04 October, 2022
14 May, 2023
12 Tyler Polley (PAOK), 8 Jaylen Hands (PAOK), 35 Nate Renfro (PAOK)
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Progress - A closer look at PAOK mateco

THESSALONIKI (Greece) - If you are the type of person that still keeps a record player and prefers the analog warmth of vinyl over the shallow blocks of digital MP3s, then a club like PAOK is one with a history you could probably identify with. In the 90's they won the Greek league championship(1992), the Greek Cup twice (1995 and 1999), then also the FIBA Saporta Cup in 1991, and the FIBA Korac Cup in 1994.

Mixed in between those trophies were a third-place finish in the EuroLeague (1993) and two further silver medals in the Saporta Cup (1992 and 1996). They really were one of Europe's feel-good teams of the decade. Since those glory days, what has followed can only be described as a barren spell. Eventually culminating with the club's worst season ever in 2019/20 as they finished bottom of the Greek League, only avoiding relegation due to the pandemic. Fast forward to 2022 and the club is now in its second season under Head Coach, Aris Lykogiannis. Whilst the idea was to build slowly around younger imports and players from the academy, the progress is already starting to show. 

This season the squad is already 3-1 in the Greek League and has started 1-1 in the BCL. With an average age of 25, they are just one year older than the youngest squads in the BCL, and even at 25, that average age is very much propped up by captain Evangelos Margaritis (39) and veteran Christos Saloustros (32). When we look at the likes of Jaylen Hands and Tyler Polley at just 23 playing more than 20 minutes and carrying major roles, Nate Renfro and Zaccheus Darko-Kelly (25), and Yannick Franke (26) also still at the younger end of their career continuum and starting to shine, with only really Jalen Riley (29) as a veteran import, we see that the plan is very much underway.

How They Play

 The first thing that jumps off the page is that this iteration of PAOK is looking great defensively at this early stage of the season. They have allowed just 94.3 points per 100 possessions in the BCL thus far, which ranks them amongst the best five teams. They have been decent domestically as well, conceding just 104 points per 100 in the Greek A1. In the BCL they are averaging 11.5 steals, with only Benfica above them in the rankings.  Combined with the youth and athleticism in this squad, those steals have translated into a lethal transition team on the offensive end. It's also intriguing at this point to note that Nate Renfro sits joint third in the individual steals rankings at 2.5 per game. Renfro started both BCL games as the defacto Center in small-ball lineups and his mobility and activity on both ends are proving to be very problematic for opponents to match up against.


It's not just Renfro either. Yannick Franke looks like an excellent pickup and is also averaging over 2 steals. Polley is still in his rookie European season but it's pretty clear that a breakout game is just a matter of time. Darko-Kelly in the clip below is making a huge jump from the Finnish Korsliga but at 6'6" (1.98m) and with the athleticism he clearly has, he is another that fits the mold from which PAOK is building around.


The set in the video below is one you will see in pretty much every playbook in Europe. A "Zipper" cut is a vertical cut from the baseline to catch the ball at the top of the key, usually with a screen for the cutter. Teams use this type of cut to get a ball-handler some separation from their defender before they catch the ball. From there they often follow it with a pick-and-roll in the middle of the floor. PAOK used this action to cut a big deficit and take the lead in their win over Dinamo BDS Sassari. Watch how Renfro is almost like a wing with his mobility and agility as he rolls to the rim. 


In the next clip, we see the same set but a different option from Aris Lykogiannis' offense. This time the idea is to get the ball back into the Point Guard's hands on the other side of the floor.  When your Point Guards are Jalen Riley and Jaylen Hands, that is a pretty good idea. PAOK have scored 22 points in two games from jump shots off the dribble. Only SIG Strasbourg and Iberostar Tenerife have scored more, with Strasbourg having played a game extra. The threat posed by their guards off the dribble in the pick-and-roll, or the mobility of Renfro as the roll man, is a lethal concoction. 


What we see below is another set that Lykogiannis utilizes to get his guards going downhill against a favorable matchup. In the first clip, watch closely as #21, Kamperidis shapes as if he is setting a screen for Riley then sprints by. This is a "Ghost" screen. The outcome was that Sassari switched without really needing to. The next action in the sequence of this set is a "Spain" pick-and-roll with a shooter setting a back screen for the roller, then popping to shoot. In the first clip, Riley opts to attack the switch and ends up using a "Nash" dribble to keep his dribble alive all the way to the corner, then knocks down the shot. In the second clip, we see PAOK execute the set as it is designed. Kamperidis sets the back screen for the roller and then pops to shoot.


Another area which PAOK have shown themselves to be a team that could threaten the later stages of this competition is in the effort plays. They are currently leading the BCL in scoring after an offensive rebound. Franke is averaging 3.5 offensive rebounds, which is elite for a wing player, and in fact, he not only leads PAOK for rebounding with 7 per game but also the entire league for rebounds amongst guards at this stage of the season. 



Whilst the style of play and system design look to be well-suited to this young PAOK squad and coach Lykogiannis is clearly hitting the right notes to get the best out of them, this is clearly a work in progress. The loss at home to JDA Dijon saw them make mistakes down the stretch that come with the territory when you have a young roster and the 17 turnovers are certainly something they will need to avoid if they want to turn around the head-to-head in France. 

Up Next

After two home games to get warmed up, the real challenges start now for PAOK. Road trips to Unicaja and Sassari are about as tough as it gets in the BCL. Unicaja top the group and haven't really looked like they have been tested yet. The Spaniards have size and depth in their roster that will be a real challenge to match up with and at the guard spots, Eurobasket winner Alberto Diaz is undoubtedly one of Europe's best defenders. They don't need to win the road game on the Spanish coast to make it out of the Regular Season but without question, the way that they are able to handle a team like Unicaja will offer a great insight into their ability to challenge in the knockout rounds of the BCL this year. 

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.