Euroleague Top 16, Week 3
Mirotic, Mirza and Madrid’s hoarding problem.
by Nick Gibson / @euro_adventures
In this week’s preview Ricky Rubio gets exposed, Nando de Colo can’t buy a bucket and Madrid has a hoarding problem. Last time we did this, I finished 6-2 to move the overall record to 68-35.
Across the pond we go…
Panathinaikos (2-1) vs. Caja Laboral (2-1)
Esteban Batista’s arrival in Vitoria couldn’t have been more well-received by the Caja faithful. He runs the floor, he attacks every rebound with both mitts, and 74 percent of his shots have found the bottom of the net in his first three EL games. As an outlier of rigor, Esteban’s beefed up the backbone on a Baskonia team that was cotton soft during the regular season. But while boxing out opponents, he’s also shouldered out his teammate, Stanko Barac, whose 14, 7 and 1.3 blocks over the first 10 games had him projected as an All-Euroleaguer. But ever since Batista showed up, he’s been hogging all the fun; Stanko’s minutes have dropped from 26 to 15 and his 14 and 7 have shrunk to 6 and 3. If Dusko Ivanovic can figure out how to harness the beastliness of both going forward, Final Four aspirations shouldn’t seem silly. If the Barac-Batista dynamic deteriorates into a power struggle, the reputation of Caja Laboral’s paint as a one-horse town will persist, and the discontent will only fester. This round will go to the Batiste with an “e” on the end: Mike Batiste, and Panathinaikos.
Lietuvos Rytas (1-2) vs. Unicaja (1-2)
Unicaja plucked Terrell McIntyre from Siena this summer in hopes of stabilizing their their mercurial offense, swapping him in for the speedy Omar Cook who fled north and eastward for Valencia. Thanks to age and injury, T-Mac stumbled and sat his way to a forgettable first half, missing 11 of a possible 33 games between the ACB and EL, averaging just 7 and 3.5 assists when he did suit up. Not what you’d expect from a guy who’s been arguably the EL’s best point guard over the past three seasons with Siena. But over the last few weeks, he’s figured out a way to earn his paycheck, putting up 11+ in his last three ACB contests, which only happened twice in his first 12 tries. With McIntyre leveling off as a solid, ball control, old guy shooter (think Mike Bibby), it’ll be up to new addition Gerald Fitch to carry the scoring load against Lietuvos Rytas this week. If Rytas decides to guard him straight up with Martynas Gecevicius, put 20 points in the books and call it a day. And if they try to go zone…well, they won’t try to go zone. Not if they see Uros Tripkovic and his 42 percent (8-12 over the last three ACB games) checking in at the scorer’s table. Leaving the court with a 1-3 record will almost ensure an early exit from the EL, so Rytas needs their full stable of forwards to swarm Joel Freeland if they want to keep their chins up. Unicaja.
Union Olimpija (1-2) vs. Maccabi Electra (2-1)
Olimpija and Maccabi both captured their national Cups in the past week. “That’s crazy!” cried nobody. Olimpija has won 14 of 17 in Slovenia and Maccabi has toyed with the “competition” for as long as any Basketball God-fearing person can remember, making the finals 47 of 51 times and winning 38 of ‘em. Given the run-of-the-mill-ness of the newly acquired hardware, I’ll spare you the “both teams are riding high and ready to carry the momentum into the Euroleague” spiel. No, instead I’ll tell you that Union Olimpija is a team whose talent was cut out for a spectacular regular season, nothing more. More depth in the field allowed Union to pick off the bottom feeders and their homecourt advantage propelled them to a couple big wins over superior competitors (Panathinaikos and Efes Pilsen, both of whom forced overtime before giving in to the will of Stozice). But with the field chopped down from 24 to 16, only good basketball teams are left. Well, good basketball teams and Lottomatica Roma. With Lior Eliyahu and Jeremy Pargo finally coinciding for more than a couple good minutes at a time, only the Euroleague’s elite should consider Maccabi beatable. Maccabi Electra.
