Credit: Yegor Aleyev/TASS - Scanpix
Credit Yegor Aleyev/TASS - Scanpix

After winning the 7DAYS EuroCup and securing the promotion to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague, UNICS Kazan started doing serious work in the summer.

Despite that, many didn't consider UNICS seriously, thinking that it would be another Russian project with big names but without a clear vision.

Mario Hezonja, Lorenzo Brown, Isaiah Canaan, and finally O.J. Mayo. At first, it looked that for these guys, one basketball wouldn't be enough. However, Velimir Perasovic can smile now – with 9 victories and 5 losses, UNICS stand in fifth place of the EuroLeague.

Interestingly, the dark horse of the EuroLeague keeps winning in an unpredicted style. UNICS build their game from their own half of the court and boast having the second-best defensive ranking (103.1 points allowed per 100 possesions).

BasketNews takes a look at UNICS winning recipe discuss, whether the Russian club could become the first EuroCup team to advance to EuroLeague playoffs and keep the place in the strongest European basketball competition.

Highest level of physicality

Credit TASS – Scanpix

Before the season, no one has doubts about UNICS offensive potential. However, the doubts were about players' characters and whether they could match, while Perasovic was instantly placed on the hot seat.

The beginning of the season aroused even more doubts after UNICS won only one game of the first five. One of those losses came in Istanbul against Fenerbahce Beko when UNICS surrendered 41-80.

The miscommunication was clearly visible, Hezonja's body language didn't look promising, and everything looked bad on both ends of the floor. However, things started to change rapidly since Round 6.

Let's look at the numbers from Round 6. UNICS are a dominant force in the EuroLeague, boasting the second-best offensive ranking (118.5 points per 100 possessions) and the best defensive ranking (101 points per 100 possessions).

Free throws this season

71%
9,8
Points made: 9,8
Accuracy: 71,4%
Place in standings: 18
Record max: 16
Record min: 1
Most made FTs: Mario Hezonja

So, what are the reasons behind such numbers?

First of all, Perasovic deserves a lot of credit. In the summer, the Croatian head coach joined the brand-new UNICS team and quickly installed his system to the players.

Perasovic made his players united in defense, and that's where began UNICS success. It might be surprising at first, but if you look closely, the newly acquired players' bodies are on the elite EuroLeague level.

The Russian team prefers American-style basketball, trying to make a steal on every possession. Often, those risks pay off, and UNICS are leading in steals, averaging 9.2 steals per game. John Brown alone averages 2.5 steals and dominates the league.

However, it's not only the frontcourt that makes excellent defensive plays. Although Jarrell Brantley joined UNICS from the Utah Jazz, his offensive contributions are not that significant. However, the American forward is a big force in defense, as not many players can go through him.

Moreover, Hezonja and L. Brown have good size for their positions, and when both of them are motivated, they can be effective in switch defense, which is one of the strongest UNICS sides.

Perasovic is getting the best of every player mentioned above, which allows him to hide Mayo and Canaan's defensive weaknesses.

UNICS switch all defense clamped such opponents like Real Madrid or CSKA Moscow. 14.6% of UNICS' opponents' attacks were finished with the guard's jump shot after pick&roll situations. However, on average, these shots give only 0.87 points per possession. 

The offense which begins from defense

Credit TASS – Scanpix

Speaking of the UNICS offense, we must mention the defense again. A big part of UNICS points come from fast breaks, indicating good defense.

UNICS try to create a fast break situation even when the slightest opportunity occurs. Therefore, the Russian team often makes rapid attacks after missed opponents' shots, which leads to high-quality passes. This allows to create a successful fast break.

The most common element of the UNICS offense is guards' shots after pick&roll (16.2%), shots from static positions (14.8%), and then comes fast breaks (14.5%). Impressive number!

Everyone is making runs. Starting from Canaan, Mayo, and L. Brown to Hezonja, J. Brown, Brantley, and Tonye Jekiri.

Since UNICS were struggling in the positional offense at the start of the season, steals and fast breaks looked like salvation. Despite having plenty of individual talent, UNICS offensive rating was the worst of all EuroLeague teams.

However, UNICS found their gear, and now even positional basketball looks much more solid. The Russian team tries to avoid Hezonja's iso-ball makes an effort to create space for L. Brown and Canaan.

Hezonja, L. Brown, and Canaan combine for 41.5 out of 78.1 UNICS' points per game, or 53.1%. In addition to this, this trio also accumulates 8.6 assists per game, so there's no question which players are the most important for the UNICS offense.

"All of them are great scorers," said Zalgiris head coach Jure Zdovc. "Maybe Brown likes to drive more to the basket but can also make shots from distance and has character."

"I know Hezonja very well, and with him, you never know what he will do or what kind of shot he will take. Canaan is also a good shooter and could drive to the basket," Zdovc added.

UNICS might struggle a bit in positional basketball, therefore, it's probably the most significant area where the Russian team could improve.

The missing piece, which separates UNICS from EuroLeague elite

Credit ITASS-Scanpix

We mentioned impressive physicality, Perasovic's input, and offensive talent, but will all of this be enough for UNICS in the playoffs race?

8 victories in the last 10 games show great form and confidence, but there's one detail that still raises doubts.

UNICS have a very thin frontcourt. The majority of the minutes are allocated to J. Brown, Jekiri, and 34-year-old Andrey Vorontsevich. Apart from them, there's only Brantley, who can play in the fourth position.

UNICS quickly parted ways with Janis Timma, so maybe the Russian club will reinforce in the frontcourt department because it's possible that J. Brown, Jekiri, Vorontsevich, and Brantley won't be able to keep up in the second part of the season.

However, even with a clear missing piece, now UNICS are playing playoffs-level basketball. The Russian team shows elite physicality, and a new forward might threaten teams that cannot imagine their season without reaching the Final Four.

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Sveikiname! Jūs buvote pasirinktas dalyvauti naujame finansiniame projekte, kurio stabilios pajamos yra iki tūkstančio dolerių (1000 USD) per savaitę. Jūsų kvietimas nuoroda yra aktyvus vieną dieną: https://bit.ly/3qULk7S
2022-01-10
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FJB
I don't know how they got their ticket for the Euroleague, but surely they didn't win the Eurocup, which was won by Monaco. Perhaps as runner-up because there was one more place available in the league?
2021-12-18
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