Thessaloniki, Greece – Ionikos Nikaias prevailed over the hosts from Aris Thessaloniki 77-72, in their first meeting in the Greek Basketball League A1 since the 1986-87 season.
The head coach of Aris B.C. Soulis Markoupolous, had several problems to cope with heading into the game. Two of his key players in the roster – 25-year-old Lefteris Bochoridis, a 6-4 combo guard and 24-year-old Jaylen Morris, a 6-5 former NBA guard, were sidelined. Bochoridis, who opened his season with a tremendous performance against their city rival, PAOK, in an overtime win from the 1st round (24 points, 6 boards, 8 assists, 3 steals and only 2 TO) – is expected to miss the next two months due to a left arm injury. Morris, who chose to play overseas, searching quality playing time after stints in the G-League, will not be available for the next two weeks due to left foot issues.
After only two minutes Jamal Jones, a skinny, but very athletic 6-8 forward, who plays a focal part of Ionikos Nikaias’ team, committed his second personal foul, which reduced his playing time. He only scored four points on 2-of-8 from the field. Although having a bad night, Jones has the potential to be among the top players in the Greece this season, thanks to his physical tools, good speed, leaping ability and good shooting form from long and mid-range. He is an active rebounder and while on defense he provides length and displays good shot-blocking instincts.
During the first two quarters of the game the lead changed several times. Aris were running mainly pick and roll plays or just looking to pass the ball inside to their big men Vladimir Dragicevic and Milan Milosevic. Dragicevic, a 6-9 veteran, started the game with a strongly inside the paint, with ten points at the half. Gary Talton, a 6-1, 29-year-old point guard had ten points at the half as well, shooting 4-of-5 from mid-range. On the other side, Ionikos moved the ball better, involving all players in their attacks, hitting shots from different spots on the floor. Steven Burtt Jr. and Loukas Mavrokefalidis finished the half with ten points each for the away team, while Vasilis Charalampopoulos had three steals.
Ionikos started the third quarter on a 7-0 run. Mavrokefalidis started off the run with a jump shot, after a nice feed by Jones and Burtt Jr. finished it with a 3-pointer. Martinas Gecevicius of Aris returned the 3-pointer on the next play. With 25 seconds left in the third quarter, Charalampopoulos grabbed an offensive rebound to draw a foul, making both free throws for a 61-60 Ionikos lead. Charalampopoulos displayed his good defensive skills, preventing the experienced big man Milosevic from scoring an easy basket on a post up play in the last seconds of the quarter.
The hosts were very inefficient during the opening minutes of the final quarter, scoring only two points in the first five minutes, while allowing ten points. This Ionikos run was the decisive point of the game. Charalampopoulos was the leader who started off the run with a 2 point jumper, to go along with an assist and a 3-pointer within the span. Aris attempted a late comeback, led by Talton, who scored four points in the last few minutes of the quarter but also missed a mid-range jumper which would have cut the lead to two with 11 seconds remaining. The 6-8 Jones had likely the most important play in the game, blocking a lay up of Diamantis Slaftsakis with 47 seconds left with Ionikos up by four.
Dragicevic was the leader for Aris finishing with 17 points and four boards. He displayed his effectiveness in pick and roll situations, rolling to the basket, drawing fouls, and using his solid frame and high basketball IQ. Talton added 16 points, four assists and two steals (only 1 TO), shooting 7-of-10 from the field. Talton demonstrated a good handle and crossover moves, high IQ and the ability to create separation for his mid-range jumper.
Dimitris Flionis, a 22-year-old, 6-3’ point guard, finished with 11 points, four boards, four assists and four turnovers. Flionis got his first start at point guard for Aris, replacing Bochoridis, but the young guard has upside. He can shoot from deep and from mid-range, and has good court vision, so he could be a good pick and roll handler. In the long-term his overall performance could only benefit with more playing time,
Burtt Jr. led Ionikos with 24 points, most coming on drives or drawing fouls and converting from the free-throw line (6-of-8). He is an experienced, shifty 6-3 combo guard with a well-developed upper-body, who is a confident scorer and volume shooter. Loukas Mavrokefalidis, a 35-year-old center, drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2006, but never having played in the NBA, added 16 points and eight boards. He made a big impact in the paint for his team, drawing greater attention of the opponent’s defense and resulting in good floor spacing.
The NBA 2020 Draft prospect Charalampopoulos, a 6-9’ left-handed small forward, had another big performance for Ionikos posting 14 points, seven boards, three assists, three steals with five turnovers. He shot 3-of-5 on 2s and 2-of-4 on 3s, while hitting two crucial free throws down the stretch. Vasilis displayed energy on the defensive end, often starting on-ball press defense from his half court and staying on top of the zone (mostly 2-3, transforming into 1-2-2 or 3-2). He is a good help defender, has active hands and looks for steals. He’s a good on-ball and off-ball defender. On offense he primarily plays off the ball, staying on the perimeter and looking for a kick out, thanks to his deadly 3-point shot. He has soft touch, a quick release and great shooting form. He likes to shoot long 2-pointers. He needs to polish his post up moves, as he’s a bit hesitant and seems to miss the right time to kick the ball out or finish the play. He has a high basketball IQ and makes up for his lack of elite speed with basketball knowledge.