Confounders - a closer look at Happy Casa Brindisi
BRINDISI (Italy) - Before this week's gut-wrenching loss on the buzzer to Holon, Brindisi had been on an impressive run of confounding the doubters that predicted tough times after D'Angelo Harrison's injury. Since their talisman went down, Brindisi went on a run of form that saw jump up to #6 in our Power Rankings, collecting wins against the likes of Virtus Bologna, Pinar Karsiyaka, and Tofas along the way. The confounding didn't start there, though. Coach Vitucci's squad are second in the Italian Serie A and had already seen off Turkish giants Darussafaka and Oostende to make the Play-Offs for the first time in the Basketball Champions League.
Injured but still contributing. D'Angelo Harrison hopes to be back for the Final 8 if Brindisi can qualify.
Stats and The Story So Far...
The first BCL season for Happy Casa Brindisi provided very few signals to the success they are enjoying this year. In 2019/20 Brindisi finished eighth out of eight in Group D. This year they sent a message from the very first game of the season. A statement win over Darussafaka thanks to 20 points from Riccardo Visconti, 18 from Darius Thompson, and 8 assists from D'Angelo Harrison let everyone know this was a very different team from the previous year. They went on to back up that win by completing the double over Dacka in Istanbul, and also taking both games against Oostende. In fact, Hereda San Pablo Burgos were the only team to beat them in the Regular Season.
The Play-Offs, as you would expect, took the level of challenge from "Regular" to "Specialist" (that's a Call of Duty reference for those of you not so inclined) and what made the tests even tougher was the impact on the squad's health levels caused by the aforementioned injury to star man D'Angelo Harrison and the void of 19 points and 4 assists. Filling that void has been placed on the shoulders of Josh Bostic. It seems Mr Boombostic is more than just (an excellent) Twitter handle as the 6'5" (1.96m) forward has managed to galvanise and refocus Coach Vitucci's offense, with two games scoring 20+ in wins against Pinar Karsiyaka and Tofas. Those two wins could yet prove to be vital as Brinisi head into the deciding final week needing to defend a 4 point head-to-head against the squad from Izmir.
The data viz below plots Brindisi's season through the lens of the Four Factors (and Pace) on a game by game basis. You have four tabs to explore; Offensive and Defensive Ratings, Shooting, Offensive Rebound and Turnover Percentages, and Pace. Each tab has filters for the result and location of games enabling you to look at wins vs losses and home vs road games.
The first tab that faces you looking at the viz is Pace. What we can instantly see is that the Play-Offs have seen a noticeable uptick in Pace for Brindisi. Marked prominently by the first loss to Holon where it seems the Israeli squad found a way to hurry and rush the Italians with their uptempo, drive and kick offense. If you scan along the moving average line, you can see that Brindisi had been playing at 74 possessions per game until that point and the Holon game was an 80 possession game.
Interestingly, an increase in Pace perhaps shouldn't have been negative for Brindisi. They have actually won four of the six games they have played with more possessions than their average of 74 possessions per game. Another game that contradicts their season averages is the win against Tofas on Play-Offs Gameday 3. This game saw Brindisi record their best Defensive Rating of the season, conceding just 93.5 points per 100 possessions. They also scored at 118 points per possession to record their most efficient game of the season.
Brindisi have been excellent at getting to the line all season and currently rank second in the BCL with a Free Throw Ratio of 0.29 (29%), meaning for every ten FGA's three of them are trips to the charity stripe. However, the Tofas win again confounded the average as they got to the line at a rate of just 0.15 (15%) - their lowest of the season in what was easily their best performance of the season statistically. Perhaps worryingly for Brindisi that game also highlights a trend of gradually getting to the line less frequently as the season has progressed, particularly at home. This will almost certainly be a byproduct of losing Harrison, a player that leads the league in made FT's per game at 6.7 and is unbelievably still 100% from the line with 40/40!
The final factor that may end up decisive in terms of Brindisi successfully finding a route to the Final 8 in May is Turnover Percentage. Coming back to that Tofas game on Play-Offs Gameday 3, Brindisi recorded a turnover on just 11% of their possessions, their best percentage of the season. That's nine percentage points better than their last win against Pinar Karsiyaka and eight better than the recent loss to Holon. Looking after the ball and getting to the line could be the deciding factors if Brindisi are to continue this European adventure.
