X’s & O’s: Tomic’s Touch & Barca’s Cuts

After starting with two losses into the new Euroleague-season, FC Barcelona finally got their first win on Thursday night against FC Bayern Basketball.  A big part of that victory was big man Ante Tomic (18 Points, five assists) but also the strategy how they used him and what he created out of that. Let’s take a look.

Tomic, standing at 2,18m, is not your typical seven-footer. He also won’t shoot threes and is at his best with his back to the basket but it is his touch around the rim and his passing what sets him apart from a lot of other bigs at his height. The Croatian has the ability to receive passes while simultaneously observing the court for his next options. This is a very valuable skill in the pick & roll as Tomic always forces defenses to help out on him just because of his presence as a roll-man. If your defense doesn’t communicate enough and rotate, Barcelona can find ways to exploit that.

This brings us to Thursday’s action where Bayern didn’t show this ability and immediately gave up lots of easy points for the Spanish side. Four of Tomic’s five assists from that night came out of these pick & roll situations where Barca used a simple strategy to create good shots.

This first scene already shows that. Barcelona runs their high pick & roll with Tomic as the screener and the rest of the players spreading the floor. Now Booker does a poor job of defending this which leaves Tomic open at the free throw line. As soon as Barca’s center catches the ball, it triggers a cut to the basket from the weakside. This gives the Spaniards an easy 2-on-1-situation and Pierro Oriola scores. Also note how Victor Claver (#30) lifts to the top of the key to prevent his defender (Nihad Djedovic) from helping out.

How important the cut is to make this play really effective can be seen in the next clip. Bayern does a lot of things right here as Stefan Jovic steps in to help out on Tomic until Leon Radosevic is back in position. Also, Petteri Koponen (#8) positions between the two Barca players on the weakside to be able to defend a possible pass to the shooters. However, he still looks to the ball and can’t see Jaka Blazic (#9) cutting to the basket from behind him. Tomic again does an incredible job of catching and passing the ball in a split of seconds to deliver Blazic the easy shot at the rim.

So it was a combination of two things: Bayern’s pick & roll team-defense not on Euroleague-level yet but also Barcelona knowing how to take advantage of this. When both of these came together at the same time it pretty much looked like the next clip. Here, Barcelona had the open cutter (#18 Pierre Oriola) and the open shooter (#5 Pau Ribas) as Bayern’s new addition Derrick Williams is still trying to figure out how rotations work in Dejan Radonjic’s system.

It was no surprise that the ‘dagger’ also came from one of these situations. After a quick screen, Tomic uses his height to catch the ball in the paint against Vladimir Lucic. To create space for shooter Kyle Kuric now, it is again Jaka Blazic who makes the intelligent cut to the basket. This sucks the help-defender in and Kuric now has all sorts of space to hit the important three-pointer.

It is obvious that it won’t work like this against teams that are already playing better together on defense and don’t have to integrate new players like Bayern does. But still, it was a nice and effective way to detect and attack the opponents’ weaknesses and for sure was one of the reasons why Barcelona got their first win of the season.

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