Big Shot Billy: Baron helps Olimpia Milan to turn its season around

Orazio Cauchi
Staff Writer
2023-01-02 17:00

The American sharpshooter has been the main reason for the recent turn of form of Olimpia Milan. The Italian team is now riding a 3-game winning streak and looks ready to turn its season around after a tough start.

Credit: Srdjan Stevanovic-Contributor/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images
Credit Srdjan Stevanovic-Contributor/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

During his NBA career, Robert Horry won 7 NBA titles, more than Michael Jordan. He became known as 'Big Shot Rob' for his unique ability to knock down clutch shots in the most crucial moments of the most important games of his career.

Like the 3-pointer he made at the buzzer in Game 4 of the 2002 NBA Western Conference finals against the Sacramento Kings.

Without that shot, the Kings would have taken a 3-1 lead in the series and, most likely, would have won the series. Instead, Horry knocked down the shot, tied the series at 2-2, and from that moment, the Lakers became too strong to handle for the Kings and advanced to the NBA Finals. 

When Olimpia Milan signed American sharpshooter Billy Baron to a two-year deal this summer, his arrival to the Italian club didn't make the same noise as other big summer moves such as Kevin Pangos and Brandon Davies.

However, it became clear pretty soon that the former Zenit St.Petersburg guard would have become a fundamental part of coach Ettore Messina's system. 

His injury in the first part of the season, in addition to the ones of Shavon Shields, Kevin Pangos, and Gigi Datome, sent Milan into a downward spiral from which it seemed almost impossible to get out. 

Baron returned for the game against Baskonia in Round 11 of the EuroLeague regular season. His first two games back into the rotations weren't really impressive, and Milan continued in its negative streak, losing both against Baskonia and Panathinaikos. 

Credit Vangelis Stolis

In the Round 13 game against Maccabi Tel Aviv, despite the loss against the Israeli club, Milan showed signs of improvement, and Baron became a crucial point of coach Messina's offense. The former Crvena Zvezda guard finished the game with 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 assist. 

Then, it was time for the game in Belgrade against Crvena Zvezda. The Serbian side was riding a 6-game winning streak since the arrival of coach Dusko Ivanovic and, up to that point, was probably the hottest team in the competition. 

That night, Milan's destiny in the competition most likely changed for good. Messina's side had led the game for the majority of the time and entered the final five minutes of the contest with a 12-point lead. 

The ghosts of the previous games were still present as the Italian team struggled to keep pace in the final minutes.

Zvezda went on a 10-0 run, and with a little bit more than one minute remaining on the clock, the Serbian side was down only by two points (66-64).

That was before Billy Baron decided it was time for Zvezda to suffer their first loss under Ivanovic.

The American sharpshooter made a crucial 3-pointer that gave Milan a 5-point lead (69-64) and helped the Italian side to finally break the 9-game losing streak. Baron ended that game with 19 points (5/10 3PT) and 2 rebounds. 

In the following round against Monaco, Milan was down by 12 in the final quarter, but they began to climb back in the final five minutes of the game.

Baron, once again, was a crucial part of that comeback. He tied the game with less than two minutes on the clock with a 3-pointer over Mike James.

With Milan up by two points (72-70) and 40 seconds remaining in the game, Baron took a 3-pointer from the top of the key over Jaron Blossomgame and sent the entire Mediolanum Forum crazy, sealing the win for Messina's side.

The American guard finished the game with 23 points (6/10 3PT) and 1 assist. 

In the last win against Valencia, there wasn't a real clutch moment for Baron because Milan was able to maintain a comfortable lead for the majority of the game. Still, once again, the shooting guard proved himself a decisive factor for coach Messina's side.

He finished with 24 points, making 4 of 9 3-pointers, and added two rebounds to the equation. 

In the last four EuroLeague games, Baron is averaging 21 points per game while shooting 51% from three-point. Overall, among the backcourt players, he is the best 3-point shooter in the EuroLeague, with an average of 49% from deep. 

Baron has basically taken the place of Shavon Shields in Milan's offense, becoming the type of closer that the team needs when the offensive sets are 'broken'. He is someone who can be an issue for the opponent's defense just with his presence on the court, without the necessity of drawing plays for him. 

The Italian side, in fact, has been playing without a real point guard on the court in these past few weeks.

They're using fewer pick & roll plays, especially down the stretch, relying more on hands-off for Baron, iso situations for Brandon Davies, and using the ability of Devon Hall. The latter has often been used as the 'de-facto' point guard of the team in clutch moments to read what the opponent's defense concedes. 

For a team that was going through something of an identity crisis, Baron's return was simply crucial. The American player is like the 'adult in the room' that Messina's side clearly needed.

Not because this team lacked experience and leadership, but because offensively, during the 9-game losing streak, there was a sensible fear of taking responsibility in the most crucial moment.

The ball really seemed to be burning in the hands of Milan's players, and more than once, Messina had complained about his players' fear of taking shots. 

That's an issue Billy Baron never had. He built his career in Europe upon his ability to provide quality shooting even under a great deal of pressure, to deliver in clutch moments, and to be constantly a threat to the opposing defense. 

Baron comes from a basketball family, his father is a coach, and his older brother Jimmy has also played professionally for many years in Europe.

In the past few years, he won an ABA League title with Crvena Zvezda and was named MVP of those finals. He also won the VTB League title with Zenit St.Petersburg last season while being named Sixth Man of the Year. 

He's not the type of player that needs to be the 'star' of the show. He can thrive in a system where others have the ball for most of the time, and he can simply punish the defense by taking the right shots at the right time.

But that doesn't mean he doesn't know how to step up and be the center of an offensive system if the situation requires it. 

Without Shavon Shields and Kevin Pangos available, this is now Billy Baron's show.

At 32, the American player is probably living the best moment of his career. He joined Milan because he wanted to try to have a shot at the EuroLeague title.

After a long losing streak, his no.1 goal now is to turn Olimpia Milan's season around while waiting for the other important team pieces to return. 

His teammates, in the meanwhile, are learning that giving the ball to "Big Shot Billy" often produces pretty damn good results. 


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