Teamcheck 2011/2012: Bayern Munich

Ever since Bayern Munich announced to re-establish its basketball project everybody has been enthusiastic about the impact Germany’s biggest sports brand could have for basketball in Germany.

With a roster full of experienced BBL players (e.g. Aleksandar Nadjfeji, Darius Hall) and german national players (Steffen Hamann, Demond Greene) it was not a big challenge to make it to the Beko BBL. Former national coach Dirk Bauermann had formed a team that could have been a play-off competitor in the BBL. With just two losses during the season and mainly huge wins over other ProA teams the club could fulfill expectations and is now ready for the real challenge in Germany’s elite league.

While some german players retired this summer (Robert Maras, Robert Garrett and Arthur Kolodziejski) coach Bauermann decided to keep most of the players from last year’s roster. The only American who had to leave was Beckham Wyrick, who signed with BBC Bayreuth. These changes were necessary to make the team more competitive for the much more physical BBL and Bayern’s participation in EuroCup.

The new Bayern Munich team that is expected to be a top team in the BBL right from the start looks like a typical Bauermann roster. It’s the mixture of veterans and german national players he also signed during his time with Bamberg.

On the point guard spot Bauermann’s “basketball-son” Steffen Hamann, who recently played a horrible Eurobasket due to back problems, and Jonathan Wallace will still bring the ball down the court. For ProA standards they were a great duo. But I have my doubts about their quality in Germany’s first division. While Hamann is a pretty good defender, but lacks offensive skills and playmaking qualities Wallace is a great shooter, who is rather mediocre defensively. To me Wallace has always been a shooting guard who is caught in a point guard body. And that is the way he plays. His offensive qualities helped to cover some of his weaknesses last season. But I think he is not one of the top 10 playmakers for BBL standards.

Bayern signed two Americans who could also play on the point guard position but rather tend to play on the two spot.

Je’Kel Foster is a well known name in the german basketball community. He started his pro career back in 2006 with EnBw Ludwigsburg and is best known for his time with EWE Baskets Oldenburg. In 2009 he lead Oldenburg to its first ever championship and spent last season in Italy. Foster is a player with few weaknesses: He can create his own shot, score from anywhere on the floor and his ball-handling and passing ability is good enough to play some minutes on the point guard spot. The 28-year old Ohio State-alumni is also a great defender with long arms and a high basketball IQ. Foster is the kind of player every coach loves to have on the team. I’m sure he will do extremely well in Munich.

The other new American is Ben Hansbrough, who surprisingly went undrafted last summer. The 23-year old had been named Big East Player of the Year and certainly has the quality to make it to the NBA some day. With his deadly three point shot, a high basketball IQ and his attacking mindset he averaged 17.9 points per game last season for the Fighting Irish. If he manages to adapt well to the European style of basketball Hansbrough could turn out to be one of the top players within a few weeks. I would not be surprised to see him become a big force in this league.

Bastin Doreth is one of the best german players of his age. Just 22-years old he reminds his coach Dirk Bauermann of a young Pascal Roller. Roller, who just retired this summer, has been one of Germany’s best for the last decade and Doreth has all the individual quality to have a similar career. Unfortunatly he has to deal with a serious knee injury and will miss the first few weeks of the new season.

Demond Greene has just recovered from a torn ACL injury. The 32-year old missed almost the entire 10/11 season and now has to fight his way back to the rotation. If he manages to get back to his old strength Bayern will have a great defender with a decent three point shot on their roster. In some pre season games Greene showed that he can still make an impact.

The three hottest German free agents on the market this summer were Philip Schwethelm, Robin Benzing and Jan Jagla. Guess what: All three signed with Bayern Munich.

Schwethelm is a 22 year-old SF/SG who has gained major BBL minutes with Koeln 99ers and Eisbaeren Bremerhaven. He is a member of the german national team and just becomes better from year to year. Last season he averaged 10.0 points per game for Bremerhaven and made almost 45%  of his shots from downtown. Before Schwethelm revealed the name of his new team he said to the local press in Bremerhaven that he is about to join a team where he can start and play international. OK; Bayern Munich plays EuroCup this season, but I would really be surprised to see him in the starting five. But not because I think he is not good enough. The roster is just full with good players on his position.

Robin Benzing for example could be starting on the Small Forward spot. The 22-year old played a great Eurobasket tournament and is now ready for a new challenge. During his time with ratiopharm Ulm Benzing has turned out to be a decent scorer with a quick first step and a nice shooting range. In Ulm he had to take a lot of shots – also bad shots what hurt his percentages. For Bayern Benzing has to learn to work on his shot selection and he still needs to improve defensively.

Jan-Henrik Jagla did not have good words for the BBL in the last few years. He disliked the fact that too many mediocre Americans played in the league and national players had to play in foreign countries to make good money. With the new foreigner rules (every team needs to have at least 5 germans on a 12 men roster) a player like Jagla can now earn enough money in Germany. Apart from Nowitzki and Kamann Jan Jagla is the german player who is respected the most in the basketball world. He had a nice time in Spain winning the EuroCup with Badalona. Last season he played for Asseco Prokom in Poland and Türk Telekom in Turkey. After a very poor Eurobasket Jagla has to get in a better shape to be worth the money he makes in Munich. He is now 30-years old and still has a mental problem that stands in his way. He should not complain about every call he gets/gets not and focus on his game.

