It looks like a safe bet that we should see 8-time champion Alba Berlin (19-5), reigning champion EWE Baskets Oldenburg (17-6), surprise team BG Goettingen (17-6) and vice-champion Telekom Baskets Bonn (17-8) in the post season.
But from position 5 to 12 teams are still battling hard to see some play-off action in May. It is like playing musical chairs with just four seats left for 8 teams: Bamberg (15-10), Frankfurt (15-10), Bremerhaven (15-10), Braunschweig (14-11), Artland Dragons (13-12), Mitteldeutscher BC (13-12), EnBW Ludwigsburg (12-12) and the Walter Tigers Tübingen (12-13) eye the post-season, but just four of those teams will be able to compete in May and June.
A team that has stood out in the last few weeks is Bamberg.
Similar to the last few years the Brose Baskets Bamberg had a difficult start into the season. Starting Point Guard John Goldsberry had to miss 6 games due to an injury and it took some time for new players like Casey Jacobson, Brian Roberts and Tibor Pleiss to adept to their new roles. A four game losing streak in November really made some fans question whether Chris Fleming should be replaced. But it seems like the same old story every year: After the usual false start Bamberg’s team is getting better and better from game to game.
In recent years Bamberg’s basketball community has become spoiled by success. One should not forget that during the Dirk Bauermann era the team has reached the BBL finals for 3 consecutive times (2003-2005) and won the championship in 2005 and 2007. With a comparatively wealthy budget, a nice big arena and fans that really freak out during games high expectations become somehow natural.
On the one hand it must be a great feeling for any player to be supported by enthusiastic Bamberg’s fans, but on the other hand those high expectations can become heavy burden.
Only the fans in Bonn can keep up with the intensity and dedication one can find in Bamberg – and that is besides all play-off fights and brawls probably one of the reasons why both teams and fans can’t stand each other. When it comes to basketball Bamberg really becomes a Freak City.
“I have been on teams in great cities like Phoenix, Chicago, and even a preseason in San Antonio, but the fans here in Bamberg really are something special. The ‘Freaks’ truly lived up to their reputation,” stated Jared Reiner, who played for Bamberg in 2008.
As loyal as the freaks are during the Play-Offs when things don’t work out at the beginning of the season the freaks pretty much tend to use all their energy against their beloved team. It’s not like in Greece or some former Yugoslavian countries with fans throwing coins at players (by the way this is not a good metaphor in times of economic crisis and severe pay cuts…). But on certain fan forums like schoenen-dunk.de some fans really get extremely angry about the coach and certain players.
But just like 2007, 2008 and 2009 Bamberg seems to recover from a tough start and right now they look like one of the hottest teams in the league.
General manager Wolfgang Heyder, who was not pleased with the inconsistent season so far, announced that the team would need to win at least 12 of the last 14 games to secure home court advantage for the first Play-Off Round. So far the team was able to win the last 4 games and despite a tough schedule with away games at Berlin and Bremerhaven Heyder’s goal could be reached if the team performs like in the last two games. Especially the win against Alba Berlin in the cup quarterfinals and the 77-58 blow out win against Frankfurt proved that Bamberg is playing on a very high level right now.
Both wins show that two of the most criticized weaknesses the team has had so far could be solved.
With losses against Berlin, Bonn, Goettingen and Oldenburg Chris Fleming’s team gained a reputation for losing against the top teams of the league. To win a do-or-die game against arch-rivals Alba Berlin in the quarterfinals of the BBL Cup certainly must help the team to build up some self-conscience.
The other problem Bamberg has had so far was to win games after a big lead. Against the Artland Dragons Bamberg lead by 22 points in the third quarter, but in the end almost lost the game. Anton Gavel and Brian Roberts could secure the win on the free throw line. The same also happened earlier this season against Mitteldeutscher BC and the Deutsche Bank Skyliners. Last weekend Frankfurt was playing in Bamberg and Fleming’s team was able to win in style. After leading by 26 in the third quarter Frankfurt could find some ways to cut the lead, but Bamberg always had the right answers to not let them come back in the game.
It looks like the team has finally found a rhythm and knows how to play at full strength. Brian Roberts does not believe that the losses earlier this season had anything to do with a lack of talent:
“I think that it just has to do with the little things. Teams have been able to hurt us in different ways. I don’t think that it is a lack of talent, but it is more like missing a key rebound or a hustle play. We just haven’t been doing the little things to win against the top teams”, stressed Brian Roberts.
To do the little things two aspects are important. First of all as a player it helps to know your role. As I mentioned before Bamberg seems to have found a rhythm despite some changes. Right before the transfer period ended head coach Chris Fleming decided to make some roster change. Seasoned veteran Eric Taylor had to go and former german national player Robert Garrett and American teamplayer Beckham Wyrick suddenly found themselves out of the rotation.
Instead of looking for a replacement for Taylor that plays a similar role, the management decided to chose a different direction:
“We needed a back up at the four position for Suput. We can play Wyrick at the four, but he is more a three. Eric Taylor was not a four so we had to react”, commented Wolfgang Heyder.
Heyder and Fleming found a nice back up for Suput with Australian forward Mark Worthington: Bamberg manager Wolfgang Heyder is thrilled the team could get him:
“There was very little on the market at the position four. We were lucky that we got him. He had signed to play in Puerto Rico, but we got him out of his contract.”
