Thank God that the Lakers and Barcelona are playing basketball Saturday night at Staples Center. The Lakers may be the best soccer team in the NBA — with Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic and Pau Gasol growing up playing the sport in Europe — but they can’t hang with Messi and Henry.
Don’t think that because Barcelona is known for another sport their basketball team is a pushover. This team — part of the same sports club that owns the soccer, er, football team — was where Gasol played before coming to the US and is still a hoops power overseas. Last year could best be described as an “irregular” one for Barcelona, and they still made it to the ABC (Spanish League) finals.
To get a better picture of Barcelona, I spoke with Xavier, the coach of El Masnou, the youth basketball development program near Barcelona that produced Olympics star Ricky Rubio. Xavier is a lifelong Barcelona fan.
“First and more important, Juan Carlos Navarro is back home,” he pointed out about Barcelona’s roster. “He might have been a sub in the NBA but in Europe he's a basketball god (ala Jasikevicious/Spanoulis).”
Navarro was a very solid point guard for Memphis last season, averaging 25 minutes and 11 points a game. And, he can shoot from distance — he shot 36% from three-point range last year. Navarro was Gasol’s teammate this summer for the Spanish team that won silver in Beijing. However, he is coming off an injury and how much time he gets in an exhibition game remains to be seen.
Barcelona has size to go with Navarro’s speed.
“David Andersen (from CSKA Moscow) and Daniel Santiago (formerly of Phoenix and Milwaukee) are the new centers of the team,” Xavier continued. “Andersen might be considered a better player but who I really like under the basket (at least at a FIBA level) is Santiago.”
However, because neither of them match up physically well with Andrew Bynum, look out for Orlando draftee (who spurned the team) Fran Vazquez to get some quality time.
Some other guys to watch?
“Ersan Ilyasova plays the multiskilled do it all role,” Xavier said. “Jaka Lakovic and Andre Barrett will handle the point guard (behind Navarro). Lakovic is more of a scorer while Barret will be setting more plays for the team.”
This is an exhibition game for both teams — the Lakers are in the preseason while Barcelona is touring the states three games into its season. That said, the Lakers are going to get a test in this game of something they will see a lot all season and into the playoffs — the pick and roll.
“I'd like to see how can the Lakers defend the pick and roll,” he said. “That will be interesting because if they close lines and try to stop the penetration they will have shooters outside killing it or bigs with soft hands and if they wait for Gasol or Bynum to get over from the weak side they will see why in Europe we still use the mid-range jumper.”
Bottom line, the Lakers are facing a good team, one of Europe’s best.
“They are a very well balanced team,” Xavier said. “Every single backcourt player is a threat from three point line and the reborn Vazquez along with Andersen, Santiago and Trias set a good inside level.”