Mid-season coaching changes have become tradition at Avtodor. This season is no exception as the team has seen three different coaches before Christmas: Sergei Mokin, Vladimir Antsiferov (interim coach) and Dusan Alimpijevic.
The decision to sign the 32-year-old Serbian coach was risky. Balkan basketball typically demands rock-solid ball-handling and strict discipline. Avtodor, of course, is famous for its run-and-gun style and this year’s roster was built to fit an up-tempo approach.
Avtodor’s loss to VEF in Alimpijevic’s VTB League debut only added to the skepticism. This season, VEF should have not have caused much trouble for a more talented Avtodor roster. But the Serbian coach has been able to turn the team around in blistering fashion. The easy win in Nizhny Novgorod and exciting victory over Zenit is forcing teams around the League to take Avtodor seriously again.
It’s too early to make any sweeping judgments about Alimpijevic and his team’s play. But we can already see a few changes introduced by the new head coach in Saratov.
Avtodor has not slowed its pace
The Black and White are the quickest team in the VTB League. Avtodor’s reputation is built on speed and the tempo rarely wavers from season to season. You’d think a Serbian coach would implement a new style, and mold a slower, more calculated approach. But it hasn’t happened yet. Saratov continues to push the pace early in possessions, but at the same time, the Volga club has started making smarter decisions and, as a result, reducing the number of unnecessary turnovers.
Average number of possessions for VTB League teams
Avtodor does a good job scoring and is improving on defense
Saratov has been dynamic on offense since the beginning of the season. Not much has changed with Alimpijevic’s arrival. Avtodor continues to be efficient scoring the ball, ranking 4th among VTB League in offensive rating.
Offensive rating for VTB League teams (points per 100 possessions)
At the same time, Avtodor has improved on defense. The team is giving up nearly 10 fewer points per game in the VTB League (84.7 vs. 93.8) since Alimpijevic arrived. If you include FIBA Cup games, the numbers look even better (78.0 vs. 91.1).
Opposing teams’ field-goal percentage (courtesy of InStat)
Before Alimpijevic: 41.0% on open shots (9.5 – 23.2); 49.8% on contested shots (23.0 – 46.2)
Under Alimpijevic: 55.4% on open shots (10.3 – 18.7); 39.5% on contested shots (19.3 – 49.0)
Avtodor is changing, but continuing to play to its strengths
Early in the season, Saratov’s offense featured a disproportionate number of fast breaks and iso’s. The Volga club also favored catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Avtodor’s breakdown on offense before Dusan Alimpijevic’s arrival (courtesy of InStat)
Dusan Alimpijevic did not mess with what was working. Under the Serb, the Black and White continue to push the tempo and take advantage of iso and catch-and-shoot opportunities. But he has begun to introduce a few changes. For example, under Alimpijevic, the team uses the pick-and-roll more often. More than 25% of Avtodor’s possessions feature this combination.
Avtodor’s breakdown on offense in the VTB League since Dusan Alimpijevic’s arrival (courtsey of InStat) (final column indicates percentage of total team possessions)
The guards are the most likely to attack in the pick-and-roll. Golden and Ireland are not afraid to take initiative, shooting a high percentage after using a screen from the big man.
The classic pick-and-roll combination has also been effective. Kravish, Zabelin and Savovic are comfortable finishing at the basket after a pick-and-roll.
Pick-and-pops will be even more dangerous with Savovic’s arrival. Prior to Savovic signing in Saratov, Zabelin was the most effective big man in the pick-and-pop.
Another signature of Alimpijevic’s Serbian upbringing is the active use of big men in the paint. With his arrival, Saratov not only uses more classic pick-and-rolls, but also feeds the big man inside more often.
Ireland’s awakening has been a key factor in Avtodor’s recent success
Alimpijevic also gets credit for turning Anthony Ireland’s season around. He was not very impressive to begin the season in Saratov and many wondered why he had been signed in the first place. But with Alimpijevic’s arrival, the guard’s play has dramatically improved.
Anthony Ireland’s statistics in VTB League games
Before Alimpijevic: 10.3 min, 3.5 pts, 1.0 reb, 2.0 ast, 0.3 stl, 0.8 to, 5.3 eff
Under Alimpijevic: 23.3 min, 16.7 pts, 4.7 reb, 4.3 ast, 0.3 stl, 0.7 to, 19.0 eff
In addition to needing time to get comfortable, Ireland’s progress has been aided by Alimpijevic’s tweaks to the offense. Now the American has more freedom and opportunities to run the offense. As a result, Ireland has been very effective in pick-and-rolls and iso’s.
Boris Savovic should be a great fit for Dusan Alimpijevic on offense
The Saratov newcomer has only played in one game for Avtodor. But based on his potential, the forward should be an excellent addition to the Black and White roster. He’s unlikely to need much time to adapt. Savovic is in good shape and knows how to play pick-and-roll basketball.
In his first game with Avtodor, the forward’s primary role was to provide size in the paint. Savovic scored on several possessions in the lane as a power forward.
But in the future, the Serb will likely have a more versatile role on offense. His ability to shoot the ball makes him dangerous on the perimeter. He can stretch opposing defense and get open looks with the pick-and-pop. Of course, he can also convert more traditional pick-and-roll opportunities at the rim.
Alimpijevic’s early success means nothing yet
The arrival of a new head coach lit a fire under the team. For now, Dusan Alimpijevic has been able to mix two opposing systems: up-tempo basketball and Serbian-style play. But time will tell how long the odd marriage can survive.
Beyond the excitement of Avtodor’s recent success, it’s worth remembering that Saratov’s problems have not disappeared. The team’s short bench and dependence on a few star players could torpedo their season at any moment. But that’s what makes following this team so interesting. Dusan Alimpijevic clearly has the potential to transform the team and enjoy long-lasting success.