Coach of the Season - a closer look
MIES (Switzerland) - Eight teams have survived the Play-Offs and all eyes now turn to the Final 8. With that, all eyes also turn to the end of season awards - in this case, the Coach of the Season. The previous winners of this award read as follows: Txus Vidorreta (Lenovo Tenerife), John Patrick (MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg), Roel Moors (Telenet Giants Antwerp), and most recently Oren Amiel (ERA Nymburk). Aside from possibly Txus Vidorreta in season one, the previous winners of this award have all been coaches of an underdog or overperforming squad that found a way to make it to the final tournament (often starting in the Qualifiers).
Ordinarily, we would pick the three strongest candidates to profile but the field is so strong this year we have a list of four coaches that will surely be front runners in the minds of many voters.
Txus Vidorreta - Lenovo Tenerife
Breaking from the trend we start with the original winner of the award and an absolute behemoth of BCL coaching. If Txus wasn't in the running for this award then we would be dangerously close to under-crediting excellence in favor of over-achievement. What would actually constitute over-achievement for a team with the recent success of Lenovo Tenerife?
Well, for a start they finished top of their group in the Regular Season, then topped that by finishing top of their group in the Round of 16. This year Txus became the first coach to pass 50 wins in the BCL and is now in the second season of this Tenerife cycle with a group of players improving with every game. They currently hold an Offensive Rating of 122.2 points per 100 possessions. Hapoel Jerusalem set the record last year with 120 in the Regular Season and finished the season on 118. In other words, Tenerife are on track to becoming the best offensive team ever in the BCL (This record seems to get broken every season).
If you ask anyone that knows their European basketball about Txus Vidorreta, they will tell you he is a master of the tactical side of the game. But it's more than just a common narrative. Have a look at the video below*. How do you find a new tweak to one of basketball's most well-known, late clock plays? (Brad Stevens' "Winner) You watch Txus Vidorreta and borrow from him, that's how you do it.
*As this is a coaching award we have attached the play diagrams to explain them. You can also download the plays to your Fastmodel account by clicking the link.
Zoran Lukic - Nizhny Novgorod
This is season number four of Zoran Lukic's second stretch at Nizhny Novgorod and this might be the team that clicked with him the most. Certainly, topping their group in the Round of 16 is a good indicator that this is the best Nizhny team for some time. We have grown to expect fearsome defensive effort from all of Lukic's Nizhny teams, so the Defensive Rating of 105.9 (6th in the BCL) is well within character. The difference this year is on the offensive end. This squad is a black and white blur when they are at full-flow - which is pretty much 38 minutes per game - the ball and player movement is bewildering. Check the play in the tweet below. Every cut and every pass is half a second ahead of the defensive rotations every time. Impossible to guard.
An Offensive Rating of 115.4 (5th in the BCL) is already impressive but Nizhny are also ranked in the top two for scoring from sideline out of bounds (1.14 PPP) and scoring from spot-up shooters (1.17 PPP). Scoring from the sideline is a clear implication of a positive coaching impact but so is player development. If we take the case of Artem Komolov, we can clearly see progressive improvements under the tutelage of Lukic. From 6.5 points per game in the Serbian coach's first season to 11.5 this year, and 39% from three to 49% this term. The play below is a perfect example of Lukic's ability to put his players in a position to maximise their skills.
Stefanos Dedas - Hapoel Unet-Credit Holon
We mentioned at the top of the article about previous winners of this award being over-achievers with underdog squads. Stefanos Dedas and Holon fit that bill perfectly. Like Vidorreta and Tenerife, Dedas steered this squad to the top of their group in the Regular Season and the Round of 16. This is no small feat when you consider that the likes of AEK and Pinar Karsiyaka were in those groups. Holon basketball is all about spacing and flow. You could say that about any good team but for Holon specifically, 5 Out spacing and drive and kick are the name of the game. When you have players like C.J. Harris it makes sense to give them the freedom to express themselves.
This Holon squad are also the best team at Final 8 (2nd in the CL) scoring from baseline out of bounds at 1.19 PPP. But then again, you probably already knew that (click play).
The other impressive thing about Holon's execution in that game-winner above was that they didn't have a timeout before to talk it through. Scoring efficiently out of timeouts surely reflects well on a coach but when players are connected enough to execute under their own steam, it speaks even more to the work being done in training. This is, in fact, something Holon have done all season. Watch the clip below from the final seconds of the half against Pinar Karsiyaka. At the start of the clip, all three Holon players are looking back at the bench as the subs come into the game. Whatever was said between them and the coach, everyone knew what to do with minimal communication required. The outcome was a wide-open three for C.J Harris in under 3.5 seconds. They also clearly knew what to expect from Pinar's press on defense.
Lassi Tuovi - SIG Strasbourg
At just 34, you could probably make an impressive starting five of players at the Final 8 that will be older than Lassi Tuovi. In fact, he will be the youngest coach to ever reach the final tournament at the BCL. Not by much though, Federico Perego was just three months older when he coached Bamberg in Antwerp for Final 4.
Strasbourg almost certainly travel to Final 8 as the underdog but Tuovi has them playing in all the right ways to give an underdog a chance. They are second-lowest amongst Final 8 teams for Turnover Percentage at 13.2% and they crash the glass better than any other team, pulling down 31.2% of their own misses. Every possession counts and this Strasbourg team is excellent at not giving them up cheaply and generating extra shots each time down the floor. Also, when you can keep games close and you have killers like Bonzie Colson and Brandon Jefferson, you always stand a chance. We spoke about Tenerife executing the "Winner" play that Brad Stevens used at Butler university but Strasbourg and Tuovi also had a tweak of their own this season and at an even more telling time in the game.
In the Round of 16, Strasbourg shocked everyone (probably including themselves) when they came back from an 0-3 record to qualify. In the final game against Turk Telekom, they went on big runs at the start of the 3rd and 4th Quarter to take the game away from the Turkish club. The two clips in the video below were the first two offenses of the 3rd Quarter. Strasbourg executed their young coach's instructions off the tactics board to perfection. These are the kind of sequences that build confidence and momentum going into a Final 8.
Also in the running...
Joan Penarroya - Hereda San Pablo Burgos
If this award was for coach of the calendar year, it would be a wrap already and Penarroya would be the clear winner. Make no mistake Burgos are still a strong favorite to retain their crown. It's almost taken for granted that this team is a beast but it was Penarroya that built the beast.
Frank Vitucci - Happy Casa Brindisi
This is Brindisi's best season in years, maybe ever. They are second in Serie A and had a wild run to BCL Round of 16. We wrote more about their season here.
Janis Gailitis - VEF Riga
VEF Riga started the season with one of the lowest budgets in the BCL and only one win in the previous season. The transition to making the Play-Offs and playing one of the most entertaining brands of basketball in the league has to go down as one of the best coaching jobs this year.
Oren Amiel - ERA Nymburk
It's easy to forget that reaching the Final 8 is still an incredible season for ERA Nymburk. This is a team that also topped their group in the Round of 16 and finished with the same record as Tofas in the Regular Season. You only have to look at the transformation of the likes of Retin Obasohan this season to understand the work Oren Amiel is doing in Nymburk.
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