Blogging Through Israel (part five)

Blogging Through Israel (part five)
Nov 18, 2006, 11:49 am
In a group B Euroleague match-up on Thursday, 2-1 Maccabi Tel Aviv faced off against 2-1 Spanish team DKV Joventut. Unfortunately, Joventut was left without two of their top players. NBA prospect Rudy Fernandez sat out the game with an injury, and center Andrew Betts, who was an NBA draft pick in 1998, also didn’t play.
This was a nice opportunity for teen sensation Ricky Rubio of Joventut to log some quality Euroleague minutes at age 16.

The game started out in blowout fashion, with Nikola Vujcic scoring 6 of the team’s first 10 points. Joventut tried to play a halfcourt game, but rarely saw a clean look in the offense, and when they did, their shots just weren’t falling. Lior Eliyahu and Will Bynum also started fast, and by the end of the first quarter the score was 26-5 in favor of Maccabi. In the second quarter, Joventut decided they needed to play a transition game if they wanted a chance to win, and behind the play of Ricky Rubio, they were able to cut the lead to 48-36 going into halftime. Forward Lubos Barton, and U.S. big man Charles Gaines started the third off strong, allowing Joventut to get the lead down to 52 to 48 with 5:07 remaining in the third. With Rubio on the bench in foul trouble, Will Bynum helped Maccabi go on a little run to close out the third, making some nice passes, and moving the gap back up to 72-58 at the end of the quarter. In a team effort, Maccabi Tel Aviv was able to keep a double digit lead throughout the fourth quarter, and won the game by a score of 92-75.

As far as we can find out through research, a 16 year old has never played 21 minutes in a Euroleague game before, but Ricky Rubio played well beyond his age. His performance deserves its own article, so all I will say now is his presence on the court completely changed the game.

Nikola Vujcic again proved why he is one of the top big men in the Euroleague. He scored in a wide variety of ways, and was able to score his 24 points on only 13 shots. Vujcic also made some great passes, but didn’t create as much as he could have because of how easily he was scoring. He may not be the most athletic big man, but he was able to push away more athletic players for rebounds on multiple occasions. Vujcic possesses a great combination of skills, intangibles, fundamentals, and toughness that make him very fun to watch.

Will Bynum had his best game of the season so far. He still had a stint in the second quarter where he turned the ball over twice when Joventut was making a run, but he was able to get right back into the flow of the game. Early on, Bynum had a spectacular play where he was fouled while going up for a dunk attempt, and the ball went in the hoop even though he lost control of it on the way up. Bynum’s adjustment to the Euroleague game is really noticeable, and he kept the offense flowing throughout the game. He also displayed some nice range on his jumper for the third game in a row, making 2 of his 4 three point attempts. During the points in the game where Maccabi need a basket to end a run, Bynum was the one to score. He finished the game with 17 points on 6/11 from the field to go along with 7 assists, 2 steals, and 4 turnovers. If Bynum continues to keep himself in control of the game, it is possible that he can make it back to the NBA.

Lior Eliyahu started off the game strong, and was very solid in his 27 minutes. At the beginning of the game, he was fouled out in transition going to the basket, and was able to score after rebounding his own miss on the second free throw attempt. His good use of movement off the ball continued to create easy scoring opportunities and free throw attempts. Eliyahu will need to work on being stronger with the ball, as it’s too easy for a defender now to rip the ball away while he’s going to the hoop. He will also need to work on absorbing contact better after being fouled, but this should come with further development to his body. Eliyahu’s shooting stroke worked a little better against Joventut, though his mechanics still need a ton of work. He uses his body really well to rebound the basketball, and has long arms that allow him to collect rebounds even if he’s out of position. Right now, he needs some work before playing in the NBA, but the potential is there. Lior Eliyahu finished the game with 14 points on 6/7 from the field, and 12 rebounds, including 3 on the offensive end.

Yotam Halperin played fairly well today, though he still wasn’t nearly assertive enough on the offensive end. He has a solid shooting stroke, and is very consistent from the free throw line. In transition, Halperin also displayed the ability to take the ball at the defender and draw a foul, which led to 6 free throw attempts. He has the ability to see plays developing ahead of time, and usually passes the ball to the right spot. Halperin’s ball handling was a little sloppy today, and he turned the ball over twice when dribbling left. He was very stable throughout the game, however, and finished off with 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists.

Charles Gaines played very well for Joventut for the most part. He is a very athletic power forward, and actually knows how to use his athleticism unlike a lot of big men. Gaines managed to get a lot of garbage points inside off of offensive rebound putbacks. The biggest weakness for the 25 year old Gaines is his shooting stroke, which is the same as it was 2 years ago at the summer league in Minnesota. He shoots be moving his support hand away from the ball early, and moving his arm from left to right as it moves towards the basket. This stroke yielded a percentage of 25 percent for Gaines against Maccabi. If he could better develop his shot and perimeter game, he would be a nice backup power forward in the NBA. Gaines finished with 16 points on 11 shots, 4/12 from the free throw line, and 7 rebounds in 27 minutes.

This game was the last Euroleague game of my trip, and it was a great experience. The atmosphere was fantastic throughout, and the fans were cheering at the same volume whether the lead was 21 or 4. Up next on my Israeli tour is a game Sunday with Galil Elyon and Omri Casspi facing off against Ironi Nahariya.

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