Credit: Begum Unal, D.Lukšta, Tolga Adanali - Getty Images, Zuma Press - Scanpix | BasketNews illustration/M.Didė
Credit Begum Unal, D.Lukšta, Tolga Adanali - Getty Images, Zuma Press - Scanpix | BasketNews illustration/M.Didė

As EuroLeague is coming into a brand new month, Sinan Erdem Dome is going to witness a very intriguing matchup between last season's finalists, Anadolu Efes and Barcelona.

Free throws this season

81%
13,4
Points made: 13,4
Accuracy: 80,5%
Place in standings: 3
Record max: 24
Record min: 4
Most made FTs: Cory Higgins

As the Catalan giants lead the competition with a 10-2 record, the hosts blew the cobwebs away to climb up in the standings. 

Anadolu Efes is 6-6 and still out of the playoff spots. But the negative aura loses its context if we consider that 3rd, 4th and 5th places are occupied by Olympiacos, Milano, and Zenit with 8 wins, so it won't take long for them to climb for the top spots, as long as they keep winning. 

Here are some aspects that you would find worth looking for.

The rematch 

Since the beginning of 2018-2019, Anadolu Efes is 8-4 against their opponents. Perhaps more important to that dominance in numbers: they won when it mattered the most. 

During the playoffs in 2019, Efes outlasted Stevislav Pesic's Barcelona in the 5 game series and went all the way to the final to change the club's fortunes.

Each side won a part during the annulled 2019-2020 season, but last season, Ergin Ataman's Efes remained one of the few teams that became an enigma for Sarunas Jasikevicius' side. Despite facing three times, Barcelona could not crack the code and failed to win any game against their opponents, including the Euroleague final. 

Credit AFP – Scanpix

Since Ataman came back to Efes in December 2017, Jasikevicius got only 2 wins against his Turkish counterpart with both Zalgiris and Barcelona. Ataman's side won the last 5 games.

Form 

Regarding the current form, both teams are on a roll, but the home side looks somewhat sharper.  While Barcelona is on a 4 game winning streak in all competitions, Efes only lost once in their last 10 games.

Vasilije Micic

Vasilije  Micic
Team: Anadolu Efes Istanbul
Position: PG, SG
Age: 27
Height: 195 cm
Weight: 92 kg
Birth place: Kraljevo, Serbia

Moreover, the two games that Barcelona have lost were away from home, so Efes' sell-out crowd will be a huge factor in Sinan Erdem Dome. 

In the last domestic game, Efes let their opponents Aliaga rally from 18 points behind to reach single digits differences in the second half but Krunoslav Simon, Vasilje Micic, and Adrien Moerman made sure that the winning run was intact. 

Ataman expressed his displeasure because of the shaky second-half performance but also found some positives.

"Maybe such a tough game was good for us. It was a good prelude to the Barcelona game," he said. 

Because of the FIBA window, Barcelona did not play in the Spanish ACB league, so they had a longer time for preparation for the EuroLeague game.

They haven't lost away from home since November 4 and did not show any weakness against Burgos and Zalgiris in their last two games in the domestic scene and EuroLeague.

The Reunion 

This game is going to be very different for Sertac Sanli. Efes is the club where he made an unprecedented step in his career to be Euroleague Champions, but in the summer, he was the only one to choose to join another team.

"Winning the EuroLeague title with Efes was my dream from being a little kid. I completed that dream, I lived it, and after that, I had to make some hard decisions," he said in an earlier interview.

"To leave my home country for the first time, adapt to a new team, new friends, new coach, new system… That's a challenge, and I am very happy to accept it," Sanli added.

After Sanli's departure, Tibor Pleiss was promoted to an extended role and played his best basketball in recent years.

Reaching double-digit scoring figures for three games in a row, Pleiss' presence on the court puts Efes on the positive side of plus/minus indexes all but Panathinaikos game this season.

"I miss Sertac,” Pleiss said. "Sertac is a great guy. We were really good teammates. We spent some good years together. I would be happy when he was still in our team."

Sanli's return to Istanbul is not the sole reunion story as Vasilje Micic meets with Sarunas Jasikevicius again.

In 2017-2018, Micic refurbished his career path with Zalgiris, where they managed to get beyond expectations to reach the EuroLeague Final Four with the guidance of Saras.

“Ataman and Jasikevicius are different. The former gives more freedom, and the latter gives priority to controlling everything, takes important decisions during the game," Micic compared the two coaches. 

The Clutch

Usually, we see these kinds of big games to be decided in the clutch moments, and with that regard, Barcelona made a greater number of rehearsals than Efes.

Against Monaco, Jasikevicius' side forced overtime with Brandon Davies follow-up tip to eventually win the game, and Nikola Mirotic engineered a buzzer-beater layup against Fenerbahce Beko in Istanbul. 

Olympiacos game also went to overtime, and if Pierre Oriola would have missed one of those two free-throws with 7 seconds left in the OT, Barcelona's first loss of the season might have arrived way before Maccabi's game back at the end of October.

Efes also played some close games, but the only game that went to the last ball situation was against ASVEL, where Shane Larkin missed the potential game-winning three. 

 

What are we Going to See? 

Many Post-ups and lots of threes, probably. And Efes might not like the latter aspect. 

On the offensive side, we are talking about very prudent teams here. Barcelona sits at the top of the league with 102 points per 100 possessions, while Efes shares a joint-third place with Olympiacos with 101.

Not much difference in numbers but the discrepancy regarding their style and method are pretty obvious. 

