Emmet Ryan was in the Palau Blaugrana last Friday to witness the truly triumphant return of Joey Dorsey to FC Barcelona
For the first 4 minutes and 27 seconds it looked the same. FC Barcelona, the jumbled mess of a roster that was on the wrong side of the playoff places, looked indecisive and vulnerable. In pure talent, they had bodies, but this looked far from a team. Olympiacos, hardly playing like world-beaters themselves of late, were ripping through the paltry D of a demoralised Ante Tomic.
Everything changed the moment Joey Dorsey came in. His first stint on the floor was a little over 12 minutes long. That was all it took to establish that he was not losing this game and that the big guy was very much back in town.
Satoransky knew it.
Spanoulis knew it.
— Euroleague TV (@EuroleagueTV) February 26, 2016
And you can be damn well sure Darius Johnson-Odom knew it.
— Euroleague TV (@EuroleagueTV) February 26, 2016
On screen, it’s easy to see the sheer power Dorsey has but it’s a different matter entirely in person. The movement that underlines his athleticism, he’s not just a bulldozing 6’9” (although he definitely is that) he’s also a man with footwork off the ball to keep the defence in shape. The easy number to draw the wrong conclusions from Barca’s rout of Olympiacos was rebounds where 5 of his 8 came on the offensive glass. While he banged harder at that end, he moved smarter inside his own paint. Part of it is adjusting with age, preserving his power for when he needs it, the rest is focusing on how the defence rotates. Dorsey was the type of signing Xavi Pascual needed mid-season and, in truth, one of the few that could actually work. He’s a player who knows Pascual’s system already, he can adjust back to it quickly, and he can make those around him better. Dorsey gives a different flow to Tomic, a genuine change of pace that forces the opponent to adjust.
Last season the justified criticism of the Blaugrana was their utter dearth of viable options at the 5 once Tomic sat. The big Croat had an immense season, with the ACB finals series his only low point, and carried that form through the end of 2015. Through last season Tibor Pleiss was a black hole in his place, the German ill-suited to being the man to spot for Tomic. The subsequent roster overhaul in Barcelona this off-season did little to arrest the problem and once Tomic hit a slump to start 2016 it was starting to look bleak for Barca.
Dorsey didn’t arrive in time to prevent Barcelona’s early exit in Copa del Rey but his return at round 8 of the Top 16 looks like exactly what Barcelona need. The power throughout his performance had the normally hushed Palau in full song all night. The commentator to my right couldn’t contain himself whenever Dorsey used his body to full effect.
It was that opening stint however that announced Dorsey was back. An 11 point swing during it changed the game permanently. If ever a 6 point 5 rebounds 2 blocks and 2 assists line under-stated a man’s impact it was here. During that spell he got the bodies around him to move smarter. The fear over Tomic’s current play was gone, there was real motion on defence and that carried over into Barca’s offence. Stratos Perperoglou woke up the hardest, with an offensive feast, but you could see it in Justin Doellman, Tomas Satoransky, Samardo Samuels, and the rest around him. Dorsey was on mop-up duty and more, by allowing those around him to loosen up Dorsey had actually enabled a tighter and more organised game from Barca all round.
Even Tomic looked better when he got back out there. It wasn’t a Lazarus level recovery but the jitters weren’t as obvious. There was more comfort in his game, in what he could do, safe in the knowledge that there was a change-up option. Oly couldn’t keep ramming the same game down his throat because Barcelona could adjust. Those around Tomic also looked more settled. Dorsey was having a psychological impact fast.
The ills of Barca are far from fully cured. This is still a team that has a long road ahead but the inclusion of Dorsey changes the prospects. On Thursday they face Khimki in Moscow with a front court Barca knows Dorsey can hurt. The games with Brose Baskets and Zalgiris also heavily favour a Tomic-Dorsey tandem. That makes the road to seven wins look a whole lot easier.
It’s those other match-ups where the big questions are going to get asked. Gustavo Ayon is going to ask all the questions of the returning Dorsey, likewise too the CSKA front court in little over a week, while right now the hot hand simply belongs to Baskonia. Those are tests, big ones, but none look insurmountable.
That’s a big change from a week ago when Pascual’s side looked a good bet to be out of the playoff conversation in a few weeks. Dorsey’s job is to get this team’s heads back in the game and he is off to a fantastic start. The road to Berlin looks plausible, albeit with a brutal series in the playoffs at best all but assured. The prospect of the ACB playoffs doesn’t look like a drain anymore, although Dorsey will have to force Carlos Arroyo or Doellman out to get included due to Spanish league roster rules on imports.
That’s the change this team needs the most from Dorsey. He is player who leads with his game and his game makes that of those around him better. It makes those around him believe they are in with a shot far deeper in games than Barcelona have when they have fallen this season. He is capable of making his side enjoy the grind. That’s an asset Pascual needs above all else right now.