By: Sam Meyerkopf & Rob Scott
Every so often Rob and Sam will sit pull their chairs up and put down their pens to discuss the state of their beloved Real Madrid. Sergio Llull’s sock selection, imposing a Jaycee Carroll per-game dribble limit; it’s all fair play. So whether you love Los Blancos or get nauseous at the mere sight of white, please join Rob and Sam at the table for Malasaña Meal Time.
Sam: Sergio Llull got his gold chest with a shiny new contract extension from Real Madrid that will take Llull into age 31. Not quite a lifetime contract but it’s pretty damn close. After the 2017-2018 season, barring anything happening, Llull will have played 12 seasons for the royal squad. Wow, long time huh?
With this extension it gives us a great opportunity to look back and forward on the always entertaining Sergio. The biggest questions on my mind, is Llull the type of player who you count on to be your best or close to best player every year? He gets the almost lifetime contract from Real, something few in Europe get unless you’re Dimitris Diamantidis or Juan Carlos Navarro. Will Llull ever get to this level of European legendary guard status? Lastly, what was your reaction this? Happy, sad, excited, totally unsurprised; how did that stomach feel?
Rob: Taking the last point first, I felt good, in a kind of warm, satisfied way. Not because I’m not happy to have him in a white jersey for the best part of his career, but because I never really expected him to go elsewhere. It’s more like a happy confirmation that ice cream still tastes good. He’s refined his game so much in quite a short space of time, it would be stupid for Madrid to risk some other team reaping those rewards. Right?
Sam: Right. If you spend years and years sculpting a statue, you don’t hand it off to someone else to do the finishing touches. Real is responsible for a lot of Llull’s progression and no matter if this is the best he’s going to be or if he keeps improving, they deserve to see it out. I too felt kinda expecting of the extension. Wasn’t shocked, wasn’t pissed, wasn’t surprised, just a total, “yea that makes sense” moment.
So now that Llull is wrapped up for the next 6 years, what do you expect? Is he firmly at the shooting guard spot forever or does Real think he’s versatile enough in the future to play some more point? What part of his game should he really keep focusing on and looking to improve?
For me with Sergio it’s all about reading the game and that comes with age. We saw in last year’s Copa del Rey he knew exactly when he needed to fire up the jumper or get other involved on offense or attack the rim to get to the line to end an offensive drought. He was in control. So now that he has worked on and evolved this wide range of offense skills, it’s reading the game and becoming a leader on the defense end as well. If he’s going to be playing next to Sergio Rodriguez and Rudy Fernandez for years, guys that takes chances on steals, he has to be a semi-lockdown on the ball guy. So that is what I want from Llull, how about you?
Rob: We’ve been discussing how mobile big men might be “the thing” in basketball right now but equally noticeable is the double point guard lineup. We’ve already seen Dontaye Draper and Sergio Rodriguez playing together, Llull can play alongside pretty much any guard on the roster and handle both duties. He can be one at one guard spot or the other, does it matter? Not that I’m saying teams with a single, classical playmaker will disappear, far from it, but there are ways round this, as long as you play with at least one guy who can make the right initial pass, spot cutters, get the ball moving to where it needs to be. Is he a pure point guard? Hell no. Does he have enough point guard skills to play as part of a balanced roster of maybe four guards who all complement each other in different ways? Hell yes.
Sam: That’s a really great point Rob and it seems in basketball we are always looking for “the thing” Is it stretch fours or that you need a big center to protect the rim or the new “position-less” lineups. Either way we are always searching and trying to find personnel that will fit. Real’s new interchangeable guard lineups with Draper, Rodriguez, Llull, and Jaycee Carroll is fun and fascinating too watch. Everyone can play off the ball except really Rodriguez, but his shot has been much more consistent this year, making that more of a possibility. And then, the only one that can’t really run point is Carroll but personally I think his ball handling and decision making has gotten much better this year. He’s moved beyond just knockdown shooter.
So in this flexible backcourt, Llull is the perfect fit. Put him off ball, put him at point, run him in a better defensive lineup with Draper, have him penetrate to make space for Carroll, or have him run up and down the floor with Rodriguez. As we keep breaking down how Llull got this contract and how he’ll help Real in the future, it seems his versatility is his best asset. And with Real management seeming to have a plan of keeping a core together and adding pieces from year to year, Llull is the perfect piece that can blend in with any new weapons they add.
So if the duel point guard line is Real’s “thing” or at least one of them, how does the crunch time lineup work? Earlier this season in a podcast I asked you what that lineup would look like and you said Rodriguez-Draper-Fernandez-Mirotic-Begic because you loved how if the ball was rotated around to Draper after Rodriguez initiated a set, the offense could run a totally new set seamlessly because there’s another point guard on the floor. So has your answered changed, is Llull now in Real’s crunch time lineup?
Rob: I can answer this one simply: it doesn’t matter. Sometimes it’ll be Llull, sometimes it won’t be. That’s the beauty of it. Sounds like one o’ them good problems.