In our off-season Teamchecks German Hoops previewed all teams. Like many other experts we predicted Mitteldeutsche BC and Walter Tigers Tuebingen to face trouble to stay in the league. Surprisingly both teams are currently in the race for a play-off spot. While MBC had a great start into the season, Tuebingen is currently on 5 game winning streak – and that’s a new club record in their BBL history.
A team that really looked a lot stronger on the paper, but could not fulfill expectations so far is the Düsseldorf Giants. Our author Mario predicted Düsseldorf to be a force to be reckoned with in the BBL race.
Achim Kuczmann and the management had decided to stick with the majority of the 2008/09 roster and added just three new players. While Jonathan Cox and BA Walker do a solid job, Koko Archibong was even able to produce career-highs in points, rebounds and assists.
Still things did not really work out.
Archibong’s offensive improvement really helped the team a lot to compensate the absence of Brant Bailey, who had to sit out injured in 7 of the first 19 games. Bailey’s instant offense and his patent spin-move have been a valid part of the Giants offense in recent years. To demonstrate how important the 32-year old veteran is for Düsseldorf one just needs to recognize that the team could win just one game without Bailey. Meanwhile 4 of the team’s 6 wins have been accomplished with Bailey on the court, even though they still have a weak 4-8 record with him.
Surprisingly Zack Whiting has been looking for his A-game all season long and plays a disappointing season so far. The Giants need him at full strength to get in the right direction.
There were a lot of close games Düsseldorf lost. No other BBL club has played more overtime-games so far and Düsseldorf’s record in those games is developable as they are 1-4 in 5 OTs this season. Some might call this bad luck, but if a club tends to lose all close games it indicates that there is something from with the team.
Even though Düsseldorf could not meet expectations so far, it seems likely that they should improve and stay out of trouble at the end of the season. The quality of the roster is too good to face relegation and the coach’s philosophy has been successful in the past. Kuczmann is a very smart coach with a lot of experience and a clear vision. The team just needs to find a rhythm and play more consistent.
After a nice 2-2 start Ingo Freyer‘s team lost 8 of the following 9 games. And most of those losses were not even close; in fact they were blow outs as Hagen lost to Bonn by 23, to the Artland Dragons by 17, to Frankfurt by 29, to Berlin by 26, to Goettingen by 24 and to Ludwigsburg by 29.
Of course the teams named above are very competitive and one should not have expected Hagen to walk away victorious against possible play-off teams. But to have no chance at all against the better teams of the BBL showed some obvious weaknesses and certainly did not help the team to establish confidence.
Andre McGee is a promising young player, but what Hagen really needed was an experienced playmaker. The signing of Michael Hakim Jordan was a great move that really helped the team to find a nice rhythm. Jordan is a familiar face around the league and probably most known for his years with the Artland Dragons and the championship with Koeln 99ers in 2006. Last season MJ was one of the main reasons for Cologne to stay in the league.
He certainly is past his prime and lost a lot of quickness due to some trouble with his knees, but the 33-year old veteran is a true floor general and dished out 7.8 assists in his first five games with Hagen. Jordan could turn out to become as important for Hagen as he was for Cologne in 2009.
Hagen’s topscorer Chase Griffin praises Jordan’s effort for the team:
“Having a point guard like Jordan makes everyone’s job on the court so much easier. It seems like Jordan has been the missing piece. He is not the quickest or most athletic, but he is very smart on the court and makes the right decisions. He is a great floor leader and we follow his lead and it has helped us being successful. Jordan is the ultimate quarterback on the court. He just makes each guy’s job easier especially when he kicks the ball out, we have so much time to set our feet and he makes the bigs collapse resulting in easy dunks.”
With Jordan playing on the position 1 for about 35 minutes per game Chase Griffin can play as a Shooting Guard and rely on his decent scoring abilities.
“My game has really picked up since the arrival of Jordan. Before he came, I was playing the position one and two, but when I was playing point guard, I couldn’t really concentrate on my strength shooting. But now with him at point guard, I can come off the screens and hit my shots easier. I feel good, because I have been making three pointers, because I was struggling earlier,” stressed Griffin.
American Quentin Pryor agrees with Griffin and praises MJ’s on- and off-court leadership:
“What he does really well is that when he sees something on the court in a previous play, he will tell you about it and tell you what to do better the next time. He tells us to keep our heads up and is always positive. I have a good relationship to him already and have absolutely nothing bad to say about him. I think that the team chemistry has always been there, but we just havent been able to put it together. We have a young team and we brought back many guys from last season so nothing really changed with the chemistry. With Michael Jordan we have a new leader that will help the chemistry grow.”
