If somebody had told me in September 2018 that the Fraport Skyliners would be presenting a special Bachelor Ladies night with the German bachelor Andrej Mangold instead of seriously playing for the playoffs in April, I would have thought that pigs could really fly or that the New York Knicks could actually be a playoff team or Detroit Pistons big man Andre Drummond could be a 70% free throw shooter ever before any of that happening with the Fraport Skyliners. Well I was very wrong. Even I was riding on the pre-season hoopla that the Fraport Skyliners 2018-2019 season would be one to remember and be a very successful one. Instead I was greeted with a few more women´s cheers for the bachelor in April 2019 instead of excited roars for a great play by Quantez Robertson or a thunderous Jonas Wolfarth-Bottermann dunk on the court with the team on their way to the playoffs. Even a radical hair cut by head coach Gordon Herbert a few months before the end of the season couldn´t magically turn the season around. Sometimes growing that beard or crafting mohawk haircuts have helped teams in huge team runs. The massive beard by bright spot Leon Kratzer may have been a blessing in disguise, but it only helped the Bamberg player achieve his true BBL break out season and his abundance of facial hair unfortunately didn´t spark anyone else. That all didn´t happen in the season and all in all, it was a very very disappointing season for the club that has hauled in three titles in their 20 year existence. Despite a very late season run where the club finally won some games that they had to, having lost too many bitter games to lesser opponents that they should have won ultimately bit them in their butt as they couldn´t get in the playoffs on their own, but moreover had to hope for other teams losing and helping them out. Had they won in Braunschweig then they would have had a date with FC Bayern Munich and not Braunschweig. With the gigantic expectations that went into the season where that 4th playoff spot and cup win was put as a goal, one has to proclaim that the club underachieved coupled with their strong roster on paper.
I remember visiting the first team press conference in mid August and seeing night and day with the two new players Jason Clark and Brady Heslip. Clark who I had interviewed on many occasions gave me a friendly hello coupled with some small talk, I knew right away that he would be my new Phil Scrubb. Every season I like to pick a player that I will do the majority of the post game interviews as last season it was Mr Canada Scrubb and this season it turned out to be Jason Clark. A quick positive experience with Clark then shifted to my first impression of Brady Heslip as being one of high self confidence and arrogance. My first impression of Heslip quickly gave me the reassurance that I would not get warm with him on a regular basis in the mixed zone. My first impression would hold true. I rarely interviewed him, but when I did, he did give interesting and detailed answers, but all in all his arrogance brushed me away. Despite not being impressed with Heslip´s manner at the press conference, I did think it would be a hell of a season for the Fraport Skyliners. Boy was I wrong.
There were many factors that led the Fraport Skyliners to underachieving. A big factor in the club having a tough season was their inability to defend on a consistent rate. Even if they were the fifth best defensive team in the league allowing only 81ppg, they would have been the best defensive team in the league had they been able to get back to the old Herbert ways defending with heart and passion and having these brutal rotations that just stuffed opponents. They gave up 80 points or more 16 times. There two biggest weaknesses was their communication and one on one defense especially in the paint area. But the first and most devastating factor was that the club wasn´t put together correctly. When you looked back at the last years, Gordon Herbert had done a great job finding guys lie Dashaun Wood, Jordan Theodore or even a Taj Webster, but this season his secret wan didn´t have the magical power of reeling in the right players. The biggest two flops were two guys that on paper at least offensively didn´t look like flops. Brady Heslip had won professional titles, secured the G-League three pointers record and scored consistently and averaged over 40% on many occasions in his career while Eric Muphy had had a stint in the NBA, won titles as well and been an offensive force everywhere he has played. But you can score as much as you want, but if you aren´t able to give up less points than what you produce, then you won´t be successful. Heslip and Murphy had huge games in their half season stay in Frankfurt, but they hadn´t found defense on the basketball menu. Heslip came from the G-League, a place where defense is as infrequent as is ever seeing a guy like Kevin Durant ball in Germany in the easyCredit BBL. In a defensive oriented system like that of Herbert, one should probably have refrained from hauling the Canadian in. Murphy just didn´t bring it defensively in the paint as too many easy buckets were scored often when he was patrolling the area. Another mistake was wanting to believe that Jason Clark could be that ultimate point guard. Granted one season he had been switched to that position in Belgium and had success, but it was a risk making him the point guard. The Virginia native had his moments and had good games as a point guard, but his strength is at the shooting guard position and he couldn´t shine at his natural position. Later when Tyler Larson came in, he was switched to his natural position and he would carry the team in many wins. Even if he was criticized often in the press, Clark was without a doubt one of the team´s strongest and most consistent performers in this dismal season. Holding Clark would be beneficial, but he most likely will have better offers elsewhere.
