The Pass Masters
LONDON (England) - Playing against Iberostar Tenerife must feel like death by a thousand cuts. In the 2016/17 season, Tenerife passed the league into submission and in 2018 they are already doing it again. The pass masters are absolutely rolling at the start of this season. Txus' men moved to 4-0 this week, after a hard-fought win in Venice. They are making winning a routine, and there is something eerily familiar about the way they are doing it.
The Canarian's lead the league in eFG%* at 61% and are joint top in FG% overall at 51%. They also lead the league in Assist%* at 75.4%. To translate this for those of the less nerdy inclination, 75% of Tenerife's made FG's come from an assist and they are creating assists for very high-percentage shots. For reference purposes, the last time Txus Vidorreta was in charge, Tenerife had an Assist% of 74% and they were the first ever winners of the Basketball Champions League.
📊 Stat of the Week: 47.6% - @FerranBassas dished an assist to one of his teammates in 47.6% of his possessions against Fribourg Olympic!— Basketball Champions League (@BasketballCL) October 26, 2018
Here’s a look at who he has been handing them to in the first 3 games of the #BasketballCL season! pic.twitter.com/YvBQWezwCQ
If you have been following the excellent "Stat of the week" series on our twitter feed, Tenerife's ball movement (Ferran Bassas specifically) might not be news to you. The man behind those tweets is Sebastian Komianos from @basketistics. We asked Seb to help us take a deeper look at the numbers and try to uncover more about how and where Tenerife create their assists.
The first place to look for insight is the Assist Networks of Tenerife's top five assisters. The image below shows you how many assists each of Tenerife's most prolific passers have thrown, and also to which playing position they have dished them out to most. To interpret this visual you need to understand that the bigger the ball is, equals the more assists thrown or received. The numbers in white are the total number of assists by that player and the numbers in dark blue along the arrow lines, are the number of assists to the corresponding playing position.
(Basketistics Assist Network 1)
So, for example, Ferran Bassas has dished out 24 assists in total and 13 of his assists have been to Tenerife's Centers. What you can also see as a pattern, is the Center position is the primary benefactor of all five of Tenerife's best passers.
(Basketistics Assist Network 2)
A dive into the video doesn't take long to uncover an explanation for where so many of Tenerife's assists to the Center position come from. Tenerife are the masters of the "Spread Pick-and-Roll" - three shooters spaced perfectly around a playmaker and a roll-man. The spacing is the key. The shooters are always placed far enough apart to create an impossible decision for their defenders. If they don't help on the roller it's an easy 2 points. If they do help, they are forced to make a 5-meter closeout to a 40% 3-point attempt.
Tim Abromaitis has received more assists than any other Tenerife player (13). He's not a Center, but the way Tenerife leverage their ability to hit the roller is the exact reason he's the recipient of so many catch and shoot opportunities. The other point to notice is that Tenerife spaces the floor up, as well as out. Niang and Saiz are both excellent lob catchers and the fact that Tenerife can throw the lob, means that the help needs to be in-position earlier to deter the pass. Again, serving to create longer closeouts and more open shots.
It's not just about standing still on the perimeter either. Tenerife's shooters are the masters of moving off the ball to blur the lines of who should be helping on the roll. Watch the two clips below, first Brussino cuts along the baseline, and then in the second clip, San Miguel slides around the horn as the pick-and-roll is happening. On both occasions, by the time their man realizes somebody needs to help on the roller, the indecision is already fatal.
Two of Tenerife's top five assisters are listed as Forwards (Beiran and Abromaitis) and there is certainly a pattern there. In truth, Tenerife plays with three positions; Guard, Wing, and Center. Their forwards are all able to play anywhere on the wing and have the versatility to hurt opponents in multiple ways. This versatility is a huge part of the way Tenerife play. The map below shows you the position of every assisted Field Goal by Tenerife this season. You can also see the position of every shot that came from an assist by one of Tenerife's Forwards.
(Basketistics Assist Map 1)
The most interesting pattern to observe here is the complete lack of assisted 3-point attempts on the left wing. We can see assisted shots in both corners but only the right wing has a population of assisted shots. The pattern is consistent when you isolate the shots assisted by Forwards.
(Basketistics Assist Map 2)
Let's go back into the film to explain the pattern:
With most of their lineups only having one guard and the remaining wing positions all filled with players around 2m (6'7"-6'8") tall, Tenerife can usually find a wing with a height advantage. They are very adept at finding the right matchup and making plays from the left block. The clips below show Tenerife find a matchup in the post, draw a double team and make Forward to Center assists (as is our theme). But the natural passing angle for a right-hander on the left block, is cross-court to the right wing - watch Tenerife play and you will also regularly see them kick out from the post to shooters on the weak side.
It is also important to make the point that we have only played 4 games. The sample size for this data is still small, and this pattern of shot distribution on one side of the floor, is unlikely to be as dominant as the season progresses - it is, however, almost certainly something to revisit in a few months time. Especially if Tenerife's forwards continue to be such effective playmakers.
Of course, we should also say that we haven't covered every way that Tenerife go about creating high-percentage shots. Another thing to look out for is the juxtaposition that is the Canarian's extreme efficiency in transition, but at the same time, the league's lowest Pace* (66 possessions per 40 mins).
Hopefully, what we have done is highlight what makes Txus Vidorreta's Iberostar Tenerife so unique and such a special team to watch. The last time Tenerife were this good at finding each other for easy shots, they were the champions. It's too early to call them favorites yet, but if their play has shown us anything in the first four weeks of the season, it's that they are looking like a very real contender again.
*eFG% (Effective Field Goal Percentage) = A measurement of efficiency as a shooter in all field goal attempts with three-point attempts weighted fairly.
*Assist % = The total percentage of a team's made field goals that came from an assist. An assist being a shot taken after one dribble or less.
*Pace = A team's Possessions per 40 minutes. In this case, a possession only ends as a result of a made FG, turnover or a defensive rebound.
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