Aleksandar Nadjfeji is a 34-year old veteran who is very well respected in the german basketball community. Even at a higher age he is still a very good player, with great fundamentals, a nice work ethic and an extremely high basketball IQ. Nadjfeji makes things look so easy and elegant one really wonders why not more players can do their job like he does. The Serbian Power Forward came to Germany in 2001 and played for Bonn, Koeln, Berlin and Tübingen. The fans from these cities still love Nadjfeji and it is just a pleasure to see him play.

Another ex-Alba Berlin player who signed with Bayern Munich is Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje. The NBA experienced center, who spent his college years with Georgetown, came to Germany in 2006. After a year with Alba Berlin he joined the EWE Baskets Oldenburg and won the championship in 2009. Last season he played for the Artland Dragons and it looks like he has already passed his prime. Still the 33-year old center from Cameroon is a tough defender who can be a valuable inside presence. He signed a contract with Bayern that ends in December.

Darius Hall is now 38-years old and will be the oldest BBL player this year. The fan favorite played for the Artland Dragons from 2004 – 2010 and is one of the league’s most popular players. Last season he averaged 9.3 points and 4.9 rebounds for Bayern Munich in ProA. His big body helped him to overpower his opponents physically. But on BBL level he should have more problems. Hall should be able to play 5 – 10 minutes per game, but I don’t see him in bigger role at this stage of his career. I guess he will retire after that season.

Bogdan Radosavljevic is an 18-year old center talent, who could easily be Daruis Hall’s son. He could turn out to be one of Germany’s best players some day. The 7-foot tall (2,13m) Big Man has dominated the NBBL (youth league) with 19.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game and should get ready for the next step in his career. It will be difficult for him to get playing time. As a national coach Dirk Bauermann always complained about BBL coaches not letting young germans get on the court. Now Bauermann has the chance to prove that does better than the majority of BBL coaches. I’m not sure if Radosavljevic is ready to compete in the BBL. I guess the perfect place for him would be the ProA. But in Munich he can only play BBL now. Hopefully this will not turn out to be a lost year for him.

Bayern Munich also signed Sharrod Ford this summer. But just a few days before the season started Ford asked the club to cancel the contract due to personal reasons. So Bayern Munich is still looking for a new Starting Center to fill this gap. According to a german sports magazine Sport Bild Sharrod Ford would have made 600.000 €uros gross. He would have been the highest paid player in Germany. So Bayern still has some money to spend for the new center.

Line-up:

PG Hamann / Wallace / Doreth

SG Foster / Hansbrough / Greene

SF Benzing / Schwethelm

PF Jagla / Nadjfeji

tba / Boumtje-Boumtje / Hall / Radosavljevic

German players italic

New Players Bold

Outlook:

The name Bayern Munich is a synonym for success in the german sports world. The enormous success the soccer team had over the last four decades makes Bayern Munich automatically a team that has to be successful. And they really have all that is needed to be successful: the budget should be around 6-7 millions (only Bamberg and Berlin have that much money to spend), Dirk Bauermann is the most successful german coach (with nine BBL-championships), a new arena has been built and the fans are coming to see the games (sold out arenas in Munich and everywhere else).

But still I think the team is not ready to compete for the championship in year one. That’s because other teams like Bamberg, Berlin and Oldenburg look very competitive this season. And I think Bauermann’s team has some obvious weaknesses. And those weaknesses can be found on the two most important positions in basketball: the point guard spot and the center position.

I really don’t see the type of floor general who leads the team. As I explained before Hamann and Wallace are not really able to organize the offense on that level. Foster can play some minutes on the point guard position but he is so much more valuable on the 2 or 3 spot. And Hansbrough’s ballhandling certainly could make him rum the team, but I doubt that he is ready to lead the team in his first pro year. And just like Foster he has other strengths and needs someone to create shot options for him. To me Bayern lacks a player like John Goldsberry or DaShaun Wood who can organize the offense and control the tempo of the game.

The other critical point I see is the lack of athleticism and presence in the front court. The three Germans Schwethelm, Benzing and Jagla all tend to take shots from outside. There needs to be someone next to them who gives the offence some more balance. Someone who is more athletic and who attacks the basket. Sharrod Ford probably would have been the perfect addition to the roster and Bayern desperately needs to find a player with similar strengths. But still – even with Ford on the team – I think that the balance with inside and outside players does not look good.

Another aspect that looks questionable is Bayern’s decision to sign three expensive national players. Don’t get me wrong: I like to see more german quality players in the league. But Schwethelm, Benzing and Jagla all prefer a similar style and do not look complementary to each other. Maybe the team should have signed just two of them and sign a more athletic player with the money left.

It looks like gathering national players is some sort of corporate identity thing for Bayern Munich as they do the same with the soccer section. But Bauermann also made the mistake to sign a lot of german national players who did not fit in well in his last year with Bamberg.

To me there are too many question marks to really see Bayern Munich a competitor for the BBL championship this season. Of course they will do well and should easily make the play-offs. But I doubt that they will win more than one play-off series and I see Bayern Munich somewhere between 3 and 6.

One comment

  1. I absolutely agree with you. Don’t know why Dirk Bauermann and Marko Pesic haven’t spend some of their money for a high-class point guard. Steffen Hamann is a great back-up, but not much more on BBL level. In their first BBL game against Bonn, Ben Hansbrough did a pretty good job as part-time point guard, but he could be much more effective playing on his shooting guard position. Interestingly, Bamberg is facing similar problems.

    And you’re right, the signing of Schwethelm, Benzing and Jagla seems to be more related to marketing than to sports issues. But I’m pretty sure that the Bayern München team will learn a lot this year and will come back even stronger next year having a lot of promising young players on their roster.

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