Mitnick: Update from Israel on Fran Vazquez (Magic) and Erazem Lorbek (Spurs)

TEL AVIV, Israel — Regal Barcelona put on a defensive clinic in Tel-Aviv against Maccabi in a round of 16 showdown between two of the powerhouse teams in the Euroleague. Barcelona’s stable of big men and heady guard play were too much for Maccabi to overcome, giving the Spanish squad a big 71-57 road victory.

Barcelona’s frontcourt features two NBA prospects in Erazem Lorbek and Fran Vasquez, whose combination of size and skill was too much for Maccabi. With Sofoklis Schortsanitis limited to 8 minutes due to foul trouble, Lorbek and Vasquez were able to dominate the paint.

Lorbek was quietly included in the George Hill trade over the summer, and could end up being a big piece of the San Antonio Spurs’ future.

He has excellent footwork, a great outside shot and is one of the craftiest inside players in the game today.

After being selected in the draft lottery in 2005, Vasquez has remained overseas, opting to hold off his debut in the NBA. Against Maccabi, Vasquez showed excellent mobility, great movement off the ball, and his excellent pick and roll defense helped prevent Maccabi from getting into their offense.

Vasquez pondered coming to the NBA this season, but with the uncertainty of the lockout, he opted to play at least one more year in Spain. If the Magic can retain Dwight Howard, Vasquez should be able to step in and fill the gaping hole behind Howard since Marcin Gortat was traded to Phoenix last season.

This hard fought game last Thursday epitomized the enormous difference between the NBA and the Euroleague. Throughout the first three quarters of NBA games, teams often take shots early in the clock as they catch their defenders sleeping early in possessions. However, in this game, almost every shot for both sides came with less than 5 seconds left on the shot clock.

Both teams gave incredible effort on defense, and it was obvious that both teams spent a great deal of time over the past week preparing defensively. Click here for the box score.

For better or worse, European coaches focus more on playing team basketball than showcasing individuals. Maccabi (9-3) gave minutes to all 12 players and Barcelona (8-4) used 11 in a game that was close until the last two minutes. Barcelona’s Juan Carlos Navarro, the leading scorer in Euroleague history, came off the bench, despite being the leader of the team. No one player took more than 10 shots, and there didn’t appear to be any isolation plays for any player not named Keith Langford.

The NBA obviously is head and shoulders above European basketball in terms of talent, but there are only a few NBA teams that come with the preparation and execution that both of these teams showed.

Why don’t more NBA teams who don’t have a dominant star player go with a more European approach?  It would seem that in absence of a big star, during a tightly-packed 66-game season, it would be a good idea to spread around the minutes and opportunities to make your team less predictable, build chemistry, and keep the legs fresh, similar to what Hubie Brown did during his time with the Grizzlies.

These types of match-ups may not bring the same type of entertainment as the Bulls-Heat game last Sunday, but the level of execution brought by both teams are a joy for basketball purists.

AJ Mitnick is an American currently living in Israel and working for Maccabi Rishon Lezion of the Israeli Basketball Super League. A recent graduate of IDC Herzliya, Mitnick also maintains a  basketball blog,, and is pursuing a professional basketball coaching license from the Wingate Institute in Israel.



  1. shinchan2005 says

    AJ: As usual, it is very nice reading you when you put that “european point of view” to the NBA.
    I think Lorbek could play in the NBA because he is very talented, but, one more time, we are assaulted by reasonable doubts when we point the physical aspect.
    IMO Lorbek could display some ” Ryan Anderson Role” playing as an open-power-forward in the NBA, but I have doubts if that role could be displayed properly in the Spurs since they do not have a dominant big such as Howard. At first sight, I think Lorbek could have minutes in teams like Memphis, in Lakers (if Gasol end up being traded), Houston pairing with Dalembert (in case Scola was traded) even in a team like Washington. As you can check all teams mentioned have a truly big presence in the paint.

    Regarding Vasquez, in his career he has shown some aspects of his personality that make me think he would not fit very well in the NBA. Ok he could easily play some 10 minutes providing interior presence, some blocks and good movements in the paint, but he would never be a factor in the league. I have serious doubts about his work ethic. I can not envision him working hard in the training room and improving his basketball skills in order to compete with the best in the NBA.

  2. p.c. says


    I love me some European basketball. And every time I read one of your articles that spews worn out NBA-European basketball comparisons I feel embarrassed. I know you think you are supporting European basketball, but you’re just reinforcing over-broad generalizations that are not accurate, and feel to me to at least somewhat racially tinged. (You’re obviously not racist, but the original formulation of this dubious themes makes me feel mighty uneasy.) You should be more careful.

    The lead from the Barca-Maccabi game was that Lorbek is having a hell of a season and I think, with his rather modest buyout, he will be plying his trade for the Spurs next season. His series of post isolation plays (and no, Lorbek is not named Langford) sealed the game for Barca. There’s a lot to be excited about in San Antonio. I think a fair amount of Lorbek’s offensive vocabulary is not going to easily translate with the way Euro officials whistle plays in the paint (more contact allowed off the ball, less contact allowed on the ball.) But he’s so skilled, commits few turnovers, and his length will be a huge asset.

    I think NBA fans are slow on the uptake with Lorbek because Draft Express has not been high on him in the past, and they usually do pretty good work there. But I don’t see Lorbek’s athleticism as being a limitation to his success in the NBA.

    Your take on the Bulls-Heat game strikes me as silly. Miami relies on transition baskets because Lebron James and Dwyane Wade are the two best transition players in the world; just as Montepaschi Siena relied on transition buckets in their beat down of Real Madrid this past week because Bo McCalebb is an incredibly effective transition scorer.

    And NBA teams that have deep talent at a position spread minutes around like European basketball clubs. It’s just that NBA clubs are governed by a collective bargaining agreement that limits the ability of teams to acquire two solid players at any position. The Bulls have a four-deep front line and Taj Gibson and Omer Asik have finished their fair amount of games this season, similar to a European club. If there was no collective bargaining agreement, similar to Europe, you better believe that the big market franchises would buy two deep at every position, similar to Europe.

    C’mon son, get your act together.


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