Euroleague Final Four: It’s Barcelona’s to lose.
Ricky Rubio is ready for his close-up.
by Nick Gibson / @euro_adventures
TWO YOU MIGHT REMEMBER
Terence Morris, Maryland: A tweener forward who averaged around 15 and 8 in his final three years for the Terps, Morris was drafted by the Hawks in ’01 (one pick before Brian Scalabrine who, let’s be real, should have been in Europe years ago) and shipped to the Rockets where he played two seasons before heading to the NBDL. A quick stop in Greece then back to the Magic to play in 22 games in 2005. After a year for Jerusalem he signed with Israeli power Maccabi Tel Aviv where he earned All-Euroleague First Team honors. One year with CSKA Moscow and now here he is in Barcelona playing in another Final Four against his old mates. The funny thing with Terence is that what plagued him in college and the pros—a weak field goal percentage—has been his greatest ally in Europe. Get this: in 19 Euroleague games this season, Morris has holed 31-38 shots from inside the arc. That’s 82%. That’s Artis Gilmore against highchoolers, if Artis could also knock down 44% of his threes.
Pete Mickael, Cincinnati: Pete Mickael’s basketball passport doesn’t have much space left for stamps. A JuCo player of the year for Indian Hills Community College in 1998 after leading them to consecutive league championships, he played two seasons for Bob Huggins at Cincy and played well, averaging 14.9 and 13.5 points respectively. Undrafted, signed by the Knicks then let go, a season for the ABA’s Tampa Bay Thunder Dawgs (if anyone knows where to buy a T-shirt…holler), an MVP season with the ABA’s Kansas City Knights, some games for Peristeri Athens in 2003, Dynamo Moscow in ‘04, Makedonikos Kozani of the Greek League in ‘05, Spain’s Breogan Lugo in ‘06 before Korea’s Daegu Orions in ‘07, Tau Ceramica (now Caja Laboral) in ’08 and ’09 and here he is sidekicking Juan Carlos Navarro in Barcelona. That, ladies and gents, is your quintessential international basketball career.
ONE YOU SHOULD KNOW
Fran Vazquez: If you’ve watched any Rubio highlights this year—you know you have—Fran would be the white dude with the long head and longer arms throwing down on the break and turning alleys into oops. Already the All-Time Euroleague blocked shots leader at the age of 27, Fran swats away all of the garbage that gets past Ricky and Co. up top. Basically, he’s the 2007 Tyson Chandler to Rubio’s Chris Paul. Minus some rebounds. Plus some points on his free throw percentage.
Fran doesn’t have many fans in Orlando though, after the Magic took him with the 11th< pick in the 2005 Draft and he decided to stay in Spain. And while 2005 wasn’t a great draft for the Magic, it was a wonderful year for the 2010 EL Final Four. Other F4ers taken that year: Linas Kleiza, Olympiacos (27th to the Blazers); Erazem Lorbek, Barcelona (46th to the Pacers); Lawrence Roberts, Partizan (55th to the Sonics). Ersan Ilyasova was taken 36th by the Bucks and played in last year’s Final Four for Barcelona, so he missed out on this year’s Parisian reunion.
And if your friends told you that Vazquez portrayed one of Capital One’s ‘Ivan Brothers’ in their NCAA Tournament advertisements, they’re not alone. It was widely reported—by which I mean occasionally blogged—that Fran was Big Ivan while Little Ivan was Ryan Pettinella who also has played professionally in Spain. First of all, this was quickly pointed out as being completely false. Secondly, you should probably find friends that talk about cooler things.
Scouts is watching: Ricky Rubio/Xavier Rabaseda. You’d think me silly if I said Rubio’s best asset is his defense, but on this team it’s true. With Juan Carlos Navarro raining 3’s and dropping in his patented runners, Rubio is essentially a bonus scorer. Not only did this lift some pressure off of his not-yet-unboney shoulders, but it also reinforced his primary mission: lock down the guy in front of you. With Jaka Lakovic and Gianluca Basile both a little laterally challenged in their latter years, Rubio has been a Godsend for Coach Xavi Pascual. No wonder he was runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year and the landslide victor of the Euroleague’s Rising Star Award.
As for Señor Rabaseda, I was quite confused when he put his name into the NBA Draft hat. Confused mostly because I hardly knew who he was. From nearby Girona, Spain, the 21-year-old, 6’7” off-guard has had the chance to show his stuff with the veteran Lakovic sidelined with an injury. After 11 total points in his first four partidos with Barcelona, he put down 10 in their most recent ACB contest, an 86-55 win over Bilbao Basket. I think he’ll withdraw his name before too long, but by declaring early he’s forced himself onto the radars of scouts who, like me, had nary a clue who this kid was about 20 days ago.
The grizzled veteran: Gianluca Basile. Besides looking like Rubio’s dad, the 35-year-old Basile has made a name for himself by shooting threes, and a lot of them. Now limited to a bench role, his 2pt/3pt ratio has only gone skyward, as his 15 2-point attempts were nearly quadrupled by his 59 bombs. Though he’s used sparingly now, he got enough shots up in his prime to top the Euroleague all-time three-pointers chart. Incredibly, all four of the guys behind him on the list will be firing away in the CSKA-Barcelona opener: J.R. Holden, CSKA Moscow; Jaka Lakovic, Barcelona; Juan Carlos Navarro, Barcelona; Trajan Langdon, CSKA Moscow. Just think about that. Again, incredible.
Nothing to do with anything: Boniface N’Dong first moved to the ACB to replace injured Unicaja center Daniel Santiago. This summer he signed a €3.2 million deal with Barcelona to replace—you guessed it—Daniel Santiago, who moved to Efes Pilsen.
They’ll run you off the court if you don’t attack them outside-in. In the Top 16, Barcelona allowed their opponents an insanely low 66 points per game, easily the best in the league. For some perspective, fellow Final Fourer Olympiacos let up 84 points per game over that same span. After watching Barcelona devour nearly all comers, I’m convinced of two things:
1) Everyone wants to take shots at Rubio. With all eyes on the precocious young Timberwolf, guards know they can make a name for themselves with some blow-bys or a couple of broken ankles. A forced mess ensues.
And 2) You better add another wrinkle to your bread n’ butter pick n’ roll if you want to fool these guys. Even if you do, Vazquez and N’Dong are the best in the biz at weakside recovery swattage.
You can beat them if you can make them take 34 shots from inside the arc and miss exactly 21 of them, and at the same time trick them into taking precisely 23 threes and making 19 free throws. But no, seriously. In both of their losses—one on the road against Partizan in the Top 16 and another against Madrid in the playoffs—Barcelona went 13/34 on 2-point attempts. They also shot 23 triples in each loss, making 7 against Partizan and 6 against Madrid. If all that weren’t coincidental enough, they went 19/25 from the stripe vs. Madrid and hit all 19 free throws in Pionir Arena. I couldn’t make this up.
How they paid for their trip to Paris: Talent is nice and so is depth, but it doesn’t matter one iota if egos get in the way. Dominant harmony such as this occurs only when MVP’s like Navarro are OK with playing 24 minutes per game, All-Euroleaguers like Morris are cool with only getting a few shots per game and vets like Basile and Lakovic gracefully yield to Rubio’s evolving genius.
Chances of winning it all: 38%
Nick Gibson is the co-creator and producer of Slam and Freaknick’s Euroleague Adventures, which features a blog, podcast, prospect watch and a closer look at Americans playing overseas. Gibson is a broadcast journalism student at Syracuse University and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.