help) in some cases led to overhelping and produced execution chances from the weak side, without even needing a Flare screen. He included him in screens when he was chasing a backcourt player. Here’s a Floppy action for Milaknis, who was very good in this particular match…



Coach Jasikevicius chose Ulanovas’ length from the beginning in order to quickly match the advantage of space the Greek guard would have had after the screen with the Lithuanian forward’s long arms in Soft Hedge situations. Giannis Sfairopoulos gave his captain several double screens (staggered, elevator), looking to increase the available time for him to make his decisions, as well as to increase the chance for early execution, but the result wasn’t good.


Olympiacos’ small lineup works better against 1 on 1 offenses

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Just like they did against Panathinaikos, Zalgiris played much better when they went small. The Lithuanians gave us an impressive finish in the fourth quarter, where they scored 26 points and were much better in opening up the floor in set conditions. Saras played Ulanovas at “4” (he still guarded Spanoulis, as the home team matched the theoretical height disadvantage on the other positions with Micic on Thompson) and they got a great boost in lineups with White at “4” (and Ulanovas at “3” with Jankunas at “5”). Olympiacos got in the final stretch with the Small Ball card (just like in the game against CSKA) and Papapetrou-Papanikolaou-Thompson (the American forward lost a few battles on defense, but he was good in general, it’s no surprise that he is after the game against Panionios), but this is where a thing showed that might prove very important and we should make a note of it as the season goes on and the Reds have a tendency to play these lineups. I am talking about the advantage of a team that relies on off the ball movement, good ball movement and cooperation, as opposed to a team that has built its offense on 1 on 1.  These lineups work better for Olympiacos’ defense against teams that will play 1 on 1 (even if they are up against a super-talented team like CSKA), simply because it’s in the team’s nature to be very efficient at personal defense. Zalgiris, a team with two playmaker guards and off the ball movement, found the solution, executing in the right time and in conditions that were in their favour in most cases.,


Olympiacos were also poor against Zalgiris’ Side Picks (we focused on a similar weakness for Panathinaikos in their game against Zalgiris). In this case the Stay in Contact rule was not applied by the Greek defense, which conceded points from that action. Of course, we saw no trapping the ballhandler (this is within the context of not playing aggressive defense against Pangos) and rotation of one of the quickest Reds forwards (Papapetrou-Papanikolaou-Thompson) on the Lithuanian veteran. We also didn’t see a big player on Pangos in the second half, which would have made Olympiacos control the ball and the execution after the Switch.


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Olympiacos finishes the first round just one place away from the top. They pulled through despite the significant problems they had to deal with, such as several injuries of important players from the beginning of the season until now. The most important factor in light of the second round is “self-knowledge”. Olympiacos must get to know themselves better, they must learn their strong and weak points. Then they will be able to use the right weapon at the right moment…The example we used with the Small lineup against Zalgiris’ offense may be used to work towards that direction. The Reds played without Spanoulis for quite a few games. In the last few games they are missing their starting frontcourt players. After Agravanis’ injury, Papapetrou has been playing closer to the basket. They are also waiting for Kim Tillie’s return. All these are creating a special condition, as the team is trying to get to know itself in depth, which is necessary when we get to the spring, when an “adjustment” or a trick may make the difference…



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P.S. I am following FMP’s Michael Ojo (2.16-C-1993) after his second season at Florida State. The Nigerian Center started playing basketball late and is still developing his mentality and his game rapidly. He is a Center with rare physical assets. He has great hands, a strong body, his speed is good for a player of his size. You cannot work on  player’s size and the impact his presence has in the paint for FMP can be seen instantly. He is still raw in many levels. His is so strong that he cannot control his strength. For example, his court vision has improved (he sees passes at a good level for his position), but his passing technique is not that good. He is a good rebounder. His free throw percentage is quite good, considering his palms look like puddles. He doesn’t have good timing in blocks, but he still has 1.2 blocks in 21 minutes in the ABA. His screens are not fundamental, but his elite physical package automatically creates the desired spacing for the ball handler.


He is not quite “there”, if you are looking for the reason I am writing about him. In my opinion the speed and the new stimuli the new (much more demanding) Euroleague environment would give him, would not be manageable by the Nigerian giant (7’8’’ wingspan) at the moment. The good thing is that he improves day by day and he is adapting to European basketball. Can he reach in the immediate future the status of Nate Jawai (he also started his European “adventure” from Belgrade and Partizan)…? This year in the ABA with FMP he has 12.0 points (62.0% two-pointers, 66.7% free throws), 6.6 rebounds (2.5 offensive, 1st Centre in the ABA in OREB% with 14.4), 1.2 blocks and 1.9 turnovers (turnover & foul prone) with the best DRAT among the league’s Centers with 104.0. Make a note of his name.


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P.S.1: The Hoopfellier Jonah Bolden   has the assets to develop into a Chris Singleton-type big man. His ability to play on all three frontline positions (…), his face up/post game and the way he can affect the match with his deflections and the way he uses his hands on the ball or defends above the rim are similar, but at a more amateur level. Born in 1996…


P.S.2: Dimitris Bibizas, a friend of Hoopfellas, made this in his spare time. When I asked him about his inspiration about the quote “You cannot win unless your learn how to lose” his answer came naturally:  this is what he makes out of Hoppfellas’ style.

Nice one…



Translated by: George-Orestis Zoumpos



Jim Conway