Archivio mensile:maggio 2014

How Samardo Samuels (@OlimpiaEA7Mi) is growin’ up

When I met Samardo Samuels for the first time, earlier this season, I din’t know what to expect from this guy.

Of course, I knew about his past basketball experiences (including the NBA), but I really wanted to meet him to know what kind of guy he was.

Funny, this is the first word I would associate to him. Samardo Samuels is definitely a funny guy: he’s talkative, he definitely embraced the “fashion mode” living in Milan, he’s genuine and I’d say he’s a naive, candid big boy. A football addicted (soccer, for US readers), who once dreamt to play in the Premier League for a top English club, who pretends that he cried when Roberto Baggio missed the decisive penalty in the 1994 World Cup Final and now he’s crazy for AC Milan and Mario Balotelli.

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Everybody recognized from the very first minute how important he had to be for EA7 Emporio Armani Milan: starting the season he was the only “center”, as Angelo Gigli (then loaned to Reggio Emilia) and CJ Wallace (who’s more a PF but he’s got size) where struggling with injuries and/or fitness.

Even after the arrival of Gani Lawal, Samardo is still the only one low-post big man in the team, where he can work either with his body (especially in the Italian League) than with his soft touch. But, during the season he also had his troubles to deal with.

A few games in Israel last season can’t be enough to say that he arrived in Milan experienced enough to know how to be consistent any given day, for practice or games. He was facing Euroleague Basketball, and a big role in a top European team for the first time of his life.

Entering EA7 practice facility, he saw that sign that welcomes everybody is coming in: “If you’re not here to win, you are in the wrong place”. Well, this is just a sign. But it reminds to everybody how bad this team needs to win. Milan is desperate to lift a trophy since 18 years now. In 1996, the “then-called” Stefanel Milan won the Italian League and Cup, coached by Euro legend Bogdan Tanjevic, led on the court by stars like Nando Gentile (Alessandro’s father), Dejan Bodiroga, Rolando Blackman, Gregor Fucka and specialists like the sharp-shooter Flavio Portaluppi, who’s currently in charge of the general manager position.

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Not easy to face it, especially when the team that has dominated the last 7 years in Italy lost a lot of its power (Siena), and there are no more reliable title contender if we think it on a playoffs situation. Pick a team of your choice between Sassari, Siena, Rome and tell me who could beat Milan on a 7 games series, on paper. Yes, you know the answer.

That’s a big pressure, and everybody understood how much the team was feeling it during the quarterfinal series against Pistoia, a newcomer in the Beko Serie A League with a very short rotation: still, they pushed Milan to the limit, even leading by 1 at the halftime in game-5. In that meanwhile, EA7 was dealing with struggles on their game, arguing with referees, losing that confidence that led them to with the last 19 games of the regular season (19-0 since Daniel Hackett came).

In this situation, Samardo Samuels had worked good enough to figure out how to become a reliable starting center even at Euroleague Basketball level, being there day in and day out in the domestic league, improving his consistency in defense and overcoming a big injury that occurred in late november (he broke his right hand, then he came back in January). “When you’re forced to sit out injured you can better understand how the things are going, when you’re playing you’re just focused on that few things you have to do, and it’s more complicated to observe the whole thing”, he told me a few months ago.

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His impact before and after that injury was totally different: some insiders from the team told me that Samuels was a “coachable” guy, willing to improve and showing it. Sometimes, at practice, I saw him doing things that he never showed during the games: great passing, most of all. Then he started putting all his pieces together: his usual low-post moves, mid-range and long-range shooting (he scored a 3 pointer in the last 3 playoffs games), great passing from the post to find cutters and spot-up shooters. It’s safe to say that he is now the best center in this League.

Here are his numbers in the playoffs (5 games vs. Pistoia, 1 game vs. Sassari), compared to the regular season: Samuels is averaging 14.0 points (+2.6), shooting 65.9% on 2FG (+12.1), 36.4% on 3FG (+1.1), 70% on FT (+0.8), grabbing 6.7 rebounds (+1.6), even doing better on blocks (+0.5), assists (+0.1), turnovers (-0.1), plus minus (+1.0) and minutes played (+4.6).

Samuels signed a 2 years deal last summer: now it’s easy to understand why. He brought good technique and an interesting body. They bet on those qualities to make him a legit Euroleague starter and a difference maker. This is not 100% done yet, but we all can see the mark of progression.

Pietro

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Performing Under Pressure [feat. @ReseRice4, @MaccabiElectra, @Euroleague]

Did you ever think that Tyrese Rice would be that kind of player that can collect a Euroleague championship PLUS a Final Four MVP Trophy?

I didn’t, I admit. Also, I was pretty sure that Real Madrid would win the final on Sunday night, wondering how the Israeli side could even try to get close to Sergio Rodriguez and his teammates.

I was wrong, and I have no problem in saying that.

Now, just a couple of samples to discuss one point. Tyrese Rice was a killer during the playoffs series against EA7 Emporio Armani Milan, he did it again in the Final Four. His layup that gave his team the victory in the semifinal against CSKA Moscow already was a play for the ages, due to the very particular moment of the game (and, I would say, in the history of both teams).

So, will Tyrese Rice be the player that everybody will try to sign in the offseason? Can he fit in any system with the same impact? Can he be the guy who runs a team all game long (all season long) or does he need to keep is current role of troublemaker coming off the bench (and then stay on the court to rely on is instinct)? How can you coach his instinct?

Immagine

In this play, Rice runs a pick and roll with Alex Tyus: the point guard recognizes how the defense react. In this situation, Real Madrid center’s Ioannis Bourousis doesn’t want to let Tyus get enough space for an alley-oop dunk, maybe the trademark play of the Rice-Tyus duo. That’s why he didn’t switched on the pick and roll, but that gave to Rice the opportunity to go for a downtown shot. Can you criticize this choice? Sure, you can. Even knowing that Tyrese Rice is not a pure shooter. But in basketball all your choices can be right or wrong. The point is: the offense has the key. “Every time an offensive player has an advantage over the defense, so the most important thing for me is to not do the same thing all the time. Sometimes you need to change your rhythm, sometimes you need to change your direction, sometimes you need to change the side of the pick-and-roll. Everything is in how you read the defense”. That what Olympiacos’ king Vassilis Spanoulis told me last year. “Read the defense”. Has Rice learned that lesson?

Immagine

In the second picture, we have the following offensive possession of Maccabi Electra: same play, same situation. Pick and roll between Alex Tyus and Tyrese Rice. Same positions, a different reaction from the defender. This time, Bourousis comes closer to Rice as Maccabi Electra’s point guard knocked down a three-pointer before. And Rice read the defense: no reason to force a “three” in front of a seven-footer, let Tyus fly with an alley-oop pass, as Bourousis defensive choice cleared all the space on the lane. Spanoulis was right in his sentence, and Rice proved it again. All you need to do is read the defense: yes, sure. But how many players can keep their focus to do it in a Euroleague final overtime?

Now, you’re a coach and you need a point guard to win the Euroleague: will Tyrese Rice be your man? And what will you ask him? Can he play better than he did? Would you bet on coaching his instinct and forcing him to play a different system? Sometimes players and coaches’ careers (and teams’ destinies) depends on the answer to that kind of questions. And, to be honest, you need some luck to make the right decision.

Pietro

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