04 October, 2022
14 May, 2023
to read

Semi-Final preview: The Kings of the King's Cup take on Cinderella in ballroom battle

MALAGA (Spain) - The second Semi-Final of the 2023 BCL Final Four sees the hosts and Spanish Copa del Rey champions, Unicaja, take on the Cinderella story of the year, Telekom Baskets Bonn of Germany. 

How did they get here?

Unicaja were the first to secure their spot at the Final Four, requiring only two games to complete their best-of-three series with domestic rivals UCAM Murcia. Game 1 at home was a surprisingly comfortable 83-67 win and whilst Game 2 promised to be much trickier on the road at Murcia, coach Ibon Navarro's team dished out 22 assists on their way to a dominant 96-74 win. 

Bonn's journey through the Quarter-Finals was much more fraught with risk. Despite having homecourt advantage against SIG Strasbourg, they instantly abolished it by losing Game 1 to their experienced opponents.

Game 2 saw Bonn wrestle that advantage back with a 76-66 win on the road. In Game 3 they shot 65.6 percent from two-point range to get the job done and advance to one of the biggest events in the club's history.

What does the data say?

The top two offenses in the BCL meet in this Semi-Final. Unicaja is a squad built on a defensive culture but that foundation has translated into the most efficient offensive machine in the league this season.

They score at a league-best rate of 116.3 points per 100 possessions and dish out 20.8 assists, which ranks second in the BCL and first at Final Four. They also shoot 48 percent from the field with only Tenerife more efficient at 48.6 percent.


All that offense, combined with a defensive efficiency of just 100.8, gives Unicaja a Net Rating of 15.5, meaning they are 15 points better than their opponents for every 100 possessions played and the most efficient team overall in the BCL.

Bonn are almost on a par in terms of offensive firepower, scoring at a 116 per 100 clip, mainly thanks to their league-leading offensive rebounding percentage: when you are pulling down your own misses and generate extra shots on 37 percent of your missed shots, your odds of scoring each time down the floor increase dramatically. 

What to watch for

Unicaja split their minutes across all 12 players on the roster and are almost as egalitarian when it comes to shot attempts. The offense is so varied that on any given possession you are as likely to be killed by the likes of Dario Brizuela and Tyson Carter making plays off the dribble, Tyler Kalinoski running off screens, Jonathan Barreiro spacing the floor, or lobs upstairs to Kravish and Sima. Kendrick Perry and Alberto Diaz are usually the ones pulling the strings.

One series of sets you will almost certainly see and be able to recognize is Ibon Navarro's 'horns' package. If you see two big men on the elbow and two shooters in the corner, there is a good chance the possession might look a bit like this:

T.J. Shorts is a strong MVP favorite for a reason. Most of Bonn's offense runs through him. He can score, he can create, and the extra attention he draws from defensive schemes leaves so much space for shooters like Sebastian Herrera and the returning Jeremy Morgan. 

Maybe the most recognizable entry that Bonn and Tuomas Iisalo have used all season is also possibly the easiest to recognize. If you see a wing player making a horizontal cut parallel to the free-throw line, chances are you watching their 'Iverson' entry. If it's Shorts and Leon Kratzer in the action, look out!


Key matchup

This is an easy one, T.J. Shorts against Dario Brizuela. They may not directly guard each other much but each team's fortunes will undoubtedly hinge on the ability of both men to impart their will on the game.

Shorts enters the Final Four as the leading scorer among all players at the event, averaging 18.7  points per contest, and impacts the game with the volume of his offensive actions. Whereas Brizuela's role involves him dominating the game in bursts. His shooting splits of 51-48-90 put him in the category of the most efficient seasons in BCL history.