Deciphering the Final Four 2018 – Team Profiles

“It’s going to be a tough game. It’s the Final Four. We know what we have in front of us. We have to play for 40 minutes if we want the title. They guard, they play defense really well. They force you to make difficult shots and they do a good job of making shots. I understand what’s at stake. If we come out with confidence and play hard, I think we can get the job done. [The keys to winning are] rebounding the ball and making them take tough shots.” Trey Thompkins (Euroleague.net – Pre-Championship Press Release, 2018)

Above-mentioned interview Real Madrid’s successful forward, Trey Thompkins, depicted that Real Madrid has already made a deep and multidimensional statistical analysis of the other finalist, Fenerbahce Dogus. These teams were also faced with each other during F4 in 2015. Real Madrid defeated his opponent with an overwhelming game in the semi-finals;  then passed the Olympiacos Piraeus and reached the cup at their home. However, Zeljko Obradovic’s Fenerbahce has upset the balance of European basketball over the last 3 years, while attending their 4th consecutive F4 in Belgrade as the titleholder.

In sum, Los Blancos denied Fenerbahce Dogus a repeat title and took the trophy home to the Madrid for the 10th time by defeating them 85-80 at Stark Arena, after knocking off the first-place team all season, CSKA Moscow, in the semi-finals. While Luka Doncic meritedly earned the Final Four MVP honour, Fabien Causeur and Trey Thompkins kept pace with Slovenian starlet by scoring 17 points and 10 points, respectively. On the other hand, Zalgiris Kaunas, which appeared in Final Four for the first time since 1999, beat CSKA Moscow in the third-place game. 

In this study, performances of the teams are examined in detail by basic and advanced metrics such as points, shooting, assist, turnover and rebound as well as floor impact counter, hands on buckets, effective field goal, true shooting, assist percentage, rebound percentage etc. Furthermore, below dashboards are seeking appropriate answers to a number of critical questions:

  • Which metrics were the primary triggers that lead such teams to the Final Four?
  • What were the main differences between regular season and post-season performances? 
  • Which players did come to the forefront during the regular season?
  • Which ‘surprise’ basketballers did appear in critical games by putting in outstanding performances?

Real Madrid had lost lots of games at short intervals in the middle of the first and the second half of the regular season.  They had a 10-game winning streak in their home, despite showing an average performance on away by being defeated almost half of the matches. Olympiacos was recorded as the only team that Real Madrid could not have defeated.

Fenerbahce Dogus, which sent two critical stars – Bogdan Bogdanovic and Ekpe Udoh to the NBA in the preseason, had performed on average during the first half by 60% winning. However, their increasing momentum had redounded on the court and they caught the band of 80% in the second half of the regular season. While the number of home victories remained at the level of 10; they have won 11 away matches and surpassed their opponents in this metric. However, Zeljko’s team was defeated by CSKA, Real and Zalgiris at Ulker Sports Arena, while triumphing over them in their homes. The only team they did not have a victory against was Unicaja Malaga.

Zalgiris Kaunas had been far behind his opponent’s in terms of away performance – 7 win, 8 loss – despite 11 victories at home. Real Madrid and Fenerbahce Dogus also defeated Saras’s promising greens at Zalgiris Arena. In addition, Zalgiris were defeated by Real Madrid, Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz and Khimki Moscow in both games during the regular season.

CSKA Moscow was the undisputed leader of the regular seasons by reaching 80% win both in the first and the second half of the league. While they lost only one home game against Fenerbahce Dogus; CSKA had reached the band of 10-victory for away games. The defeats from prospective F4 contenders – Real Madrid and Zalgiris Kaunas – on away games were the primary question mark before CSKA’s Final Four journey.

Real Madrid‘s 2FG% performance in Wizink Center fell to 50% for losses, while up to 60% during victories. However, Real had given their opponents more chance on 2FGA, even in home games they won. Furthermore, Los Blancos went to foul line very often particularly in wins. In the away games Fenerbahce Dogus lost, the median level of 2FG% had dropped to 43%. The opponents had shown a significant 2FG performance (63%) in the home matches Fenerbahce lost, in which standard deviation of Fenerbahce’s 2FG figures was regarded as considerably high. Their 3FG% had stood at the forefront as one of the primary metrics in away games. Moreover, they flung the opponents away from the three-point line and earned more free throws in home games they won. Zalgiris Kaunas had more 2FGA than their opponents in both winning and losing matches; compelling them to 3FGA and defending the lane very well. It was important for Zalgiris to keep their opponents’ 2FG parameters below 50% in winning games. In addition, 3FG% of ‘Žaliai balti’ (The Green-Whites) had acted a major role on their away winnings.  For CSKA Moscow, 2FG% seems the most volatile parameter that had fluttered and dropped below 40% in losing games. What’s more,  in away games, their FTA had been always lower compared to home matches during the regular season; irrespective of whether they win the matches or not. 

There were statistically significant differences in parameters of True Shooting (TS) and Effective Field Goal (eFG). This suggests that TS and eFG had been critical drivers of winning for each of F4 teams.  Having looked at wins, the TS’s median for each team was over 60% and the opponents had always lower level. As their opponents had increased their TS values in losing games; the ratios of Real, Fenerbahce, Zalgiris and CSKA were on the fall. Remarkable for eFG, Zalgiris held even higher than any of his other competitors in F4 as well as they even got a higher eFG value in 6 of their 8 away losses. The Green-Whites also held higher FT/FGA ratio than the opponents in home games. Considering away games, CSKA made higher FT/FGA than their opponents in only two games. 

Assist is regarded as one of the major drivers of wins for each Final Four teams throughout the regular season. As the number of assists of each team was reduced, their ‘defeatability‘ were increased. The team that has not been foreseen in terms of assist number was CSKA that had dished out only 5 assists when they were defeated by Real Madrid at Wizink Center.

