Tactics Board - AEK's royal execution
MIES (Switzerland) - Whisper it quietly, very quietly, but The Queen might be back. Ilias Kantzouris' squad may have had their struggles to start the season, particularly with Telekom Baskets Bonn in the Regular Season (who hasn't struggled with them?) but after a statement win over Galatasaray Nef, in Istanbul, they have now won five of their last six in all competitions and things look like they might be clicking at the right time.
With AKil Mitchell looking like he wants to gatecrash the MVP race and Janis Strelnieks on track for one of the most efficient shooting seasons ever in the BCL - he's shooting 55 percent overall, 52 percent from three, and 90 percent from the line - the cogs are starting to click into gear around them and everything looks like it's starting to make sense. Coach Kantzouris maybe hasn't had as much attention as he could have for steering the good ship AEK in the right direction, so we decided to pick out the top five examples of their royal execution in the win over Galata.
1. Ghost, Flare, Spain.
Early in the third, with the scoreline still showing a one-possession game, AEK executed this lethal action for their star man Akil Mitchell. The play started with #15, Isaiah Miles, making a misdirection play by setting a "Ghost" or false screen on the ball and then receiving a "Flare" screen as if to shoot. The fact that Miles is a 40 percent shooter from three meant that Galata couldn't completely disregard this action and it also took a help defender out of the paint. Timing was the key to what followed. #11, Vlado Jankovic cut the baseline to blur the remaining help rotations and as Mitchell arrived to set the ball screen, #23, Konstantinos Papadakis was already waiting to set a back screen on his man to set up the lob. The pass from #7, Dimitris Flionis, was just about perfect.
2. Mid, Veer, Exit.
If AEK's #1 play was for Mitchell, it only makes sense that the next one on the list was for Strelnieks. Watch how Strelnieks (#32) sets himself up early in the play to be in the paint as if he is going to be the back screener like Papadakis in the first clip. Then as Miles sets the screen, instead of rolling and using a back screen, he sprints off to set a "Veer" screen for a shooter on the weak side. This is just more misdirection from Kantzouris' playbook, as Mitchell sets the down screen for Strelnieks to exit and knock down the shot. This is really a very simple action but all about the personnel and the details. Watch the timing of Strelnieks' cut as the ball screen is set and his defender is distracted by his responsibilities to help.
3. Drag, Flex, Twist.
This one is also a really simple but smart twist on a very common action that we see across all teams in the world of FIBA Basketball. A "Drag" screen is a ball screen in transition and "Flex" action dating all the way back to Rene Herrerias and Lew Alcindor (AKA Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) at Cal-Berkeley in 1967, refers to a cross-screen with a screen the screener action after. This particular combination of the two used together as a secondary transition, is most commonly associated with the Argentina National Team and involves the player setting the ball screen and also setting another down screen instead of rolling. In this particular example, AEK twist the action and mask it by inverting #8, Cameron McGriff and #24, Kenny Williams before the set is executed. They did such a good job of it that McGriff got a wide-open layup at the rim and Mitchell didn't even need to set the down screen for Williams.
4. Mitchell Rim Run
If you saw the game, the highlights, or the top plays of the week, you will have already seen the crafty, fake pass from Vassili Xanthopoulos and that is why we used his image for the thumbnail. However, good players make their teammates' lives easier and we also need to give Akil Mitchell some credit for the "Screen Assist" on this one. Watch how fast he sprints the floor in transition before perfectly timing it to turn and set the ball screen for Xanthopoulos (#4). Details matter.
5. Ram, Touch.
In this last play, we see more evidence of the way that Mitchell's footspeed helps his teammates to do what they do best. We also see Isaiah Miles used as misdirection again as he moved into a shooting position and took a help defender with him after giving the handoff to Flionis. Mitchell sprinted into the pick-and-roll which enabled him to arrive alone and temporarily created a two-on-one situation with Flionis. Galatasaray didn't want to help off Miles as a shooter and Mitchell's defender was more concerned with staying connected to prevent the lob. Flionis did the rest.
All of the clips we have just seen are about leveraging the threat of your best players in the right positions and getting the timing right. AEK did both of those things to a high level against Galata and as a result, looked like a squad with very coherent chemistry. If they can continue to build on that, this AEK team could be a real threat to not only make it out of the toughest group in the Round of 16 but also make a deep run beyond it.