08 October, 2019
04 October, 2020
Hereda San Pablo Burgos v AEK - a closer look
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Hereda San Pablo Burgos v AEK - a closer look

ATHENS (Greece) - And here we are, finally, everything comes down to this. The 2019/20 season has been a journey long enough to make David Livingstone proud. One of our finalists, Hereda San Pablo Burgos started their Basketball Champions League season on the 26th of September 2019, and now over twelve months later, after a season stacked with adventures, they find themselves one game away from having the perfect ending to the fairytale story of their season.

For AEK, this movie is more of a sequel, just a much longer one. Think Bladerunner but without the 35-year gap in between episodes. In fact, the final in 2018 was so recent that the feeling of Deja Vu has been a nagging presence in the back of everyone's mind all week. They may have a very different roster but much like that 2018 team, with every game this group of all-stars wins, the feeling of Thanos-like inevitability only increases.

On more than one occasion, people thought that we would never get to this point and a finish to the season was impossible. Credit has to go to both clubs for being here in Athens and, in fact, the entire league and the clubs that make it what it is. That we are even playing this Final is a testament to the attitude of relentless progress that has driven this competition for the last four years. The spirit of adventure rings true once again. 

"I am prepared to go anywhere, provided it be forward." - David Livingstone.

Hereda San Pablo Burgos

Burgos came into Athens as many people's underdog pick after a strong season. Even as far back as the Qualifying Rounds, they had already been picked as a Final 8 contender. Granted that prediction was only from one person but when that one person is Ainars Bagatskis, it's probably a good idea to listen.

"Burgos is not only a good team, it is a team that knows how to win. I think they can advance from the group and maybe make it through the Play-Offs into the Final Four - once you're there, it's a single game, so anything can happen," said Bagatskis.

That single game has arrived and again, Bagatskis is on the money, anything can happen. Burgos' first opponent in Athens was Hapoel Jerusalem. The Spaniards' rhythm on offense and intensity on defense was just way too much for Jerusalem. Burgos scored at a pace of 120 points per 100 possessions in the game and conceded just 84.8 per 100 (bare in mind anything below 100 is very good defense) - it was a truly dominant performance. Dejan Kravic's 18 points and  10 rebounds double-double only served to underline his status as the most dominant center at the Final 8.

If you look at the assist network above, you get a window into how and who created offense for Burgos against Jerusalem. As expected Renfroe and Cook did the bulk of the distribution, with Cook spraying his 7 assists to four different players. Renfroe's 6 assists had three different beneficiaries. Dejan Kravic being on the end of dimes from four players. Ten different players were responsible for Burgos's 25 assists, perfectly highlighting the way this team shares the ball.

In the Semi-Final JDA Dijon were the challengers. The French club put up a much sterner test but couldn't find a way to score against this mean Burgos defense. Burgos' only allowed Dijon to score at a pace of 98.3 points per 100 possession and scored at 118.9 themselves. 25 points for Vitor Benite on 10/16 shooting, including 5/7 from behind the arc, is one the very finest offensive displays in the four-year history of the BCL Play-Offs.

The assist network from the second game couldn't be more different from the Jerusalem game. When you see such a stark contrast in distribution like this it speaks to the tactical flexibility of Joan Penarroya and his team. Renfroe and Cook were again major links in the chain but the presence of Kravic with 6 assists to four different scorers tells you a great deal about the game plan. 

Watch the video below and see the way that Rabaseda waved Rivero out of the corner. This meant that the only players able to help on Kravic short-rolling to the free-throw line, were his man and Vitor Benite's, If you are forcing the defense to choose between a Kravic dunk, and leaving either Benite or Rabaseda open, your offense is going to be very productive. In this case, Julien left Rabaseda open and Kravic picked up his first assist of the game. 

If we take a look at Joan Penarroya's rotations over the two games, we can see a clear pattern. Renfro and Benite are the backcourt combination that starts the game and between them, they have a great balance of passing and finishing.  Renfroe is the more defensively focused player and Benite the offensive firepower. Xavi Rabaseda has started both games on the wing with the Rivero and Kravic frontcourt pairing. We can also clearly see a second unit coming into the game from the end of the first quarter. Cook and McFadden operate in much the same way as Benite and Renfroe. Cook for defense and distribution and McFadden doing McFadden things. Alex Barreiro is the second unit wing, with Horton and Sakho as the frontcourt. When you consider that Horton had 18 points off the bench against Dijon, you really get a feeling for the depth this team has.