The game of Worthington reminds one of ex Bamberg player Uvis Helmanis and Bamberg has big plans with the Australia:
“Worthington is robust, can defend and rebound. He reminds me of Helmanis with his physical play. He is a leader being captain of the Australian national team. We got him mainly because we need a physical presence on defense. Suput is a bit soft on defense and we wanted a good balance on defense. So many BBL teams play small for example Phoenix Hagen who have guys like Bernd Kruel and John Turek shooting from outside. I could imagine playing Suput at the four and Worthington at the five. With Worthington we are more variable and stronger on defense”, warned Wolfgang Heyder.
Worthington has left a nice impression on his teammates:
“Worthington needs some time to adjust to the European level and find his game. He can help us under the basket and shoot the three pointer”, added Anton Gavel.
“Worthington will help us on the boards. He knows his role, brings energy and crashes the glass”, added Brian Roberts.
Indeed the captain of the Australian national team had a nice BBL debut last Saturday. For sure he still has to learn all the new plays and looked a bit helpless at times. But one has to consider that Worthington still was jetlag plagued. It seems like Bamberg could not have found a better role player than Worthington. He plays with intensity, goes hard to the offensive rebounds and has a nice shooting touch. Against Frankfurt it was the Australian who secured the win with two important three pointers.
“It is a lot different to the Australian league. I think I will be able to find my way here quickly and be able to help the team. I have an inside/out game. I posted up a lot in Australia, but here I can space the floor more. I will have many mismatches at the four position”, warned Mark Worthington.
Predrag Suput also benefits a lot from the signing of Worthington. The Serbian forward can take a break now and then and Bamberg does not miss him too much for some minutes. When the game is on the line Suput always has had a knack to make important shots and make good decisions. Now with Worthington giving him some breaks Suput could be even fresher and at full strength in crunch time.
In the Frankfurt game Suput could do whatever he wanted. Frankfurt’s Seth Doliboa looked lost in Defense and admitted the Serbian “used his body well when he went inside.”
Casey Jacobson is the other outstanding player on Bamberg’s roster. When he played for Bamberg in 2007 he was the Superstar of the league. When he returned to the BBL after a short stint in the NBA many people were disappointed. In fact his shooting percentage looked nice, but sometimes that Jacobson wearing an Alba Berlin uniform looked like a mediocre version of that 2007 Bamberg Jacobson. This season Casey is not the center of the offense as he was during his first time wit Bamberg. But he looks much more active compared to last season and runs around screens just like 2007.
Against Frankfurt Fleming’s team made use of easy points that resulted from some nice defense.
“We really focus on defense in practice. We are a talented offensive team, but we know when we are having a bad offensive night, then we will need to rely on defense”, stressed Brian Roberts.
Bamberg was known for their tough defense during the Bauermann era and the Freak fans will be pleased to recognize some of that in this year’s squad.
“Bamberg defends the pick and role very well and force you to beat you from outside in and force you to the baseline. They are very disciplined on defense”, stated American Bryce Taylor.
As hard as this may occur to Garrett and Wyrick, it looks like a good idea to cut the rotation to 9 men. While Karsten Tadda is younger and a better overall defender than Garrett, Worthington looks a bit like a bigger and more physical version.
On the other positions Bamberg looks very deep and complementary. E.g. on the center position there could not be a duo looking more different. German talent Tibor Pleiss, a 215 cm/7’0’, but slim guy with a nice shooting touch from mid-distance shares this position with American Elton Brown (206cm/6’9’’), who is playing very physical.
Bamberg’s guard rotation is among the best in the league.
American John Goldsberry is one of the top 3 Point Guards in this league. He was a great Pick and Roll Point Guard when he played for the Artland Dragons two years ago, but his quality cannot be reduced to that. The 27-year old has a really good feeling for the tempo of the game and is a tough cover on defense.
With the addition of Anton Gavel Bamberg probably has the best Point Guard duo in the league.
On the Shooting Guard position Karsten Tadda and Brian Roberts get the most minutes. While Tadda is a nice shooter and an above average defender, Roberts can also play the point and make threes from anywhere on the court. Currently the 24-year old American is making 47% (44/93) of his shots from downtown.
The Small Forward position belongs to Casey Jacobson, who gets an average of 29 minutes per game. Wyrick, Garrett and Suput get some minutes behind him. But also Worthington could get some minutes here. Suput starts at position 4 and his combination of quickness and stable shooting makes him a nightmare for any defender in this league.
Still Bamberg’s offense relies mainly on the long distance shots. But with a starter trio of Roberts (47%), Jacobson (38%) and Suput (43%) having decent percentages this tactical mesure looks quite logical. With 39% three point percentage Bamberg leads the BBL and the team has also made the most threes (228 so far) in the entire league. What makes this trio so dangerous is also the fact that all three players can as well penetrate hard to the basket.
But Fleming’s team is also versatile enough to operate with other offensive weapons if the three point shot turns out to be not successful. Pleiss and Brown can score around the basket as well as Suput and Worthington can.
So if Bamberg can conserve this shape and stay healthy for the rest of the season one should not be surprised to see them getting their hands on both the BBL Cup and the championship.
Phoenix Hagen’s Quentin Pryor expects Bamberg to be a title team:
“Bamberg have good shooters and I think that they are one of the deepest teams in the league with no weaknesses with the first 10 players. I think that they can be a title team. In a five game series, they will be very tough to beat”, stressed Pryor.