Atlanta Hawks stashed wing Marcus Eriksson led Gran Canaria to quite possibly the biggest triumph in the team’s maiden EuroLeague campaign.
More importantly, his shooting virtues were on full display.
It took just 17:24 minutes for Eriksson to score 24 points in what was a blowout win against Olympiacos Piraeus. The Swedish swingman shot six-out-of-ten 3-pointers en route to notching his second-best scoring performance this season in EuroLeague vs. one of the powerhouses of the competition.
While Eriksson’s Gran Canaria had long been eliminated from playoffs contention and were indifferent, (at least in theory), their opponent was heavily invested in the match. Olympiacos was looking for a win that would push them closer to mathematically clinching a playoffs spot, with three games left in the regular season.
To put it into an NBA perspective, it was like a tanking team facing a squad fighting for playoffs entrance.
It was under these game circumstances that Eriksson delivered one of the best performances of his professional career so far.
Motivation mainly stemmed from the fact that this was Gran Canaria’s last EuroLeague home game this season. Actually, the team won’t play again in the competition before 2020-2021 since they most likely won’t be among ACB playoffs teams this season and will thus not meet the necessary requirements for EuroLeague access.
Naturally, Eriksson and his teammates wanted to indulge their home crowd with a memorable farewell performance in EuroLeague. The 25-year-old sharpshooter indeed provided a game to remember.
“Marcus Eriksson broke the game with his threes,” Gran Canaria coach Pedro Martinez said after the match. He torpedoed four triples in a row at the beginning of the second half and scored 14 of his points in the third quarter. It was this decisive action that turned a 40 – 30 halftime lead for his team to a 69 – 46 margin with ten minutes remaining in the game.
Draining 3-pointers is something like Eriksson’s “raison d’ etre” while on the floor. His execution speed, swiftness when he comes off the screens and timely positioning at the corners give him an edge in Europe. These tools should be able to help him provide floor-stretching of the highest order to an NBA team.
Range is irrelevant for Eriksson—sometimes to the point of “the further, the better.” Unlike other players in Europe—who will usually take a small dribble to place themselves directly behind the 3-point line—Eriksson will make his attempt regardless of how far he is from the basket.
It often looks like he’s more comfortable shooting at the distance of the NBA 3-point line or beyond:
This makes him even more difficult to guard since he doesn’t allow the opposing player to get near him in time to contest a shot. Even when that happens, Eriksson has shown that he can bury it from deep under pressure.
Resistance was completely futile for Olympiacos here. Any player that David Blatt threw on Eriksson struggled big time to contain him. Check out how he dispatches Axel Toupane, one of the Reds’ most prominent defenders:
Eriksson is faithful to the team’s system and will execute it to perfection.
Here, he moves towards opponent Giorgos Printezis to seemingly set the screen for teammate Kim Tillie. This deception gives him enough time to escape Toupane, run to the perimeter, pick the ball from the handoff and rise to drain another triple.
Kostas Papanikolaou—NBA fans might remember him from brief stints with Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets—is one of the most versatile defensive guys in EuroLeague and even he tried to guard Eriksson. The latter moved beautifully off the ball on the opposite direction of the screen, received the pass and made a small mid-air acrobatic to lay it in in front of Sasha Vezenkov.
Nice balance, right?
These last two actions show that, while Eriksson is and will always be primarily a shooter, he won’t confine his game to jumpers. He has a smooth finishing touch close to the basket and can slash with large strides in order to keep his opponents at a distance. He’s as light as air, almost etheric in his moves.
In this play, Eriksson beats Giorgos Printezis on the drive and then Papanikolaou’s help defense as well. He uses a high arc on his floater to avoid any trouble:
“I’ve been a shooter all my career. It’s my best thing after all,” he told me earlier this season.
However, Eriksson has shown an offensive knack that goes beyond the capacity of your standard spot shooter. He has an overall feel for sending the ball to the basket. He doesn’t need to particularly get into a rhythm in order to unleash fury from beyond the arc. He can come off the bench, seemingly cold, and raise the heat almost instantly.
This is an attribute that should greatly serve him in the NBA if the Hawks call this summer. The league and actual playing opportunities can be cutthroat for European rookies used to a sufficient amount of playing time and suddenly find themselves in a situation where they have to prove their worth, sometimes with minimal opportunities.
Eriksson is able to deliver “instant spacing” and quick impact: Just go in there, receive the ball and fire it into the basket. With the NBA game revolving more and more around 3-pointers, so will the need for shooters who simply bring it under any circumstances.
Photo courtesy of EuroLeague.net
When the Greek national team won the EuroBasket 1987, its accomplishment gave birth to a “basketball renaissance” in the country that also bred a generation of young people who simply couldn’t help but feel a special connection with the sport. One of those kids was yours truly, and this relationship went from “devouring” every piece of basketball information provided by magazines and anxiously waiting for NBA coverage on television, to experiencing hoops from a journalist’s point of view. Now the action for me happens on all things European basketball, especially EuroLeague. Yes, that’s where Luka Doncic was bouncing a ball, apparently behind closed doors, before coming to the NBA.