According to reports, Hapoel Jerusalem guard Tamir Blatt has signed a 3 year contract with German League Champion Alba Berlin with the official announcement to come once the Israeli League capping comes to an end. The 23-year old Blatt has been marked as one of the most talented Israeli players of the current generation with his breakout moment coming when he led the Israel Under-20 team to the Silver Medal at the 2017 European Championships and was named to the “Starting 5” of the tournament.
With the Israeli prodigy signing with a Euroleague Team, The Sports Rabbi spoke to a number of individuals in the basketball world that are very familiar with Blatt in order to understand if he can succeed in the second best league in the world.
The main concern about Blatt heading to the Euroleague is his physical size. At 1.84 meters and only 82kg which is relatively small for a basketball player especially for one that will be playing in the Euroleague could effect his defensive play and the ability to stand toe to toe with tougher players. However, Blatt’s main advantage in addition to his vision is his ability to shoot the ball from behind the arc as he’s hit over 40% of his 3-point shots during the past three domestic league seasons which is a fantastic statistic.
If you ask Sharon Avrahami, Blatt’s coach from his time at Hapoel Tel Aviv during the 2015/16 and part of the 2016/17 seasons, if he believes that Blatt can succeed in the Euroleague, the coach who gave him his first real chance in the Israel Premier League before he was even 20 years old has absolutely no doubt that he can, “First off in reference to if he can succeed in the Euroleague, the answer is yes. I believe that many people never gave him a chance to succeed in most levels that he has played at. His mind and what he brings to the table, his phenomenal passing ability covers a lot of bases. He can control a game and his scoring is lethal while defensively he’s been improving tremendously.”
Despite his age, Blatt has also starred for the senior Israel National Team and has played with numerous stars and talents over the course of his young career including Nate Robinson, Glen Rice Jr., Amar’e Stoudemire and many others.
Maccabi Ashdod swingman Zuf Ben Moshe who played with Blatt both with the Under-20 Israel team and at Hapoel Tel Aviv also spoke about his former teammates move to the Euroleague, “In my opinion, there is no question that he can play at that level as he makes the players around him better. I believe that he will be great at any level that he plays at.”
Blatt has played in the FIBA Champions League over the past three years and featured with Hapoel Holon in his first season while taking part with Hapoel Jerusalem in the last two campaigns. In 2018/19, Blatt won the Champions League’s “Best Young Player Award” averaging 10.2 points, 2.6 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game. (The Sports Rabbi attended the ceremony in Anwterp, Belgium which took place on his 22nd birthday). This season, Blatt’s numbers went down a drop but was still Jerusalem’s starting point guard as the club advanced to the quarterfinals of the competition.
Liam Flynn, Hapoel Jerusalem’s Australian assistant coach during the current season up until the coronavirus is very optimistic about Blatt’s career move and his desire to play in the Euroleague, “I think it will be a test for him and it’s a step up to a more quality league than the Champions league. He’s such a driven young man and that is what stands out to me. If anyone will succeed at this level at his size it’s him. He is always putting time into his game and he wants to get the most out of his talent. He’s an elite shooter off the bounce and can play as well as any guard in the Euroleague. He will have to be more consistent defensively and has shown that in glimpses this past season.”
One of Blatt’s significant drawbacks is his ability to penetrate into the paint. Blatt doesn’t drive to the basket much due to his physical disadvantage and prefers to shoot the three or pass the ball to one of his teammates on the court. In fact, he has never shot better than 40% from two which is a very low percentage. “He knows that he’s not the best finisher in the paint and will take jump shots instead. There are very few true guards who can pass the ball the way Blatt can at the Euroleague level,” explained Avrahami when asked about Blatt’s downside, which in fact can be used to his advantage.
Flynn is familiar with the German League and Alba Berlin after having been an assistant coach with s.Oliver Würzburg during the 2017/18 season and explained how Blatt will be able to fit into the club, “Alba always makes their players better and looks for players who are high upside in their leagues. That environment, matched with how driven Blatt is, I can say it’s a nice fit. He’s so creative on the pick and roll.”
The first player that comes to mind when talking about a player who is small in stature but has succeeded in the Euroleague is Facundo Campazzo. The 29-year old Argentinian is shorter than Blatt and stands at 1.81 meters but despite his physical disadvantage, Campazzo has turned into a star at Real Madrid and is one of the Euroleague’s best passers, if not the best and has been rumored to be on his way to the NBA after having won the Silver Medal at the World Championships in China during the fall of 2019.
Flynn used Campazzo as an example of a player that Blatt could be similar to while playing in the Euroleague, “He shoots the 3-point shot off the bounce at an elite level and that’s a very important skill to have when you are small. If you look at Facundo Campazzo he forces you to play him and that spreads the floor. Blatt will have to pass through longer arms and hands and he will have to learn. Looks at Camapzzo, he can skip thorough the traffic and pass from either hand. Size doesn’t matter when you can deceive and use your size as weapon. He will have to make it hard for the defenders and when you can keep them in front of you then you make that a weapon. If anyone can succeed it’s Tamir because he has the drive to do so.”
Blatt is the son of decorated coach David Blatt and when he was younger Blatt Jr. was able to travel with his father to the places that he had coached in whether it was Russia, Turkey, Italy or Greece and was able to pick up the fundamentals of the game in all of those locations.
As far as Avrahami is concerned there is no question that Blatt will be able to adapt quickly to the German league, “I believe that he can acclimate to Europe without a problem as he is very, very mature. His shooting and passing ability along with his intelligence are not common in Europe and there is no question that he will be able to adjust to the Euroleague just as he has at each level that he has played at so far.
This evening, Tamir Blatt will face the Israeli champions Maccabi Tel Aviv in the “Israeli Classico”. After being given the night off earlier in the week against Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion in a game that Jerusalem won easily, Blatt will once again lead the way for the Reds. If we put aside the State Cup quarterfinal and Winner Cup Final, Blatt has had trouble up until now versus the Yellow & Blue. In three league games Jerusalem sports a 1-2 record with the only win coming when Blatt was sidelined with a shoulder injury. In the two losses, Blatt averaged only 3 points on 9% from long distance, 5.5 assists and 2.5 turnovers with an efficiency rating of 1.5 which is well below his season numbers of 9.7 points, 41% from beyond the arc, 6.1 assists, 1.7 turnovers and a 12 efficiency rating.
Blatt has a big chance to improve his stats against a quality Euroleague team when he steps on the Jerusalem Arena floor and will face an opponent of the likes that he will be playing week in and week out with Alba Berlin in Euroleague action. The Israeli guard who has won three straight State Cups still doesn’t know if he will be loaned out next season and continue with Jerusalem for another season or head to Berlin and already play in the Euroleague. A quality performance and a win by Jerusalem over Maccabi will surely turn some heads at Alba and perhaps the German champions will already want Blatt’s services to help lead them in Euroleague play this coming fall.