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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Unicaja Malaga Tames the Grizzlies, 102-99

Unicaja Malaga defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 102-99 in a back and forth game that showcased many exciting plays, ranging from soaring dunks to four point plays. This NBA Europe Live Tour game was played in Malaga, Spain at the Palacio de Deportes. Spanish rookie guard Juan Carlos Navarro scored a game-high 21 points for Memphis, shooting 5-8 from three point range. He got off to a slow start in his first NBA game but then he produced 19 second half points. Pau Gasol added 18 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots and Mike Miller had 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Rookie lottery pick Mike Conley scored four points and had three assists in limited action. He showed the ability to drive around defenders and get to the hoop; the question is whether or not he can make the outside shot consistently and this performance (2-4 from the field) is too small of a sample to answer that right now. Conley always looks calm and in control and he plays with a high basketball IQ.

Davor Kus led Malaga with 20 points. He only shot 5-14 from the field but he scored 16 fourth quarter points, including three three pointers, one of which became a four point play. Kus played a key role as Malaga came back from a nine point deficit in the final period and then he shot 4-4 from the free throw line in the last 12 seconds to ice the victory. Malaga outrebounded Memphis 57-37 as three players--each of whom has some NBA experience--had double doubles: Marcus Haislip (18 points, 11 rebounds, four assists), Boniface Ndong (16 points, 12 rebounds) and Daniel Santiago (14 points, 10 rebounds). This the first game that an NBA team has lost to an non-NBA team this year in the NBA Europe Live Tour; last year, the 76ers and the Clippers each lost a game to a non-NBA team and, perhaps not coincidentally, neither of those teams made it to the playoffs. Yes, this is only Memphis' first preseason game but the Grizzlies do not look much like a playoff team, either.

The Grizzlies got off to a good start, taking a 20-10 first quarter lead but they quickly squandered most of that advantage and were only ahead 21-18 by the end of the quarter. Haislip did a lot of early damage with 10 first quarter points. In the second quarter it was Malaga's turn to build a double digit lead and then promptly lose it, as the Spanish team went up 44-33 before Memphis trimmed that deficit to 47-42 at halftime. Uncharacteristically for a FIBA team, Malaga did not shoot well from three point range in the first half but they made up for it by making more than half of their two point shots. Haslip led all first half scorers with 13 points, while Gasol and Rudy Gay each had eight points for Memphis.

The second half also so both teams go on extended runs to take double digit leads. Malaga struck first, hitting the Grizzlies with a barrage of three pointers and drives to go up 62-47 at the 7:26 mark. Memphis Coach Marc Iavaroni, who was clearly none too pleased with his team's first half performance, berated his players quite vociferously during this stretch. Malaga still led 69-59 with 3:19 to go in the period when Gasol converted a three point play to pull Memphis within seven points. The Grizzlies went on a 9-1 run in the final three minutes to take a 71-70 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Memphis rode that closing momentum in the opening minutes of the final period to go up 82-73 but Kus scored seven points in a 22 second stretch to all but obliterate that lead. Then the Grizzlies struck back with two Navarro three pointers, a soaring fast break dunk by Gay and a Navarro runner. Memphis led 92-83 with 5:31 to go and it seemed like the worst was over for the Grizzlies--but Memphis did not make another field goal until Gasol hit a turnaround jumper at the 2:01 mark, by which time Malaga was only down 94-91. The Grizzlies did not score on their next three possessions and three Ndong putbacks made the score 97-94 Malaga with just :19 left, enabling the Spanish team to seal the victory by making their free throws.

While home court advantage, FIBA rules and the fact that NBA teams are just starting their training camps are three factors that are in favor of the European teams in these games, one thing that definitely should be an advantage for the NBA teams is that the games last 48 minutes, not the 40 that FIBA teams play. NBA teams are not only deeper in talent than their FIBA counterparts but should be more accustomed to playing longer games. In the two previous games featuring NBA teams versus European teams on this tour so far, both NBA teams outscored their opponents in the second half en route to close wins. While Memphis did outscore Unicaja in the second half of this game, the Spanish team not only enjoyed a 32-28 fourth quarter edge but they also closed the game with a 19-7 run.