The last thing to notice about this clearly structured rotation from Penarroya is that nobody has averaged over 25 minutes across the two games. They have been able to blow teams away and get outstanding individual production, without burning anybody out. 


AEK and Ilias Papatheodorou had a strong Regular Season. After splitting their games with the group's strongest teams, Hapoel Jerusalem and San Pablo Burgos, they reached the Play-Offs comfortably. They then cruised through the Round of 16 against Telekom Baskets Bonn. Kieth Langford was outstanding offensively in both games and perhaps surprisingly Marcus Slaughter stepped up with 17 points in the second game. The late-season addition of Nikos Zisis also has to be mentioned as a major turning point in their season. After Howard Sant-Roos left the club there were concerns about how to replace him. Instead of replacing him, Zisis impacted the culture of the team and made everyone else better, at times acting as a second coach on the floor.

AEK then spent the summer recruiting aggressively. Joining MVP Keith Langford was...MVP Tyrese Rice. With him, also Matt Lojeski, Yannick Moreira, Dimitrios Katsevelis, and Darion Atkins. The group of Zisis, Rice, Langford, Lojeski, and Maciulis has to be one of the most fearsome collections of winners ever assembled in one European team. Yannick Moreira is also a reigning BCL champion himself, as are Mavroeidis and Moraitis. This is a roster constructed to do one thing. 

The Quarter-Finals against Nymburk saw AEK come back from a slow first quarter and manage the game perfectly. An offensive Rating of 124 points per 100 possessions in the game saw AEK score 94 points and send out a message to everyone at Final 8; this team is deadly serious. Langford's 18 points were very much in keeping with his season to date. 

If we look at the assist network, we instantly see that for all of AEK's individual brilliance they also generated 58 of their 94 points from assists and those 25 assists were distributed by eleven different players. Rice, Zisis, and Gkikas were responsible for 5 assists each. Moreira and Lojeski clearly operating as the finishers receiving assists from four different players.

Before the Quarter-Final Nikos Zisis had said in the press conference that AEK would prefer Tenerife because they were concerned that Zaragoza were younger, more athletic, and likely outrun them. The truth couldn't have been more different. It would be difficult to argue that there has been a more dominant Semi-Final performance in any of the previous Final 4 events. AEK's offense powered through Zaragoza at a pace of 133 points per 100 possession. The two-headed monster of Rice and Langford scored 18 points each.

This time Nikos Gkikas was the creator in chief. Amongst all the noise of AEK's superstar team, Gkikas has been genuinely excellent within his role on this team. He has hit shots when they are there to take, made plays on the defensive end, and kept the ball circulating. True to the first game, Lojeski and Moreira were the main recipients. They finished off dimes from three different players each. Lojeski's 11 points in six minutes were ruthlessly efficient and came from plays like the "Veer" screen in the video below. Watch Nikos Zisis doing what he does best and orchestrating Lojeski to be where he needs him for the action. Zisis knew that Lojeski was red-hot and also knew exactly what to expect from Zaragoza's defense before the play happened.

If we look at Ilias Papatheodorou's rotations we instantly see a much deeper rotation. Langford and Gkikas are clearly the starters at the guard spots, with Rice and Zisis just about the most skilled and experienced second-unit, guard rotation you could hope to see. What we also see is that the rotation is eleven players deep (twelve if you include the fact that Papatheodorou was able to get Atkins some minutes to build a rhythm at the end of the Semi-Final). This deeper rotation has meant nobody has played over 23 minutes across the two games. Scary stuff when you consider that Lanford et al, will be coming into the Final fresh and rested.



Diccon Lloyd-Smeath

Diccon Lloyd-Smeath

Diccon is a basketball coach and analyst living in Madrid. Constantly digging in the crates of box scores and clicking through hours of game footage. Diccon is on the hunt for the stories within the stories. If you like to get a closer look at what’s going in the Basketball Champions League, you have found it.