Blogging Through Europe (Part Six: France)

Blogging Through Europe (Part Six: France)
Dec 08, 2007, 03:21 am
A quick flight from Berlin to Paris and then a two hour drive down to Le Mans brought me to the hottest spot in Europe for NBA scouts to be this week—a matchup between lottery pick candidates Nicolas Batum and Danilo Gallinari.

Armani Jeans Milano’s struggles have been well documented on this blog over the past week (this is the third time I’m seeing them in 7 days). They are not alone, though, as Le Mans has been struggling so far in the Euroleague this season as well, still not having won any games 6 contests into the first round.
They have struggled to find any rhythm at the point guard position in particular, being forced to go with a young converted Israeli shooting guard by the name of Raviv Limonad to run their offense, with an equally young converted French shooting guard, Yannick Bokolo, as his backup.

Their two import players, both American big men, and expected to provide leadership on this young squad, have been very inconsistent as well. Sam Clancy is a starter and is an excellent low post presence offensively, but gives very little in the ways of a presence defensively or rebounding-wise. Phil Ricci is the other American big man, and a season playing in the Korean league, where players get paid big bucks but barely practice or are forced to play any type of real competitive basketball, did not treat him well.

Besides that there is a lot of youth on this team, including NBA draft prospects Nicolas Batum and Antoine Diot, and former draft prospect Alain Koffi, who turned in an excellent game here.

Milano Defeats Le Mans

This was not exactly what you would call a high quality matchup as far as the level of play was concerned. Milano likes to play a deliberate, grind it out style led by their slow as molasses 37-year old point guard Melvin Booker, and they managed to impose their will on the tempo of this game throughout the contest.

Le Mans had many chances to come out on top, but just did not show the heart at the end to break their losing run in the Euroleague so far. Milano outrebounded them 38 to 20, outhustling Le Mans for huge offensive rebound after huge offensive rebound over the top of the anemic Sam Clancy in the fourth quarter in particular. When they needed a basket, they really lacked a go-to guy to step up and show leadership in the decisive moments.

We’ll get one more chance to watch them play on Saturday when they host the top team in the French League, Nancy.

Gallinari Wins in a Knockout

The highly anticipated matchup between Danilo Gallinari and Nicolas Batum was a bit of a dud, not draw ingas many head to head possessions as we might have hoped. Batum picked up two early fouls in the first quarter, and then another late in the 2nd, playing only seven minutes or so in the first half, and just 19 minutes total.

Gallinari on the other hand was spectacular, playing a massive role in his team’s eventual victory, sometimes just with pure grit and determination—exactly what we wanted to see if you read our blog from earlier this week.

Offensively, he put a tremendous amount of pressure on the defense, creating his own shot time after time and making fantastic decisions with the ball in his hands. His slashing forays to the rim opened up Le Mans’s defense considerably, and created numerous open looks for his teammates on the wing—resulting in a game-high 5 assists. He does a wonderful job keeping his man off balance on his heels with a series of jukes and shakes, never giving his defender any hint as to which direction he’ll slash until it’s basically too late. He uses screens exceptionally well and is constantly reading the defense—showing a mastery of picking optimal angles and never driving in a straight line thanks to his fluid body control. That’s why despite the fact that his first step isn’t prototypically explosive for an NBA small forward, he gets his shot almost whenever he wants—more so with his skills and smarts. The fact that he doesn’t explode into the lane at 100 miles (or kilometers) an hour means that there is a real under control nature to his drives, one that exudes patience and elegance and also allows him to finish superbly around the basket, or find the open man once the defense rotates. The fact that he drew 12 fouls in 31 minutes is a great testament to his effectiveness in this area.

Gallinari did a better job in the paint that we saw in the first two games. His team posted him up on a couple of occasions, and he delivered some really nice moves—once with a pivot move (called for a travel), once with a terrific up and under, another time with an excellent spin, while also doing outstanding work on the offensive glass. He finished with a game-high 4 offensive rebounds (7 total), sometimes following his own miss for a put-back, always showing a lot of determination, and really looking passionate about coming away with a much needed victory here on the road.

Defensively, there was a lot to like this time around—an area that we had some criticism about in our previous blog. He looked more focused staying in front of his man, taking a lot of pride on this end of the floor, and even stepping in for a charge on one occasion. He guarded Batum most of the time that the two were on the floor together, and did not allow him to get past him, which is a good sign.

All in all, this was a very impressive performance from a 19 year old player at the top level of Europe. The fact that he was such an indispensable cog in his team’s very important victory on the road made this a very significant performance as far as the scouts we talked to were concerned. Teams that were represented included the Portland Trailblazers (Chad Buchannan), Minnesota Timberwolves (Pete Philo), Boston Celtics (Ryan McDonough), Charlotte Bobcats (Scott Howard and Rich Shuebrooks), Denver Nuggets (Simon Cote), Cleveland Cavaliers (Chico Averbuck), Golden State Warriors (Kosta Jankov) and probably others that we did not get to see or talk to.

What About Batum?

Even though he only played 19 minutes because of ticky-tack foul trouble, there were still some positive things to take away from Nicolas Batum’s performance. We’ll be watching one more game of his here against Nancy which we’d also like to factor into our evaluation, so sit tight for a minute and expect a pretty detailed report on the next blog.

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