Three Takeaways from Week 3
By John Krolik, @krolikjohn July 5, 2022
1 – Barbosa’s Back, and There’s Gonna be Trouble
(Just in case you weren’t keeping up to date with the hottest music of 1963, this is the reference.)
On Saturday, the 0-2 Ball Hogs took on the 2-0 Triplets. On paper, that may have looked like a mismatch in the Triplets’ favor, but soon after the game started the BIG3 faithful knew that this was going to be a good one. Why? Because the Brazilian Blur is back.
Ball Hogs Captain Leandro Barbosa missed Week 1 because of his responsibilities as a Player Development Coach for the 2021-22 NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. He played in Week 2 and did put pressure on the defense, but his shot was off and it was clear his “sea legs” weren’t quite back under him yet.
In Week 3, we got to see what the Ball Hogs are capable of when Barbosa is at 100%. The 39-year old Barbosa is still faster with the ball than anyone in the league, and knows how to set up his forays to the rim with subtle hesitation moves.
Barbosa almost always drives right when he goes to the cup, but “don’t let Leandro blow past you when he goes right” would be akin to telling a boxer facing Mike Tyson in the late 80’s “don’t let him punch you” – it’s much easier said than done. In fact, with the score tied at 48 and the game on the line, Barbosa drove to his strong hand and dared the Triplets to stop him. They weren’t up to the task, and Leandro scooped the game-winner home.
Making matters even more complicated for defenses facing the Ball Hogs is that when Barbosa flies to the rim, the weak side is occupied by Jodie Meeks, who happens to be perhaps the best pure shooter in the league. If a defense collapses on Barbosa to try and stop him from getting to the cup, he’ll find the open man, which is why he led the league in assists in 2021.
Even with a 30-point performance from Joe Johnson, the Triplets couldn’t overcome the unrelenting pressure Barbosa put on their defense. Barbosa simply refused to let his team fall, and the rest of the league should be on notice.
2 – The Aliens Invasion is Real
The Aliens had their full complement of players for the first time on Sunday. Point guard and team Captain Dusan Bulut, along with his Co-Captains swingman Karlis Lasmanis and big man Tomislav Ivosev were all in the lineup for the first time in the 2022 season.
I do want to give all of the Aliens’ individual players their due credit. Bulut is quick, has great court vision, and is one of the best shooters in the league. Lasmanis is a deadly southpaw slasher who can knock down the three when given space. Ivosev has what the kids (and BIG3 broadcaster Brian Scalabrine, who is eternally young at heart) call a tremendous “bag,” meaning he has a wide selection of moves and countermoves that he employs in order to get buckets. Deshawn Stephens, who comes to the BIG3 from Los Angeles, is as big a part of the Aliens’ success as any of their FIBA veterans. Finally, Adam Drexler provides great length and energy off the bench.
With that being said, it is an absolute joy to watch the Aliens’ approach to FIREBALL3. The movement of the players and the ball is constant, and they effortlessly flow from one action to the next until they get the shot they want.
There are a number of ways to describe the Aliens’ playstyle. Coach Rick Mahorn calls what his team does “organized chaos,” which is pretty well on the money. Personally, I call what the Aliens do “If-Then Basketball.”
Have you ever seen a flock of birds flying in formation? There’s no leader telling the rest of the birds where to go to create the formation, like the leader of a marching band would. In fact, the birds aren’t even aware they’re flying in formation. Flocking emerges through a series of simple rules, such as “stay close to the birds nearest you, but don’t bump into them.” Doesn’t that sound a whole lot like “give your teammate a lane to pass it to you if he needs to, but give him enough space to operate without any constraints,” which is essentially how basketball works in 2022?
Anyways, the point is that if you get a bunch of birds obeying these simple rules, you’ll get a beautifully-coordinated flock. This is known as “emergent behavior.” (N.B. – the following metaphor comes nearly word-for-word from the late Michael Crichton’s 2002 novel Prey, which I highly recommend.)
What the Aliens do is take the concept of emergent behavior and apply it to people, who are much smarter than birds and can thus do far more things, and play “If-then” basketball. If X happens, cut backdoor. If Y happens, set an off-ball screen. If Z happens, set a ball-screen then look to go down the lane off a UCLA cut, which will be there because your teammate knows to set a back-pick when Z happens. If your man goes under the screen or you get a mismatch down low, just take the open shot or flip it over him in the post. There’s no trying to remember where you’re supposed to be on a set play or isolating and dipping deep into your aforementioned “bag” – it’s just pure read and react.
I don’t know if the Aliens have the pure talent to get to the top of the BIG3 this season – even with their game flowing, they had a fair bit of trouble with Bivouac. However, I do have the strong feeling that the way the Aliens play may be the future of FIREBALL3.
3 – Isaiah Briscoe Didn’t See You When he was in the Weight Room
Trilogy’s point guard showed some slick moves and a knack for shot-making over the first two weeks of the season, but on Sunday he showed what makes him a really special player – his strength.Trilogy looked like they were done for early in their contest with the Ghost Ballers, and went into the half trailing 25-12.
However, Briscoe (with a lot of help from Earl Clark) got his team back into the game and ultimately helped them win it by refusing to allow any Ghost Baller to stop him from getting into the paint or converting a layup once he got in there. Trilogy lost physical point guard and former team captain Jarrett Jack in the offseason, but Briscoe may prove to be a worthy replacement.