Sergio Llull was probably the best player on Real Madrid last season, a season in which the powerhouse won everything – the Spanish Supercup, the King’s Cup, the Euroleague and the Spanish league.
Llull started every game but, differently from previous years, there wasn’t a lot of continuity to the rotation during the season. Tremmell Darden and Nikola Mirotic left the previous summer, and the arrival of the expensive Gustavo Ayon forced another change as well. Pablo Laso started the season trying Jonas Maciulus on Darden’s vacated spot on the wing and Andres Nocioni on Mirotic’s spot, then started Jaycee Carroll for a while and tried fitting Ioannis Bourousis and Ayon together, but eventually settled on KC Rivers spending more minutes with the first group and Felipe Reyes paired with Ayon upfront.
Nevertheless, regardless of the lineup he was in, what was asked of Llull didn’t change much. Real Madrid run a fairly diverse motion offense with him at the point – mixing in some postups, focusing on shooters running off screens and giving Rudy Fernandez chances to do a lot of dribbling. Llull had possessions in which he was asked to create, but those came within the flow of the offense, and he was rarely relied on to figure something out on an every-possession basis.
Llull’s top skill is his shooting. His shot selection is a bit iffy sometimes but he is a threat from deep range on all three instances – running off screens, spotting up on the weak-side and pulling up. He has great mechanics, dips the ball to find rhythm and turns in the air, hitting 36.8% of his 359 three-point shots in 1,966 total minutes last season and 37.6% of the 743 three-points shots he’s taken across the past two seasons.
Because he is a threat to drive as well, Llull consistently manages enough separation to get his pull-ups off comfortably. As profiled last summer, he shot the mid-range jump-shot remarkably well in 2013-2014 and did so once again in 2014-2015, converting his 64 attempts at a 46.8% clip in his 832 Euroleague minutes.
Towards the end of the season, Llull was shooting so confidently that he bombed pull-up three pointers very aggressively against Valência and Barcelona in the last two rounds of the Spanish league playoffs, making enough of them to earn him MVP of the Finals as Real Madrid swept their arch-rivals.
The shooting he brings to the table is a tremendous asset to Real Madrid’s offense, which averaged 129.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor last season.
Llull is a solid shot creator. He has decent handles to penetrate against a set defense, able to go from side-to-side when the opponent plays him too tight in respect of his shooting and even flashing a hesitation move at times. But he rarely blows by anyone and doesn’t attack the basket with a lot of power, taking just 41 shots at the rim in 30 Euroleague appearances and averaging just 3.2 free throws per 36 minutes last season.
He’s proven to be a good passer on the move, out of the pick-and-roll or attacking closeouts – assisting on 26.7% of Real Madrid’s scores when he was on the floor. Nevertheless, Llull is not the sort of dynamic playmaker an offense is centered around. He lacks the sort of instincts teammate Sergio Rodriguez has, the general ability to see the game a step ahead, and his more natural fit is as an off-guard, which he often has the opportunity to play due to Rodriguez’s presence.
Llull plays with a lot of effort on defense, but he’s mostly so-so. He has the quickness to chase shooters around baseline screens and stay in front in isolation but does not do a great job sliding around ball-screens and his athleticism limits his effectiveness in space, as he lacks the strength in his 190-pound frame to contain dribble penetration through contact and does not have the length to challenge shots effectively or make plays in the passing lanes. Tyrese Rice absolutely destroyed him in the second half of last year’s Euroleague title game against Maccabi and Vassilis Spanoulis did it in the fourth quarter of that same stage the year before.
Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.