By Rob Scott / @robscott33
Last Friday Anadolu Efes became the first team since Maccabi Tel Aviv in May 2014 to beat Real Madrid in a competitive game, wining 75-73 on a Matt Janning tip in. Euroleague Week Five isn’t anywhere near as significant as the Final Four, and the loss won’t mean a great deal for Madrid in the grand scheme of things. But for Efes, it was an important marker, more for the key players in their victory than the result itself.
All eyes were on Dario Sarić when he signed for the Istanbul team this summer, but he is not the only prospect wearing the 90s-retro blue and white and1 uniforms. Cedi Osman has been the star of back-to-back FIBA youth tournament wins for Turkey: under-20s this summer, under-18s in 2013. If you had been told only to watch this game just for the phenom future-NBA star, you would think that Osman, not Sarić was the player to watch.
After featuring heavily for the senior national team in this summer’s World Cup, Osman is now a legitimate feature of Efes’ rotation, and has arguably had a bigger impact than Sarić thus far. Coach Dusan Ivković has never been afraid to give young players their chance (the 2012 Olympiacos squad is proof of that) and in Osman he has one of the closest things to a model player for his philosophy of how the game should be played.
In a 2012 interview, ‘Duda’ stated that his “unfulfilled wish in basketball is to coach a team consisting of five players who are 2 metres tall, run the floor, pressure the ball and take advantage of mismatches. That’s my dream but it won’t be realized.” If he had five players like Osman, the dream might not remain unfulfilled. Defensively he guarded positions one to four. Ivković will play his kids, but only if they display the required level of defensive commitment, and Osman has that in abundance.
There he was bodying up Felipe Reyes in the post; there he was pressuring Sergio Llull full-court. Osman is athletic to go with his 2.04m height, but has yet to fill out his youthful frame. He has the mentality to commit to playing defense, fighting over picks and closing out with both speed and length. He can contain guards on the drive but has the strength to just about cope with smaller fours. What’s immediately noticeable is how he isn’t phased by any of this, by how naturally it comes to him.
Osman’s ability to guard positions one through four allowed Ivković to stop Carroll from doing what he does best. When the Azeri sharpshooter darted round a screen set by a big, Osman quickly switched with Furkan Korkmaz, another wing defender who has the length and body to guard someone like Reyes, at least temporarily. Another time, he was guarding Sergi Llull up the floor, who later sets the same screen for Carroll. Again Osman switches and denies the passing lane to Carroll. Sarić and Balbay switch so the point guard is on Reyes. No problem, he fronts him, and at the end Osman knocks the ball away eventually causing a shot clock violation. Osman, Korkmaz, Perperoglou, Sarić, Balbay, all of them can switch and guard multiple positions. This is slowly turning into a Duda team.
Offensively, Osman was just as important to Efes’ victory. There he was, picking up a steal and charging straight down the floor to earn a pair at the line. There he was, draining a three with a shade over two minutes on the clock to tie the game at 71. He was a perfect 4-of-4 from behind the arc, never forcing anything, always taking the open shot or moving the ball to where it needed to be. Help off of him at your peril, as Andres Nocioni found to his cost late on.
Dario easing into it
All of this talk about multi-skilled versatility hasn’t even really touched on Sarić, the guy with the most potentially devastating anti-positional talent in Europe. He’s been good, and effective, averaging 12.3 points per game on 64.3% on 2FGs in Euroleague play. He’s made only 2-of-7 from behind the arc in those four games, but there’s time for that to improve to at least the 34.5% he made in the Adriatic League last season.
It’s still early for Dario to impose himself on the game at this level - the offense flowed through him last year at Cibona, and that in itself was his first year taking that step up in responsibility. There were still enough early signs that he can be dangerous merely off simple pick and pops where he can attack off the dribble. We’ve only seen a tiny speck of what he can do, and it’s clear that this team could be a real treat under Duda’s eagle eye. There’s another team in Istanbul that is showing merely appointing a legendary multiple Euroleague champion coach isn’t enough, the roster has to fit as well.
There are still real question marks - Balbay is still more of a hard worker than a real talent, and I think Dontaye Draper’s optimum usage is somewhere between the ‘five-minute defensive attack-dog’ he was in Madrid and ‘starting point guard on Final Four team’. Matt Janning is one-dimensional, and Lasme got paid off the back of what he did two years ago for PAO. It will also be pretty interesting to see if the offense reverts back to going through Krstic when he returns, probably for the Top 16. But a couple of weeks ago, this team was nowhere near as interesting as it is now.
Efes doesn’t have the prestige and passion of Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray or even Beşiktaş, with no football club colours for fans to drape themselves in. This is a team that has to impress in order to justify its existence, or its just a lonely corner of a gigantic city with nobody paying attention. That could all be changing not just with the money spent on Sarić, Ivković and Krstić, but Osman, Korkmaz and 2.16m centre prospect Emircan Kosut, named by Ismail Senol on the ELA podcast almost exactly a year ago as ‘the next Turkish NBA player’.
The more reps these kids get under Duda’s gaze, the more compelling reasons there will be to tune in. Osman is at that level right now, so what are you waiting for?