EuroLeague Week 5 winners and losers: An ode to Dusko Ivanovic

Week 5 of EuroLeague action saw Dusko Ivanovic take the reins at Saski Baskonia for a remarkable fourth time in his long coaching career, and deliver a big victory. Here’s how it happened.

Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade v LDLC Asvel Villeurbanne - 2022/2023 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague
Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade v LDLC Asvel Villeurbanne - 2022/2023 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague / Nikola Krstic/MB Media/GettyImages

We’re going to veer off-course from our standard EuroLeague winners-and-losers format (here's week 4 if you missed that) and focus on Dusko Ivanovic’s fourth head coaching debut with Baskonia where he helped lead them to victory over Partizan Belgrade. There are a few reasons for this, but one of them is not that there weren’t other winners and losers on the week. 

ASVEL got their first victory under Gianmarco Pozzecco on the road against Zalgiris Kaunas which was both impressive for ASVEL and concerning for Zalgiris, but it's one game, let's see where both teams go from here. 

Fenerbahce squeeked out a 79-77 victory at home over Olympiacos. An impressive and resilient win that adds to what is a constantly growing contemporary rivalry. Georgios Papagiannis shot brilliantly from deep again. The Greek center is currently undergoing a Brook Lopez-style shooting arc in his career, growing from a center who never shot threes to one who is now lethal from beyond the arc. We’ll take a closer look at this later this season, but for now, we’re going to let the sample size continue to grow, and just focus on Dusko. 

Dusko is everything you expect in a seasoned European basketball coach. He is intense, demanding, unforgiving, unapologetic, and also successful while being charming in his own way. He is known for putting players through 3, 4, and even five-hour practices during the season. His conditioning sessions sound like something that would make even Pat Riley grimace, and he’s now the head coach of Baskonia for the fourth time in his storied career. 

During his third spell with the Basque club, he led them to a bubble-style Liga ACB championship in 2020. That was his third ACB title with the organization, one for each spell he’s had as head coach. During that most recent stretch, former Michigan sharpshooter Nik Stauskas cited his time at Baskonia during that season as, "the sole reason that I refuse to ever play in Europe again."

He has been described by many as a military-style leader. "Played for him at Baskonia and legit felt like I was in a military camp every day,” Stauskas said. Crvena Zvezda President Nebojsa Covic said he hired Ivanovic last season because the players needed a bigger and stronger authority figure, with military-level discipline.

Dusko does not attract flies with honey, or with vinegar. He attracts them with sweat and pushes everyone in his organization to their limit. He does not believe in fatigue, only victory. He may not sound appealing to play for, or work for, or with, for anyone. But he does bring success. He builds structure and discipline quickly and delivers results. That’s why Baskonia has brought him back for the fourth time this century. His past successes are why their fans embrace him, and even adore him. So much so that there’s a fan-driven apparel site for him.  

Baskonia entered Round 6 of EuroLeague action with a 1-4 record. Their one win coming over ALBA Berlin in Round 2. The roster itself was weak. Darius Thompson and Rokas Giedraitis were two major departures in the offseason and Codi Miller-McIntyre, Nico Mannion, and others have not been anywhere near the level necessary. The roster provides ample excuses for former head coach Joan Penarroya. He does not deserve the bulk of criticism for the squad's dreadful start. 

But this squad also lacked identity and innovation, two traits required for victory in a league as competitive as EuroLeague. During their Round 3 defeat to Bayern Munich where they blew a second-half lead at home, Penarroya called for more pick-and-roll during a timeout. Miller-McIntyre highlighted Bayern going under ball-screens set for him, due to his weaknesses as a perimeter shooter. Penarroya insisted on continuing to try them, Baskonia lost, and a few games later he was fired. He never found an alternative after he lost two elite pick-and-roll point guards — Darius Thompson and Pierria Henry — in a matter of months. 

The lack of innovation fed the drop in discipline. Baskonia’s decline worsened and as desperation mounted, Dusko became available. In his first game in charge, Baskonia hosted Partizan at the Fernando Buesa Arena. Fans packed the house and were excited for the game, with plenty of Duskista apparel on display. 

Before the game began, Luis Scola’s number was retired. The Argentine forward spent nine seasons in Baskonia before joining the Houston Rockets and was a star during Ivanovic’s first stint with the club. 