Shot Locations

FGM by Efes

FGA by Efes

FGM by Barcelona

FGA by Barcelona

Left Corner 3 FG

17

46

29

59

Top 3 FG

190

506

148

407

Right Corner 3 FG

18

43

12

37

Long-Mid 2 FG

40

94

39

97

Short-Mid 2 FG

73

195

75

193

Near to the Rim

325

587

377

678

Below, you can see the Overall Weight of Attempts, which is the share of shots taken from each location with respect to all shots taken. In effect, the table below is a shooting map for both teams. 

Shot Locations

Overall Weight of Attempts by Efes 

Overall Weight of Attempts by Barcelona

Left Corner 3 FG

3%

4%

Top 3 FG

34%

27%

Right Corner 3 FG

3%

2%

Long-Mid 2 FG

6%

7%

Short-Mid 2 FG

13%

13% 

Near to the Rim

39%

46%

Both teams are exhibiting a modern shot selection scheme with fewer mid-range 2 pointers, but Efes is more marginal with their 3 point attempts, and Barcelona are more focused on their shots near the rim.

The latter part stems from Barcelona's love story with the post-ups as they use this scheme much greater extent than any other team in the EuroLeague.

That is a wise strategy from Jasikevicius because Brandon Davies, Nigel Hayes-Davis and Mirotic, are excellent pieces to deploy such a scheme.

In fact, Mirotic is creating one-third of all his shots via post-ups, and he is the most accurate post-up player with 56% FG success. 

How could Efes cope with such a malicious hazard?  Despite the recent progression, Efes' defense is not elite (with 0.96 defensive ratings, which is mediocre at EuroLeague level).

But regarding those post-ups, Efes did not do bad. Adrien Moerman, Tibor Pleiss, and Filip Petrusev somehow forced their opponents to make bad choices or timely helping moves to send the threat away. Out of 41 shots, only 15 times Efes allowed their opponents to finish the post-up offense successfully. 

Problems arise when the opponent moves the ball and bodies more dynamically, shaking the defensive integrity in the outer perimeter. 

They are giving a lot of good quality 3s to their opponents (second in the Euroleague with 27.33 per game in 3 FG attempts allowed and the opponents hitting with 37%).

The bad news for Efes is that Barcelona also has the best FG percentage and 3 FG percentage in the competition, thanks to their patient ball movement and well-selected shots.

Nick Calathes and Cory Higgins will be absent, but the injury situation kind of galvanized Barcelona activity behind the arc.

Jasikevicius' team still sits in the penultimate place regarding the 3-point attempt rates compared to all their shots (with 36%), but in the last three games, they made 80 attempts and hit 32 of them (40% accuracy with 42% attempt rate). These were well-prepared shots as only 6 of them were unassisted. 

Nicolas Laprovittola is happy to have some extended game time as he exploded against ASVEL with 25 points and 7/12 threes.

Rokas Jokubaitis provided 7 assists against his former club Zalgiris, his Euroleague high. This duo is working, and it remains a concern for Efes' struggles to keep outside shooting threats.

When Petrusev is on the court, introducing switching defense started to make things better, but this aspect could play a decisive role in the result. 

In contrast to those stable post-ups of Barcelona, Efes are more inclined to take 3 FGs (5th among all teams in frequency) but, more specifically, from the top of the circle via pick and pops or off-screen cuts by Adrien Moerman or Rodrigue Beaubois. Both players are beyond 42%, which was a significant factor behind Efes' recuperation.

But apart from these valuable contributions produced by the 3rd man support, Efes' offensive key component is still their trademark pick-n-rolls attempts. 

This scheme occupies 20% of their way of attacking, but the efficiency for their beloved action went down from 45% success to a mediocre 39% this season, compared to last year. 

That might have something to do with Micic's process with the injury recovery and his declining willingness to attack the rim.

The Serbian guard exchanged layups with jumpers this season, which is not hard to observe in numbers. Last year, he was going for the layups by 37% from pick and rolls, but currently, it has diminished to 23%. 

Besides, Micic is also struggling from the 3-point zone. He fell below 37% 3 FG accuracy in EuroLeague for the first time after 2017-18, and his shooting slump could harm Efes' chances if not remedied at once.

If we leave Darussafaka's game aside in the BSL, he went 4 for 27 from 3 point zone, far from his true quality.

Turning back to Efes' pick-n-rolls, Barcelona appeared to be reluctant to switch unless necessary and chose to chase the ball handler over the screen. 

This could be good news for Shane Larkin because the naturalized Turkish NT guard is more inclined to attack with his quickness to those non-switches than switching situations.

Maybe he did not start the season in the way that Efes fans wanted, but with those two impressive offensive displays against Fenerbahce and Great Britain, he seems to be the decisive factor in this game.

"It has been difficult coming off the bench, and the coach changed our roles pretty often," Larkin said. "But I go there to try to be aggressive, try to do what I can do the help the team with scoring points, playing defense rebounding assists steals, I kinda play like it's not about me. It's never about me but the team."

As a final verdict, Barcelona seems to have the upper edge when the fundamental statistics are placed on the table.

Efes are on a roll but exhibited deficiencies in-game stability. Barcelona are deprived of important players, but the roster showed its depth and flexibility to deal with the situation. 

Looking from one step behind, basketball games might be made of numbers, but certainly, they are not made of numbers.

It's the human agency that shapes the dynamics, the players, the coaches, the refs, and the crowd. Let's not forget that two previous finalists are coming against each other for the first time, and big games create big performances. We should sit back and enjoy the show as it is about to be unfolded.

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2022-01-10
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Vasilije Micic

Vasilije  Micic
Vasilije  Micic
MIN: 27.05
PTS: 15.7 (51.59%)
REB: 1.9
As: 4.1
ST: 1.2
BL: 0
TO: 3.5
GM: 10