The tough losses to Baskonia (86-54) and Khimki (82-54) on the road showed Olympiacos need to make many changes to their tactics to avoid suffering any major upsets in the near future.
Despite being third in the standings (13-6 record) and one of the favourites to qualify to the Final Four, the “Reds” still have to deal with chemistry issues that affect their overall performance.
The way the team was decimated by the Basques and the Russians disappointed every member of the staff and the active roster, so their reaction now is highly anticipated.
That said, what are the reasons behind the Greek giants’ downfall in their last two games on the road?
The distribution of roles
Vassilis Spanoulis’ return to action has certainly affected the squad’s chemistry in the back-court line.
The side’s captain and undisputed leader is still trying to stabilise his performance at high levels, yet his presence have led to Brian Roberts, Hollis Thompson (seven points per game, 52.9% in two-pointers, 26.8% in three-pointers), and Janis Strelnieks struggling to find their role in the tactics.
Every time Spanoulis makes all the right decisions (in terms of scoring and sharing the ball), things become much easier and almost all the players are productive offensively.
Yet, when he decides to become a game changer and hit tough and difficult shots, then there is no plan B and not only does he miss many shots, but also makes many turnovers.
Concurrently, his back-court mates, Roberts and Strelnieks, play mediocre on both ends of the floor, as they have missed many shots and have failed to share the ball quickly and effectively, while they can’t guard their opponents defensively.
Regarding the Latvian guard, he seems to be very tired, as he plays non-stop since August, so it may be better for him to play on limited time to avoid any potential injuries.
For his part, Thompson hasn’t adapted to the tactics and playing style yet, which has negatively affected his overall performance and his role in the team, so coach Sfairopoulos should focus on helping the American forward have an active role in the tactics.
With Vangelis Mantzaris being out of shape (due to his recent injury) and struggling to be consistent, the team’s back-court line needs to become tougher and immediately return to its previous high standards.
Concerning the front-line, Giorgos Printezis is the number one “weapon” with his great post-up game, yet he needs help every time his opponents’ strategy works on preventing him from scoring points from the low-post.
With the other two power forwards (Dimitris Agravanis, Kim Tillie) unable to compete, there is no sufficient back up, as Kyle Wiltjer and Ioannis Papapetrou are inconsistent and Nikola Milutinov needs to work even harder to return to his previous high standards, following an injury that sidelined him for almost a month.
Consequently, Jamel McLean, who has been one of the key players so far, needs to be at his very best in every game, however the front-line becomes very weak and vulnerable, when Printezis and McLean can’t make the difference.
So, coach Sfairopoulos should differentiate his tactics and make his players adapt to his playing style again, because the lack of an effective plan B is a significant factor that has led the “Reds” to tough losses on the road against Khimki, Baskonia and Barcelona (in November).
Many players play below the average standards
In the last five games, Olympiacos have suffered three defeats and have won only twice, with most of the squad’s members playing mediocre, both defensively and offensively.
Spanoulis has many ups and downs (10.4 points per game, 5.6 assists, 36.7% in two-pointers, 36.4% in three-pointers) and the same goes for Mantzaris (4.4 ppg, 25.4% from beyond the arc) and Roberts (6.3 ppg, 35.7% in two-pointers, 34.9% from the three-point range).
For his part, Strelnieks plays very badly offensively in the last few games, having missed most of his three-point attempts (8.1 points per game, 51.1% in two-pointers, 37.1 in three-pointers, 2/18 in the last seven games!).
While it’s certain Strelnieks and Spanoulis will get better game after game, the situation is different for Mantzaris and Roberts, who need to not only boost their confidence and improve many aspects of their game and their shooting percentage, but also to execute the defensive and offensive plays in a much better way.
Kostas Papanikolaou is the “Reds” most consistent player (8.2 ppg, 4.2 rebounds, 51% in two-pointers, 40.4% in three-pointers), whereas Papapetrou has failed to have a breakout year so far, with everybody in the organisation expecting him to “explode” as the season goes on (6.6 ppg, 55.2% in two-pointers, just 25% from beyond the arc).
In the front-line, Printezis (11.5 ppg, 5.1 boards, 52.1% in two-pointers and 29.4% in three-pointers) and McLean (9.1 points per game, 57.8% in two-pointers, 4.7 rebounds) are the reference points and among the best in every game, however Milutinov (8.5 ppg, 58.8% in two-pointers, five rebounds) has not been so productive on both ends of the floor lately and that creates extra problems to the already short-handed front-line.
Furthermore, Wiltjer is a decent three-point shooter (44.4%), yet his playing style is so predictable, while he is very weak defensively, too.
With a difficult schedule coming up (Crvena Zvezda, Real Madrid, Panathinaikos on the road, Fenerbahce and Valencia at home), all the players should enhance their overall performance, otherwise it will not be a surprise if the side is decimated by another opponent.
Ball movement and transition: The keys for the “Reds” offensive problems
Olympiacos may have one of the best defensive lines in the league (conceding just 72.47 points per game), yet it’s their offence that needs improvement.
The three-time Euroleague champions are at the bottom of most categories, which shows how predictable their playing style is.
More specifically, their Index rating is very low (83.47, 13th place) and the same goes for the points they score per game (just 75, 15th place) as well as the number of assists they dish (16.21 per game, 12th place).
Concurrently, their two-point percentage is relatively low (51.07%, 10th place), while their three-point percentage is far worse (32.41%, 16th place).
As a result, their overall shooting percentage is very low as well (just 46.27%, 15th place), which explains the mediocre offensive productivity per game.
It’s also worth mentioning that every time the Greeks struggle offensively, their defence becomes much more vulnerable and concedes many points more easily.
Given the high number of turnovers they make (12.68 per game, second place), along with the low number of the assist/turnover ratio (just 127.8%, last place), it’s difficult for the side to have a better and quick ball movement.
At the same time, they have failed to quickly run the floor and score easy fast break points, despite grabbing many rebounds per game (36.26 per game, second place).
Consequently, they try to score in five on five situations, yet their mediocre shooting percentage makes it easier for their opponents to stop them.
Who is to blame for this situation? The coach or the players?
It is believed that if coach Sfairopoulos is relieved of his duties and another coach takes over as his replacement (like Velimir Perasovic, for instance), then things will automatically become better for the “Reds”.
Such an approach simply doesn’t make any sense to me. Olympiacos are on top of the standings and if they protect their home court, then they will probably claim the home-court advantage in the playoffs, which is their number one target right now.
Even if they fail to win on the road in their next five away games, they will have claimed 19 victories at the end of the regular season (provided they will have won their six home games), which will be enough in their effort to finish within the top four.
So, and if that happens, nobody will refer to the two losses to Baskonia and Khimki and everybody will expect from the “Reds” to qualify to the Final Four.
On the other hand, coach Sfairopoulos is responsible for the chemistry issues the squad is currently facing, as it’s his job to distribute the roles appropriately. Yet, I am pretty sure things will soon become better.
Moreover, the Greek coach couldn’t do anything for his players’ terrible performances against the Basques and the Russians, as his players played very badly defensively, with no energy and concentration, while they missed so many open shots on the other end of the floor.
Consequently, and given the regular season is a marathon, both the coach and the players are responsible for that situation, so it’s up to them to turn things around.
Overall, the “Reds” should work as hard as they can to become better in every aspect of their game, both defensively and offensively, while they should improve their energy levels and concentration to secure they will avoid any major obstacles in their effort to reach the Final Four.