19 September, 2017
06 May, 2018
the team celebrating their qualification for the final four
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Intangibles - a closer look at AEK

MIES, Switzerland (Basketball Champions League) – If you read enough basketball articles and talk to enough basketball fanatics, you will no doubt hear terms like 'intangibles' and 'feel for the game' or even 'high-character' and 'competitor'. You will more often than not hear these terms used to describe a player, rather than an entire team - but what do they mean?

Dimitris Moraitis enjoys the big moments

There isn't really a glossary or index of definitions. Different people,  mean slightly different things and say them in different contexts. Regardless of the minutiae, this AEK team is full of players with all of the above. As a result, they have now become a team, with an identity shaped by these terms.

Welcome to the #BasketballCL #FinalFour @AEKbc!

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This team is high-character, with players that stick to who they are in the toughest of situations. They compete and drag the best out each other, when other teams would have already been defeated. They also play with a collective feel for the game. It's not just the black and yellow kit that is reminiscent of a swarm of killer bees. This entire AEK team plays with a hive-mind. They adapt their tempo and rhythm to suit the moment in the game and the personnel they have on the floor. On every possession they seem to have a collective IQ and understanding of which match-up they want to attack or what shot they should take.

We all know the story this team is intent on writing - 50 years after being the first Greek winners of a European competition, AEK are at home and gunning for glory again. It wasn't a clear path to get to the Final Four but if you take a closer look at the way they have played to reach this point, you get the picture of a team coming into the Final Four, like boulder rolling down hill, clearing out obstacles as it goes.


AEK are an offensive team. They are a capable team defensively and understand when and how to adapt their defense but it's offense that has got them to this point. This is a fact borne out in the stats and the video. An Offensive Rating of 112.6 points per 100 possessions is top ten for the season and during the Play-Offs, that number is up to 116 per 100! On the defensive end they give up 108.8 per 100 which is below league average. They shoot the ball at an eFG%* of 51.6%. This is isn't setting the league on fire but ranks them behind only AS Monaco, for the teams left in the Final Four. As we will see later in the video, AEK are as much a 1v1 oriented team, as they are a ball movement team. An Assist % of 55% tells you that just over half of their buckets, come from a pass - a stat that ranks them in the bottom five of the #BasketballCL. The two areas that AEK stand out most statistically, are bench production and Free Throws (FT). 33.7 PPG from the bench gives them the best bench in the Final Four and they take and make more FT's than any team in the competition. 

When it comes to getting to the FT line, Mike Green and Manny Harris carry most of the load. Mike Green is excellent at using his frame to absorb contact and understanding game situations. When you watch film of his trips to the line, the majority are fouls drawn when teams are in the penalty. Manny Harris is possibly the best player in the #BasketballCL at creating +1 situations. A combination of long, first steps and agility at speed, enable him to get past a defender's shoulder and change direction. Jumping off one foot or two, Harris is so slippery on the drive, it's almost impossible for the defender to avoid contact and he does it so consistently, it makes it very difficult for officials to miss. 

The AEK bench was already deep but when you consider that they added Kevin Punter - who was the Regular Season's top scorer - before the Play-Offs, they now have the ability to rest Harris and have a player with a very similar skill set on the floor at all times. Their captain Dusan Sakota has come off the bench all season as well, scoring 13.6 PPG and dominating fourth quarters. 


If you watch most teams in the #BasketballCL, you see the trend of teams trying to flow as quickly as possible, from early offense to their half court actions. The aim is to attack the defense before it sets. From there it's about pick-and-roll, ball movement and off-ball player movement. The aim being to keep the defense moving and scramble it further into rotations. It's not that AEK don't or can't play this way, it's that they are equally dangerous slowing the pace and picking on specific 1v1 match-ups. If you watch this clip vs SIG Strasbourg, AEK clearly wanted the pace to slow at the start of the game. A fast start would have allowed SIG's athletic starting unit, to settle into a rhythm. Watch AEK attack in early offense and then instead of flowing into the half-court, you see Larentzakis and then Mike Green, both call out for 'Fist' (ball screen). Green eventually pulls the ball all the way out to the pro spot and takes all the pace out of the game, before Hunter arrives to set the screen. Manny Harris has the speed advantage vs Labeyrie so lifts and then cuts back-door. This is excellent game-planning by Coach Sakota and intelligent execution from Mike Green.