After the game, Iavaroni said, "Our help side has to be a lot better. We had chances to take charges and block shots and we fouled instead. Fouling kills good defense." Allowing 15 offensive rebounds, including the back breaking plays by Ndong in the last minute, also kills good defense. Memphis has some talented players but the team seems to be a bit soft and definitely lacks focus.

posted by David Friedman @ 8:04 PM



At Wednesday, October 10, 2007 2:34:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"NBA teams are not only deeper in talent than their FIBA counterparts"

This absolutely false!

At Wednesday, October 10, 2007 3:15:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Would you care to explain your reasoning? For the most part, only the very best FIBA players come to the NBA, guys who have won MVPs and other honors and led their teams to championships--yet some of those guys don't even start when they get to the NBA. Meanwhile, the only American players who go overseas to play FIBA basketball are guys who could not cut it in the NBA. While many FIBA teams now have pretty good starting lineups, they still don't have the overall depth that NBA teams do.

So why has Team USA struggled at times in FIBA play despite the talent difference? As I've explained in previous posts, until very recently Team USA has been comprised of players who were thrown together at the last minute and then expected to win gold medals despite being unfamiliar with each other, unfamiliar with the tendencies of their opponents and unaccustomed to playing under FIBA rules. The talent gap used to be so great that Team USA could win anyway. Now the talent gap has narrowed to the extent that if Team USA throws a team together it apparently can do no better than win bronze medals. On the other hand, if you similarly threw together some FIBA players and put them in the NBA as an expansion team for 82 games they would do a lot worse than the equivalent of winning a bronze medal.

At Friday, October 12, 2007 8:40:00 AM, Blogger lafargue said...

Well, let me make just some comments:

- your statement is "absolut". Some NBA teams may be deeper in talent than their FIBA Counterparts. Memphis, i.e., is one of the team that would struggle to compete in talent tearms to many European clubs. They would be better phisically, of course, but take out the two spaniards of that team and... I do not see talent anywhere.

- The question about the FIBA rules is "kids tale" that has been told to you in America as an excuse... If you have seen the Unicaja-Grizzlies game, Berni Rodriguez, SG of Unicaja and Spain NT call a Time Out when he was unable to put the ball inbounds and, guess what? THAT RULE doesn't exist in FIBA. So, getting used to rules may be an insignificant factor, even less in that NBA Eurolive tour, where rules are mixed. Or do Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, AK47 and many other don't suffer from rule changing?

- Real Madrid won yesterday against Toronto. Again, Real Madrid had a deeper, more talented roster. And that's why: NBA teams "suffer" from salary caps. NBA teams can afford just 2 or 3 great players, then 2 or 3 more good players, but then come the role players: some good rebounders, some good shooters, some crazy PG...

The point is that, as you said, the gap is not there anymore and that you have to start to know your rival. YOu are right, you cannot drop anymore 12 NBA players and hope to win a championship, you are starting to have KNOWLEDGE. I am sure Sam Mitchell didn't know anything about Real Madrid. Maybe he had heard from Louis Bullock or Garbo or Calde had told him about others, but you need scouting.

The way basketball is played in NBA is anymore enough to beat FIBA teams by 30. You just have dunkers, very very strong players that can put the ball very high, but what you just lack is... TALENT to play basketball.

At Friday, October 12, 2007 2:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

You are right that my statement was general--and it is true, in general. Memphis had a terrible record last year and will likely be a below average NBA team this year. The average NBA team--and certainly any of the playoff teams--has more high quality players than the FIBA teams do.

The rules are less of a factor in NBA Europe Live because they are mixed, as you say, but this is absolutely a factor in World Championship and Olympic play. It is also not just a question of written rules but how they are interpreted. Scola has talked about how he will have to learn to not set moving screens in the NBA.

