Thursday, June 26, 2014

FIBA Americas U18 2014 Championship Scouting Report: Uruguay, 8th Place

One of the youngest squads in the tournament, Grolla De Leon (no. 6) and Uruguay showed some growing pains and need for improvement at the FIBA Americas 18U Championship in Colorado Springs.

With the FIBA Americas U18 Championship now finished (the US beat Canada 113-79 on Tuesday, June 24th), Minor League Hoops is going to break down each team that participated in the Tournament. Today, we're going to look at Uruguay, who finished 8th in Colorado Springs.

Uruguay at a Glance

FIBA Americas U18 Championship Results

Group Play (1-2)
  • Def. by USA 156-58 (L)
  • Def. by Argentina 66-57 (L)
  • Def. Mexico 89-70 (W)

Reclassification Round (0-1)
  • Def. by Brazil 97-55 (L)

7th Place Game (0-1)
  • Def. by Mexico 79-65 (L)

Final Record: 1-4. Final Game and Player stats here.

Uruguay Player Standouts
  • Octavio Medina Reyes, No. 7, SF, 6'4, 18 years old: 13.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2 spg, 39 FG%
  • Martin Counago Rivetria, No. 4, PG, 6'0, 17 years old: 10.8 ppg, 93.3 FT%, 37 FG%
  • Facundo Nahuel Grolla De Leon, No. 6, C, 6'3, 16 year old: 7.6 ppg, 7 rpg
  • Martin Nicolas Rojas Basilico, No.10, 6'1, PF, 15 years old: 5.0 ppg, 5 rpg, 2.8 orpg

Uruguay Roster Scouting Report

Uruguay's U-18 team was one of the smallest (6'2 average height) and youngest teams in the FIBA Americas Tournament field. With three 15-year-old players and only two 18-year-olds to lead the roster, Uruguay coach Luis Eduard Pierri  witnessed his team undergo some growing pains over the five-game span in Colorado Springs. While the young Uruguay squad showed some flashes of promise (mostly in their third game against Mexico), they often found themselves outmatched on a consistent basis throughout the tournament.

In addition to lacking height, Uruguay's roster didn't sport much athleticism in the tournament. The young team relied mostly on their north-south speed to score points and match up on defense (they looked better when they pushed the ball in transition and cutting to the hoop without the ball in the halfcourt; on defense, they often got back and set into defensive position relatively quickly). However, it was obvious that Uruguay's roster didn't sport the length or lateral quickness of other countries featured in the tournament. Medina Reyes, an 18-year-old small forward who was Uruguay's leading scorer, was the most impressive player on Uruguay athletically, offering a multiple skill set as a player, and running the court well considering he was Uruguay's tallest player. Grolla De Leon added some strength in the post both on offense and defense for Uruguay, as he often had to match up against players who often had over six inches on him in terms of height. At the same time though, Grolla De Leon, while he offered strength and heart in often unfavorable matchups against the competition, didn't show much athleticism or quickness for his position, though at 16 years old, he certainly has time to perhaps grow and develop.

Augustin Espinosa de Costa, a 15-year-old, 6'3 shooting guard played limited minutes (only 53 minutes total) but was an active, high-motor player who looked to have the most upside as a player. He displayed some raw skills both on the offensive and defensive end and often provided a boost to a Uruguay team that was often outmatched athletically by their competition. Look for him to be utilized more in the future and emerge as a leader for this Uruguay squad in the next couple of years, especially with Medina Reyes advancing up a level next year.

Uruguay Offense Report

Uruguay, because of their size tried to spread out teams in a 4-out set in the halfcourt with the post rotating toward ball side in a triangular motion (typical of 4-out motion offenses). One of the key aspects about Uruguay was that their coaching staff seemed to want them to get the ball to their playmakers, and let those playmakers create individually off the dribble. With players like Medina Reyes, it seemed to be beneficial. Medina Reyes with his height and size had the ability to be an inside-outside threat for Uruguay, and it was obvious that they wanted to get him the ball on a consistent basis to be their primary scoring option.

However, the one issue with Uruguay's offense is that though Pierri gave his team a lot of freedom on offense, they didn't seem as a team able to do much in the free-flowing offense skill-wise, especially against defenses that were much bigger and more athletic than them. Being free-flowing and allowing your players to go in isolation against a team that is as athletic as you or worse is one thing, but Uruguay was consistently outmatched athletically in almost every game (the only one they were more even with athletically was Mexico, and they hung with them, winning one game against them and playing it close the second game). Furthermore, some players just weren't skilled enough to be able to play in isolation (they didn't have the ball handling, mid-range shooting or driving ability to do so). And this inability to play 1-on-1 basketball ended up resulting in a lot of turnovers or poor shots. Let's take a look at a sample possession by Uruguay displaying their offensive strategy.

Here's an example of a possession in their base four-out set. Uruguay didn't run many away screens, but did run many ball screens in their offense, which resulted in the post and perimeter players flipping on many occasions. In this case, Grolla De Leon, a center and usually in the post, set a ball screen in the wing and popped to the corner where he received the ball (his current position in the snapshot above). Pierri allows his players to go 1-on-1 in isolation and have the freedom to make a play to the basket where the player sees fit. It's a kind of style of basketball that works well with athletic or very skilled players, and is something more common at the upper levels of basketball (mostly the NBA). Unfortunately, Pierri's squad doesn't quite have that skill set yet, Grolla De Leon in particular. A limited outside shooter, Grolla De Leon frequently tries to get to the rim, but often ends up driving to a place where he's in bad position for a shot or a pass. Take a look at how his drive ends up when he picks up his dribble.

