Photo: ACB Media

By Rob Scott / @robscott33

The 2014/15 ACB season began at the weekend, and the biggest surprise went down in the southeast, as UCAM Murcia beat last season’s regular season runners up and the Eurocup champions Valencia, 85-76. UCAM is one of the lowest budget teams in the league, but their clever recruiting and really solid coaching from Diego Ocampo warrants a closer look.

When you don’t have the money to compete with even the mid-level teams in recruitment, you need to take chances on guys with high upside, which UCAM have done with a pair of Brazilians: Point guard Raulzinho Neto and centre Augusto Cesar Lima Brito. When Neto was carving up Argentina in the World Cup it was easy to forget that he’d already inked with Murcia after a tricky couple of years. His agent probably regrets taking that deal before the World Cup, but at the time, his stock had probably bottomed out. Lima carried huge potential through his three years at Unicaja without ever becoming a trusted part of the rotation.

Lima’s athletic gifts coupled with his ability to make eye-catching plays always grabbed attention, but if he could have put together more games like this, of 22 points on 10-of-11 shooting with seven rebounds and two blocks in just over 27 minutes, he might still be playing at Euroleague level. His performance wasn’t complex – set (or slip) a screen, sprint to the rim, either take the pass or draw help to open space for a shooter. The video below shows this simplicity can be starkly effective.

Those clips aren’t exactly a showcase of how to defend this basic high screen action, but Lima’s speed getting to the rim and athleticism once he gets there means he doesn’t even need to set a rock-hard pick, he can afford to make the token effort then slip straight to the hole. He even shows he can step out of the paint for a jumpshot at the end.

Coach Ocampo spent the last six years as an assistant at Sevilla, developing under the tutelage of Pedro Martinez, Joan Plaza and Aito Garcia Reneses, some of the leading figures in Spanish coaching circles. The latter’s influence is particularly obvious in this Murcia team. Carlos Cabezas provides a combination of veteran knowhow and creativity alongside Neto’s flashier inclinations, and between them they clocked 11 assists against Valencia. By surrounding Lima’s gravitational pull diving to the rim with shooters like Juan Angel Antelo at the four and  Scott Wood and Scott Bamforth on the wing (who didn’t play on Sunday) Murcia are going to be able to put up points in bursts.

Bamforth played for Ocampo in Sevilla last season and shot 31% from three, but in three years at Weber State he put up marks of 48.%, 40.1% and 45.6% taking between five and six attempts per game. Wood played his rookie year out of North Carolina State in Murcia last season and shot 40% from three, taking an eyebrow-raising nearly seven per game., and his college stats indicate that this was no fluke. It looks like young shooters out of college is one area where teams of Murcia’s budget can stock up, which is one way they can outscore a team like Valencia 55-31 either side of halftime.

The other way in which Ocampo looks like he’s trying to emulate last year’s Sevilla is by getting out hard in transition and turning stops into quick points. If you’re a fan of 2.08m centres positioning themselves nicely to help off the corner then just sprinting down the floor to finish in transition themselves, you’ll enjoy the next clip:

Defensively, the imprint of Plaza can be seen as Murcia hedged out hard, with Lima using his footspeed to recover back in time, while the defenders on the weak side were positioned to stop the ball going inside. When the ball went into Loncar, Lima stood tall. Just for sake of highlights, he showed how quickly he can step across from the weak side to erase shots at the rim.

It’s worth pointing out that Valencia did find a way inside at times, and teams playing with a little more intensidad not to mention the benefit of advanced scouting might be able to attack the hole more effectively. But the team is clearly well drilled and bought-in, which is halfway to winning the battle at this end.

This Murcia team doesn’t have the raw talent of last year’s Sevilla – there is no equivalent of Kristaps Porzingis, nobody at the power forward spot with the athleticism of Marcus Landry,  and Neto is unlikely to match Tomas Satoransky’s impact throughout the season. But even if UCAM doesn’t match their coach’s former team in a march to the playoffs, it’s heartening and encouraging to see a team near the bottom of the budget table use their money cleverly, and put out an exciting, watchable team. This depth of talent is why the ACB remains Europe’s number one domestic league, despite all of the economic problems afflicting the sport. It looks like Murcia will be worth everyone’s attention this season.