Maccabi Tel Aviv faces Red Star Belgrade in Euroleague Gameday 12 action on Thursday night (21:00) at Yad Eliyahu. The Yellow & Blue, who sport a 3-8 record have lost numerous close games this season in continental play having fallen in 6 contests by 4 points or less.
Turn those 6 games around and Maccabi sits with a 9-2 record, but the ball don’t lie as they say and right now Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad is juts not good enough. You have to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good; unfortunately Maccabi are neither this campaign.
Scottie Wilbekin has had a lot on his plate this season and has come up short on numerous occasions this year. He’s got to start looking a bit more for his teammates when the clock ticks down and two good options are Elijah Bryant and Tyler Dorsey.
Coach Sfairopoulos certainly knows what the Florida Gators product can do and how he can make a big shot in the clutch, but Maccabi has become so predictable during crunch time everyone knows what they are going to do and can plan accordingly. The ball will go to Wilbekin and he will take the shot.
“Scottie is our leader. I don’t believe that an individual wins the game but a team,” said Sfairopoulos at the pregame press conference when asked if the team needs to change things up at the end of the game.
“The crucial moments of the game, the personality is more important than all tactics,” Sfairopoulos said. “You can draw the best play in the world but the game will give them something else and they will make a different decision. In Valencia last season, Scottie passed the ball to Tyler Dorsey and we won the game, but it’s also knowing how to make the right decision.”
Yes, it’s true Dorsey had the hot hand in Valencia last year, but now when Maccabi needs it most, Sfairopoulos said it while not saying it that Wilbekin needs to do a bit of a better job with his decision making and finding his teammates as well as trusting them.
Dorsey’s volume of 2 point and 3 point shots are almost identically in line with last Euroleague season (41/108 from 2, 51/131 from 3 in 28 games in 19/20, 17/39 from 2, 18/55 from 3 in 20/21) while his 2pt percentage is higher and his 3pt percentage is lower than in the prior campaign.
Wilbekin himself has seen a mega increase in his shooting volume this season compared to last. Just check out these numbers:
19/20 in 26 games
2pt – 42/96 for 43.8%
3pt – 90/207 for 43.5%
20/21 in 11 games
2pt – 28/55 for 50.9%
3pt – 35/101 for 34.7%
Over 26 games the numbers above translates to 130 shots from 2 and a whopping 239 from 3! The only two players that shot more than 200 triples last season were Alexey Shved with 252 and Wilbekin himself. Sorry but that is way, way, way too many shots.
Wilbekin does have yet another option on the court in Elijah Bryant how has proved to be a fine marksman. In fact in the Israeli league he’s shooting 93.3% from 2 and 57.1% from 3 in three league contests. While the volume isn’t enough to really make a true judgment on his shooting just yet, those numbers are remarkable.
Over in the Euroleague, Bryant percentages are excellent as well while the amount of shots are astronomically more than they were in the prior season.
19/20 in 27 games
2pt – 56/101 for 55.4%
3pt – 35/84 for 41.7%
20/21 in 11 games
2pt – 31/62 for 50%
3pt – 14/30 for 46.7%
Should Bryant keep up that rate he will end up taking 152 shots from 2 point range over 27 gams which wold be 51 more shots than last season but from beyond the arc his volume actually decrease to 74 shots, ten less than in 19/20. When you have a shooter with Bryant’s ability, that’s got to change and he needs to take more from long distance.
Perhaps the decrease in 3-pointers is due to Bryant’s poor Israeli league production from downtown last campaign when he shot a paltry 26%, 17/65 but it’s clear that right now he’s got the host hand and Maccabi needs to ride it.
“Elijah is always helping the team,” Sfairopoulos said after the Nahariya win up north earlier in the week. “A lot of times maybe he will not score like today but he is playing good defense and participating in the rebounds and is doing a great job. He doesn’t force and he is in really good form.”
Bryant himself wasn’t happy with how his season began from deep going only 1/9 but since then he’s been an incredible 13/21or 62% in Euroleague play, “I know I started the season off not so well from three but I don’t look at that stuff. I do what I can. The guys pass me that ball and I take the shots.”
The BYU product who recently turned down an opportunity to join Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks will do what is needed to get the W, “I just go in the game and whatever coach needs me to do defensive stopper that night that is what I do, offense that’s what I will do. I’m more focused on us getting the win rather than me scoring 30 points. if we get the win I’m happy.”
“אני לוחם. I’m a fighter. I will go out every single night to fight. I take what the defense gives me I know I had some turnovers I could have cleaned up but I’m going to take the best shots for me and my teammates as well.”
At the end of the day, Bryant will leave it all on the line and that’s what you want. A character guy who will do what he needs to in order to help the team record the victory.
Wilbekin does gave other options and he’s got to start finding them and trusting their teammates because with another loss Maccabi’s season may be unrecoverable.
Bryant may have said it best that night in Nahariya about what type of player and person he is
אני לוחם. I’m a fighter