Akeem Vargas was injured too much and never could find that rhythm that the club hoped he could bring and Shawn Huff also had his moments, but couldn´t bring that consistency and three point accuracy that he had had on many occasions earlier in his career. Rookie Trae Bell-Haynes had his moments and did the best he could in the minutes he got, but got lost in the guard shuffle and had to depart in mid-season. The biggest bright spot was Tyler Larson who came in and quickly was a offensive force. He was a player that knew when to score and when to distribute. He was instrumental and unselfish giving the last shot to Quantez Robertson for the buzzer beater win against the EWE Baskets Oldenburg and led the team to a win over MBC with 29 points, but also fell apart in Bamberg losing a game they should of won. Larson definitely had the right mentality and focus and if the club had hauled him in at the start of the season, then the team most definitely would have reached the playoffs. The biggest disappointment was Tra Holder. I expected so much from him after a stellar career at Arizona State, but he was a player where it seemed like he was stuck in an endless revolving door as he was never able to fully get out and be able to play his game. He also had his moments like his 22 point break out game in a win in Bayreuth or last game against Giessen but he also put up the big 0 points three times combined 30 minutes in his first eight games. Too often the ball wasn´t moved properly when he was in and he couldn´t shake that timidness that would creep up on him when he wasn´t being aggressive. Injuries also played a big role in the team never finding that needed healthy team chemistry. Jonas Wolfarth-Bottermann was a player that was hit with the injury bug. He began the season very strong, but faded a bit in the last months and seemed to be affected by the rebirth of Leon Kratzer. He couldn´t follow up his great break through season of last year. Quantez Robertson had another typical solid Tez season, but even if he might not be as quick as five years ago, he is still very fast and nobody can match his intensity level. On many occasions he had to take the offensive load as the team was having an off shooting night and on defense he still belongs to the top five best defenders in the league. Marco Voeller worked hard in practice, but too often didn´t play simply because he got lost in the big man rotation. He also did have his moments hitting his ex team Giessen for 10 points and being efficient in wins against Oldenburg and Crailsheim scoring 8 points in each game. He doesn´t have the most talent, but a guy that gives his everything at both ends of the court. He should have gotten more chances in the stretch run. Another big winner was Garai Zeeb. He had big games against ratiopharm Ulm and BG Goettingen and when he did see substantial minutes was able to contribute well. He didn´t have it easy in the huge guard rotation, but he made the most of it. Richard Freudenberg has his critics, but if you look at his stats, he didn´t have a bad season. He averaged 16 minutes in the BBLaveraging 6,1ppg and 2,0rpg and shot a respectable 38,5 % from outside. He scored in double figures in five games including 21 points in 22 points in a bitter 91-90 loss in Giessen and scored 11 points in a loss in Goettingen. His problem wasn´t being consistent enough. There were days where he couldn´t get anything going on the court and defensively had his deficiencies.
The season had little highlights, but with the more major and significant ones, you can count those highlights and successes on one hand, but then again also debate whether one or the other was a real highlight as well as adding one just to be nice and to make it look better at the end with having one more highlight in a roller coaster season that really should have had more. In a season that had little to cheer about, one could put the late season victory against Bamberg as a major highlight, but seriously it didn´t feel that special even though it should. Bamberg one of Frankfurt´s arch rivals should always be a joy to beat, but instead it seemed just like another win. The Fraport Skyliners had five major highlights this season and one more for good measure. Although one of the four highlights for some could be very much debatable if it really was a highlight? The first highlight happened right at the start when the club met Fiat Torino. This would have been a normal Eurocup game, but it wasn´t because the Italian side had legendary head coach Larry Brown who has an NBA title with the Detroit Pistons and NCAA championship with Kansas(NCAA) an amazing feat that makes him stand above many of the head coaches in the world. Just having this legendary figure roaming the sidelines has to have been seen as one of the biggest draws in Frankfurt for basketball since Michael Jordan´s appearance in 1990. The Fraport Skyliners were also fortunate that he wasn´t ill or back in the states as all in all he couldn´t coach all games and was fired mid way through the season. And by the way Frankfurt won. Jason Clark will never forget this game. After the game an elderly gentleman of 78 years approached and it wasn´t a lost old man on the court, but Larry Brown who had just coached one of his first games in Europe. Clark most likely was expecting a quick shake of the hands and the old man mutter nice game, a normal occurrence after the game, but so much more came. “Larry Brown told me I was a great player. Coming from him who has coached so many great players, it meant a lot to me. It was a great feeling. Obviously it was cool meeting so many great players at Georgetown, but my Brown meeting in Frankfurt is on my check list of greatest meetings. I shock his hand and I will always remember that moment”, stressed Jason Clark. Another major season highlight was reaching the top 16 of the Eurocup. In this competition, the club probably played it´s best and most consistent basketball. One has to wonder why they couldn´t put it all together in the easyCredit BBL.