Toronto was missing Bosh, who is one of the 15 best players in the NBA (All-NBA Third Team last year). The Euro teams have homecourt advantage in the NBA Europe Live Tour games and, according to my understanding, have been in training camp longer than the NBA teams. Of course, these things did not matter as much 10-15 years ago but now the talent gap has narrowed to the point that they make a difference. When FIBA teams come to the U.S. and play by NBA rules they often get blown out, as we saw in several instances yesterday. Any of these FIBA teams, even the best ones, would not win 30 games if they entered the NBA as an expansion team. I have great respect for the improvements that they have made but we have to be realistic.

Two more points: (1) some of the "Euro" teams that beat NBA teams this past week had several American players--guys who, by the way, washed out of the NBA. (2) you did not address why only the best FIBA players make it in the NBA and only marginal NBA players go to the FIBA teams--and those marginal NBA players generally become stars. Look at Jasikevicius--a FIBA star who helped Lithuania beat Team USA and he can't even get on the court in the NBA because he plays no defense and lacks foot speed. He is not nearly as talented as even an average NBA guard; he is just a good shooter who benefited from the FIBA style of play and the way that his teams could hide him in zone defenses while using moving screens to free him up on offense. Even Don Nelson with his free wheeling offense could not find a way to make him productive; I have to conclude that the teams that depended on Jasikevicius' scoring would similarly struggle if they entered the NBA as expansion teams--and such teams will not beat the "new" Team USA in next year's Olympics now that Team USA has Kidd and Kobe and the proper defensive focus.

At Saturday, October 13, 2007 5:38:00 AM, Blogger lafargue said...

Addressing the last point...

Do you know why (some) top European players go to the NBA? Because of the money! This is right now the one and only factor and the big difference.

And you are saying that the worst American players come to Europe... I do not agree. Of course the ones like Kobe or Kidd are not coming (although D.Wilkins did and Webber could had come), I am not turning your argument to the other extreme, I just want to put some balance in your thoughts of "the talent issue".

I do not agree again because your need of role players, and also the money is here a factor. American players get lots of money in the NBA if they become stars or even superstars, but for being role players they prefer to shine in Europe and even earning more money.

Are you telling me that Louis Bullock or Mike Batiste are less talented than, let's say, Casey Jacobsen? Don't try to compare...

And why are they in Europe and not there? And why has Jasikevicius not succeed in the NBA? Trust me, he is far better than the average NBA Point Guards. He may have the deficiencies you mention, but still he is not just a shooter.

The point is that is a Question of Style of Play. Some players adapt better to NBA style of play and some to the European one.

And what is NBA Style? 1 on 1
And what is European Style? 5 on 5

So, from the nba point of view Jasikevicius won't ever be the best player, he is not really good playing 1 on 1. Neither in offense, nor in defense. But, you say he needs a zone defense behind him. Ok, and? It's 5 on 5. Use your weapons to avoid zone defenses. What player adapt better to this 1on1 style? i.e. Tony Parker. Believe me, had I have to make a All-European Team I would select Saras Jasikevicius over Tony (not saying he is a bad player, but I would prefer the lith).

My conclusion is this: You are right, the best nba teams are better than any European team. I agree at that point, there's still a difference. But I also say that maybe the half of the NBA teams wouldn't win the Spanish ACB League (not to mention the Euroleague) and even that 3 o 4 of the best Spanish teams would for sure make the playoff in the NBA.

If Raps played without Bosh, Madrid played without ACB Finals MVP Felipe Reyes. And you maybe now thinking "who the hell is that Reyes"? Well he is a world champion, an European silver medalist, a ACB champion and a ULEB Cups champion (all of this in 2006-2007 season). I don't want to show vanity with this comments, I just want to say that you have to get to know better the world of basketball to learn how to improve. Because, from my point of view, it is not just that the world is catching up... is that you are losing talent to play basketball as a game of 5on5. You have the strongest, tallest, fastest players in the world. One on one nobody can stop them. But, luckily, it takes 5 to play basketball.

By the way, I was a great fan of the NBA at the 80s and I think that one of the worst things that NBA has done so far is to expand the league. At the 80s about 300 players played in the NBA and it was really an elite. Now there are more than 450 (correct me if I am wrong) and this is anymore an elite. That has lowered the level of the league and is one of the main reasons why the franchises are importing so many players from abroad.

Which PG would you prefer if you were Sam Mitchell? TJ or Calderon?

