Kyle Wiltjer is the bridge between Tenerife and the BCL trophy
The growth of the Basketball Champions League saw a rise in media coverage in all of Europe. This week, we hand the floor over to Kemal Rutkay Ozcan from TrendBasket, who will explain why Tenerife are hot favorites to win the competition this season.
ISTANBUL (Turkey) - Lenovo Tenerife is assuredly Europe's most lauded team. If you read about them on the Internet or watch them regularly, you’ll be surprised how this team ever loses a Basketball Champions League game. That's more or less the case at home, but Canarians have only won one title in six years. They couldn't go beyond the Quarter-Finals in the last two seasons. Two aspects come forward when taking a contemplating look at this situation.
The first aspect is the lack of athleticism, which also hurt them last season. No part of the rotation is under 25 years old, and the profiles of the players are of the kind that plays under the rim. Main pieces like Shermadini, Huertas, Fitipaldo, Doornekamp have problems against aggressive, stubborn, physical opponents. And this is what Strasbourg put them through in the 2021 BCL Final 8.
The second aspect is missing an off-system player. Tenerife had long lacked a player who they could just give the ball and let him do his thing, at the point where pick-and-rolls and those sets that circulate on Twitter and YouTube do not work. A substantial need in Europe, where winning the championship is eventually about winning that one game.
Sasu Salin has always been Tenerife's distinctive player in these two regards. He's not a high jumper but unbelievably quick, explosive, and intelligent like everybody on the roster. Plus, making him run through approximately 68 screens to watch him take a wide-open three-pointer in close games is an ever-present option. The best shooter in the tournament has been reflecting his identity this season, too, and he's having a crazy good season.
He scored 24 points in one quarter in the first game of the season against a tough team like Prometey. He won the first game of the Karsiyaka series with a set associated with his name. In the second game of the series, he signed, sealed, and delivered with 6 threes, although they eventually lost. He most recently finished the Top 16 phase with 3.9 threes per game and 46% of accuracy from beyond the arc.
HOWEVER, if you ask me why a team has gone through disappointments over the last two years, albeit having so many intelligent players, a strong foundation, a good coach, and a hooper in Salin who, on his good day, makes Klay Thompson turn on the TV, the answer is hidden in standard deviation. Per Viziball data, Sasu Salin has, by far, the highest standard deviation in performance on the Tenerife roster. He's fourth in the BCL in this area. Not knowing when his inconsistent machine gun will misfire must've given Txus Vidorreta sleepless nights.
Despite all this, Tenerife has activated the Champ Mode since the play-in series against Karsiyaka. Or in other words, since the start of 2022. Over the last nine games, Tenerife has lost only once, only in Izmir. They have beaten their Top 16 opponents by 14.5 points per game. Kyle Wiltjer creates the difference with Canarians' overall increase in performance and mood, just like a lady glowing and radiating when she's happy and in peace. It took me 500+ words to get to the main point. You can go back and read the first sentence.
We don't need to explain for ages what kind of player Kyle Wiltjer is, who played in front of our eyes just last year at Türk Telekom, has EuroLeague experience, and was a part of Kentucky's legendary championship roster in 2012. Instead, I can talk about his impact on Tenerife.
First of all, I can say that the picture we foresaw on July 13, the day his signing was announced, has come to life. The void Tenerife had at the 4 is now filled. The shooter and scorer side of Wiltjer would provide contributions that Tyler Cavanaugh could not last year in this regard. And he would do it without shaking the team's foundation.
The Basketball Champions League is a tournament where individual talent can go a long way. And the likes of Shermadini, Wiltjer, Salin, and others automatically make you a top favorite for the title. And Wiltjer is the team's most valuable player, along with Shermadini, by traditional stats and Viziball's advanced statistics. Let's move to the factors that make Canadian special.
Viziball's spider chart describes the Kyle Wiltjer effect precisely. Lenovo Tenerife is not a structure that will accept a player gluing the ball to his hand. And another scorer might have problems with adapting to the team culture. Wiltjer has always been the ideal signing in this angle.
It's possible to see the foreshadowing on July 13 turned out to be correct by looking at the shooting, catch and score, and go-to guy sections of the spider chart. The team that’s the embodiment of moving the ball, high basketball IQ, and Xs-and-Os coming to life would, of course, rise up with an efficient scorer who doesn’t need the ball so much at his hands. However, Wiltjer creates a chain reaction as well.
We already talked about Salin's standard deviation and its ominous timing. The threat of Wiltjer has liberated the whole team, especially Salin, this season. To begin with, it has become harder for teams to defend Salin weaving through the screens. Furthermore, it can be seen even to the naked eye that putting Wiltjer to the weakside increases the efficiency of the pick-and-rolls. In the pick-and-rolls, Shermadini and Fran Guerra are one area to worry about, Huertas and Fitipaldo are another, and the duo of shooters, one running constantly and another lurking at the right spot with his 2.08m frame, are whole another.
So, we put it on a logical platform that Lenovo Tenerife leads the BCL in offensive efficiency (117.8 points per 100 poss). So far, we only have evaluated Wiltjer's face-up shooting, but he, at the same time, is one of the elite post-up scorers of the BCL. Kyle Wiltjer has won games for Türk Telekom and Lenovo Tenerife in the BCL when he gets the ball at the low post. Tenerife shows that not only the scorer that modern basketball requires has to play isolation up top, but also someone who makes sure he eats his pancakes before every game can create the same impact.
Canarians are my pick for the 2021-22 BCL title. And that's because the team that already has the quality and a strong foundation adds arguably the most efficient scorer in the competition. Canarians are my pick for the 2021-22 BCL title. And that's because the team that already has the quality and a strong foundation adds arguably the most efficient scorer in the competition. These are bad news for Tofas but the polar opposite for neutral basketball fans.
Kemal Rutkay Ozcan