Game of the Week: ASVEL, the perfect host

Oct 12, 2021 by Print
Game of the Week: ASVEL, the perfect host

Technically, it's correct to say that it's been quite a long time since fans of LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne have been able to welcome their heroes to the floor at the Astroballe with the team unbeaten in European competition, as they will tonight before Anadolu Efes Istanbul's visit for the Game of the Week.

ASVEL has not been 2-0 on its own floor in any of the other 16 seasons in which the club participated in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague or the 7DAYS EuroCup.

That's not to say that ASVEL has not been 2-0 in either of those competitions – that happened once before this century – just that the team's next game was not at home, where the fans could share the moment.

In fact, in its long-awaited EuroLeague return two seasons ago, ASVEL was perfect after two games, as well, having beaten the storied Greek duo of Olympiacos Piraeus and Panathinaikos OPAP Athens in back-to-back home dates.

But in Round 3, ASVEL lost its first road game by 41 points in Munich, a sign of its struggles to come outside the friendly confines of the Astroballe. ASVEL would win but a single road game that season, by 2 points in overtime, and lose 13 others before the pandemic intervened.

Last season, however, head coach T.J. Parker and his charges moved the needle on that problem, going 5-12 away from home. They moved it further already this season, winning their road opener against ALBA Berlin by 67-71 last week. That was ASVEL's earliest away win in eight EuroLeague seasons this century, and it came six rounds sooner than any other since 2001.

The Astroballe fans should give credit where it's due before tonight's game, even knowing that 3-0 is a lot to ask with defending champion Efes in the house and desperately seeking its first victory of the season.

No matter its record or where it plays, Efes is considered the favorite for having been the best team during the better part of the last three years. And there is the little matter that ASVEL has not beaten Efes this century in six previous tries.

But the fact that ASVEL is in the leadership conversation as one of six teams sharing first place, while Efes sits among the same-sized crowd at the end of the standings, is no small feat.

ASVEL's road will get rockier, for sure, but how its players handle this moment will go a long way toward forging the grit required to ensure themselves more ups than downs, season by season, in a competition where every game – and often enough, every play – counts.

The spirit is already there, it's clear. Even with important absences like team leaders David Lighty and Antoine Diot having played just one game so far between them, and experienced off-season addition Raymar Morgan none yet, ASVEL has found some early chemistry. While Parker has handed over the offensive keys to his new backcourt duo, Elie Okobo and Chris Jones, who are averaging 37 points between them so far, everyone on ASVEL contributes.

The numbers, though few this early, are still interesting. Eight ASVEL players have made two-thirds of their two-point shot attempts so far. That speaks to good shot selection. Four have hit 50% of more of their threes, which means the team boasts long-distance threats. Paul Lacombe and William Howard are two of just four EuroLeague players with 5 or more steals, a major hustle stat. Finally, and most promising, fully 10 of the ASVEL players average between 2.5 and 4.5 rebounds per game. That indicates a collective sense of responsibility to finish off good defensive possessions. It's not really a stop, after all, until your team regains possession of the ball.

We will find out soon if that early-season team unity is enough for ASVEL to keep it going against mighty Efes. But more important than winning tonight is how ASVEL competes.

ASVEL has won at home against a Zalgiris Kaunas team that has already changed coaches and away against ALBA, which has had multiple frontcourt injury problems. Those are very different games than facing Efes at full strength with a bit between its teeth.

Let the fans bathe ASVEL in love before the game; they deserve it. But if at the end of it, ASVEL has competed, win or lose, then those fans will know that many more such moments await them, this season and beyond.