The semifinals of the ACB League have given us a terrific matchup between Tau Vitoria and Unicaja Málaga, which means that for draft fans we have two of the best international prospects for the upcoming draft: Tiago Splitter
and Fran Vázquez
going head to head.
Unicaja Málaga arrives to this series coming off a heroic victory over Etosa Alicante, clawing back from a 0-2 deficit to win three very tough games. This is the first time a team accomplished such a comeback in the ACB playoffs. Meanwhile, Tau Vitoria suffered more than expected to overcome Gran Canaria, but they still advanced to the next round 3-1, although they lost their starting PG, Jos Manuel Calderón, in the process due to appendicitis. THE GAME:
It wasn't the most spectacular game despite the talent that both teams display. With good defense being played on both sides, Tau built the final victory thanks to an inspired performance from Luis Scola
, who took virtually the entire offensive load on his shoulders in the first quarter. Afterwards, even though Unicaja Málaga fought back hard and surprised Tau with a mixed defense, they couldn't manage to find a way to score consistently and cut down the lead that Tau built up. The team from Vitoria dealt Malaga the first punch at home with a 72-63 victory in the best of five series. THE MATCHUP:
As usual, Fran Vázquez started the game for his team while Splitter waited for his chance from the bench. Looking like he has forgotten that drought he suffered during Garbajosa's injury, Fran is back to his old self. Now there is once again more structure in the team's ball movement and more spaces for him to get open looks. His presence was felt on both ends of the court in the first quarter, pulling down many rebounds (and scoring a few easy points off the offensive ones), comfortably nailing an 18 footer and intimidating near the basket. He couldn't do anything to help stop Luis Scola
's production, though. It's true that the Argentinean didn't score one-on-one on Vázquez in the low post, but there were some situations where Scola attacked the basket after putting the ball on the floor that Fran couldn't do much to stop on rotations. Tiago Splitter
came into the game in the last seconds of the first quarter, but barely shared the floor with Vázquez, who didn't play even a single minute in the second. The Brazilian did a pretty solid job on defense, having to match with the extremely skilled Jorge Garbajosa
on various plays. Garbajosa is a very mobile PF who loves to pick apart defenses with his perimeter stroke and take his man off the dribble. Tiago couldn't stop him in the first instance, when Jorge delivered a fade-away jumper after pulling up off the dribble while Splitter was next to him closely following his movement. It was a really hard play to stop and actually not badly defended by Tiago. Splitter was luckier in the following plays, using his lateral movement and length to bother Garbajosa, even blocking his shot once. Offensively, he scored once underneath the basket, but barely had more chances to contribute. He was later taken off the floor in the middle of the second quarter.
Finally draft fans got what they were waiting for, as the third quarter brought us a direct matchup between them. Both young big men started for their teams and actually defended each other. Anyway, as you should know by now, both are currently pure role players when it comes to playing offense, so there were barely any one on one situations for either to establish superiority over the other. One situation in the low post, where Tiago showed some of his skills and footwork while faking a right-handed shot before delivering a long lay-up (almost a semi-hook) with his left gave us a small taste of what we were looking for. It would have been a very nice basket if the 24 second clock hadn't run out before he could finish it, though. Splitter is to blame, though, as he should have looked for a simpler and quicker release to get his shot off before the buzzer. A few moments later, he did score on Vázquez with a right-handed semi hook. Fran held his position pretty well, but couldn't do too much to stop Splitter, who was in a dynamic movement and released the ball from pretty high up.
Fran, meanwhile, showed how reliable he is with his hook shot, hitting two attempts, as well as delivering one of his famous dunks after being set up wide open under the basket by a nice pass off the pick and roll from his teammate. It's interesting to note that Splitter attempted a mid-range jumper, which isn't the most common thing to see out of him these days, using the glass. He was well off.
Splitter played most of the fourth quarter, but didn't shine in particular. He finished a pick and roll play while delivering a left-handed layup and made a very nice interior pass to a teammate in the paint. Of course, he kept on playing good defense for the most part, but that almost goes without saying for him at this point. Vázquez came back into the game in the middle of the fourth quarter and performed a little more of his typical stuff; particularly a couple of dunks underneath the basket after receiving open looks. There's not much more that's worthy to speak about. THE VERDICT:
There was no clear winner in the first Splitter-Vázquez matchup of the semifinals. It wasn't the best game of their lives for these two prospects, but neither was it their worst. Let's leave it as average and call it a draw, while mentioning that this is the ACB playoffs we are talking about here, one of the biggest basketball stages in the world. Indeed they both showed most of their strengths and weaknesses. Tiago Splitter
played his typical good defense as we've been praising him for all season long, being solid in the low post and rather quick with his feet outside of the paint. He scored some points around the basket on pick and roll plays and in general showed his good off-the-ball movement. Let's not forget that low post move against Fran of course. I think his ability there is pretty underrated, and if he stays in Europe next year, it will be a big surprise for many people to see the way he'll get consistent scoring from the paint.
On the other hand, his jumper continues to fade into the distant memory, and he doesn't even look to be close to finding it back. Also, he's not finishing around the basket as strongly as he could, opting almost always for the layup instead of the dunk. Finally, he wasn't too productive in the rebounding department, precisely where his physical rawness is more notorious at this point. His final stats were 9 points (4/6 FG), 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 1 block in 25 minutes.
Vázquez on the other hand showed pretty much all of his current offensive array: strong finishes after good movement without the ball, a very solid mid-range jumper and a rather reliable hook shot that he's not using too frequently this season.
On a negative note, there wasn't much one on one production from Vázquez. This is the main concern about his game, his offensive potential beyond being a role player. His defense, although it was better than usual, is still far from what his great athletic gifts could allow him to perform. However, he did beat Splitter statistically speaking, even if he couldn't keep up his run of double-doubles. His numbers were 14 points, 6 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 turnover in 23 minutes.
The next game is tomorrow, Saturday, June 4th.