Despite Friday’s loss to the defending champions, Fenerbahce, in Istanbul (79-74), Baskonia have been rapidly improved in the last two and a half months, since the Spanish coach took over.
With one of the club’s legends, Pablo Prigioni, as the head coach, the Basques made a terrible start to the season and were defeated in their first four Euroleague games.
Consequently, Prigioni was let go and Pedro Martinez (ACB Champion and Eurocup Coach of the Year last season) was appointed as his replacement.
In spite of beating Panathinaikos in his debut as head coach, the loss to Khimki a week later (91-90) was a step-back for the team (1-5 record).
Since then, though, things have significantly changed, as Martinez have enhanced the players’ overall performance, with the squad being among the top ones in most categories.
In addition, his tactics and game strategy have helped the Spanish side turn things around and retain their chances to qualify to the playoffs.
That said, what changes has the experienced coach made to the Spanish club to reverse the situation?
The roles’ distribution
When Martinez took over, Baskonia consisted of talented players that didn’t play for one another, as there was an obvious lack of a productive game plan that every player would follow.
Fast forward to today, almost every player plays better game after game, both defensively and offensively.
Tornike Shengelia is the leader. His all-around playing style (15.3 points, six rebounds, 64.5% in two-pointers) enables him to do almost everything on the floor (scoring, rebounding, blocking shots, passing the ball), so most plays revolve around him.
The Georgian power forward/center can easily score points from inside the paint and mid-range, while he has the ability to quickly run the floor as well.
Concurrently, he is a decent rim protector, given his size and athleticism, while he can guard effectively in the perimeter, too.
Alongside him, the Basques’ duo of point guards, Marcelinho Huertas and Jayson Granger, has a central role in Martinez’s tactics as well.
The Spanish coach has adapted the squad’s playing style to both guards’ excellent passing ability, so Granger (9.2 ppg, 5.5 apg, 47.1% in two-pointers, 37.9% from beyond the arc) and Huertas (5.7 ppg, 3.5 apg, 40.7% in three-pointers) are the ones that run most plays every time they are on the floor.
The Brazilian guard has played much better since Martinez’s arrival in the team, taking advantage of his ability to control the tempo of the game and make his team-mates better.
At the same time, Granger, who is Baskonia’s best on-ball defender, has been consistent so far and it seems the team takes it to the next level every time the Uruguayan is on the floor.
Regarding their team-mates, all of them have a specific role in the game’s strategy, depending on what their biggest advantage is.
For instance, Martinez has created plays that enable him to exploit Johannes Voigtmann’s versatile playing style (6.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 67.3% in two-pointers and 53.3% from the three-point range) or Kevin Jones’ (68.8% in two-pointers) and Vincent Poirier’s (6.9 ppg, 57% in two-pointers, 4.9 rpg) game inside the paint.
Similarly, the 56-year-old coach’s has seen Janis Timma (9.1 points per game, 63.3% in two-pointers, 42.5% from beyond the arc) and Rodrigue Beaubois (12.1 ppg, 56.3% in two-pointers, 39.4% in three-pointers) be game changers, with both players playing at much higher standards under Martinez’s playing style.
The impressive shooting percentage
As we said earlier, Baskonia’s players are very talented and can shoot the ball very well, both from beyond the arc and mid-range.
Thanks to Martinez’s plays and the good and quick ball movement, players like Timma, Granger, Beaubois and Matt Janning (7.8 ppg, 60% in two-pointers, 38.7% in three-pointers) have many open shots, which enable them to score easy two or three-pointers.
Consequently, Baskonia are able to score many points, which helps them remain competitive until the end, despite their mediocre defence.
More specifically, the Basques are fifth in the index rating (91.31), fourth in offensive productivity (scoring 80.81 points per game) and second in the assists (19.5 per game), which proves how much their ball movement and offensive strategy have been improved since Martinez took over.
Moreover, Baskonia have a great two-point (second place, 55.24%) and three-point (sixth place, 38.6%) percentage, respectively, while their overall shooting percentage is equally high (fourth place, 49.87%).
On the other hand, the experienced coach needs to work more on his defensive approach and on making his players become more aggressive on the one end of the floor.
Conceding 81.5 points per points, Baskonia can’t rely on their defensive performance to prevail over their opponents, so this number should be reduced, if the Basques want to have a better chance to be victorious.
At the same time, the squad should press their opponents more and force them to turn the ball over (just 5.56 steals per game, 11th place) in order to create fast breaks and score in transition, too.
Furthermore, and even though they have effectively protected their rim so far (with 3.56 blocks per game, third place in the respective category), it’s their defence in the perimeter that will determine whether they will play tougher and better on the one end of the floor.
In addition, Martinez should improve two more aspects of Baskonia’s game, namely the rebounds and turnovers.
Regarding the rebounds, the Spanish side grabs only 32.94 per game (23.94 defensive boards and just nine offensive ones), which is relatively low for a squad that wants to set an up-tempo playing style and quickly run the floor.
So, the Spanish coach should make his players understand that only through effective box-out and teamwork, they will secure the rebounds and avoid giving their opponents second chances to score points.
Concerning the turnovers, the Basques average 12.25 per game, as a result of their effort to have a quick ball movement and their lack of concentration.
That said, the players should be more focused on better passing the ball, while they should make reasonable decisions (both in 1 on 1 and 5 on 5 situations) that will allow them to score points by playing in a smart and quick way.
Baskonia have also seen their assist/turnover ratio (which is a significant factor in modern basketball) be affected by the number of turnovers they make in every game (fourth place, 159.18%, 312 assists for 196 turnovers).
What is next now?
Coming from seven wins in their first 10 games since the arrival of Pedro Martinez, the Basques had made the come-back and were among the top eight teams in the standings.
Yet, the situation has been different since then. Given they have lost their last two matches to CSKA Moscow and Fenerbahce, they may see their losing streak be extended to four games, as they will play against Olympiacos (12/1) and Real Madrid (17/1) within the next 10 days.
However, their schedule becomes much easier from late January onwards, with their matches again Panathinaikos (in Athens) and CSKA (in Moscow) being the most difficult ones.
The remaining 11 matches are against opponents of the same level (like Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Khimki, Brose Bamberg etc), which gives the Spanish squad the opportunity to claim crucial victories and retain their chances to advance to the playoffs.
It’s also worth adding that Baskonia will play four of their last five Euroleague games at home, which certainly gives them the upper hand to turn things around and secure a spot in the postseason.
Overall, the arrival of Pedro Martinez has helped the Basques enhance their overall performance and maintain a playoff push, yet there is still room for improvement and both the experienced coach and his players should now work even harder to remain competitive.