Tactics Board: UCAM Murcia, then and now
MURCIA (Spain) - UCAM Murcia are looking really good. Really, really good. In fact, the last time they looked this good was possibly in 2018 when Ibon Navarro's team romped all the way to the Basketball Champions League Final Four.
Can Sito Alonso's team reach similar heights? Well, after an 11-5 start in all competitions, including the seven-game winning streak they are currently riding and includes wins against the likes of Tofas Bursa, FC Barcelona, and Joventut Badalona, it's certainly starting to look that way.
Let's see if we can learn anything from comparing the stats and taking a quick dive into some film from this season.
If we tip off looking at Net Rating for this season, we can see Murcia sit second, 3 points clear of the next-best team at the elite end of the efficiency scale in the BCL.
They are scoring 21 points more than their opponents every 100 possessions and they rank sixth for offensive efficiency, scoring 114.8 per 100 possessions.
But really, it's defense that is driving Murcia's efficiency this season. They have the best defense in the BCL, allowing just 93.7 points per 100 possessions.
In 2017-18, the efficiency numbers for Murcia were much less impressive. They had a Net Rating of just +2 per 100, ranked 13th for offensive efficiency and 17th for defensive efficiency, conceding 109 points per 100 possessions.
Where that Murcia team were fantastic, was on the glass. They pulled down 54.4 percent of all misses, ranking second in the league, and 35.6 percent of their own misses, making them the best offensive rebounding team in the BCL that season.
The New Kings on the Block
Moving our focus to this year's team and why they are (so far) statistically superior to the 2018 Final Four participants, it only makes sense to start on the defensive end and look at what is powering that #1 ranked defense in the league.
It almost goes without saying that a team with Howard Sant-Roos on the roster has a chance to be good on the defensive end,.
When you add to the mix uber-active guards like Dylan Ennis, Ludde Hakanson, and David Jelinek, and also have mobility in the forward spots with the likes of Rodions Kurucs and Nemanja Radovic, you have the perfect recipe for a disruptive defense on the ball and in the passing lanes.
Especially when you have Simon Birgander, Jordan Sakho, and Moussa Diagne patrolling the paint, clearing up any back-door cut or drive to the basket that breaks through the perimeter.
Murcia had 19 steals against Igokea and average a second-ranked 11.8 per game.
You know what's another thing that makes life much easier on the defensive end? Putting the ball in the basket yourself on the other end.
Attacking a set defense is much harder than running at players out of position, or with compromising mismatches in transition.
And of course, the same thing works in reverse. The better you are defensively, the more chance you have at getting good looks in transition.
According to the Synergy platform, UCAM Murcia have a shot quality that produces 1.25 expected points per possession in transition, which means they create their highest quality shots on the run - not just in primary transition, but also early offense.
The two clips below illustrate just how aggressive and hungry this team is to score or create good looks as early as possible.
In the first clip, we see them throwing an entry pass into the post before the ball-handler has even crossed half-court. In the second, we see the speed at which they can sprint into drag screens in several areas of the floor. On this occasion, slap bang in the middle of the court.
Sito Alonso's Murcia are also enjoyable to watch. Mainly because of how varied their methods of attack are.
Troy Caupain leads the scoring with 11.3 points per game, but Ennis and Hakanson are just behind on 10.8 and 10.3 respectively.
After those three, all 11 on the roster are regular scorers. Birgander is labeled the new Shermadini and when you watch him play you can see why, but Nemanja Radovic is just as likely to hurt teams in the post and Rodions Kurucs is shooting 71.4 percent from the field.
The set you see in the video below is a regular entry for Murcia. They start with a "Ghost" screen in the middle of the floor to create some indecision in the defense, and from there they have options for where they want to start the offense. On this occasion, Caupain keeps the ball himself and throws a lob for Birgander.
However, as you see in the video below there is a multitude of different options they can attack from that start with this very simple entry.
Just to reiterate the point, here is another one of the entries you will see Murcia using in their offense, this time with a "Touch" action where the guard throws the ball ahead to a big and immediately runs to get the ball back himself.
And again, we can see Murcia will use the same entry to score from multiple options, often in the same game. This is already a very well-oiled machine on offense.
Then and Now
So, is the 23-24 Murcia good enough to match the 17-18 team, or even go one better?
Well, the data and performances so far in the season are absolutely pointing in the right direction. If anything, this team is already better than Ibon Navarro's team were at this stage of the season.
The question will naturally be if they can sustain this level or even improve as the others around them do.
Only time will tell, but don't be surprised if UCAM Murcia find themselves in another Final Four this season.