04 October, 2022
14 May, 2023
Lassi Tuovi (SIG)
Diccon Lloyd-Smeath's Champions League Insider
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Tactics Board: Finnish-ing School

MADRID (Spain) - If you asked ten random European basketball fans which country produces the best coaches, all of the top answers would come back with names like Serbia, Spain, Greece, and Turkey. And traditionally they wouldn't be wrong. Especially when you look at coaches building successful careers outside their own country.

Yes, we have seen the examples like Scariolo and Messina representing Italy with huge success stories outside of Italy but without question, the traditional exporters of basketball coaching expertise have been Serbia and the US of A. 

Well, now there is a new name on the list and it might not have been one many expected to see, Finland.


The tweet above from SIG Strasbourg's Lassi Tuovi was, of course, in reference to the fact that both Finnish coaches in the BCL came but with big wins this week; Tuovi's Strasbourg produced (another) very close win against Tofas and Tuomas Iisalo's Telekom Baskets Bonn got their first win of the season in our Game of the Week against Pinar Karsiyaka.  With that in mind, we wanted to take a look at some of the best X's and O's from both games and also enquire a little into what is behind this recent crop of excellent coaches coming out of Finland. 

SIG Strasbourg v Tofas Bursa

In one of Finland's main newspapers, Toumas Iisalo was asked what is behind the rise of Finnish basketball coaches and whilst he credited Henrik Dettmann for raising the standards and conditions for coaches in Finland, he also gave a slightly surprising answer, the internet.

"The internet liberated and democratized the world's available coaching information. You could get a lot of information if only curiosity and the ability to absorb it were enough," Iisalo said.

If we come back to Lassi Tuovi and the set he drew up to start the fourth quarter of their game against Tofas,  we can clearly see plenty of curiosity and also plenty for other coaches to absorb in return.  SIG started the last quarter down eight points and needing to turn the game around. That changed very quickly in the first two possessions. Executing an offense like the one they did to start the quarter was no doubt a huge confidence booster.

So, what do you need to look for in the play below? Well, to start with we see #11, Matt Mitchell set a ball screen in the paint for #3, Marcus Keene. This isn't something you see every day, partly because the timing on any screen in the paint has to be perfect to avoid 3-second violations and also because the spacing around that screen has to be equally exact.

In this case, the screen in the paint was particularly difficult to guard because #23, Maille was driving from a running start and because the screener was Matt Mitchell. No team is going to want to switch a guard onto Mitchell in the paint. The indecision on how to defend the action was clear. The excellent timing and flow of actions ensured that. Also look at the spacing that allowed #4, Cavaliere an entire side of the court to himself when he caught the ball. His defender was forced to help and there is nobody even close to him. Creative play design from Lassi Tuovi, with destructive results for the defense.


Telekom Baskets Bonn v Pinar Karsiyaka

When we asked Lassi Tuovi what he thinks has raised the level of coaching in Finland, his answer seemed to come as much from wearing his hat as the National Team coach as it did from his day job at SIG Strasbourg.

"Everything comes from the roots of your country's history. We (Finnish people) are basically humble and hardworking. No matter what," said Tuovi.

We can certainly hear those words "No matter what" ring true when we see the number of close games SIG Strasbourg has needed to come through in the last two seasons. But we can also find that humility and hardworking attitude in his compatriot Iisalo's Bonn team. Just look at the team ethic for their defensive rotations in the clip below. They really do have each other's backs.


However, the clip and story of the game that we really wanted to cover was on the offensive end - which should come as no surprise given that they scored at a rate of 120 points per 100 possessions in this game (per Viziball).

The play we want to highlight this with is in the clip below. However, it's not just the creativity of the play but also the context of the game and the reasons why it was so well designed.

The possession starts with #7, Herrera making an "Iverson Cut" across the free throw line, with the help of two screens from #10, Malcolm, and #70, Delaney. Malcolm then makes the same cut immediately after to clear space for Delaney to set the ball screen. The idea here is that Delaney's defender would be separated slightly by Malcolm's cut and then late to hedge on the ball screen. As it happens, he wasn't late but because he was hedging the screen against T.J. Shorts, Delaney was still able to get wide open on the pick-and-pop. 


To really understand that play and why it was such a good call by Tuomas Iisalo, we also need to understand why Pinar Karsiyaka were hedging the screen on Shorts. Fortunately, Iisalo and Pinar Karsiyaka's Errick McCollum talked us through the whole story in their half-time interviews.

First, Iisalo said this:

"A lot of it depends on what type of tactical choices Karsiyaka is doing, they allowed T.J. Shorts some practice shots from the 3-point line and he will keep making those," Iisalo stated (correctly).

The shots he was referring to are in the clips below. Note to future opponents of Telekom Baskets Bonn, beware of going under on T.J. Shorts.

The fact that Shorts did keep making those shots vs the under was exactly why Karsiyaka were forced to adjust and start hedging aggressively. They had to try to force other Bonn players to beat them. 

 "We had to switch up the defense on T.J. Shorts. I decided to guard him and we decided to be a little bit more aggressive with the hedging." McCollum described.  

And it worked. For a while at least. Karsiyaka cut the lead from 19-9 in the first quarter, to just 42-40 at half-time. But Shorts and coach Iisalo proved too tough to be stopped by only one adjustment. The counter adjustment in the set play we showed you for Delaney's pick-and-pop was part of the reason they were able to completely blow the game open in the third quarter, going on an 11-0 run to start the stanza.

This Bonn team is clearly going to be hard to beat no matter who you are. Their 2-0 record to start the season in the BBL is further evidence of that. 

To end this article, It has to be said that it really is refreshing when players and coaches really talk about what is actually going on in the game during interviews. Too often we hear vanilla answers that don't really offer insights into the game. Both McCollum and Iisalo deserve a great deal of credit for being so open. Ufuk Sarica as well for his pre-game interview. Excellent stuff, really. 


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.