Marching the long way down the hall way from the Fraport Skyliners dressing room to the VIP room on some nights can be endless after a loss where the tragic hero can be dreaming about sneaking out of the city on hand of the Frankfurt Skyline pictured on the wall in the catacombs and the lights of the airport when turned on glitter as if your really somewhere on the runway or can be the shortest trek after a win when the rich buffet is already dancing in the mind of the player. There is typically three ways how one can observe a Skyliner during his walk down the hall of fame or shame after a game. You have the American who is loud and joking with his other American teammates, the big German three of Danilo Bathel, Johannes Voigtmann and Konstantin Klein who are silent and focused and in thought but give a gentle hello, or American Justin Cobbs who has that innocent swagger that suggests that he is in his own healthy basketball world possibly going over every play of the game knowing exactly what happened in the short 30 second walk to the entrance of the VIP room. In a way the demeanor and the way Cobbs struts down to the eating parlor reminds me a bit of how ex Fraport Skyliner and 2011 Beko BBL MVP Dashaun Wood went always somewhere in thought about what he had just achieved on the court. The Detroit native Wood who plays this season in Turkey for Tofas Bursa may have had his best game as a professional last weekend with 33 points in a win against Galatasaray, but even if he had similar performances like that in the Beko BBL four seasons ago, he didn´t accomplish it against the quality of ex NBA player Carlos Arroyo who only produced 12 points and made Wood feel on top of Turkish basketball for a weekend. Wood may be in his seventh season while Cobbs is a rookie, but in the few weeks that new Skyliner has been on board, he has had that commanding presence on the team led by head coach Gordon Herbert and has been a big reason for the team success which Wood once had in Frankfurt displaying back in the 2010-2011 season. Herbert once again has proven that he has that eye and correct feeling for grabbing that special player with Wood and Cobbs.
Granted the Fraport Skyliners had started their seven game winning streak at home with a win against the Walter Tigers Tuebingen without Cobbs as the club played without a real point guard as Quantez Robertson took that duty and shone against a weak Tuebingen team that couldn´t get anything going on that day. However as Cobbs came on board, he led the club to six wins in a row and brought a new breath of fresh air into a team that had been haunted with an overflow of injuries that had Gordon Herbert having possibly extra sleepless nights thinking about how to go into games without so many key players. Except for his first game where he had seemingly just jumped off the plane but still produced eight points in a big win in Leipzig against the Mitteldeutscher BC, he has been very solid scoring in double figures in each Beko BBL game against Braunschweig, Oldenburg and Alba Berlin improving his scoring in each game. He was also the pivotal guiding force in the Skyliners advancement to the last 16 in Eurochallenge play as he led the team to a huge 80-58 must win victory against Okapi Aalstar with 20 points in his home debut. The club needed that win very badly and he shone as brightly as the sun on Venice beach does in July. He was also key in big road wins at Baaken and Boras which sealed the advancement to the next round. Cobbs is a guy like Wood that can score in bunches and become explosive whenever he decides to turn on that Cobbs switch. He looks so controlled out on the floor most of the time and is a master of changing speeds. He gives Frankfurt so much stability something they didn´t have previously this season. Even though his stats may suggest that he is a scoring point guard, he actually is a pass first guard even if its hard to believe. When that night comes when his shot is cold, then one will see his passing qualities come to light. He recently had his first loss in a Skyliner uniform in Berlin, but Alba Berlin is 14-0 for a reason so far. Cobbs had 19 points, but had his problems in crunch time and also had to play against the best defender in the league with Clifford Hammonds. A loss like this can prove even more valuable when he is put in a situation like this again when it really counts in April when teams are fighting for the last playoff spots. Cobbs can see the Alba loss and Hammonds in your face play as a learning experience and surely something he thought about on the four hour train ride back to Frankfurt on Sunday night. Despite Cobbs being a rookie, he has gobbled up valuable experience in the first few months in Spain with Laboral Kutxa Vitoria, being the last cut of the Charlotte Hornets and getting a taste of early winter in Lativa with VEF Riga. The biggest Christmas gift for Gordon Herbert will be if he gets the green light from manager Gunnar Wobke to keep him until the end of the season as his short term contract is until the startof January 2015 and a decision will most likely fall after the game on January 4th against the Crailsheim Merlins. The Fraport Skyliners are taking the right course down the basketball cobbslestone path to further success and keeping Cobbs until the end of the season is vital.
