Year two in Düsseldorf is going to be interesting for the Giants, who took over much of the former Bayer Leverkusen Giants organization. After failing to attain their goal of reaching the playoffs, coaches Achim Kuczmann and Hansi Gnad focus on continuity, keeping most of last year’s roster intact. Despite a promising start to their inaugural season in Düsseldorf, the Giants ended the season a disappointing 14th in the league, but only four games behind a playoff spot.
Nonetheless, the coaching tandem appeared to like what it saw in most of the players. In the backcourt, shooter Brendan Winters and athletic T.J. Carter return. While Winters had a slow start to last season, he still possesses the ability to shoot the lights out on any given day. He is a smart player who plays off what the defense gives him and does not make a lot of mistakes. On good days, Winters can score in bunches, yet remains an inconsistent scorer.
Carter is the likely starter at small forward. While Carter sometimes depends too much on his one-on-one offense and can appear predictable at times, he made a name for himself as the best clutch player on the squad. Whenever there was a crucial rebound to grab or a clutch shot to make, Carter was the man the Giants went to with great regularity. T.J. was (an will be) by far the most athletic player on the Giants roster.
Matt Lottich, who began last season as the starting point guard and switched to shooting guard after Zach Whiting‘s return from Artland Dragons, has left the team to pursue other options. His replacement is shooter B.A. Walker, a 6-2 guard out of VCU who played in the Dutch Eredivisie last year, piling up good stats of 18.8 ppg, 4 rpg and 3 apg. Walker played on VCU’s most successful team in recent memory with Utah Jazz draftee Eric Maynor and Trier forward Jamal Shuler, who is looking forward to meeting his friend on the court: “B.A. is a mentor to me, he was in college and still is. It’s going to be great playing against him this year.”
The key to the Giants 2009/10 season will be, as is always the case with Kuczmann-coached teams, the point guard position. In American Zack Whiting, the Giants have one of the most efficient playmakers in the entire league. Whiting is quite possibly the best passing point guard in the BBL and gives endless possibilities in the open court. Whiting signed a two-year contract with Artland Dragons before last season, but never quite fit the bill of the scoring point guard that coach Thorsten Leibenath appeared to desire for his squad. In January, Whiting’s ties to his former teammates and coaches from his days in Leverkusen came into play, as Dragons and Giants agreed it would be best to annul Whiting’s contract and transfer him to Düsseldorf, where the offense became significantly more efficient with him at the helm.
His backup will once again be national team member Gordon Geib, a tenacious defender who has developed a very solid outside shot in recent years. Geib may still not be a point guard in the true sense of the word, but his defensive efforts put him high on the rankings of man-to-man defenders. On offense, he is fearless in driving to the hole and draws a lot of fouls, and can be deadly outside when given room
Don’t sleep on home-grown Matthias Goddek, who like the Spöler twins and Geib is a product of Bayer Leverkusen’s youth program. Goddek is a combo guard who plays sound defense and has a knack for making big shots. His development was hampered last year by a series of injuries. He is also injured right now, which may mean that minutes could be hard to come by for the 23-year-old in the crowded backcourt. There is a chance that Düsseldorf will also use this season to introduce Leverkusen’s 17-year old guard prodigy Mathis Mönninghoff to the world of big-time basketball. Mönninghoff captained for the German 18-and-under squad at the Eurobasket and scored 11 ppg against international competition. However, nothing of this nature has been formally announced, and Düsseldorf may wait another year to do this.
That being said, the Giants need Geib’s defensive presence badly, because the team proved to be too weak and soft defensively last year, especially on the inside. Forward Pete Campbell was let go, despite being one of the best pure shooters in the league last year. Campbell obtained the starting power forward spot for most of last season, but was not fast enough to guard more athletic threes and not strong enough to deny other fours the inside position, which consistently put him into some kind of mismatch. Strength, however, is not an issue for sixth man Brant Bailey. A small forward playing out of position at the four spot, Bailey – whose career seemed all but over two years ago – has become a feared opponent through his tenacity and spin-move drives to the hole. He will once again come off the bench, but log most of the minutes at the four spot. Youngster Tom Spöler, at 6-9, is likely to start, but is unlikely to get more than 10-12 minutes per game. His twin brother Ben will be the 12th man and gain some experience in Leverkusen’s Pro B team.
Newcomer Jonathan Cox fits the mold of a typical Giants center perfectly. The Drake University alum, at a relatively modest 6-8, possesses the ability to bang inside and is an efficient, fundamentally sound rebounder. More importantly, however, the 24-year old can do what his predecessor Todd Hendley couldn’t – step out and hit the three-pointer at a high percentage (.413 as a senior, .402 for his career). Seeing how Kuczmann’s team in Leverkusen thrived on the three-pointer two seasons ago (with sharp-shooting big men Eric Taylor and Nate Fox), Cox provides the Giants with another dimension that will open up the middle for guard penetration and undersized forward Brant Bailey’s postup game. Jonathan Cox provides Kuczmann with the opportunity to play five shooters at the same time, since power forwards Brant Bailey and Tom Spöler have also been known to drill the occasional trey. He is Düsseldorf’s key signing this off-season as he will make the Giants’ offense so much harder to figure out for opposing defenses. His former teammate Adam Emmenecker thinks Cox will fit in nicely with the Giants: “He’s a good, hard-working player that fits in really well with Düsseldorf’s system. He shoots the ball really well and should be a big asset for the team.”
Last year’s starter, Logan Kosmalski, will be Cox’ backup at the center spot. Kosmalski appears stiff and does not do anything special, but he is solid on the boards and can step out to hit the occasional midrange jumper. Kosmalski, however, is foul-prone, and might be better suited to playing 15 minutes in a backup role at this level. Rumor has it that another inside player might still be in Kuczmann’s plans, however this would onlyx be possible under extremely favorable circumstances since Düsseldorf is not among the wealthier BBL teams. If a center does come, it is possible that Cox moves to the power forward position which would enable Bailey to get minutes at his more natural small forward slot.
PG Zack Whiting / Gordon Geib
SG Brendan Winters / B.A. Walker / Matthias Goddek
SF T.J. Carter
PF Tom Spöler / Brant Bailey / Ben Spöler
C Jonathan Cox / Logan Kosmalski
New players bold
Düsseldorf will once again live by the three and die by the three. If the shots fall, Kuczmann’s motion offense is hard to beat because of its flexibility. If the jumpers do not fall and the defense can sag to the middle, the Giants will once again dwarf and be overpowered in the middle. Rebounding will be crucial, especially Cox and Bailey will have to bear a lot of the rebounding load. Not having very many good big rebounders, however, can be offset by getting solid rebounding from guards and wings like Zack Whiting, Brendan Winters and T.J. Carter – all of whom are capable rebounders.
The Giants have their sights set on that no. eight spot which enables them to participate in the playoffs. Last year saw them post some excellent victories against teams like ALBA or Artland, but the team was lacking consistency and lost a couple of games it had no business losing. If Düsseldorf wins the must-wins this year and steals a couple games, the Giants might be good enough to climb even higher. If the team plays as inconsistently as it did last year, the playoffs will still be a reach for the Giants.
If the players understand Kuczmann’s philosophy to the fullest, the Giants are a force to be reckoned with in the BBL race.