Friday, October 5, 2007

Is Spain a treat or a trick?

I have been concerned about the NBA Europe trip for quite a while. With a brand new coach implementing a radically different strategy than the team has played in the past, numerous starting and substitute roles unclear and a history of injuries from playing extra games out of season, is it any wonder that the hairs on the back of my neck have stood up everytime I thought about the team flying over the pond twice in the first two weeks of training camp?

What I hadn't done is look into the performance history of teams that participated in the past to see if there was any long-lasting effects from playing in Europe in the pre-season. While only having one year and four teams to makes a determination isn't statistically valid it probably wouldn't hurt to just peek at the teams that participated last season and see how they did.

The Philadelphia 76ers were a team on the brink of disaster when the pre-season started. While talking optomistically about their chances heading into the season not many people saw the total equalling the parts. They opened with a loss to FC Barcelona and, despite winning their next two games including a win over the Phoenix Suns, their season continued a downward spiral into December when Allen Iverson demanded a trade. One can't really blame their disastrous season on the European trip. The disaster of the Philly season was a bomb waiting to explode although the loss to Barcelona didn't help their confidence.

The LA Clippers were supposed to be a team on the rise after a highly successful season in 2005 that culminated with thier first playoff appearance in years. They opened with a win over BC Khimki before being blown out by CSKA Moscow. The 19 pt loss was ugly and the Clippers never really recovered starting the season slowly and fading down the stretch after Sean Livingston's knee injury. For a team just bonding together the trip and upset loss didn't help unite the Clippers.

The Phoenix Suns went to Europe and opened with a win over Lottomatica Roma. While the 7 pt victory wasn't convincing it was the first game for Phoenix. The Suns followed up with a loss to the 76ers before easily handling Maccabi Tel Aviv. The Suns opened the season well, played well all season and were one controversial call away from the Western Conference finals. There didn't seem to be any hangover from the trip.

The San Antonio Spurs also went overseas. The Spurs opened with an easy win over ASVEL Lyon-Villeurbanne. They followed that game with a convincing win over Maccabi Tel Aviv. The Spurs didn't play a 3rd game overseas. They returned hom to a somewhat unremarkable regular season, started improving right before the playoffs and were the beneficiaries of the call against Phoenix that propelled them to another NBA Championship.

So what have we learned? Obviously experienced teams that go over seas don't suffer any ill effects from the break during camp. The Suns and Spurs both took care of business in beating the European squads and carried that over to the season and eventually post-season. The lesser teams that lost in Europe were unable to overcome the weaknesses exposed by the European teams and subsequently underperformed in the regular season and failed to make the playoffs.

Coincidence? Possibly but I don't think it is as big a coincidence as some may believe.

European teams don't rely on athletic ability. They play a more team oriented system that pokes and prods until they find their opponents weaknesses and then exploit that weakness. The weaker teams both physically and mentally were exposed and that forshadowed their regular season performances. The stronger teams took care of business and showed a mental and physical toughness that eliminated their opponents belief that they could win. Those teams carried this attitude into the regular season and produced excellent records and playoff success as well.

What does this mean for the Grizzlies? Memphis is in a fragile shape right now. They have more talent than their opponents but they also are less organized with far more questions that need to be answered than the Europeans. If Memphis answers the questions successfully it could be the start of something really good. However, a stumble early could be forshadowing of future struggles.


boyer said...

do you think that the grizzlies having 3 Europeans and a German league finals MVP on their team will help them play against the Spanish teams? My guess is that coach ivaroni knows that he will have to play juan carlos, pau, and darko a little more. for two reasons - (1) the spanish/euro crowds will want to see the euro stars in action. (2)they have european experience and understanding of the euro game (this would include jacobson). so, i think the grizzlies should be fine, and should beat these teams - they have one of the best euro/spanish league ballers, in juan carlos.
Plus, if you look at those highlights of the 76ers vs. FC barcelona, wasn't it juan carlos breaking down inverson?
i think the european experience the grizzlies have will help the team greatly in the coming week.
just sit back, and watch some victories.

ChipC3 said...

I heard after I posted this that Gasol has come out and said it is his and the team's intention to win these games. That is very positive.

I agree that the team should have an advantage with the large European contingent but with the needs of the team to figure out rotations and all it will be pretty tough to focus strictly on winning and losing could be tough on the teams psyche.

I just wish this was going on next year instead of this one. With so much new stuff being thrown on the team and so many new bodies to factor into the equation it could be a tough way to start the season.

Anonymous said...

This isn't a trick. It's 100% a treat. New Coach... New Style... young PG... doesn't matter. Grizzlies CRUSH these teams. If the games are close (Like last year's nBA Europe tour) then I'd be surprised. Grizz win by an average of 24. Guaranteed.


PS. I miss debating with you man. Good luck with this site.

ChipC3 said...

Where have you been old friend? Keep in touch and thanks for the kind words.

Spartacus said...

I believe that this trip is a treat, although I understand your apprehension. I don't think there is any causality in the results of previous trips across the pond, but instead, it revealed what each team was truly capable of. The teams that lost overseas proved to have faults and issues that were brought to light in those competitions. The teams that won (often handily) proved to be solid playoff teams during the NBA season.

What I think will be interesting to watch is how the Celtics and T'Wolves play, given their respective levels of expectations.

Farfel said...

This is a fantastic way to start the season. Get game action immediately, bond as a group, win in an intense environment.

How about trading Lowry and Swift for Varejo? That's a move I would like to happen.