Lottomatica Roma (0-3) vs. Regal FC Barcelona (3-0)
Juan Carlos Navarro goes 2-10 from the field, Clay Tucker exposes the baby-butt softness of Ricky Rubio’s defense and Pete Mickeal watches it all from the bench. Add the fact that the game took place in Madrid’s Palacio de Deportes, and the Copa del Rey should’ve been theirs to sip from. Alan Anderson had other plans. Madrid threw different looks at him, no luck. The longer, more physical Carlos Suarez took a whack at it, and Anderson was by him in a blur. The former Michigan Stater dropped 19 and was virtually unguardable on Sunday, and the MVP trophy on his mantle piece is the shiny proof. And I think I mentioned Roma was dreadful. Barcelona.
Montepaschi Siena (1-2) vs. Partizan (0-3)
Nikos Zisis has done a hell of a job filling in for Bo McCalebb at the point, but “very solid” and “mistake-free” are not proper substitutes for Bo’s premiere playmaking ability and quickness up top. And for those who thought Siena’s beat would thump on without Bo running the show, I’ll beg you to reconsider. Here’s Siena’s offense with McCalebb in the line-up: 78 ppg; 53 percent from inside the arc; 36 percent on threes. Now here’s what it looks like with him in a walking boot: 64 ppg; 49 percent on twos; 21 percent from distance. It’s not easy to win when a 14-point difference looks on from the end of the bench. Somebody will need to find a way to get Ksistof Lavrinovic (only 5 ppg in the Top 16 vs 13 in the regular season) open looks this week at home, because a 1-3 record will be too much to overcome. Montepaschi Siena.
Efes Pilsen (2-1) vs. Real Madrid (3-0)
After two seasons’ worth of heavy handed prodding, Real Madrid finally agreed with me that it was time to let Jorge Garbajosa go. As loved as he may be all through Spain and in various Toronto sports bars, Garbo had become a liability. His rickety knees and slick curls shouldn’t call it quits just yet, but his game did not belong anywhere close to an upper echelon squad any longer, and Ettore Messina and the Real management signed Mirza Begic away from Zalgiris, pulling the plug on Jorge.
And Nikola Mirotic was born.
With Felipe Reyes, Ante Tomic and the piping hot D’Or Fischer holding things down in the paint, Mirotic has been trusted as a stretch four off the bench, going 11-18 in the Top 16 (5-8 from three). Not bad for a kid who just turned 20 on February 11. Draftheads are all over this 6-9 Montenegrin sensation who hardly saw the floor for Madrid until a 20-minute, 19-point explosion in week 10 against Spirou Charleroi. But Efes Pilsen has not lost a game at home all season long, and after several quiet weeks with the team, Velimir Perasovic has finally worked Flip Murray into the fold (10 points last week in a loss at Madrid). If Flip’s feeling it and Igor Rakocevic puts up his standard 18-22, Efes Pilsen should win the backcourt battle and keep the home fans happy. Just like they always do. Efes Pilsen.
Zalgiris (0-3) vs. Fenerbahçe Ülker (3-0)
It’s rough to watch Mirza Begic buried behind a handful of elite bigs in Madrid while Boban Marjanovic, Travis Watson and the newly acquired Trent Plaisted try and fill the 7-foot hole that Mirza left in the wall when he bolted Kaunas. But Fenerbahçe is having their own problems in the post, as all-time EL rebounding leader Mirsad Turkcan left the Turkish Cup final with what turned out to be a torn ACL. That’s bad news, made worse by the pre-existing absence of FIBA ’11 revelation Gasper Vidmar. That leaves Oguz Savas with a heaping pile of new responsibilities, and we’ll find out if Savas is finally ready to string together successful outings. This week, the Lithuanians get off the schnide. Zalgiris.
Valencia (1-2) vs. Olympiacos (2-1)
By now, Nando de Colo should have made Valencia his team. He’s undeniably got the talent, and anyone who’s watched him knows confidence isn’t an issue. Still, he’s put up the single most vexing statistic of anyone in the Top 16′s first three weeks: 2-18 on two-point shots. That’s just 11 percent for the Spurs’ 2010 second rounder. And I hate to pile on ol’ Nando here, but the 4:13 assist/TO ratio also jumps off the page for all the wrong reasons. I had concerns about how he’d co-exist with the dribble-happy Omar Cook, but never did I expect he would go off the grid for stretches as lengthy as this one. If neither Nando nor Rafa Martinez (0-7 last week at Olympiacos) can create from the perimeter, Milos Teodosic and Vassilis Spanoulis are going to eat Valencia’s lunch (paella, maybe). Valencia.