The Fraport Skyliners Never Conquered Their Injury Bug But Still Exceeded All Season Expectations

It has been no secret that there has been a type of injury bug curse upon the Fraport Skyliners for years now as bothersome as the current train strike situation in Germany as one never really knows when it will strike. Especially last season the walking wounded list of the Fraport Skyliners was as long as the candy list of Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose who has admitted having on going binges or eating two pounds of candy in one day and admitting he has a Skittles vending machine at home. In the 2013-2014 season the Fraport´s Skyliners injuries woes were severe as they had lost key players like ex NBA player Andrew Rautins, Quantez Robertson, Jacob Burtschi or Dane Watts for long periods of time. If one were to compare the last two seasons which was worse injury wise, one could even fly in a stats guru who probably wouldn´t be able to dissect the reasons or game to player missed stats any better. Especially this season the club had tough injuries to guys like Konstantin Klein, Richard Williams which were key positions in the first few months where the club had little resources to compensate those positions or to a guy like Danilo Barthel would was injured at a very inconvenient time in January where the team was playing key Eurochallenge games and once again the team wasn´t deep at the power forward position. St Peters Burg, Florida native Mike Morrison missed seven games which also hurt the center position. Another key time where the team couldn´t afford any injuries was in the FC Bayern Munich series where 2014-2015 most improved player Johannes Voigtmann was injured in game one and never returned to the series as Frankfurt had a big hole at the center position which then was feeding time for the Munich big men that totally took advantage of with their over aggressive play in the paint. At times it felt like there was team one and two watching the game as team one was on the bench and team two was behind the bench sitting in the first row and if one really had to could have even made a team three with all the players little kids wandering around that area. And if one had to give an award of best non-point guard of the year than that would have been given to Cincinnati native Quantez Robertson who often had to play point guard or at least use his ball handling skills and bring the ball up the court in the set offense. Robertson told me years ago he would love to act as a point guard one day, well this season he had that chance and even if he wasn´t as skilled as Cincinnati native the Big O(NBA legend Oscar Robertson) who was a combo guard, he definitely showed his zeal and effort was there and being second best assist man behind Justin Cobbs wasn´t self-evident. Despite all the untimely injuries this season and bad start, the team was mostly able to claw out of unfortunate situations with the superb guidance of the coaching team and then the timely acquisition of American Justin Cobbs.

When looking at the season in review, The Fraport Skyliners goal was to reach the beko BBL playoffs and they were able to do that despite a horrible start and the injury woes. The club came into the season seemingly ready with a solid roster, but there was no guarantee to make the playoffs as their budget was in the lower one third of team budgets in the league and with the competition factor rising each season making the playoffs wasn´t necessarily as a matter of course as many people saw Frankfurt ending anywhere from 6-15. However the first five weeks of the season, the season went a totally different course as they started the season 1-7 and even the most loyal Skyliner fans were starting to wonder when the team was finally going to slip out of their season opening slump funk. Many were questioning the signing of Richard Williams who wasn´t bad or great, but solid and not being that exceptional floor general leader that team really needed. Konstantin Klein was injured and soon after Richard Williams went down and the club had no beko BBL point guard on the roster. In the 94-59 drubbing in Aalst Belgium in their first Eurochallenge game the team played with only a six man rotation and three Pro B players. It got worse two weeks later as they nearly beat Boras of Sweden in Eurochallenge play as they lost on a last second buzzer beater from Adama Darboe despite Frankfurt playing only with a starting five and two pro B players and Pro B player Kyle Fossman in the starting lineup and Quantez Robertson playing point guard. After a win at home against the Walter Tigers Tuebingen the turning point came on November 29th in Leipzig in a game against the Mitteldeutscher BC where the beko BBL saw the birth of Justin Cobbs who had a long three months before as a rookie training with Laboral Kutxa Vitoria (Spain-Liga Endesa), then being the last cut of the Charlotte Hornets (NBA) as his dream had cracked and then his first stint in Europe with VEF Riga (Latvia-LBL) was a misunderstanding as nothing fell in place with him and the coach. The amazing thing about Cobbs is that he was brilliant for a long time from the start until March where he seemed to tire a bit, get a small turnover phobia and teams seemed to have found out how to defend him better with time and experience and video analysis. He scored in double figures in 20 straight games as he led the team to a 18-3 record as he scored in double figures in 21 straight games and the team had a 18-3 record in BBL and Eurochallenge play. The only game where he didn´t score in double figures was his first in Leipzig against the Mitteldeutscher BC where he had just arrived to the team a day earlier. Cobbs is a guy like Dashaun Wood in 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 gave 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 came when his shot was cold, then one would have seen his passing qualities come to light. You could have been trapped in the bathroom and missed the game and not known who had won after Cobbs exited the dressing room because he always had that same expression. The guy was always focused and was just all business. He didn´t want to be the best guard in Europe, but battle with the likes of Paul, Curry and Wall in the NBA. In these three months, Cobbs was the main reason for the team going from the bottom to a playoff contender and to the Eurochallenge final four. With the bitter 76-70 loss in Bonn on March 7 where the team led by 10 points late, but gave it away was when the Cobbs play started to suffer a bit, but not of that of the team as they finished with a record of 7-3. In his last 14 regular season games Cobbs had seven games of five turnovers.

