By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen
After watching college basketball and D-League action all season live, I’m beyond excited to be back in Madrid for a month watching Euro Ball. Here’s some notes after going to see all three Madrid based ACB teams last weekend.
Note #1: FUENLA BACK!
My first ACB game live in Spain in a while was Fuenlabrada beating Baskonia 91-83. Baskonia added Scotty Hopson earlier in the week and started him this game. Hopson has been one of the better offensive wings in Europe the past couple seasons, especially with Efes last year. But he needs time to get acclimated to Spain and the team. He was just sort of thrown in the fire on Saturday and Fuenlabrada was hot.
Even though Fuenla is attempting to fight off relegation they’ve put together, although this has been a season long venture, a cool mix of youth and ACB veterans. Of course everything revolves around the legend Andy Panko and paired with Dan Clark the forwards always have the court spread with shooting.
But here’s what you really want, a breakdown of the young players that make an impact for Fuenla.
Alberto Diaz, Pass-First Playmaker, 1994: Diaz started and played his typical 20 minutes a game. Spain produces so many smart point guards in the Salgado, Oliver, Llompart lineage and Diaz seems primed to be one of the torch barriers for the next generation. He doesn’t stand out much as an athlete or scorer but he plays with incredible composure, he does a great job getting into the ‘teeth’ of the defense and kicking to shooters, and he can play in pick and roll. In this game, he did a great job of getting everyone involved. First it was Panko, then Branko Cvetkovic, then Clark and on down the line. Whether it was his plan or it was how the game unfolded, Diaz didn’t get tunnel vision trying to get Panko the ball but spread the wealth around and Fuenla cruised to 91 points and a win. As the outside shot develops and he continues to get stronger with age we’ll see him on a decent ACB stage eventually.
Rolands Smits, Energy Forward, 1995: Giving spot minutes when Panko needs a breather, the young Smits was a nice change of pace. Immediately you notice his crazy long arms and super activity. Smits has great defensive potential. He mainly plays the 4 right now but could grow into a role where he can defend almost any player on the court. On one play he had a great steal and immediately took off in transition but eventually threw a pass horribly behind his teammate in a 2 on 1 situation. He badly bricked a three too. So his game definitely needs some smoothing out but Smits isn’t afraid to go at anyone on either side of the ball and his confidence, energy, and length combination are really intriguing.
Moussa Diagne, Rim Protector, 1994: Diagne is an NBA Draft prospect for this year’s draft and looked a little bit of the part versus Baskonia. He got the start and helped Fuenla jump out to an early lead with his defensive presence and energy. He’s a great leaper but tends to over jump and bite on pump fakes which leads to foul trouble. He did have a couple monster, momentum changing blocks in the game though. He’s not that strong and has little post game but can set a screen and dive to the hoop hard. One of the most interesting skills for him is his jump shooting potential. Diagne went 3/4 from the free throw lane in the game and overall for the season is shooting 79.6% (granted it’s in a fairly small sample size). He’s not a finished product but Diagne fights to have a constant impact on the game and it’s nice to see.
Note #2: When Real is Rolling
Real Madrid crushed Bilbao on Sunday 78-52. It wasn’t even really that fun to watch. The score was 23-7 after the first quarter. One interesting note was that Facu Campazzo started the game and finished with 13 points. He’s basically not on the Euroleague team anymore so it was nice to see that he’s still a part of the team. The Madrid basketball friend I went to the game with thought it was kind of embarrassing that he’s treated as a youth player with the fans, the way they get over excited when he does one positive thing or cheer when he is about to check in. It is a little strange for a now 24 year old player but he is the low man on the totem pole in Madrid. Campazzo can be a solid ACB guard, Real is just too high a level to start out in the ACB. A transfer to Estudiantes, Murcia, or something of the sort would be a better fit for both parties.
Jaycee Carroll came down with an injury mid way through the game. Really hope it’s not serious with the Final Four in just two weeks. But Carroll went down, couldn’t move one leg, got helped up and then just hopped off on one leg over some barriers and to the tunnel.
You can see video of the Carroll injury here as he goes up for his shot normally but when he comes down he slips and appears to hurt his ankle.
Note #3: Diamon Simpson Drives Estudiantes over Obradoiro
Diamon Simpson dominated this game as Estudiantes beat Obradoiro 79-57. No one could hit a shot to start the game, it was tough basketball to watch. But things heated up once Simpson got going for Estu and Nacho Martin paired with him to form a big man combo Obradoiro had no match for. Simpson went for 18 points, eight rebounds, four steals, one block, and was 6/9 from the FT Line. Simpson is 6’7/8″, super mobile, strong, and was just crazy active around the rim vs an Obradoiro team that is overall lacking in quality post defenders. He’s the prototype of the undersized but mobile 4/5 player who’s having success in Europe. Here are some quotes from Simpson post game:
Sam: How’d you play so well today?
Diamon: “It just kinda worked in my favor today, working hard every day and every week in practice helps.”
S: What’s been the biggest difference between playing in Israel last year and Spain this season?
D: “It’s been challenging for me because I played the 4 in Israel but I come to the ACB which is a bigger league and then I’m at the 5, so it was a difficult transition for me. As far as the league, Israel is a lot faster and less technical than the ACB. The ACB is very technical, very big, and strong.”
S: What do you feel more comfortable playing now, the 4, 5, or both?
D: “I guess now I’ve learned to play the 5 really well, so now so the 5 but I still like the 4 and that gives me more freedom to roam around and play other positions.”
S: What are you continuing to work on in your game?
D: “I keep trying to work on free throws. I have to be honest, free throws.”
Also, in one of the coolest cheers I’ve seen at a game this season. After Simpson has a dunk or a big play the announcer and fans start shouting The Simpsons TV Show theme song. Da, Da, Dada, Dadadadada….