Now contrast this to another early offense situation, at the start of the second quarter. This time AEK have a more stretchy line up on the floor and want to extend their lead quickly. Harris and Punter are out there together. The ball flows and they are attacking a scrambled defense. Guarding both Harris and Punter in this situation is extremely difficult. 

In the half court, it's more of same when it comes to style of play. You will see AEK flow through options in their sets or just as easily identify a match-up and go 1v1. It may not always be nice on the eye but AEK have players in every position that can get past their man. 

Delroy James is excellent case in point. Starting as a PF, James is a tough match up. He will hit from range on stand-still jumpers but off the dribble, James is at his most dangerous. Whether he's going going to the basket or kicking out to shooters, to be that strong and that skilled is a tough cover.

Just to re-affirm the point, watch Manny Harris in the sequence below. Harris may be the best Isolation player in the #BasketballCL! In transition or against a switch, he can create his own shot with ease and even against a like-for-like match-up, his first step is very hard-to-guard. 

Again, contrast this with AEK in the same game but with Punter as the lone isolation player in the line-up - now you see AEK run a set with a zipper cut to enter and then flow through all the options of their offense. SIG play excellent defense and the search for a defensive mistake doesn't yield - but when you have competitors like Vasilopoulos in your squad it makes a world of difference. 

In every half-court set that AEK run, the the common denominator is the way they use the pick-and-roll. They have a great combination of guys that roll to the rim like Vince Hunter and players - like the captain Sakota and Delroy James - that want to pop and shoot. Vince Hunter is often the unsung hero in the squad. You would struggle to watch a better roll-man. Watch how he uses his speed advantage to create separation from the screening action. Hunter rarely makes extended contact on his screens - his goal is to separate and find the angle to sprint towards the rim, before his defender can get in position to disrupt the ball-handler.


AEK may not be an outstanding team defensively but what they do very well, is turn defense into offense. Coach Sakota has this team organized defensively and they know the places to look for advantages. They force 10.4% of their opponent's possessions into steals and have an excellent feel for each other in transition. This next clip is a classic example of the feel for the game that permeates this squad. James recognises the threat on defense and rotates early to block the shot. Then gets out and sprints the floor. You see James and Sakota run the same lane but James is a step ahead and cuts to the rim, taking Sakota's man with him. The outcome is Dusan Sakota shooting a wide open transition three, in the fourth quarter..... You know already how that story ends. 

In this clip again, you see AEK smelling blood in the water on defense. SIG need to score. The Greeks play disciplined, focused defense - they are drop covering the pick-and-roll and switching where needed. The intention is to stay in front and give up nothing in the paint. SIG lose patience and force a pass into the post, thinking Labeyrie has a mismatch. Xanthopoulos reads the pass and gets the steal. You don't even need to watch the video to guess what happens next.

Xanthopoulos - by the way - is still on track to record a 50-40-90 season.

Up Next 

UCAM Murcia. Two teams that few predicted to make the Final Four and two sets of fans that never had any doubt. Make no mistake, it will be loud, very, very loud in the OAKA for this game. The atmosphere on it's own, will expose any doubts or weaknesses. In many ways UCAM Murcia are cut from a very similar cloth. High-character, experienced veteran players with high IQ's and a burning desire to compete. For every Vasilopoulos, there is a Sadiel Rojas and for every Delroy James, there is an Ovie Soko. There are so many questions that could decide this one, i.e., who can stop Manny Harris? How do AEK handle Augusto Lima on the glass? and will it be Dusan Sakota in the fourth quarter or Brad Oleson in the first quarter?

We don't yet know the answers to those questions but it will be one hell of a ride finding out.