Another strong point of the team since the arrival of Cobbs was their ability to win close games. Especially their ability to have the nerves and win in two double overtime games in Eurochallenge play against Den Bosch and Avtodor on the road showed great class. They also beat Den Bosch at home with 75-70, and beat Enisey 77-74 at home and then won 85-80 as they made a miraculous comeback of 19 points down at halftime which was their best and most exciting win of the season. In this time they also beat Alba Berlin in overtime 87-80 and the EWE Baskets Oldenburg 83-81 in overtime and squeezed out a thriller at home against medi Bayreuth 90-89 even if one could have described the cover of the game as ugly. Another big reason why the Fraport Skyliners were so successful was the coaching staff. Head coach Gordon Herbert has always had the ability to do the best possible with what he has to work with. Even then when adversity arises, he is brilliant with making the needed adjustments to be able to compete as well as beating top teams. He might not have made the best decision with Richard Williams, but he made it good again with getting Justin Cobbs who turned the season around. He stayed true to his continued belief of developing the big three of Danilo Barthel Johannes Voigtmann and Konstain Klein as well as giving more minutes to a Johannes Richter, Stefan Ilzhofer or Kevin Bright. There is no better German big man tandem than Johannes Voigtmann and Danilo Barthel in the BBL than then. Herbert also had the guts to give them minutes from the start something one haven´t seen any other teams do as the Americans are seeded as much as are peanuts for the average baseball fan at a game. Another strength that the club had which helped them be so successful was their special value and attention to team basketball. This was something cemented by Gordon Herbert and the team stuck to it. It was mostly a pleasure to watch the team play as you had the extra pass at every position. Cobbs who seems to be a scoring point guard is actually pass first guard. Sean Armand exhibited great passing qualities even though he is a sniper. At the forward position Quantez Robertson used to be the main recipient of ally-op passes, but this season may have actually given the most to Mike Morrison as Tez was watching more this season then actually flying to the basket. There are seldom less selfish players than Jacob Burtschi and Aaron Doornekamp who loved the extra pass and at the center position with Johannes Voigtmann you have one of the best passing centers in the league if not the best and third best assist man on his team. Danilo Barthel wasn´t too shabby himself as watching Voigtmann and Barthel set each other up was at times worthy of ohhhs and ahhhhs. Their inside passing too each other was amazing. At the end the Fraport Skyliners had to meet FC Bayern Munich and with Voigtmann out after game one, it was close to impossible to win the series. They gave their best, but at the end experience, deepness, rebounding and physicality was too much for them to compete over 40 minutes. All in all it was the best season since the final run in the 2010-2011 season. The only damper was losing both games in the Eurochallenge, but sometimes in basketball life when opponents are well matched up, it comes to the little things and that was exactly what happened as Frankfurt lost by only eight points combined against Nanterre and Rovinari.

