Real Madrid: The number one favourite to dethrone CSKA Moscow
With Luka Doncic being impressive once again (16 points, nine rebounds, six assists, zero turnovers), the “Whites” beat Baskonia on the road (71-79), claiming their seventh straight victory and proving they currently are the Muscovites’ biggest threat for the Euroleague title.
Real Madrid started the season with only one target on their mind, namely to return to the top of Europe, for the second time in the last three years.
Despite being among the three top clubs in the standings since the beginning of the season (along with CSKA Moscow and Olympiacos Piraeus), the Madrid squad couldn’t create a winning streak that would help them earn a significant advantage over their opponents.
A series of two or three straight wins was always interrupted by a defeat, which was a step-back for the “Whites”.
In the past two months, though, the 2015 Euroleague champions look unstoppable and managed to climb to the top of the table, after 21 games in the competition (16-5 record).
Just like Crvena Zvezda’s impressive winning streak, what are the key elements that have led to the squad being undefeated in the last 60 days?
To start with, coach Pablo Laso has created a very talented and deep roster, which is consisted of players that can make the difference in every game.
Due to their high levels of energy and the up-tempo playing style, the “Whites” need to have most of their players at their very best in order to be ultra competitive.
And that’s exactly what they do. The club’s back-court line remains very productive, despite Sergio Rodriguez’s departure during the summer.
The latter, who joined the Philadelphia 76ers, was Real’s mastermind and the ideal play-maker for Laso’s tactics, however the coaching staff did their best to cover his gap.
More specifically, Sergio Llull has become the undisputed leader, Rudy Fernandez still offers decent solutions, especially offensively (despite his injuries), while the acquisition of combo guard Dontaye Draper as well as Doncic’s rapid improvement have made the squad’s back-court line equally effective on both ends of the floor.
The 17-year-old Slovenian is simply dominant so far, playing better game after game and making his opponents’ effort to stop him extremely difficult.
Against Baskonia, for instance, Doncic created a magic moment, when he dribbled through his legs between two opponents to score an easy basket. That move was another sign of the youngster’s incredible talent, who plays great basketball and has a breakout year (54.2% in two-pointers and 43.1% from beyond the arc).
Moreover, his versatile skills help him be impressive, both offensively (averaging 8.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game) and defensively, thanks to his size and athleticism.
For his part, Llull (17.4 points and 6.1 assists per game) has taken over. There is no doubt about it. The Spaniard executes most plays and is Real’s best player offensively. Concurrently, he is an excellent defender and that’s why he is considered Euroleague’s best two-way player.
It’s also worth mentioning that he is one of the best “clutch” players in the competition, having scored many crucial points when everything is on the line, while he dishes out many assists as well.
Furthermore, Fernandez (8.4 points and 3.8 assists per game) and Draper (60% in two pointers) act as the supporting cast, with Jaycee Carroll’s and Jeffery Taylor’s high three-point percentages (40.5% and 40%, respectively) always being vital for the squad.
On the other hand, Laso tries to take advantage of his frontline’s amazing talent, which includes players that can adapt to every playing style.
For example, Othello Hunter (7.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per game) and Gustavo Ayon (9.8 ppg and 5.1 rpg) have created a great duo that can be tremendous above the rim and in pick ‘n’ roll situations, with captain Felipe Reyes (52.6% in two-pointers) coming off the bench to do what he knows best, namely to grab the offensive rebounds and score points.
In addition, Anthony Randolph (nine points and 5.4 rebounds per game) is the link between the guards and forwards, with his versatile skills helping him cover any gap on both ends of the floor.
Last but not least, Jonas Maciulis (54.8% from range) and Andres Nocioni always play at very high standards and their great post-up game has an important role in the “Whites’” playing style.
Until now, what we have seen from Real Madrid is their tendency to score as many points as they can, with their offence being the second best in the league (86.5 ppg). In addition, their tactics focus on setting many on-ball and off-ball screens that create space for the team’s three-point shooters (35.8% in total).
At the same time, their good and quick ball movement (first in the assist category, with 20.24 assists per game) enables their front-line to score points either inside the paint or from range (especially with Randolph), while the guards always try to create fast breaks in transition (the club is on top of the assist/turnover ratio with 178.57%).
However, they are not equally strong on the other end of the floor, which can be harmful for them, during the playoffs and the Final-Four.
Although the roster is consisted of players that can play great on-ball and off-ball defence, a series of ups and downs has prevented them from enhancing their defensive performance.
And that’s exactly what Laso needs to change until the end of the regular season, as the clubs seems to have secured not only the qualification to the play-offs, but also the home-court advantage.
To sum up, Real Madrid currently have the upper hand over their opponents and look ready to go all the way to the end and dethrone CSKA Moscow.
Although their mission is difficult (with Fenerbahce and Olympiacos being equal title contenders), the “Whites” look perfectly capable of returning to the top of Europe, as they are now heading to Russia to face Unics Kazan and earn their eighth straight victory.
With Doncic and Llull being unstoppable and the remaining players doing their best, the club can be considered the number one favourite to claim the coveted title.