With Jordan running the point guard position Hagen was able to win 3 games in a row. With Trier and Braunschweig two possible play-off contenders were beaten. And Jordan literally really made the difference in a close game against Gießen 46ers. His three pointer secured a 68-65 win!
Another important factor for Hagen’s game is the nice big man trio. Hagen native Bernd Kruel and the late acquired Americans Jonathan Kale and John Turek have been a productive force so far. While Kruel is a much underrated versatile Center, Kale is currently the league’s fourth best rebounder (averaging 7.8 per game) and Turek is the third best blocker (averaging 1.4).
The 24-year old Jonathan Kale explains that the trio also benefits from Jordan’s playmaking:
“The good thing about all three of us is that we can get the ball and score in the post, but with MJ he just makes our jobs so easy because he puts you in great positions to score, if your in the right spot he will get you the ball every time.”
Hagen has had its problems during the off-season and had to send home players like Marcel Jones and Bambale Osby. But with Kruel, Kale and Turek the team looks well prepared for the fight against regulation.
After winning the first 3 games with new acquired Michael Jordan, Hagen had to face two consecutive losses.
It has been a strange season for the Gießen 46ers so far.
After a 0-7 start the Vladimir Bogojevic’s team had to face severe injury trouble as german national player Johannes Lischka and American playmaker Lorenzo Williams had to sit sout for several weeks. Still the team managed to shock teams like the Artland Dragons and reigning champion EWE Baskets Oldenburg with great team effort. Both clubs were surprisingly beaten in Gießen.
Some times Gießen looked really poor, but on other occasions it seemed like they could finally find their rhythm.
Bogojevic and the management made some strange moves. E.g. the signing of Chuck Reed seemed unnecessary as the team should have had more confidence in Falko Theilig. When starting point guard Williams was injured the club immediately signed with Austen Rowland (who now plays for ratiopharm Ulm) and did not expect Reed to be able to replace him. Soon afterwards his contract was cancelled.
The tradition to sign players from Austria did not pay off for the third time.
Luckily all three scouting mistakes did not hurt Gießen in the long run as the players just owned monthly contracts.
But what really had hurt Gießen was the injury of David Teague. The 26-year old American leads the league in scoring and averaged impressive 20.4 points per game. Especially his shooting percentage looks impressive, because most of his shots were really contended and not easy.
Teague had a problem with his knee all season long. Now he has to undergo surgery and could miss the rest of the season. Head coach Bogojevic has some nice wing players on his roster and Maurice Jeffers, Johannes Lischka and Stevan Tapuskovic should be able to step up.
A big move for Gießen was the signing of veteran center Elvir Ovcina. The 33-year old has the body and the experience to be a reliable help for Gießen under the baskets. In his first game against Alba Berlin Ovcina battled hard with Adam Chubb and Blagota Sekulic and ended up with 16 points and 7 boards. If he manages to show such nice effort constantly Ovcina could become as effective for the 46ers as Chris Ensminger was for Paderborn last season.
With Paderborn Baskets looking like the weakest team of the league this season, it could be a fight between Hagen and Gießen. Hagen’s big advantage is the direct comparison as they could win both games against the 46ers this season. This means that Gießen has to win at least one more often than Hagen.
In my opinion Gießen looks deeper and more talented than Hagen. Ingo Freyer’s starting line-up might be a little bit better than Gießen’s though and Hagen is one win ahead of the 46ers. It should be a close finish at the end of the season, but if one looks at the rankings it seems obvious that Hagen and Gießen will have a distant battle for the rest of the season.
Both clubs have a big tradition and many supporters and it would really be a shame to miss one of them. In sports terms it seems very likely that either Gießen or Hagen will end up at the second last position and have to face relegation.
All the club that ends up on position 17 has to hope for is a ProA club that denies playing BBL. With Cuxhaven currently on second position and three games ahead of the following teams there could be another wildcard scenario this summer.
Cuxhaven had won the ProA championship in 2008, but declined to move up to BBL because of the financial risks and the lack of a suitable arena. It is very doubtable if Cuxhaven is now ready for BBL basketball.
So maybe there will be just one team relegated. And from today’s perspective you should bet on Paderborn.