By: Rob Scott / @robscott33
1. Milos Teodosic, Nenad Kristic, Jeremy Pargo, Kyle Hines, Bo McCalebb, Linas Kleiza. Has there ever been a bigger collection of talent starting on the bench of a Euroleague game? But while Željko Obradović brought his star players in at the right times and in the right way, Ettore Messina is stuck throwing handsomely paid players one after the other onto the floor and the result is an ugly mess.
Fenerbahçe starts a big lineup, with 18-year old Kenan Sipahi at point guard, Bojan Bogdanovic and Emir Preldzic on the wings, Nemanja Bjelica at power forward and Gasper Vidmar in the middle. They use clever spacing to make room for Bojan and Emir’s ability to go one-on-one, with Sipahi and Bjelica able to stretch the defense in the corners and Vidmar a terror on the offensive glass. McCalebb only comes in midway through the first quarter, an instant transition threat and Kleiza has entered the game near the end of the first quarter in each of the last two games, a further boost when the starters might be lagging, and when other teams’ second units have come in. There is a plan, and it’s working. Messina, on the other hand started Aaron Jackson, Vlad Micov, Sonny Weems, Viktor Khryapa and Sasha Kaun. While McCalebb seems to have bought into the idea of coming off the bench and contributing in key phases, there seems little point in damaging the confidence, not to mention the ego of Teodosic by bringing him in cold, especially when the alternative is Jackson. Rather than provide a boost of energy, Nenad Krstic brought only lethargy, missed layups and blown defensive assignments. His line of 3 points, 0-for-8 FG and -24 in 18 and a half minutes is not misleading. Jeremy Pargo brought all the intensity of a hungover gym teacher begrudgingly running through drills with his students and Sonny Weems contributed his customary close-to-zero when his offensive game isn’t working.
In some ways it doesn’t matter who is on the court at the first jump ball: Kaun only played 12 minutes to Hines’ 27, Sipahi played 14 to McCalebb’s 25. But by failing to establish solid rotations and jumping between ball handlers, Messina hasn’t grasped how best to mould this collection of talent into a team.
2. Kyle Hines saved CSKA from even further embarrassment tonight, by doing Kyle Hines things. Picking air balls from the sky and dropping them through the rim. Hedging out and containing guards, even “guards” taller than him, cutting hard, taking contact and finishing - he kept CSKA from being down 20 points a lot earlier than they eventually were. He then brought them back to single digits when they should have been dead and buried. That the deficit slipped back to 20+ in the final minutes was not on him.
3. Fenerbahçe’s transition game is deadly. McCalebb is back to his incendiary best in the open floor and along with Preldzic and Bogdanovic, he can rip the ball out of the air and start the break with no outlet pass. McCalebb’s first nine points came from layups either in transition or semi-transition and with CSKA in no mood to hustle back for long stretches, there were easy points on offer. Having so many players who can handle the ball is going to make this team very difficult to stop, particularly from long rebounds. The Canaries pushed the lead from 26-16 to 40-22 in a second-quarter burst based mainly on the transition game. That run turned out to be crucial in setting up a big enough margin to absorb a minor CSKA fightback later in the game.
4. Obradović trusts in youth. Sipahi (1995 born), Melih Mahmutoğlu (1990) and James Metecan Birsen (1995) all saw time in this crucial game against big opposition. It’s so refreshing to see young players being trusted to carry out the fundamentals, in contrast to David Andersen and Mike Batiste taking big pay checks for little production. Obradović is here to win a Euroleague title and he knows these young players must be able to build their confidence in significant games against world-class opponents. The reps gained tonight will be worth many times more when it comes to the Top 16 and beyond.
5. Changes are needed at CSKA. This club hasn’t spent this amount of money to carry on their Final Four torpor. It’s easy to overreact after three Euroleague games, but nothing suggests Nenad Krstic or Sonny Weems are going to add defensive commitment any time soon. One of the advantages of having an overloaded roster is that Messina could lose a couple of players and still have more than enough to run with. Sticking to Teodosic, Fridzon, Micov, Khryapa and Hines as the core, no matter who starts, with Jackson, Pargo and Kaun backing them up would be a good start. There is always money for a mid-season addition, so don’t be surprised to see that too.