At Saturday, October 13, 2007 11:48:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

The question is not why Euro players come to the NBA but rather which Euro players are capable of making it in the NBA. I'm sure that virtually every Euro player would love to play in the league--but the only ones who have made it in the NBA to this point are MVP or All-Star level performers in FIBA play.

You're joking about Nique and Webber, right? Nique blew out his Achilles and was all but washed up, a shell of his former self. C Webb is likewise a fraction of what he used to be after microfracture surgery. You're making my case for me--American players only go to Europe if they can't make it in the NBA. Bob McAdoo went to Europe after he became a bench player in the NBA and was a star in Europe for years (admittedly, Euro basketball was not as good back then).

I've seen Jasikevicius play in person and talked to NBA personnel guys about him so I am well aware of what he can and cannot do--and he is without question below average for an NBA point guard in every area but shooting. Furthermore, his shooting ability does not matter because he cannot get his shot off consistently at the NBA level.

Bullock averaged 16.8 ppg and shot .427 in college in the U.S. Jacobsen averaged 18.1 ppg while shooting .470 from the field in college. In 2004 Jacobsen ranked ninth in the NBA in three point shooting percentage. Bullock was drafted but never made an NBA roster. Obviously, stats may not tell the whole story but to answer your question yes, I think that Jacobsen is a better player. The larger point that you are missing is that this is not about making isolated comparisons. What I said is that NBA teams, overall, are deeper in talent than FIBA teams. This is obviously true and nothing that you have said even comes close to refuting this.

You have vastly oversimplified the differences between the NBA and FIBA play. FIBA uses a wider lane and allows zone defenses and moving screens (and carrying the ball, which fans ironically think is exclusive to the NBA's alleged "1 on 1" style but is in fact far more prevalent in FIBA). These things have more of an impact on the style of play than a 1 on 1 versus 5 on 5 philosophy. Moreover, there are only 30 NBA teams. Within that group, there are great teams, good teams and bad teams (relatively speaking of course--even a bad NBA team like Memphis was last year is at least competitive with, if not better than, the best Euro teams). Look at the top NBA teams--Spurs, Jazz, Cavs, Pistons, etc. They don't play a 1 on 1 style. In any league, the best teams play 5 on 5 and the worst teams don't.

I don't know how to prove or disprove this but I don't believe that half the NBA teams would not win the Spanish or Euro leagues. Look at it this way--when America just throws together an Olympic team and does not prepare properly Team USA still wins a bronze medal. Also, look at some of the teams we saw in the NBA Europe Live Tour--many of their best players are NBA washouts. You really believe that the guys who beat them out in the U.S. wouldn't beat them out in Europe? That makes no sense.

I realize that Reyes is a very good player--but he is no Bosh. I doubt that any coach in the world would take Reyes over Bosh.

I like Calderon's game a lot but I'd take TJ. Why do you think that TJ is starting? That said, Calderon is widely considered the best backup point guard in the NBA. Even in the allegedly watered down NBA he has yet to become a starter, though admittedly he could probably start now for some NBA teams.

I have a lot of respect for how much the FIBA teams and players have improved in the past 15 years. At one time, America could just send some college players and dominate everybody. The rest of the world studied the game and improved greatly. Now, America must take these teams seriously and treat them with respect in international play. That means that Team USA must scout these national teams and must practice together under FIBA rules instead of just showing up at FIBA events (Olympics, World Championship) unprepared. Now that Team USA has taken that approach under Coach K you see the results (FIBA Americas tournament).

At Wednesday, October 17, 2007 9:51:00 AM, Blogger lafargue said...

Hi again!

I posted an answer after your last one, but somehow it got lost.

Now I've found this text, which I find quite similar to my own ideas (99%)

I don't want you to think the same than me, just to show you my point of view, through tthe words of one of Europa's fines coachs Ettore Messina:


PS: Don't worry about the Russian above, it is in english down there. I found it thru BallInEurope.com

At Wednesday, October 17, 2007 4:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I'm not sure what could have happened to your other reply. I have approved and posted every comment of yours that appeared on the blogger dashboard.