The biggest problem of the Fraport Skyliners in the first few months before Justin Cobbs came on board was the typical basketball problem that teams get early in a season with roles and chemistry still somewhere between the BCM training facility and Fraport arena floating in the NIdda river. Frankfurt started 1-5 and were still figuring out their defense as they were letting up too many points, but then again defended great on the road in Bremerhaven and Bayreuth averaging giving up only 69 points, but could muster on average only 60 points on offense. They had some big home wins against Bonn and Trier, but as time went on slowly started to lose key players like Mikko Koivisto, Konstantin Klein and Mike Morrison to injuries as they lost in Bamberg. San Diego native Richard Williams would follow in the game against Tuebingen, but at least the team had Koivisto back. Now with the walking wounded list getting shorter and shorter, the club has been getting guys back and winning games. The complete Skyliner guard rotation is still out with Richard Williams, Konstantin Klein and Max Merz. Klein who has been rehabbing in his home town Berlin is due back in January, while the future of Williams has been kept quiet by the team and Merz wont return this season as he will depart on a college semester abroad.
A big success of the team has been their defense as they have averaged giving up 67 points per game in the last four games before the 85-79 loss in Berlin. Defense has been a staple of the Frankfurt game in the last years dating back to Muli Katzurin. The Frankfurt offense also seems to be finding its groove and niche as it has averaged 85 points in the last three games while only averaging 68 points in the 6 Beko BBL games before that. When looking at the individual performances by the players one can say that Sean Armand has been kind of the unsung hero as he has been in the shadow a bit with the arrival of Cobbs. Armand is the top scorer averaging 14,2ppg, 2,7rpg and 2,8apg. He has scored in double figures eight times with his best scoring game of 27 points against Phoenix Hagen. He has shown early on as a rookie that he is a disciplined player that likes to score, but can very easily make the extra pass. He is pretty solid from outside at 36%, but that and his 2,7to rate will be two things on his new year resolution list. He and Cobbs could challenge for the top guard duo in the league should they heighten their game even more in the second half of the season. Quantez Robertson is easily the teams MVP at the moment. Even though Tez has joked since years that he loves to play point guard, his strength is more on defense getting in the passing lane and making spectacular plays on the fast break which will have kids marveling about the next day in class and trying to emulate on the play ground. Tez recently got that wish to play point guard before Cobbs came on board and did a great job as non point guard. Currently he is averaging 11,8ppg, 4,2rpg, 2,8apg and 1,8spg. Tez remains the heart and soul of the team and keeps the team together.
Johannes Voigtmann has been very solid averaging 10,1ppg, 5,1rpg, 2,3apg and is shooting 61% from the field. These three statistical categories are up from last season and he is a force in the Eurochallnge averaging 13,5ppg, 7,5rpf and 2,2apg. He held his own against the very experienced centers like Christoph Maraker and John Tofi. The German was rewarded with a trip to the 2015 Beko BBL Allstar game in Ulm. Danilo Barthel came into this season playing NBA Summer League in Orlando and Las Vegas and a 2013-2014 most improved Beko BBL award in his pocket and with high expectations and so far is searching for his top form. He is averaging 9,8ppg, 4,7rpg and 1,6apg in the Beko BBL, but one sees it time in and time out again that he is trying to hard and putting too much pressure on himself. His best game was a 22 point effort against Braunschweig. His biggest strength is from outside in the early going as he is shooting 46,2% and is doing an excellent job here with his shot selection as he is shooting 12/26. He is playing a major role in Eurochallenge play as he is playing consistent averaging 11,5ppg, 5,3rpg and 1,2apg and is shooting 41% from downtown. Barthel has super star qualities and will go his way this season and will heighten his game as the team chemistry meshes more. The Heidelberg native was also rewarded with a ticket to the 2015 Beko BBL Allstar game. Konstantin Klein played seven games before his injury averaging 9,1ppg, 2,9rpg , 3,0apg and 1,1spg and is shooting 39,1% from outside. Klein was playing his solid game that everyone is used to. It will be interesting to see how he comes back from his two months off. The big question mark remains Richard Williams. He is one of those rare players that has moved up levels from the German Pro B to the Beko BBL and sparkled everywhere he has played. Last season after not being able to save SC Rasta Vechta, but still having a very strong individual season, he was picked up by the Fraport Skyliners. Williams is a guy that is more a scoring point guard, but depending on the system can also show his playmaking skills. His defense is his big weapon and with Quantez Robertson form a very potent duo that could make the fast break their middle name. So far Williams hasn´t brought the type of stats that he is used to averaging 8,2ppg, 2,0rpg, 3,0apg and 1,4spg and those stats got diminished even more on account of the team going 2-7 when he had the reigns. His stats aren´t great, but not horrible either. His strong 48% from outside seems to have gone unnoticed as well. One can´t forget that Williams also wasn´t fit either so the club hasn´t seen a 100% fit player either. The problem is that the Williams health status is under wraps by the team. If the team will keep three guards is unknown, but Gordon Herbert has already communicated that he is leaning towards Cobbs and Klein at the position one.
