They’re cool. They have all the talent in the world outside the USA. They are one of the favorites this season in EuroLeague to win it all. A well-known, legendary coach guides them. They’re the ones your girl tells you not to worry about. Yet, not all the pieces fit together for the glory. FC Barcelona has all it takes to go down in history as one of the greatest teams in modern European basketball history, except for one thing. Blaugrana must part ways with Svetislav Pesic to achieve greater heights.
Svetislav Pesic and Barcelona Should Part Ways
The statement above should not give away the impression that Barcelona is in a bad state. The Catalans have won 14 of 20 games so far this season, are in the fifth spot in the standings and have the same amount of wins as Maccabi Tel Aviv and CSKA Moscow, who are, respectively, third and fourth. Barcelona has given up 94.2 points per 100 possessions in the competition. According to the data obtained from Overbasket, they are the sixth-best defense in EuroLeague.
Pesic’s team applies pressure to the ball-handler better than any other team in the league and has the players to do so. Long and athletic backcourt players like Cory Higgins, Adam Hanga, Pau Ribas, and Alex Abrines combine with smart and big frontcourt players like Victor Claver, Nikola Mirotic, Brandon Davies, and Pierre Oriola. This gives Barcelona the ability to disrupt opponents in the half-court. A lot of teams see the length of the players of FC Barcelona when they try to move the ball and find a way to score. Barcelona’s real opponents are good enough to move the ball and score, though. The lack of lateral quickness of Barcelona’s bigs has been the point of attack for the opposition.
Too Slow Too Reactive
The loss to the first-placed Anadolu Efes in Round 18 is an example. Barcelona, like the rest of the league, could not double-team Shane Larkin out of the pick-and-roll in the first half, seeing the speedster go by everyone and drive to the rim. Barcelona’s pick-and-roll coverage didn’t work against the fastest player in the league, and his teammates who are elite passers and shooters.
It has to be said, though, Barcelona bigs, especially in the second quarter, just left their assignment to double-team the ball-handler. Faulty close-out angles led to easy 4-on-3 plays and assists by Larkin and Rodrigue Beaubois.
Svetislav Pesic saw his side’s lack of quickness compared to Efes guards and found a solution in the second half. Barcelona chose to put less pressure on the ball-handler in pick-and-roll situations. Instead, the Blaugrana focused on not giving any lanes to drive, shifted towards a switch-happy approach and succeeded in it, especially with the help of Brandon Davies. Barcelona’s roster is flexible enough to react properly to a different defensive approach.
However, it must be said that the Barça defense might be a little too reactive at times. Take the Round 19 loss to Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv as an example. Maccabi exploited the slow feet of the Barça bigs through Jalen Reynolds’ slip screens. The Catalans resorted to that shift in defense we saw against Efes in the second half. Maccabi, as an answer, activated the corner shooters out of the pick-and-roll. This happened because of the overreaction of the defense to prevent layups or dunks under the hoop. While preventing easy buckets, Barcelona gave up crucial three-pointers by Tyler Dorsey and Angelo Caloiaro. The lack of communication on the switching and rotation, especially in the fourth quarter, cost Barcelona the game.
Offense is the Key
The reason why Pesic must head to a different path is the offense. For the level of talent this team boasts, the offense has been atrocious this season. Barcelona has scored 100.1 points per 100 possessions, according to Overbasket. It is the eighth-best offense in the competition. The injury-plagued Maccabi Tel Aviv, the struggling Fenerbahçe Beko, the lowly Valencia Basket, and the scarcely-talented Khimki Moscow have better offenses than Barcelona. None of the teams mentioned are close to FC Barcelona, talent-wise. This is unacceptable for a team aspiring to hold the trophy up in May.
The struggle of the offense shows itself in the half-court. It is possible for someone watching Barcelona play to see lots of contested, low-percentage shots being jacked up. To shed light on the reasons for this, one should focus on two things: set plays and screens. Svetislav Pesic has drawn up basic sets for his team. Less than the ideal number of cuts and screens often result in one of the stars shooting the ball off a one-on-one play with a defender in his shirt. In basketball, you have to move yourself and the ball. FC Barcelona, at times, does neither of these things.
Also, screens set for the ball-handlers and/or the cutters have been too few and unsuccessful. Screens often cannot make contact with the defenders, so they cannot free the offense up. It is frequently told that Zeljko Obradovic, the coach of Fenerbahçe Beko, teaches his bigs to set a screen at the right angle. The greatest coach of European basketball history knows how important it is to set successful screens to run an efficient offense. But Pesic’s team hasn’t improved at this area at all this season, and it hurts the offensive production.
No Wide-Open Shots
Per Advance Pro Basketball data, FC Barcelona is the team that shoots the second most contested (51.7) and the least uncontested (9.3) shots per game. This is a coaching problem. A team having Mirotic, Higgins, Davies, Malcolm Delaney, and Ante Tomic should find way more solutions than it currently does. In some possessions where Barcelona ended with a bucket, one of the players had to make an extremely tough shot. In this context, 2019-20 FC Barcelona resembles those Oklahoma City Thunder teams guided by Scott Brooks; all the player talent in the world, but all the coaching competency in the Wasteland. This shows itself during the timeouts. The players, especially the stars, seem unconvinced while Pesic draws up the next play and gives instructions to his players.
Briefly, 41 million euros are going to be squandered away if Pesic keeps taking charge of the best roster in the competition. Barcelona is a lengthy, athletic, physical team that can create mismatches and be clinical in the transitions. The roster, albeit above the competition, isn’t perfect, and only a coach who knows what to do can cover the weaknesses. Barcelona has done fine so far this season, but there seem to be serious doubts if they can make it in May. For a better future and more positive player reactions during timeouts, Svetislav Pesic must go.
- Stats are as of January 22, 2020.
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