Grolla De Leon picks up his dribble in a difficult place on the right block. He has a difficult shot to take, and because he is left handed, he is not in a good place vision-wise to make a pass. With the longer Brazilian defender draping him, Grolla De Leon has to make a tough shot, and he doesn't quite have the height nor the athleticism to take the jump shot over the defender. The play results as such:

Grolla De Leon pivots to the baseline and is forced to take a very difficult up and under attempt near the baseline, heavily contested. That is a difficult shot to consistently make for a NBA player, let alone one 16 years old. It is understandable to see what Pierri wants to do with his team on the offensive end. Because of their lack of height, he wants his players to use their speed to take advantage of matchups where they have the advantage in quickness. But installing this kind of offense also requires better decision making, and a good sense of what one's abilities are as a player. At times, it seemed like Uruguay didn't accomplish those two things well. Certain players in 1 on 1 matchups challenged defenders who obviously had size and athletic advantages over them, and the result was often not pretty (turnover or badly missed shot). Then again, this was a pretty young Uruguay team, so maybe they just need more experience and skill development before they become more adjusted and fluid in this style of play. Regardless, it seemed like Uruguay would have been better served by more ball movement and less Dribble Drive-Isolation action from their young, undersized team (as evidenced by their assist-turnover ratio which was 47-107, a classic sign that they would have benefited by promoting more action to develop off the ball to get better, more high-percentage shots).

Uruguay Defense Report

Uruguay tended to play very conservatively on the defensive end, primarily sticking in half court man-to-man sets most of the time throughout the tournament. Without elite athleticism or length, it made sense that Uruguay simply tried to get back and prevent teams from going into the fast break. This strategy was also evidenced by their low offensive rebounding total which was 50 for the tournament; teams that don't crash the boards that much usually are sacrificing second chance points in favor of getting back on defense to prevent fast break points. Uruguay did not take much chances on the defensive end, further demonstrated by their low steal totals (38) for the tournament.

That being said, their conservative approach didn't necessarily help on the defensive end. They struggled playing off of ball screens as they were torched often from beyond the arc. Teams shot 38% from 3-point land on Uruguay in the tournament, and 47% on total field goals in general. While their inability to contest shots was due at times to athleticism and height, they also showed mediocre fundamentals and communication on the defensive end, especially when it came to defense off the screen. Here's a sample possession where their lack of communication and focus on defense leads to any easy Brazilian 3-pointer.

As you can see, the post player for Brazil is setting the ball screen for the guard. The defender following the post player is very far behind, which makes it tough to properly defend action off the screen. Secondly, much like the defender guarding the ball, he is very upright. Should they be in a switch game plan on defense, if the post man cuts quickly off the screen, the help defender's upright position will not allow him to recover on defense. His momentum is going all forward because he is standing so upright. If he was in better defensive position, and in close proximity to the screener, he would be in better position to defend the screen play, no matter what action the Brazilian pair throws at him and the ball defender.

As the Brazilian post made the screen, its clear that Uruguay was in a "switch" game plan in terms of their man-to-man defense. Of course, switching was probably the only thing they could do. The ball defender wasn't in athletic enough position to go over the screen (much like the help defender he is way too high in terms of defensive position) and he predictably is screened properly by the Brazilian post. But the Uruguay defender switching is also paying for not being in better position and closer to his original defender. If the Uruguay help defender hedged harder on the screen, he would have been closer to the ball handler at the top and been able to properly contest him and force him to take a difficult shot with 5 seconds left on the shot clock. But look at the space between him and the ball handler. The ball handler knows he has to take a shot with so few seconds left on the shot clock, but instead of taking a tough, contested shot, he has a relatively easy look from the top of the arc.

And with the clean look, the Brazilian shooter is able to get a clean three points. Uruguay's strategy was sound on the defensive end. They don't have the athletes to play a full court or trapping kind of game on the defensive end. But they have to get better with their defensive fundamentals and communication, especially in the half court if they want to progress and do more damage in FIBA Americas competition. Teams had far too easy a time scoring on the young Uruguayan squad at times, as evidenced by the competition outscoring Uruguay 93.8 to 64.4 in the tournament.

Final analysis on Uruguay

While it was a tough tournament for Uruguay, they did come out with a win in the tournament, and they have made progress as a program as of late. Their boys squad had one of the biggest rises out of any youth squad in the world, jumping up 7 spots since their last ranking. So, the program is on the rise, and as stated before, they were one of the youngest squads in the FIBA Americas field. That being said, their skills need work on both ends of the court if they want to make the jump past other countries in the FIBA Americas region. Their philosophy on offense requires them to be skilled and adept with the ball, and they turned the ball over way too much. On defense, they were inconsistent in their defensive positioning, fundamentals and communication, and it led to way too many easy points for their opponents. But, this is a country with hope, and with many of their younger players gaining valuable experience, it'll be interesting to see how this U-19 squad looks at next year's U-19 tournament.

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