“I remember myself as an important part of a very interesting project. We played incredible basketball. These were the years with a very high level of demand, but those players understood that difficulty and embraced it,” Scola said of Dusko. “Dusko was fundamental in my career. He was the most important person during my career in Vitoria.”

Following the emotional commemoration, the game began, and Baskonia’s differences under Dusko were on display immediately, throughout the game, and then delivered a big victory for the Basque club over Zeljko Obradovic’s Partizan. Here’s how even heading into his late 60’s, Dusko turned around this team’s outlook in a matter of days. 

A change to the starting lineup opened up the floor on offense for Baskonia

Before the jump ball went up, differences were obvious. Baskonia started Markus Howard, Miller-McIntyre, Sander Raieste, Tadas Sedekerskis, and Matt Costello. Previously, coach Penarroya had regularly started games with two big men: Maik Kotsar and Costello a couple of times, and occasionally Khalifa Diop with Costello. 

This lineup was used in Pennaroya’s last EuroLeague game against Panathinaikos but Baskonia was very short-handed for that one with only eight players available. Pennaroya’s consistency in this decision was always confusing. It was likely done to help protect the undersized Howard on defense and the glass, giving the team two players to solidify those areas. 

But it was seldom beneficial. Costello and Kotsar are both slow-footed, and either struggled when dragged out to the perimeter regularly by a quicker opposing big man. And while Costello can space the floor, the offense was still congested. Teams loaded up on Howard and made it difficult for him to get the ball flying off-screens like he did last season. Miller-McIntyre was not respected in the pick-and-roll, and Costello and Kotsar just sent endless screens until someone got a window to get a shot up. 

Dusko’s new starting five played a much quicker and more open game. This was obvious in their first possession when Costello knocked down an open three off a nice two-man play with Sedekerskis. Actions and combinations like this gave Baskonia more east and west movement in attack, something they were crying out for in the five previous games this season. 

They were forcing the defense to shift horizontally, which put a lot of pressure on opponents' communication, and that hasn’t been a strong suit for Partizan this season. Openings were created and capitalized on. Confidence was on display for Baskonia for the first time all season. 

Baskonia was decisive on offense, they were on the same page, for what seemed like the first time all season. They were all committed to doing everything necessary to put points on the board which may seem straightforward but it wasn’t for this team until Round 6. The ball moved, players moved, and so did the scoreboard. The move away from two bigs gave them more perimeter options, either to dribble or shoot, which is necessary when you’ve got a point guard like Miller-McIntyre who isn’t a shooting threat. 

Baskonia played with more pace and intensity

With improvements in their halfcourt offense keeping them in the game, Baskonia showed some other flavors to help gain a competitive advantage. They dominated the glass in this one, even as Dusko moved the team away from the two big lineups. They outrebounded Partizan 38-26 including a 16-2 advantage in offensive rebounds. 

Miller-McIntyre and Sedekerski led the way with eight rebounds each, showing this team never needed two bigs to protect the glass even with a player like Howard out there. They closed possessions and created extra ones, and this played a significant role in their one-point victory. 

Winning the possession battle gave Baskonia the ability to control the tempo of this game. After offensive rebounds, they could find open looks in the ensuing defensive scrambles, and grabbing defensive rebounds gave them opportunities to push the tempo. This put less pressure on their half-court offense, and kept them in the game, particularly during Partizan’s third-quarter push. 

It is hard to credit Dusko with all of this in such little time to prepare, and some of it is owed to players wanting to prove themselves to the new head coach. But these are themes of Dusko teams and the regular benefits of those long practices and conditioning sessions. 

Baskonia's defense was punishing

Another staple of Dusko teams is intense defensive pressure. They are regularly picking up opponents with full-court man-to-man, chasing players off the three-point line and into traffic, blitzing pick-and-rolls, and more. Chaos is a ladder for Dusko defenses, and they created a lot of chaos against Partizan. 

Blitzing pick-and-rolls was a big part of Baskonia’s game plan in this one. Regardless of the personnel on the floor or who was involved in defending the pick-and-roll, whenever the high-ballscreen came two Baskonia defenders immediately sprinted at Partizan’s ballhandler. They forced them high-and-wide and regularly defanged the action, to the point of creating several turnovers from James Nunnally, P.J. Dozier, and others. 

