One is the ascendant import guard in Europe, the other a legend who is looking for one more effort from his body but on Tuesday Juan Carlos Navarro and Malcolm Delaney will both be the emotional core for their sides in Game 5, writes Emmet Ryan
The arguments over when we last saw the true prime of Juan Carlos Navarro vary. London in 2013 seems to be accepted as the tail end of his reign, the signs of regression were starting to show in Istanbul a year earlier however, and for this corner’s money he hasn’t been the Navarro that made the legend since that 2011 series with Panathinaikos. He was only 30 but for a man whose agility played a key role in enabling his guile, the mounting issues with his feet that came in subsequent seasons and the natural wear of age took away the constancy of his threat. Xavi Pascual rests him more these days but his continued presence on the roster goes far beyond politics.
Navarro can’t do what he did in his 20s but he still has those moments where he can terrify, shock, or just plain punch an opponent in the gut. He won’t do it over 40 minutes all too often any more but in spurts, he’s the last thing an opposing guard wants to see. The ability of La Bomba to still do this is as much to do with him playing like a man who doesn’t care for his legacy as much as the utter urgency of the here and now. Foresight for Navarro ends with the shot clock, an issue that has come in handy ‘t for him as the miles have piled up. His body doesn’t waste time worry about the next possession, that’s Pascual’s job. Navarro just makes the plays and goes from there.
It’s that urgency Barca rely on right now. In terms of pure reliability and delivering numbers, Alex Abrines is the smarter option and needs to be used more than the veteran on Tuesday but it’s Navarro’s spirit that Barca will look to in order to stir the emotional core of this side. The need of this side for that kind of spark wasn’t obvious until the long dormant Blaugrana started playing angry in the Top 16. The return of Joey Dorsey seemed to spark it but Navarro has continued to push it through the post-season.
With Barcelona staring down a potential second straight season without a major* trophy, Navarro knows that the clock is ticking on the current set-up in the Palau. Either they make a move, be it getting to the Final Four or reclaiming the ACB crown, or face upheaval in the off-season to bring the club back to the top table. Navarro doesn’t want change to be forced, he wants it to come natural with him still as a key part in the plan.
*The Supercopa is not major, deal with it
Across the floor from him in Krasnodar this Tuesday will be a man who, for the first time, is enjoying his second straight season with a side in Europe. At Élan Chalon, Malcolm Delaney was a luxury on the bench. In Kiev, with Budvielnyk, he stepped out as one to watch. With FC Bayern, he became a hot property. Now he’s making Lokomotiv Kuban tick and has essentially every option at his disposal. Still only 27, Delaney has the size and blend in his game to get a serious shot at going to the NBA next season. His development in Europe is obvious and an easy sell. That development into a key player is still on an upward arc and that makes Delaney’s earning potential over here amongst the healthiest in Europe.
Championships, that taste for bubbly, have fuelled that rise. A treble in France, almost a quadruple having fallen short in the Eurochallenge final, followed by titles in Ukraine and Germany gave him valuable big game experience in Europe during an early part of his career. As he has climbed the ladder in terms of the standard he stares down, Delaney’s experience of playing in do or die games has stood to him. Injury hampered his shot at the VTB League title last season, falling eventually in five games to Khimki, but now he is once again the leader on the floor for Loko heading into a game they need to win to keep a title dream alive.
On Thursday his 15 points, 7 assists, and 7 rebounds faded into the background somewhat as Anthony Randolph’s beast mode in overtime dominated the storyline. Georgios Bartzokas didn’t miss it and he knows that as Delaney goes, so go Loko. You look at a roster with the likes of Randolph, Chris Singleton, Ryan Broekhoff, and Dontaye Draper. These are guys who can deliver big but feed off the emotion of their leader.
As Bartzokas rightly pointed out following Game 4. It’s not about letting it all out from the off, it’s about containing those feelings and channeling them through their performance. That’s the kind of cold-blooded play that comes from only the best guards on the continent. It’s what Navarro has done for years, using his calm to fire up those around him. Delaney has grown into that player and Tuesday is another opportunity for him to demonstrate how that can help Loko make it to the biggest stage of all.
Pic via Lokomotiv Kuban