The first Euroleague Gameday saw a number of terrific games with one of them thing place in Vitoria where Baskonia surprised Real Madrid 76-63. A number of interesting stats and facts from this game reveal why Baskonia could in fact be the dark horse of the competition this season as we break down Dusko Ivanovic’s club.
This past summer saw the team make a number of interesting moves, the biggest of which being Toko Shengelia’s departure. The Georgian who moved to CSKA Moskow turned into one of the best players in the Euroleague over the past four years and helped the club win the ACB title as well. Shengelia played roughly 30 minutes a night ranking second in the league while averaging 16 points a game. Along with Shengelia, center Micheal Eric also departed who didn’t produce as the team had hoped while Shavon Shields also left the club.
The squad that coach Dusko Ivanovic build is now much more balanced compared to years past with the guards driving the offense. Pierria Henry has been given the task of leading the team after a good first year with the club and was fantastic against Real Madrid with 23 points and 6 assists which handed him the MVP award for Gameday 1. Zoran Dragic (the brother of Miami Heat star Goran Dragic) who didn’t play in the game joins Henry in the backcourt and Luca Vildoza will try to continue his upward trend and turn into the top Argentinian guard in the Spanish league. Rokas Giedraitis joins the team from Alba Berlin after a season in which he shot 40% from beyond the arc.
Perhaps the most interesting player who signed with Baskonia this summer was Alec Peters who was a rotation player over the past two seasons first with CSKA and then with EFES averaging 10-15 minutes per game. A terrific shooter who made 40% of this triples didn’t contribute as much as one would have believed in the paint for a player of 2.06 meters.
Ivanovic gave him the starting role in place of Shengelia and has been able to repay his coach’s confidence in him so far in both the Euroleague and ACB as he notched 18 points and 6 boards against Real Madrid.
One can see that Baskonia has changed their style of play form relying on one star who would could play one on one and shoot from anywhere on the court to one that will provide more of a team game that will see increased three point opportunities and fast breaks of turnovers. Henry and his other backcourt partners have terrific hands and will help steal the ball while the big men are quick and can make it downcourt in a split second.
Another new player in Tonye Jekiri who will round out the starting 5 featured with ASVEL last season. The Nigerian center was second in rebounds last season in the Euroleague and will be backed up by Ilimane Diop an athletic center who can also shoot from the outside and Youssoupha Fall (2.23m) who led the league in rebounds per minute last campaign. With a trio of centers over 2.10, Ivanovic can be assured that Baskonia will be one of the best rebounding teams in the Euroleague.
However, the club still had some issues, primarily experience coming off of the bench.
Baskonia is one of the youngest teams in the Euroleague and will have depth issues with their back court. Other than Dragic, Vildoza and Henry, the rest of the players are younger than 22 years of age; Lithuanian Tadas Sedekersis, Arturs Kurucs from Latvia and Sandar Raieste from Estonia.
All three have potential but are inexperienced as Ivanovic will need to give them playing time in the ACB in order not to overburden his squad over the course of the Euroleague season. Should one of them not be able to perform and play some minutes in the Euroleague, the club will have to sign an additional player for the backcourt in place of Khadeen Carrington who was signed over the summer but then released to Monaco before the first game.
In addition, Italian forward Achille Polonara who will spell Peters will need to improve his shooting from deep after just making 22% of his attempts last season.
The biggest advantage that Baskonia may have is the mentality that Ivanovic will bring to the club. The Vitoria based team ended last Spanish League season in 8th place and despite that ended up advancing all the way to the Final Four and capturing the league title. Baskonia showed some of that character in the game against Real Madrid by taking the final quarter of the game 24-14 thereby negating any chance that Pablo Laso’s squad would have a chance to make a comeback.
When a team like Baskonia doesn’t have a star in Shengelia, everyone else will give more of themselves which was evident with the tough defense and team play on offense. The fact that a good portion of the roster is the same as last year also helps the team as they are familiar with one another. The summer additions of players who featured in the Euroleague has led the club to win not only their continental opener but also the first three games in the domestic ACB League.
Baskonia has Red Star, Zenit, Khimki Moscow and Alba Berlin coming up over the next few weeks in the Euroleague before they meet Barcelona. If Ivanovic’s club enters that matchup with a plus .500 record, Barca won’t look at Baskonia as an underdog, but rather a tough nosed club on both sides of the court that will be one tough nut to crack.