Partizan and Zeljko Obradovic adjusted. Frank Kaminsky began to slip the screens and catch the ball in 4-on-3 scenarios, and he was making Baskonia pay. The former Wisconsin Badger finished the game with 8 points and 5 assists. His patience amid Baskonia’s chaos was causing problems, so Dusko responded. 

Baskonia began anticipating the slip, and they would tag the roller — whether it was Kaminsky or Alen Smailagic — and force turnovers or cut the pass off entirely. They dared the likes of Nunnally, Dozier, Aleksa Avramovic, and Danilo Andjusic to make skip passes but none of them were capable. 

Partizan did force switches though, with their guards keeping their dribble alive long enough to keep Baskonia’s bigs switched onto them. This got mismatches in the post for LeDay, Kaminsky, and others. Significant mismatches too, Howard and Baskonia’s newest addition Chris Chiozza are both undersized guards who were no match for Partizan’s big men. They conceded a handful of easy buckets out of these switches, and Dusko’s hand was forced again. 

Baskonia’s final two adjustments were to scram their switches, which involves quickly switching out the smaller player for a teammate better suited to defend Kaminsky and others in the post. With perimeter ball pressure being applied to cut off any easy passing angles, Baskonia would buy themselves just enough time to get a defender switched into the post who could hold their own and negate the action, forcing Partizan to reset. 

Additionally, in the later stages of the game, Dusko used timeouts and whistles to make offense-defense substitutions. He took Howard and Chiozza off the floor entirely, instead using Vanja Marinkovic who is no defensive stopper but is capable of battling down low much more so than his smaller teammates. Baskonia decided to dare Partizan to close the game with the likes of Kaminsky and LeDay versus Marinkovic, and their bet paid off with Marinkovic’s strength and durability helping to force a key turnover in the final minute of the game. In a surprise to no one, a Dusko team won a big game with key defensive stops. 

Codi Miller-McIntyre is built to play in Dusko's system

Baskonia did make one new signing following the arrival of Dusko by bringing Chiozza into the squad, and there are rumors that they could make more. However, one player who struggled under Penarroya seems ready to thrive under Dusko and that is Miller-McIntyre. 

At 29 years old, Miller-McIntyre is a EuroLeague rookie who’s been playing professionally overseas since 2016. His signing was a bit of a surprise for Baskonia. Under Penarroya, Baskonia once featured a guard rotation of Howard, Thompson, and Henry. Three dynamic guards who could thrive in pick-and-roll and isolation, and were very offense-oriented. They were the hub of the team and made Baskonia look unstoppable at times last season. Miller-McIntyre could not be more different. He is a decent passer but poses a minimal scoring threat, he is a liability in the half-court more than he is effective. But under Dusko, he can serve as the hub on defense. 

Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing over 200 pounds Miller-McIntyre has a great body for a EuroLeague guard. Add that to his impressive speed and acceleration, hip mobility, active hands, and length and you’ve got the perfect player to lead Dusko’s high-pressure and high-intensity defensive scheme. He’s a pest for even the best guards in Europe and can switch onto bigger players and hold his own. What he lacks as a halfcourt offensive threat he makes up for in transition. 

He’s difficult to stop once he gets up to his top speed. Moving downhill, few in EuroLeague are comfortable staying in front of him. Against Partizan, he finished with 9 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists. He shot 5/5 from the free-throw line as well, getting to the stripe in opportunities where he could build up a head of steam. He did finish with three turnovers, and that will always be a problem for him. Not only do opposing defenses know he’s not a huge offensive threat but he knows that about himself, and occasionally passes up wide-open shots to force passes opponents are easily anticipating. 

His game is reminiscent of Charles Jenkins, the American-Serbian guard who led numerous EuroLeague defenses on the perimeter throughout his career, and under Dusko, Miller-McIntyre looks poised to do the same. 

Baskonia is a new team under Dusko

Baskonia still has a roster that looks doubtful of making the play-in, but in Game 1 of Dusko Part IV, we were reminded of why he remains so desirable amid all his flaws. With only days to prepare he was able to best Obradovic’s Partizan and deliver an important victory for a Baskonia side that desperately needed a lift. Obradovic and Dusko have been competing against each other for nearly half a century, dating back to their famous Partizan-Jugoplastika match-ups of the 1980s that also featured Dino Radja, Toni Kukoc, Vlade Divac, and others. Based on how Game 1 went for Dusko, it’s a match-up that we’re likely to keep seeing for a long time. 

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