The playoffs in the Italian 2nd division have been hot and passionate per usual. After attending four games, two in the quarters and two in the semi’s, here are some observations about the different ways to go about building the team with the two import players. Of course budget, the positions you have strong Italians on, fit with coach and team culture play a huge role in these decisions. And in the end, all these teams reached certain levels of success, I saw them all playing in at least round two of the Playoffs. But because it’s our specialty, I will focus on the imports.
Traditional: Guard + Big
Michael Umeh – Kenny Lawson Jr. (Virtus Bologna)
In one of if not the biggest budget in A2, Virtus has used the traditional import model to push thru to the Finals. They’re also helped by a group of Italian veterans with A1 experience. If you have the money in Lega and want to move up, sign veterans. Umeh in his 10th European season plays on and off ball for Virtus, mainly used to score in bunches when the team needs a lift. Lawson Jr. (6th season) is a stretch 4/5, making shots with ease from the mid-range and out to three. He’ll pick and pop you to death and proved to be a problem for Taylor Smith having to constantly worry about closing out on him. Both players have experience in the league recently too. It’s not the sexiest pairing and there are questions about their transitions to higher leagues and having to really get after it on both ends of the floor but for this level, this traditional pairing works. And for me, I prefer to go traditional in Legadue.
Derrick Marks – Taylor Smith (Ravenna)
Even though Ravenna got swept in the semi’s by Virtus, they were the ones doing the sweeping a round earlier with Verona. And making the semi’s is close to a dream season for a small club on the Adriatic coast. Being able to watch games in both of those Ravenna series gave good perspective, even though they had to play both ‘home’ games in Faenza and Forli.
While I’m calling this a traditional Lega pairing, Marks is not a traditional Lega guard. He has experience with Tortona last season but Marks is really a 2/3 who’s playmaking responsibility comes and goes. His role is to shoot, move the ball, and potentially find a strength mismatch he can overpower. But really the Italian guards are organizing the offensive scene. To grow, Marks will need to continue to progress as an on-ball playmaker.
Smith finished his 2nd season with Ravenna which is huge from a continuity perspective. It’s rare for a smaller team at this level to be able to bring back a good player. At near 6’7″ with a 7’1″ wingspan, Smith’s greatest strength is his powerful and explosive vertical ability around the rim. He led the league in blocks for the 2nd season in a row (while also being top 10 in steals). Smith uses that burst he has to get his hands on a lot of balls on defense. His offensive game is built on quick rips and spins that lead to rim tear downs whenever he can get open space. But his scoring ability is still developing and looks raw at times. This is not a perfect duo but a model, especially for smaller clubs, to follow.
In the tweet picture below you can see Smith switching out onto Frazier on the perimeter. Later in the game Frazier got a step on him after a ball screen switch but Smith tracked him down for a block from behind off the backboard.
Legadue Road Trip part #1 pic.twitter.com/AgiZEefvRm
— Sam Meyerkopf (@HoopLikeDrazen) May 14, 2017
New Age: Double Playmakers
Glenn Cosey – Phil Greene (Tortona)
When you don’t have a lot of money and you need to make sure your team has enough playmaking and punch to stick with the bigger budgets, some teams go all in on guards. Cosey and Greene are two different flavors even though both can play in a ball screen offense and attack off the dribble. Cosey is the true PG, running the offense, patient on pick and rolls, and still has the ability to breakdown the defense especially late in the shot clock when execution has stalled. Greene is more of a freelance bucket-getter. Loves his off the dribble pull-up jumper. He doesn’t always play within the flow of the offense but can create shots out of nothing and keeps his defender off-balance. Of course the negative here is such a reliance on an Italian frontcourt and lacking an inside presence to really provide toughness and physicality. When another team is rolling, it can be tough to slow them down.
Dawan Robinson – Michael Frazier (Verona)
Verona is another team with a fairly rich budget for A2 and started the season in the guard-guard model but with another European rookie, Kareem Canty (cut in pre-season), in the Robinson spot. And while the idea of having two import guards is to really put pressure on the opposing defense with creativity and dribble penetration, neither Robinson (age) or Frazier (more of a spot-up shooter) provided a lot of this. But I will have to give Frazier credit as his handle and ability to play the pick and roll improved, even if he was mainly looking to get into his jump shot. He can really, really shoot and when given space will let it fly. But possibly the fit in a first division with greater import spots is better for him than the demanding responsibility of constant creation in a two import league.
Versatile: Combo Wing + Combo Big
Javonte Green – Jordan Parks (Trieste)
The extremely athletic duo are both in their 2nd seasons in Europe with Parks spending both in Trieste. Green roams the wing as a 3/2 while Parks versatility has him pegged as a 4/5 but really he touches all spaces of the court. Also was able to see Trieste twice. Green is pure power. His jump shot was going early in each game and this really empowers the rest of what he does. And a lot of what he does is posting up smaller players and being bullet in transition looking to hammer dunk on someone.
Parks is the rangier, more agile one who even though his true position is at the 4, was often playing many of his minutes at the 5. Like Green, his leaping ability is breathtaking. But right now his greatest strength is all his work on defense. He’s defending 5’s in the post, switching onto guards like a hawk, rising up the highest for defensive rebounds, and flying in to challenge drivers at the rim. He’s just plain working his butt off.
And with Green and Parks are both playing in the frontcourt, what allows Trieste to have two imports at these spots is that both are attackers and can play with the ball as face-up players at different spots on the floor. And really, it’s a tantalizing fast break team, both guys can grab and go. But in the end, often it’s the ability to defend your position that moves you to the next level as a player, pure buckets keep you in Legadue.
Here’s a warm-up dunk from Green.
And Parks working on his evolving 3-point shot.
Alex Legion – Justin Knox (Fortitudo Bologna)
In Bologna this season both teams went with veterans and it worked. Fortitudo, the poorer but slightly more passionate club, went with 1989 born players. Knox, the mid-range shooting combo big and Legion (who came over from Viola in January) the scoring wing. Neither one stands out a lot but they both do their jobs, know their roles, and play fairly efficiently. Legion attacks from the wing, pushing the pace when he had the chance and rarely getting too out of control. Knox plays simple pick and pop basketball while gobbling up defensive rebounds. And both of them most importantly, can handle the pressure of playing for Fortitudo and in the PalaDozza.
— Sam Meyerkopf (@HoopLikeDrazen) June 3, 2017