Now it´s time to give player grades and speculate if a player will stay or depart. Johannes Voigtmann gets an A and completed his third season with Frankfurt and was able to improve his scoring and rebounding each season. His stats in the BBL were 12,2ppg, 5,9rrpg and 2,4apg and scored in double figures 21 times with three double doubles. He was even better in Eurochallenge play as he played 17 games: 16.0ppg, 7.2rpg, 1.6apg, FGP: 64.8%, 3PT: 28.6%, FT: 79.4%. He scored in double figures in 15 of 17 games including big games with 26 points against Tartu Rock and Enisey. He was awarded with All-EuroChallenge Center of the Year -15, All-EuroChallenge, European Player of the Year -15, All-EuroChallenge 1st Team -15, and EuroChallenge All-Europeans Team -15. For many he was the teams MVP and made his breakthrough. He should be a full time German national player in 2-3 years. He has a contract with the team. The team MVP was Justin Cobbs who was a rookie and gets an A and played 27 BBL games averaging 14,4ppg, 2,5rpg and 4,4rpg. He scored in double figures in 20 games including a 27 point effort against Ludwigsburg. In the Eurochallenge he played 12 games: 16.3ppg, 2.9rpg, Assists-4(6.1apg), FGP: 46.6%, 3PT: 40.6%, FT: 83.1%. He scored in double figures in 11 of 12 games notching 23 points against Den Bosch. Who knows where the Fraport Skyliners would have been without the arrival of Cobbs. He led the team into the BBL playoffs and Eurochallenge final four. Cobbs will try to reach his dream of the NBA via the summer league with the Charlotte Bobcats. If he doesn´t reach the NBA, he will return back to Europe and get bigger bucks elsewhere. Cobbs won´t return. Sean Armand was a rookie out of Brooklyn New York and gets a B and played 36 BBL games averaging 12,8ppg, 2,9rpg and 2,4apg and shot 37% from downtown. He scored in double figures in 25 games including a 27 point effort against Phoenix Hagen In Eurochallenge play he played 16 games averaging 13.7ppg, 3.5rpg, 2.0apg, 1.6spg, FGP: 43.7%, 3PT: 32.0%, FT: 88.2%. He scored in double figures in 11 games including a 31 point outburst against Avtodor and 23 points against Enisey. He became a top sixth man in the league and showed just how lethal he could become as a shooter. With his play as a rookie, he could be the next David Bell in the BBL. He showed that he was a good passer, but was inconsistent with taking care of the ball as at times turnovers were a problem. He has a contract option. 50/50 chance he will stay. The minister of defense Quantez Robertson completed his sixth season with the team and gets an A-. He had his best scoring average and assist average in his professional career. In the BBL he played 37 games averaged 11,1ppg, 4,4rpg and 3,3apg.He scored in double figures in 22 games including 22 point games against Artland and Tuebingen. In Eurochallenge play he played 17 games: 10.9ppg, 4.6rpg, 2.5apg, 1.5spg, FGP: 55.2%, 3PT: 33.9%, FT: 76.2%. He scored in double figures in 10 games including a 30 point effort against Avtodor. Tez does it all on the court energizes the team and could play a 7OT game if he had to as his motor only is empty when his daughter makes him weak by her presence. He showed he can score on a consistent basis and just having his presence on the court on defense was golden. His only knack is he tends to get out of control with his one on one. In Oldenburg its Paulding burg and in Frankfurt its Tezfurt. Tez will end his career in Frankfurt and have his number #13 next to Pascal Roller under the rafters one day. Canadian Aaron Doornekamp finished his fifth professional season and second in Germany after play with Braunschweig last season. He gets a C as a grade. He played 37 BBL games averaging 6,8ppg, 4,0rpg and 1,6apg. He scored in double figures in nine times including a 28 point game against Ludwigsburg and 22 points against Oldenburg in big wins. In Eurochallenge he played 17 games: 6.1ppg, 3.8rpg, 1.8apg, FGP: 50.0%, 3PT: 43.9%, FT: 71.4%. He scored in double figures three times including a 21 point effort in the 94-92 OT win in Den Bosch. One thought he would be more of a scoring threat, but he wasn´t. At times one thought he was in a shell and was trapped not being able to get out and perform the way he knew how. However he was a glue guy and hard worker under the boards. He did many of the little things that weren´t visible on the stat sheet. He has an option to remain. 40% chances that he will stay.