Thank you for sharing this article. I read through the whole English translation. It is very interesting. Here are my comments on some of his specific points:

1) His opening statement supports your contention about European basketball being more 5 on 5 and NBA basketball being more 1 on 1. That does not mean that I agree with him or with you, though. As he later notes, the best NBA teams play 5 on 5. I admit that I have not seen every Euro team but I suspect that the author has not seen every NBA team, either. My observation about basketball--NBA, college, FIBA, high school and anywhere else--is that the best teams play a 5 on 5 style and the bad teams don't. Even NBA teams that seem to have a 1 on 1 offensive style play good team defense if they are successful. To simply say Europeans play 5 on 5 and NBA players play 1 on 1 is stereotypical. Also, the defensive rules play a part in some of the style differences, as he noted. I wish that he would have said more about the screening rules. If NBA players could set moving screens I'm sure they would do it, too.

2) His discussion of Papaloukas winning the MVP is interesting but it is ironic that he thinks that European MVP voting contrasts with NBA MVP voting. Steve Nash has won two NBA MVPs and came in second last year even though most statistical systems don't even rank him as a top ten player. The great NBA coaches from Red Auerbach to the present day have always told their players that winning, not individual stats, is how they will be judged.

3) I don't believe that Euro players have to be mentally tougher because of a shorter schedule; that makes no sense. The NBA schedule is a grind and you have to be mentally and physically tough to survive it. The games do matter. Look at the Cavs and Bulls last year--one game meant a big difference in playoff seeding.

4) His points about the rules differences support what I have been telling you all along, although he draws some strange conclusions. Langdon did not "choose" to go to Europe; he washed out of the NBA because he is too slow and cannot guard anyone. The rules differences and lower talent level in Europe allow him to be a star. In that way, Europe is somewhat between college and NBA basketball in terms of talent level. That is why U.S. college teams cannot beat the top FIBA teams in the Olympics but that the NBA players--given time to adjust to the rules--can do so. The talent gap has narrowed to the point that the rules differences do matter now. Also, in a one and done 40 minute FIBA game the depth factor is not an issue. As I said to you, NBA teams are deeper--but in the Olympics or World Championship a team can use its best 5 or 6 guys, shoot well and beat Team USA when Team USA does not have the proper defensive mindset or awareness. If the Olympics were a seven game or even five game series format then Team USA probably would have won even with its recent, flawed teams, because the coaches could have made game to game adjustments and depth would have become a factor. I'm not taking anything away from the teams that beat Team USA; I'm just being objective about the differences in talent, depth and rules.

5) I criticized Coach K for his obvious unfamiliarity with the Greek squad. That said, I'd like to see Papaloukas and company try to beat the current version of Team USA with Kidd and Kobe in the backcourt. I have a lot of respect for that Greek team, so I'll say that Team USA would only beat them by 20 now.

6) Langdon and the others are not thinking about getting back in the NBA because they do not possess sufficient athletic talent to do so.

At Thursday, October 18, 2007 10:02:00 AM, Blogger lafargue said...

Just a comment: As I've already told you, moving screens are not allowed in FIBA rules.

And your last Team USA included the ones like LeBron, Melo or Wade...

At Thursday, October 18, 2007 5:05:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I've watched enough FIBA World Championship and Olympic games to know that in those competitions more movement is allowed on screens than is permitted in the NBA. Hubie Brown, among many others, talked about this during a recent telecast, laughingly saying that if guys like Shaq were allowed to set those kind of moving screens in the NBA that there would be no way to defend the screen/roll play. Luis Scola just said that he has to adjust to the different way that screen/roll plays are officiated in the NBA.

In 2004, LeBron, Melo and Wade were new to the FIBA game--and even the NBA game. In any case, they were not the main guys on the team at that time. None of them plays defense like Kobe and Kidd do--and defense, as I've stressed here many times, is why Team USA failed to win gold in previous events. Since they did not get much playing time in 2004, they were still essentially FIBA "rookies" in 2006. Melo received a lot of praise for how many points he scored in that year's FIBA World Championship but, as I noted, he gave up at least as much at the defensive end of the court.


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