One last, meaningless Top 16 game will not change what EA7 Emporio Armani Milan and Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv have done to qualify to the playoffs. They already know that their teams will square off in order to get a Final Four spot, and the Italian squad will also have the home court advantage.
Let’s talk about how they made it. They insist a lot on the concept of “being a team” (in Maccabi’s case, “being a nation”), that’s why I want to analyze their work as a team without putting individual stats on first.Embed from Getty Images
Can some numbers define their basketball style without mentioning the players? They can, imho.
What can you say about Milan, for example? One simple thing: they make the opponent playing bad. There is a number for that: the Performance Index Rating is now a common data (scouts, coaches and analysts rely more on the advanced stats), but in this situation it’s very useful (4th best in the Top 16, only 72.1 per game for their opponent).
EA7 is the 3rd best team in the Top 16 in terms of points allowed (average): 70.5. Only Panathinaikos (68.5) and Barcelona (70.2) did better than them. But Milano haven’t the Green’s athleticism or Blaugrana’s size in the paint.
Their defense comes from the backcourt, first: Daniel Hackett, Curtis Jerrells, Bruno Cerella and David Moss are the guys that can put an unbelievable pressure on you, no matter what’s your name. Just ask to Vassilis Spanoulis, who lost by 30 in Milan with the reigning champion Olympiacos.
Alessandro Gentile also has the body to do it (not the feet), Keith Langford “know he’s not Gary Payton” (using his words during an interview) but he can be very effective on the passing lines more than on 1vs1. Make the opponents uncomfortable in dribbling, calling plays, using screens will make them uncomfortable on passing inside, finding the right spots, and the fine timing to reach the big man.
All that work lead us to another number: the assist/turnovers ratio. Let’s stay on the defensive halfcourt. EA7 Milan is the only team in the Top 16 that allows a ratio under 100% (95.2%). Maccabi is 6th overall with 123.6%. Milan is also doing a tremendous job against the perimeter danger: they allow only 18.5 three-point goals per game, and only 30% three-point goals made. They also are among the best teams in the Top 16 in terms of Opponent True Shooting Percentage: 46.4% (4th). Maccabi is 9th with 47.6%. Another great stat for Milan: steals. They are 2nd in Top 16 with 7.5 (Maccabi 8th with 5.9). Athletes, big bodies and quick hands on the perimeter are factors.Embed from Getty Images
It will be a great test for Milan’s defense: Maccabi is the 5th team in the Top 16 for three-point goals attempted (23.1), but they allow the same number to their opponents (3rd). Keep in mind that we’re talking about two of the best three teams at this stage for three-point shooting percentage (EA7 is 2° with 40.7, Maccabi follow with 39.7%). The italian side is the 7th Top 16 team in “threes” attempted (22.3), Maccabi allows a 36% of three-pointers made (7th).
Switching to the offensive end, Milan has only 104.7% (15th) in assist-turnovers ratio, while Maccabi is 4th with 167.9%. That means one thing: they take care of the basketball. This is easier when you know your teammates (6 major Maccabi players were there last season, Blu and Schortsanitis played there in the past with the same coach), and Luca Banchi insists on this in every practice, every day with a team full of newcomers (only Gentile, Langford and Melli came back from 2012-13) that went into struggles and important changes during the season (a new point guard, Hackett, came in late December). But that tells a lot about the style: EA7 have a lot of dribblers, great (or fine) scorers in the backcourt, few playmakers, a lot of guys “making plays”, which is very different. Taking care of the ball also lead you to create more open looks. That’s why Maccabi is great (3rd) in True Shooting Percentage (49.8%), Milan is pretty good also with 48.3% (6th).
But if you ask to coaches around Europe, most of them will tell you that Milan has an unbelievable power on 1vs1 plays more than great shooters. For instance, there’s another number that could confirm that: EA7 is the second best team in the Top 16 in received fouls (21.8), Maccabi is 12th with (19.7).
One common point between those teams is on defensive rebounds: they are 11° and 12° (Milan 22.8, Maccabi 22.5), and both have to improve in boxing out and protect the paint. Maccabi is the 2° worst team in offensive rebounds allowed (11.4), Milan 8° with 10.3. The Italian are doing a better job in finding somewhere else those lost possessions.
The Israeli side has to do it if they want to win where only Real Madrid did in the whole season. But that in the first part of the season, before the decisive move of signing Hackett. Since then, they won all their home games (+12.8 margin in the Top 16, including the +30 vs Olympiacos and +28 against Barcelona).