Ok, hello then.
Quite a lot has been written already on the new Euroleague format, and what this brings to the league itself. More games between powerhouses, increased revenues for the clubs, exclusion of some markets from its carefully crafted boundaries, these are just some of the arguments that either side (pro- or anti- Jordi) has used along the way of painting a vivid picture of what’s next in European basketball.
Not enough, however, has been around regarding the game itself. Could it be that the new format impacts the way basketball will be played this coming season? Could coaches alter their strategies and tactics, simply by looking at a heavier schedule, and what would be the implications of such alterations?
One can only speculate, yet it looks like coaching staffs will definitely need to come to terms with and handle the following.
- A need for deeper rosters and, most importantly, wider rotations.
- A sense of urgency that comes along with a league that does not allow for “mistakes” to be corrected, as was the case with the first round and Top 16 the years before. Every game counts, and it counts a lot.
These two combined seem to create a real challenge for teams, as they include an inherent contradiction. Usually urgency (i.e. point 2) signifies a narrow rotation and tactics that fit certain types of players (i.e. NOT point 1). Unless Baskonia Bourousis is around for example, coaches will go with guys who can switch on defense and perhaps score some isolation buckets, in order to minimize risks associated with a crisis situation. A rotation stretched till the far corner of the bench provides endurance, long – term stamina and a variety of tactical approaches, but at the same time limits the minutes of “the best possible lineup”.
Indeed, there are some really deep rosters out there. Take a look at the front line of Real Madrid and you might realize that it does not really need a coach, but rather a magician. There are six top level players aspiring for minutes in two positions, in the midst of games such as the opening act with Olympiacos. Last year, Laso would have had Ayon defending the pick and roll and not care too much until the New Year was around. Even Willy would have been given a solid opportunity to hurt his team’s defense. This year, such scenario is not into play, and the Spanish coach must make accurate tactical decisions much earlier in the season. The sample so far has shown that Othello Hunter may quickly move up in the hierarchy, because – and guess what – he can switch on screens better than his teammates. As it happens, when teams really want to win, they prefer to switch, as Real did with Slaughter on Spanoulis in significant stretches of the 2015 final.
A year before, I remember coach Bartzokas completely altering his tactics against Madrid in their quarterfinal showdown, converting a seemingly passive Pack Line Defense into a switching clinic, with Dunston , Printezis and Petway chasing everybody at the perimeter for as many minutes as they stepped on the hardwood. In the fifth game Laso figured it out, but the point was clearly illustrated: This is crucial, let’s switch, let’s play our best big around 30 minutes per game, let’s go for it. That was hardly regular season or Top 16 Olympiacos.
To be fair, that extreme kind of urgency will not be felt this fall, however, teams cannot enjoy the luxury of figuring out stuff along the way. The cognitive process will be there eventually as games keep coming, yet nobody can come in the party walking. A few days before against Manresa for example, Bartzokas clearly illustrated that he wants to play Dorsey and Claver together, in order to be sure that a high-energy tone is set right from the beginning.
The result was mostly atrocious, but still these kinds of things create anticipation. At first glance, coaching staffs look like they are going to depend on wider rotations and deeper rosters. It’s not only Real Madrid and its front line. CSKA , Panathinaikos, Galatasaray, Anadolu Efes, Olympiacos all seem to acquire rich artilleries to fight their consecutive battles. But if one takes a second and lengthier look, then they might realize that the new format may also require playing tactics incompatible to infinity-stretched rotations.
Ideally, what should be in place here is a wide rotation with a good number of players that share similar attributes, and a few others who provide a special, extra touch. Setting aside the admirable homogeneity of CSKA’s personnel (everybody besides Hines and Ayres can pretty much shoot the ball and space the floor), there is only one other team whose roster exhibits similar consistency. I hate to admit, Panathinaikos is full of good defenders and sharp shooters, thus deeming all kinds of combinations as potentially “the best possible lineup”. And yes, Bourousis is around too.
Looks really smart. This is going to be interesting.