Even in winning games, Fenerbahce and Zalgiris had made turnover as much as their opponents; their turnover figures had risen significantly in the games they lost. Real Madrid’s turnover performances had had a considerable variance between home and away games. CSKA had also shown an unstable turnover performance in away wins.

Assist/turnover (AS/TO) ratio had come to the fore as one of the most key metrics of Obradovic’s losses in home games. CSKA and Real had shown a much more dominant performance against their victims on AS/TO except for losing away games.

In terms of steal and turnover, Zalgiris had not been able to outperform their opponents in both losses and wins. Steal/Turnover (ST/TO) rate of Fenerbahce and Zalgiris were not head and shoulders above their opponents during the regular season. Along with dominant outlooks of Real and CSKA in wins, they had shown a consistent performance on ST/TO even in the losing matches.

Rebound had been a critical driver of victory for Fenerbahce and Zalgiris in their home games as well as CSKA’s away games. Even in losses, Saras’s team had turned the lane into a forbidden zone for their opponents. On the other hand, Fenerbahce had allowed the opposers for a large number of rebound.  Nevertheless, Fenerbahce, Zalgiris and CSKA had dominated defensive rebounds. Looking at offensive rebounds, that trio has been able to take offensive rebounds far less than their opponents in most of the games. For Zalgiris, this figure has become remarkably striking; their opponents had earned more offensive rebounds in all seven away games that they won. In addition, Fenerbahce and CSKA were able to get more offensive rebounds than their opponents in only 35% of the games. Real Madrid, which was not seen as dominant in the defensive rebound as the contenders (Fenerbahce, Zalgiris and CSKA), had gained fewer offensive rebounds than the opponents while allowing them for less offensive rebounds too. 

Zalgiris had not been able to reach high block number against rest of Euroleague teams that, however, behaved Zalgiris mercilessly in terms of block. For instance, Maccabi had stood like a fort knox against Jasikevicius’s players by reaching 9 blocks. Real Madrid and CSKA players had managed to avoid the block threat of their opponents throughout the regular season. The number of fouls committed by Fenerbahce and Zalgiris had had a considerable variance between home and away games. They had made much fewer fouls in home games as opposed to away games, particularly away losses. The opponents had usually appealed to foul to stop Real and CSKA.

Real Madrid remained below the median value of 3FG (11) and 3FG% (38.89%) against Panathinaikos, except for the 2nd match of the playoffs. On the other side, Laso’s team had taken a three-point lead over 40% throughout the Final Four. In terms of True Shooting, Real had kept CSKA and Fenerbahce at a considerably low level.

Los Blancos managed to take the trophy home to the Madrid despite not being able to reach their assist, turnover and steal performance belonging to the regular season. The 2nd game of Panathinaikos series, which Real had shown a terrible 2FG performance, can be literally considered as a milestone of their season. Real Madrid won this match with a striking performance on the 3FG and defensive rebound and seized the psychological superiority on the series because of the fact that Pana won the first game with an overwhelming play (95-67) at OAKA.

Real had taken much higher defensive and offensive rebounds than their opponents throughout the F4. Although CSKA showed a significant performance, particularly in offensive rebound, they could not have coped with Real in terms of AS/TO and ST/TO.

Fenerbahce Dogus, which started with two home games to the Baskonia lineup, won the first match by tight defence despite the low AS/TO ratio. In the second game, Fenerbahce had shown 2FG, 2FG% and FT performance well above the median values of the regular season; while literally knocking Baskonia out in terms of rebounds.

Despite only 2 turnovers, Obradovic’s team lost the regular season home game against Zalgiris due to weakness in rebounds. Although Fenerbahce could not have shown any presence in rebounds against Zalgiris, they won the semi-final game thanks to Zalgiris’s poor performance on turnover (20), 3FG (2) and 3FG% (20%)

In the final, Fenerbahce, which had notably defended the hoop, could not have prevented themselves from the ‘3FG rain’ of Real. Besides, Real had gained 26 points by free throws and had played with a high rate of True Shooting. Another problem on behalf of Fenerbahce was undoubtedly their weak rebound performance. In sum, Zeljko and his students lost their title by a dramatic final after Berlin 2016. 

Although their 2FG% had remained below 40%, Zalgiris beat Olympiacos with the high performance on 3FG, turnover and steal in the first game of the series. The main triggers of loss in the second game were offensive rebound (13), 3FG (10) and FT (17) figures of Olympiacos. In the third game, Zalgiris had made more turnovers than their regular season average, but they did not give rebound chance to the opponent. Zalgiris surpassed the level of 100 points in the last game of the series. Their significant performance on 3FG%, FT, AS/TO and turnover had come to the fore as the major driver of the victory. 

In the semi-finals, Zalgiris was particularly good at the offensive rebound against Fenerbahce Dogus. However, they had fallen to a very low AS/TO ratio, mainly stemming from a considerable number of turnover (20). What’s more, Fenerbahce’s 3FG and 3FGA values were very close to the median values of Zalgiris’s opponents in their losing games during the regular season. Zalgiris, on the contrary, had only two 3FGs throughout the game.

Zalgiris finished the 2017-18 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season in the third place by beating CSKA in a dramatical game. Zalgiris led by as many as 24 points in the third quarter, but CSKA dominated the fourth quarter to get within 2 and set up a tight finish. Zalgiris played with a high shot percentage of 51% in eFG, while CSKA stayed at the level of 30% in this parameter. Zalgiris’s AS/TO ratio was very low due mainly to significantly low assist and high turnover performance. Their overwhelming dominance on defensive rebound had reflected positively upon their wins.

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