Oklahoma native Jacob Burtschi came out of semi-retirement and returned back to Frankfurt for the third time after Frankfurt came calling needing a replacement for the injured Danilo Barthel. Burtschi gets a B. In the BBL he played 15 games averaging 7,3ppg, 3,8rpg and 1,8apg. He scored in double figures three times including his best point game in his career as he smacked Bremerhaven with 36 points and ten three pointers. In Eurochallenge he played 8 games: 8.6ppg, 3.6rpg, 1.8apg, FGP: 66.7%, 3PT: 42.5%, FT: 66.7%. He scored in double figures three times including a 17 point effort against Avtodor. Burtschi was also a glue guy who did everything for the team and also did much that one didn´t see on the stat sheet. The Fraport Skyliners may have to choose between him and Doornekamp. Burtschi has no contract for next season. He is a guy that gives the same effort be it 5,10,15,20 or 25 minutes a game. He is the ultimate team player. Frankfurt most likely will take Doornekamp over him meaning he probably won´t return. 30% chance that Burtschi will return. Heidelberg native Danilo Barthel completed his fourth season with Frankfurt and gets a C+. In the BBL he played 30 games averaging 9,3ppg, 4,6rpg and 1,1apg. He scored in double figures in 14 games including a 22 point game against Braunschweig and 22 points against Crailsheim. In Eurochallenge he played 10 games: 10.4ppg, 4.6rpg, 1.1apg, FGP: 55.6%, 3PT: 37.5%, FT: 81.0%. He scored in double figures in seven games including 16 points against Aalstar. The German had a solid first half, but was injured in January which put a damper into the second half as he missed two months. He had a slow return. He was a big factor in the club success in the first half. He still has a contract. After Belgium, Cyprus and Finland Mike Morrison came to Germany. He gets a B-. He played 32 BBL games averaging 7,4ppg, and 3,4rpg. He scored in double figures 11 times including a 23 point game against Phoenix Hagen. In Eurochallenge he played 12 games: 6.3ppg, 3.3rpg, FGP: 69.6%, FT: 73.3%. He scored in double figures three times including 14 points against Nanterre. He had a solid season being the perfect back up to Voigtmann as their games compliment each other. He often brought much needed energy from the bench which got the team going in difficult situations. At the end of the season he was making his ally-op dunks as normal a procedure as a John Bryant put back. Morrison has an option on his contract and there are 70/30 chances that he will remain. German Konstantin Klein completed his third season with Frankfurt and was ready to make his complete breakthrough, but had two injuries cutting him to 16 BBL games where he averaged 6,7ppg, 2,6rpg and 1,8apg. He gets a C+. He scored in double figures in four games including 16 points against FC Bayern Munich. In Eurochallenge play he played 6 games: 6.7ppg, 2.0rpg, 2.2apg, FGP: 44.4%, 3PT: 52.9%, FT: 83.3%. He scored in double figures in two games including a 11 point game against Tartu Rock. His injuries slowed him down. His known aggressiveness play and scoring was there at times. He still has a contract and will be more than hungry to return next season with vengeance. After many years in Finland the ex Kyle Hines teammate at NC-Greensboro (NCAA) Mikko Koivisto played his first season in Germany. He gets a C+. In the BBL he played 15 games averaging 5,5ppg and 1,4rpg. He scored in double figures four times. In Eurochallenge play he played 6 games: 2.7ppg, 1.2apg. He showed specs of brilliance scoring 14 points against FC Bayern Munich and the Walter Tigers Tuebingen as he scored 14 points a piece nailing four three pointers a piece. He was gotten early in the season as the team fought injuries, but later as more came back, he was the odd man out as the extra international player. He had an excellent character and never once complained about his situation. Everybody would have liked to see him play more. Despite his overall good character he won´t return. Johannes Richter was one of the big surprises on the team. He gets a B. In his first full season he played 24 BBL games averaging 2,3ppg, and 1,4rpg. He scored 10 points against Bamberg and in Eurochallenge play he played 11 games: 3.8ppg, 2.2rpg. He scored 15 and 10 points against the Bakken Bears and was crowned as the Bakken Bears honey spoiler. He made big steps through hard work in practice and playing against the best each day in practice like a Johannes Voigtmann. He has a lot of potential in the next years. He has option and will stay in Frankfurt. The double license players played too few minutes to get grades, but get a season summary. Stefan Ilzhofer played 13 BBL and 6 Eurochallenge games. He always showed hustle, good movement away from the ball and fought for open shots. He had a good development. He has an option and will stay. Kevin Bright played 15 BBL games and four Eurochallenge games. He was an aggressive player on offense and didn´t shy away from running up against Physical players. He didn´t play as much as he may have liked as he was usually with the BBL teams. More than 4 Pro B games surely would of helped his development. He has option on his contract. 50/50 chance for him to stay. Max Merz played 10 BBL games and 6 Pro B games. It was pretty much a lost year for him. He had a long injury and then had a semester in Australia where he practiced against professional players. He returned back for the FC Bayern Munich playoff series as he had a semester break. He has a contract and will return.

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