The third and fourth highlights of the Fraport Skyliners season was the further development of Leon Kratzer and the ambitious and successful return of Niklas Kiel. For many basketball experts in Germany the big 216cm center Kratzer has been seen as one of the biggest German talents from the year 1997, but he has had a slow development, but then one has to remember he played the last seasons in Bamberg where making the jump into the rotation is sometimes as difficult as understanding why a guy like Enes Kanter was wasted in the New York Knick rotation and suddenly is flourishing with the Portland Trailblazers in the playoffs as the Knicks are already home for the summer. Just ask 2018 NBA draft pick Arturas Kulbolkas whether he knows why he has been sitting more than playing and getting a chance. There have also been other guys in the past that left Bamberg for better opportunities and Kratzer was one of those. But spill dirty laundry on his ex team Bamberg? Never. Kratzer is a class act and one of those German players every mother would wish to have for their daughter. Well ok not every daughter, at least not that 160cm girl. The big man continuously sprouts good words about his ex team and has a character that the club could have welcomed a few more of this season. The German came into a new situation with the Fraport Skyliners and totally exceeded expectations. He came from the bench made his mark and soon replaced starting center Jonas Wolfarth-Bottermann. He has been a force at both ends of the court making the phrase scoring in bunches his own and making big plays time in and time out on the court. With his heightened confidence, he could be on his way to bigger and better things in the future concerning his game. Niklas Kiel was also a refreshing surprise. He has been the real unlucky dog on the team as in the last two years has suffered three concussions. After the third many wondered if a kid like him could continue to take these hardships and get through another comeback? The club kept his rehab secret and third comeback attempt quiet until suddenly he was back in the starting lineup. He began slow, but with time and experience is coming back to his old self and showing that he can find back to his game.
The fifth and extra highlights was having the German bachelor Andrej Mangold restart his basketball career in Frankfurt and just having the luck and joy to continue to see Quantez Robertson battle and fill up the stat sheet like a mini Russell Westbrook. When I first read the news that Mangold was becoming a Fraport Skyliner, I thought it was a joke, but it wasn´t April first so it wasn´t April Fools. Then I thought Ok clever clever trick by the club bringing in a known German figure in the media for a marketing move that could help the club become more known in the national media. The club sold it as an investment for the future and also gave Mangold the idea that he could be in their plans for the future. Instead of making that first bucket in his first game, he didn´t actually play his first game until in Bonn where he faced off against his old team. In a way that was a cool gesture, but why bring in a player that won´t play. But in that respect Gordon Herbert did make the right decisions stating only the best guys played. Obviously Mangold had been out for almost two years with injuries and other activities so it would take some time for him to crack the rotation. Plus a guy like Garai Zeeb who has made a good development this season was playing and well and simply deserved to play over him. All in all a few teenage girls were waiting after the first game in Frankfurt for the selfie moment, but the loads of buses with screaming teenagers didn´t drive up to the Fraport arena. Mangold is a nice guy and is a solid player and it will be interesting to see if he can find back to his old self on the court. It also would be interesting to know what Gordon Herbert truly felt about this signing. Mangold only played 77 seconds and the club should have brought in a strong player for the stretch run instead which would have given them more of a chance to make the playoffs. The extra highlight for good measure is seeing that non-stopping energy spark plug Quantez Robertson running up and down the floor like it will be his last gameRobertson is a legend and at the moment a top 5 Skyliner in their history sharing that with guys like Kai Nurnberger, Pascal Roller, Chris Williams and Tyrone Ellis. When all is said and done, he will have his #23 hanging next to Pascal Roller. If he had his own way and his body doesn´t strike against him, then I can imagine him playing until he was 40, but he does have a family who will play into that decision making. Frankfurt will see him two more years and the best news of the whole season.
So what is the next step for the Fraport Skyliners? They definitely want to get back to their winning ways. The club now has missed the playoffs in two of the last three years. It will be a good bet that the club will do a serious house cleaning. You can expect to see Quantez Robertson back as well as Leon Kratzer, Niklas Kiel and Garai Zeeb. The head coaching position also has to be resolved. For weeks the Frankfurt press have been waiting for an official statement concerning Gordon Herbert. Staying in Frankfurt is always a good fit for him, because he has all he needs in the BCM and can continue to help young players develop. But going to ratiopharm Ulm would have been a good fit. Raoul Korner is a guy that could fit filling the vacant head coaching spot as well. Ulm would be the perfect situation for Herbert. Thorsten Leibenath who will step down as head coach and take the sport manager position has been a big supporter of Herbert. With Ulm he could play international club football again and most importantly have the Orange Academy and continue to help develop young German players. But he won´t be going to Ulm. The Herbert future becomes more and more exciting with every new day where nothing is communicated. The club has been waiting for a new arena for years and won´t continue to really grow and make strides the way they want to until that state of the art arena is there. Over the summer fans will dream about where the next Jordan Theodore or Isaac Bonga type players will come to grace the Fraport arena floor as well as hoping that next seasons team will bring in some good role players that will lead the team back to the playoffs. There is one season highlight that hasn´t happened yet, but will on August 30th when it´s time for the 20 year club anniversary. Fans will have a long summer to look forward to seeing some of their favorite ex players back for the festivities while also looking forward to the new season. In the mean-time perhaps the club will have some special summer public relations functions concerning the Bachelor to help ease the wait