Ride into the sunset – The exquisite veteranship of Felipe Reyes
At one point this season (in yet another Clásico game), Felipe Reyes lurked patiently along the left baseline, waiting for Luka Dončić to juke Claver out of the play to very deliberately slide into the paint, catch the Slovenian wonderboy’s pass, and execute one more under-the-rim finish. The sequence has now joined the already long list of Dončić’s highlight reel plays:
The play itself feels like a metaphor of Real Madrid’s season. Luka Dončić, an 18-year-old Slovenian (sort of) point guard, is putting forth his bid to be the youngest ever EuroLeague MVP. He has undoubtedly been Real Madrid’s best player, and has carried them to the third place in the standings with his pick and roll and one-on-one brilliance. And yet, when push came to shove, the timeless Felipe Reyes continued carrying out his grunt work, away from the spotlight. In much the same manner as his layup in the Claver slipping highlight, Felipe has executed his small but vital piece in the story to perfection — just like he always has.
Following a stretch of early-season injuries that depleted Real Madrid’s frontcourt, Felipe Reyes has been the lone consistent presence in the paint for Los Blancos. Ogjnen Kuzmić tore his ACL early in the season and will be out till summer; meanwhile, Anthony Randolph and Gustavo Ayón have both suffered relatively lengthy injuries that have seen them miss substantial time. Trey Thompkins had to miss approximately a month due to personal reasons. Felipe Reyes was meant to fight it out with Jonas Mačiulis for the fifth big man position on this roster. Instead, he’s been thrust into the thick of the battle — and, as always, Reyes was more than ready when opportunity knocked.
Reyes has already played 319 Euroleague minutes this season. It doesn’t sound like that many, but it’s inching really close to the 382 he played last season — and we’ve barely started February. What’s even more impressive is that, despite all his limitations, the Spanish big man is playing some of the best basketball of his career at the ripe age of 37.
Reyes is shooting 55% from 2-point range. While admittedly not a world-beating mark, this 55% represents a career-high for a nearly 20-season veteran. Part of this surge is due to the fall in his mid-range shots — he’s only taken 11% of his shots from the traditionally inefficient mid-range area. Although I couldn’t find data for previous years, that does sound like a much lower rate than in the past, where the Real Madrid captain made an effort to expand his range in order to provide breathing room for his fellow big men.
A referee-favourite in European basketball, Felipe Reyes is managing to preserve his efficiency through an insanely high free throw rate. Reyes averages 8.4 free throws per 40 minutes — a mark much higher than EuroLeague free throw regulars like De Colo (6.2 this season), Llull (6.0 last season) or Navarro (6.2 in his best season). Part of this is obviously due to somewhat favourable treatment from the referees, but a huge part of it is also Felipe’s willingness to throw his body around on rolls to the basket, post-ups or rebounding opportunities.
Oh, and Felipe remains a dominant rebounder. He grabs 17.4% of available rebounds while on the court, a figure much higher than other good European rebounders. As dominant as ever on the offensive boards, Real Madrid rebounds 34% of their own misses with him on the court, equivalent to Unicaja Málaga’s league-leading figure, and just 27% without him, on par with Bamberg’s league-worst mark. Most importantly, Real Madrid grabs 53% of available rebounds with Felipe on the court and only 49% when he’s off the court — in other words, Real Madrid out-rebounds the opposition when Felipe plays and is out-rebounded when he sits. This is even more startling given that Felipe has usually played as Tavares’s backup, and that the Cape Verdian big man is one of the most dominant rebounding bigs in Europe going by the eye test.It is somewhat startling that Felipe Reyes is producing at this level in what should’ve been the season of his definitive decline. And look, this performance doesn’t mask his deficiencies. He’s a below-average defender despite executing the system and the scouting report as well as he can, and his athletic decline is limiting his ability to get to the basket and thus his efficiency: 40% of his shots come in floater range, and he only makes a ghastly 20% of those. He already didn’t get off the bench against Fenerbahçe in last season’s Final Four matchup, and I wouldn’t expect him to compete any better against top-level competition this season.
It might not be pretty —it never was— but it has remained surprisingly effective. Just as in the Dončić and Claver play that headlined the article, Felipe has carried out his small but vital role to perfection this season, allowing Real Madrid to remain one of EuroLeague’s top teams along the way.
Text edited by: Nick Flynt