Stefanos Makris analyzes with the help of InStat Scout Croatia, opponent of the Men’s National Team in the 1st matchday of the EuroBasket. The Post Up game, the Bogdanovic-Hezonia duo and the decisive role of Simon.
The Men’s National Team faces Croatia today (2/9) (18:00, ERT1 and LIVE from SPORT24) in its premiere at EuroBasket 2022, in a demanding game.
Dimitris Itoudis’ team wants to start strongly against a strange opponent, with enough size in most positions, specific strengths, but also weaknesses.
The SPORT24 analyzes with the help of InStat Scout Damir Mulaomerovic’s team, as it emerged from the 4 friendlies and the two EuroBasket 2025 pre-qualifiers he played in the previous weeks.
The size at every position, Smith and the decisive Simon
Starting with the basics, Croatia are a team with size in every position. 9 of its 12 players are at least 1.97 meters tall. The addition of naturalized Jalin Smith (1.93m) has ensured that size will not be an issue at the point guard position, with the Alba player coming in to fill a big hole that the Croatians have had for years at that position. Even so, however, the most important player for the Croatians is Kruslav Simon.
The 37-year-old guard/forward is still the team’s best creator and the one who is called upon to keep the balance in difficult situations. Simon has always had a role as the main creator in Croatia – even if he was mainly a secondary creator in the clubs he played for – and that does not change this year either.
Smith is a great player. But he is a guard who executes more than creates, while he is good in Spot Up situations (shooting from a stop). This results in Croatia being generally average in pick and roll situations and generally avoiding getting too involved in those situations unless the ball is in Simon’s hands.
According to InStat Scout, in the games played by the Croatians in August (official and friendlies), they made only 7.3% of their attacks in Pick and Roll situations where the ball handler executed and 5.9% in Pick and Roll situations where the attempt the tall one took. But how do the Croats attack?
The Post Up game, the transition and Bogdanovic
According to InStat Scout, last August the Croatians took 18.2% of their attempts in Catch and Shoot situations, 16.7% in transition situations (surprise) and 11.6% in Post Up situations. How does this translate exactly:
Having – with the exception of Simon – guards who do not play the Pick and Roll well, the Croatians often play high formations and pass the ball close to the basket. Wanting to take advantage of their size, they often post up the Clippers’ Ivica Zubac, but also give plenty of balls to Bogdanovic, Hezonia and Saric in such situations. This sometimes creates an imbalance in opposing defenses, who send double-teams and this leads to free shots.
However, there are two more facts in the Croatian attack: 1. They give Mario Hezonia enough tries in Isolation situations (one-on-one) to ensure that he is motivated. 2. They have several plays (systems) with off screen situations for Bojan Bogdanovic. The Jazz forward is the most quality forward of the team and the one who gets attacks in every way (Catch and Shoot, Post Up, Isolation, Off Screen), a sign of his importance.
Watching the Croats’ games, one found that they ran a lot. However, it is not so certain that the Croatians will choose this game against Greece. The Men’s National Team is a team that loves the open court and is one of the best teams in EuroBasket – if not the best – in transition. So it is extremely possible that the Croatians will slow down the tempo and post even more.
Principles in defense and thoughts on Saric at 5
Defensively, the Croatians have some basic principles, although they adapt according to the opponent. Playing often with Saric and Zubac close to the basket, they have the ability to close down spaces. What is interesting is how they defend in the Pick and Roll.
When the – 2.15 meters tall – Zubac of the Clippers is on the court, the Croatians play Flat or drop, holding him back. Most likely in the Pick and Roll that Kalathis will be involved in today (2/9) they will defend with a “Drop” to the Fenerbahce guard, going under the screen to give him the shot. However, when Slukas or Dorsey get involved that will likely change.
Things change for the Croatians when (2.06 meters tall and extremely athletic) Karlo Matkovic steps onto the court. Then, the Croatians usually defend with a strong Hedge Out (the tall man goes out to the opposing guard) and maybe even a blitz (doing a double-team) to get the ball away from the handler. Clearly these are just basic principles. Each team adapts to its opponent. And that’s what the Croatians do, who sometimes target players to close to the basket, since several players in the starting rotation are mediocre defenders.
Beyond that, there is one more parameter that is interesting: Damir Mulaomerovic’s thought of passing Dario Saric to the center position at some point. The Suns’ big man is off the pace (he missed the entire season with an injury) and was used sparingly as a center in August (mostly against the Czech Republic, to pull Vesely away from the basket). A shift of him to the center position would open up the field for the attack (in the logic of the “5 out”), but it would have a price on the defense.
A strange game
Every premiere carries risks. That goes for one more time. The Men’s National Team is – on paper – a team with more weight. At the same time, however, it has the asterisk that the 12 players on the team have never been on the court together. The unpreparedness of Papagiannis and the situation of Kostas Antetokounmpo are reasonable to worry about, especially given the presence of Zubac in the Croats.
The Men’s National Team will just have to live up to their standards. It has to be taken for granted that he will pressure Simon to take him out of the game, which if he happens will give a huge advantage as the Croatians have no player behind him.
Greece will try to run, change a lot of players in Bogdanovic, limit the madness of Hezonia, run in the open field. All the rest will be seen where they always are: On the parquet.