X's and O's
The players are given a good amount of license and freedom to express themselves within Vitucci's system. We see a high volume of possessions where they will push the ball down the floor and just make reads to play out of a structure. This makes them hard to predict and instead of looking at set plays, understanding the way Brindisi plays is more about looking at tendencies. This team generates a lot of offense from spot-up shooters at 1.01 points per play (per Synergy). Not entirely from actually shooting but also from attacking the closeout and using the advantage to create the best shot. Spacing is possibly the major component of any offence but especially for Brindisi.
The play below is a great example. Brindisi started out in a "Horns" alignment and often this action would be a "Shuffle" screen for #35 Willis, to post up but in this clip, he opted to set the ball screen instead. At the same time, Brindisi were setting a staggered screen on the weak side of the floor. The staggered screen didn't create the shot itself but did enable Brindisi to play out of the advantage and end up with a wide-open, drive-and-kick three.
Here is the same action again but with a different read on the Shuffle screen as #6 Zanelli, used the screen and cut all the way through to the weak side corner. The result is Brindisi in a 5-Out alignment and they just keep playing until they have a matchup to attack.
Watching the clips below we can clearly see how important the low post is for offensive playmaking. Brindisi isn't an efficient team scoring directly from the post but they are absolutely one of the best inside-out teams in the BCL. The perimeter players are all efficient shooters, as is Willis at the Forward spot. Nick Perkins is usually the pivot in the low block but even he's not averse to stepping out and knocking down a shot.
A total of seven players have averaged over twenty minutes per game this season; Darius Thompson, Nick Perkins, James Bell, Raphael Gaspardo, Derek Willis, D'Angelo Harrison, and Josh Bostic. Of course, the minutes will need to be re-organized when Harrison returns but there is already another four players playing more than fourteen minutes; Alessandro Zanelli, Ousman Krubally, Riccardo Visconti, and Mattia Udom. This roster is has been expertly rotated by Frank Vitucci and is well-positioned for any one of ten players to play big minutes should they be called on.
Until his injury, Harrison was the undisputed front-runner for the MVP award this season. If Brindisi can get to the Final 8 and the Alaska native can get healthy, there is absolutely still time for him to claim the award. We have already mentioned the box score averages but Harrison is also a major reason that Brindisi are among the best teams in the BCL scoring in transition and in the pick-and-roll. 1v1 Harrison is undoubtedly one of, if not the toughest cover in the BCL and his average of 1.3 steals also tells you he's far from a one-way player.
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The signing of 33-year-old Josh Bostic could hardly have gone any better for Brindisi. Bostic has the versatility to score in multiple different ways and has even expanded the ways that Brindisi can be a threat offensively. If Coach Vitucci needs him to take advantage of a matchup in the post, he can be a matchup headache down low. But he's equally comfortable knocking down shots from outside or putting it on the deck and attacking the cup. If Brindisi gets to the Final 8, Bostic will have been a major part of that and if you add in the idea of him playing with Harrison instead of replacing him, Brindisi could be a very real threat to winning the whole thing.
Darius Thompson almost single-handedly kept Brindisi in the game against Holon. 23 points, including 8 points in the last three minutes of the fourth quarter were part of a mammoth effort by the 6'4" (1.93m) American. His season averages are equally impressive; 12.5 points and 5.4 rebounds on shooting splits of 50.5% shooting overall and 44% from deep.
Although those three players have been Brindisi's brightest stars, it would be almost criminal to write a feature about this team confounding critics and not mention Ousman Krubally. Whilst the 6'8" (2.02m) center is known for his defensive and rim-running ability, it would be amiss not to mention the skill development in his game since he first arrived in the BCL with PAOK. It's worth bearing in mind that Krubally started his professional career with Essex Leopards in the second tier of British basketball. To go from playing at that level to doing this (see clip below) to established Croatian National Team stars like Tomislav Zubcic, has to make Krubally the confounder in chief in this squad.
Do or die, it's as simple as that. On Tuesday the 6th April Brindisi head to Izmir Turkey to face Pinar Karsiyaka. They have a 4 point head to head-to-head advantage, but in an environment as pressured as this, they will need to play the game with the mentality of nothing less than a win will do. Izmir is no easy place to travel to either. It's almost a shock to see a team as stacked as this Pinar Karsiyaka squad in such a precarious position. Let's not forget this team has two former BCL Champs in Tony Taylor and Amath M'Baye. These guys know how to win huge games in this competition and they will go into this game expecting to get the job done.
For Brindisi it could come down to controlling turnovers and finding a way to get to the line more often, or it could just come down to composure in those clutch moments. Both these clubs have been on the wrong end of late drama against Holon recently and we'd be foolish to expect anything other than tension and drama in this one.