Three Takeaways from Week 1
By John Krolik, @krolikjohn June 22, 2022
It sure does feel good to have the BIG3 back. The 2022 season officially got underway last weekend with six games, and all of them delivered the kind of action only FIREBALL3 can provide. Here were my three biggest takeaways (plus a bonus) from the first weekend of play:
1) The Aliens Experiment is Looking Good.
Rick Mahorn’s Aliens squad is doing something new for the 2022 season. Captain Dusan Bulut and Co-Captains Karlis Lasmanis and Tomislav Ivosev (the latter of whom missed Week 1 due to Visa issues) are all European-born veterans of the FIBA 3×3 circuit, which is as intense of a 3-on-3 league as you’ll find outside of FIREBALL3.
Even with Ivosev out, Bulut and Lasmanis’ wealth of experience playing 3-on-3 was on full display. No team made it look prettier than the Aliens did over the weekend. The ball constantly moved, and the team constantly flowed in and out of its actions. If a player didn’t have the ball, he was actively working to either get open or free up a teammate by cutting or setting a screen.
When they put the ball on the floor, they drove with purpose, looking to get to the rim or draw a defender out of place and hit the man he was guarding for an easy basket. Of course, great shooting can make any offense look good, and Bulut, who may be the best shooter the BIG3 has to offer, was dialed in on Sunday. Five of Bulut’s seven made field goals came from outside, with four of them coming from three-point range (including the game-winner) and one coming from the four-point circle.
He also played the role of facilitator, dishing out seven assists to southpaw shooting guard Karlis Lasmanis and big man Deshawn Stephens, the latter of whom did a fantastic job of filling in for Ivosev. Lasmanis wasn’t as efficient as Bulut, but he still drove with purpose and showed the ability to knock down the open three, and did all the little things mentioned above that give the Aliens a kind of flow I didn’t see from any other team over the weekend. If you’re looking for a dark-horse pick to take home the BIG3 Championship home this year, the Aliens might be your team.
2) The BIG3 has two Brand-New Superstars in Michael Beasley and Gerald Green.
Michael Beasley came into Saturday’s game against Bivouac as one of the most-hyped rookies in league history, and he wasted no time announcing his presence. In his first-ever half of FIREBALL3, Beasley scored 19 points on 7-8 shooting from the field. Two of his makes came from inside the paint, two came from midrange, one came from three-point range, and two came from the four-point circles. For a point of reference, the rest of the BIG3 made a combined 3 four-point shots over the course of the weekend. It’s fairly safe to say Beasley was feeling it. Like I said in my Day 1 recap, if you’d given Beasley a handful of sand at halftime, it likely would have turned into glass.
Beasley did cool off later in the game, and only scored seven points in the second half as Bivouac was more consistently able to contest his jump shots and force him to drive to his right. However, his effort never waned, and his block of a Corey Brewer dunk attempt was likely the play of the game.
Meanwhile, new Bivouac Captain Gerald Green was busy putting on a clinic of his own. Before he was drafted out of high school in 2005, Green drew comparisons to Tracy McGrady, and it’s not hard to see why. They’re both swingmen who came into the NBA straight out of high school, but it goes beyond that. Green, like McGrady, makes the game look almost too easy at times. That was certainly the case in his FIREBALL3 debut.
It’s no easy feat to have a 12-year NBA career, and Green was able to play a dozen seasons because of his prodigious leaping ability and beautiful shooting stroke. Green’s leaping ability is different than what you often see out of high-amplitude players – instead of violently firing himself into the air the way someone like Ja Morant does, Green just smoothly glides off the floor until his feet are ridiculously far above the ground, like he’s playing on a planet with less gravity than everyone else is.
Green can still rise up above everyone and put the ball in the center of the net from any range, and those skills make him just about impossible to guard in the FIREBALL3 format. He casually rose up above defenders and swished mid-range jumpers the defense had no hope of contesting. He was deadly when he got space from beyond the arc, and knocked down four of his eight shots from beyond the arc. When he did get to the basket, he made some beautiful plays, including a double-clutch layup that commentator Avery Johnson admitted “brought him out of his seat.”
Beasley had the blazing-hot start and 3’s Company ultimately got the win, but Green went blow-for-blow with his fellow BIG3 rookie the whole game. Green and Beasley both finished with 26 points, with Green going 10-16 from the floor, grabbing 9 rebounds, and dishing out 2 assists, while Beasley went 8-17 from the floor, snatched four rebounds, and didn’t manage to pick up an assist.
Still, the big takeaway isn’t to determine who had the better game between Beasley and Green – it’s that both players look like they’ll be stars in the BIG3 for years to come.
3) The BIG3 has a new Power Couple.
Nancy Lieberman’s Power squad made it all the way to the promised land in 2018. If #1 overall pick Glen Rice Jr. and second-round pick TJ Cline can play the way they did on Sunday, they may find themselves back in championship contention sooner rather than later. Coach Lieberman used the draft to give her team a needed injection of talent, and the early returns are extremely positive.
In Power’s win against Tri-State, Rice went off for 23 points on 10-16 shooting from the field and 3-7 shooting beyond the arc, and Coach Lieberman was consistently able to draw up plays for him that got him a mismatch with Larry Sanders, drawing one of the league’s premier shot-blockers out of the paint and nullifying one of Tri-State’s biggest strengths.
Coach Lieberman assured me of two things when I interviewed her before the start of the season: That Glen Rice was a bucket with game-changing ability, and that TJ Cline, who happens to be Coach Lieberman’s son, has the goods. On Sunday, we learned yet again that when Nancy Lieberman talks, it’s a good idea to listen.
Cline came off the bench and immediately made his presence felt with my favorite play of the day. The 6’9 forward set a screen, rolled hard to the rim, and got the ball back in a two-on-one situation by getting his right hand on the pass above his head. Without breaking stride, bringing the ball below his head, or even touching it with his left hand, Cline flicked a gorgeous pass right on the money to Nikoloz Tskitishvili (another off-season pickup for Power), who went on to convert the easy And-1. It was, at the risk of oversimplification, the kind of play you’d expect to see out of the son of “Lady Magic.”
Cline didn’t stop there. As Gerald Green admitted while on guest commentary during the game, it’s hard for first-year FIREBALL3 players to adjust to some of the new rules, particularly the rule that states you don’t have to clear the ball if an opponent turns the ball over or fails to hit the rim with his shot. This was not an issue for Cline, who was consistently hustling, had a nose for the ball, and converted several of the “gimme” shots I mentioned above. He also stopped Larry Sanders on a Bring the Fire challenge, and capped his day off by nailing the game-winning 3. Rice (23 points) and Cline (16 points on 6-7 shooting from the field) combined to score 39 of Power’s 50 points, and it looks like Coach Lieberman may have used the off-season to load her team up with enough talent to get back to championship contention.
BONUS: It’s still Joe Johnson’s League
Even with all the promising new blood in the league, Iso-Joe led all scorers over the weekend with 30 points in a win against defending champion Power. The scary thing is that his outside shot wasn’t even working – he only went 5-17 on shots outside the paint. However, he made seven of the eight shots he took inside the paint, including the game-winner, and generally sent out the message that the road to the BIG3 MVP award still goes through him.