Mikko Koivisto has belonged to the walking wounded and played seven games averaging 9,3ppg and 1,3rpg and is shooting a skyrocketing 48,6% from outside. He has scored in double figures four times and gave the team a huge push of the bench in the win at home against The Walter Tigers Tuebingen connecting on three consecutive three pointers. The Finish native plays with a lot of heart and energy and is a team player. So far Herbert has always had luck with his Finish players Juka Matinen and Kimmo Muurinen who he brought to Frankfurt and Koivisto will heighten his game as the season moves on. Mike Morrison also has been injured and played nine Beko BBL games averaging 7.9ppg and 3,3rpg. He is back again and his biggest strength so far without a doubt is his cleaning up and paint dominance averaging 77% in the two point area. He was brought to Frankfurt for that quality as well as his defense, but so far the St Petersburg, Florida native has shown only glimpses of his shot blocking art as that is something that he still needs to jack up. The biggest disappointment on the team has been Aaron Doornekamp. The 29 year old 201cm forward from Canada that played as a 19 year old against Dirk Nowitzki in an international game against Germany and has rich experience having balled three years in Italy is still looking to find his true form. In the Beko BBL he is averaging 5,5ppg, 4,1rpg and 1,6apg and is shooting 27% from outside,. His best game was against the Mitteldeutscher BC scoring 14 points and he also scored 12 against Tuebingen and 10 against Oldenburg, but other than that he hasn´t been scoring the way he could. He has put up the goose egg three times this season. He is one of those guys that definitely has a lot of potential to fill up the stat sheet and he has shown unbelievable passing skills, but his consistency just hasn´t been there. Sometimes he makes mistakes on the court where one can only scratch your head, but then again other times makes amazing plays. In Eurochallenge play he is averaging 7,7ppg, 4,7rpg and 1,8apg. His 52% shooting from outside has been key for the team. He is a guy the team needs badly to contribute more in the second half. The biggest surprise has been German Johannes Richter. He had his break out game in the Eurochallenge against the Baaken Bears scoring 15 points and grabbing six rebounds. He is a big man that can do a lot of damage near the rim, but also can unravel the mid distance and three pointer. In Eurochallenge play he is averaging 14 minutes and 6,5ppg and 2,3rpg. In the Beko BBL he is averaging 9,6 minutes 2,9ppg and 2,1apg. He had his break out game against his ex team Brose Baskets Bamberg with 10 points and seven rebounds. Herbert surely didn´t expect this huge development by Richter so quickly, but now sees himself having to find minutes for him because he deserves it and also having a very important insurance player when a Barthel or Voigtman get in foul trouble.
The Fraport Skyliners will continue to play Eurochallenge in the last round of 16 in January 2015 and have a group with Russian team Avtodor, Dutch team Den Bosch and Latvian team Tartu Rock. Just like in their opening round with Baaken, Boras and Okapi Aalstar, the Fraport Skyliners have had luck in that this is a group where they can definitely have good chances to advance. However before 2015 rolls around, the Fraport Skyliners have two very big games coming up with BG Goettingen and the MLP Riesen Ludwigsburg. The Fraport Skyliners will see two teams that have overachieved and underachieved. BG Goettingen has been the big surprise team as many saw them as a team fighting to stay in the league, but instead are flirting with the playoff area while Ludwigsburg have a playoff type roster, but are near the end of the standings. In a span of 96 hours, Fraport Skyliner Justin Cobbs will see some NBA atmosphere again something that he last saw in Charlotte as he will battle 1999 NCAA champion with UCONN and ex Chicago Bull Kahlid El Amin and three days later the likes of Coby Karl, Michael Stockton and DJ Kennedy. Just how well Frankfurt survive these two games may depend how well they digested the Christmas days meal´s and in a week time, one will see if the Fraport Skyliners continue to roll down a comfortable Cobbslestone path or could BG Goettingen and Ludwigsburg present a road block?