Can The Fraport Skyliners Find Back To Their Old Defensive Success And Be Rewarded With the Playoffs?

You have to wonder how that first encounter was last summer when the Canadian national basketball team met and Fraport Skyliners head coach Gordon Herbert and Brady Heslip said hello? Did Herbert say in his dry tone “No hard feelings” or just give his charming chuckle and smile and ask if he played any defense with team Istanbul Buyuksehir Belediyesi (Turkey-BSL) which he joined after being released by Frankfurt in early 2019. His offense was spot on as always as in 12 games he averaged 13.0ppg, 1.5rpg, 1.4apg, FGP: 37.0%, 3PT: 45.6%, FT: 86.7%. In Frankfurt his defense wasn´t spot on which helped in the club not having the type of defensive presence and identity that Herbert would have liked to have had and had been used to in the last years. Only a few years ago, the Fraport Skyliners belonged to the top defensive teams in the BBL year in and year out giving up somewhere around 68-69 points per game, but last season it was a disappointing and pathetic 82 points. There were many factors that led to this as the team as a whole wasn´t on the same page and their late strength of having immaculate rotations had gotten lost somewhere between the players parking lot and the court. In his career with Frankfurt, Gordon Herbert has been very successful in reeling in players especially point guards like a Wood, Cobbs or Theodore, but one had to wonder what he was thinking when he picked up Brady Heslip in the summer of 2018. Was he blinded by his amazing three point shooting that hindered him from realizing that one doesn´t play defense in the G-League? The club missed the playoffs for the second time in the last three seasons and the last straw was having the German Bachelor in the squad which is something that he probably never really understood and even if he never said it publicly one could sense that he had had enough for now. He finally got his chance to be associate head coach of the Canadian national team at the 2019 World Cup and now will be head coach for the next window qualifying games, but will return back to Frankfurt in 2021. In the meantime, the question will be can the Fraport Skyliners rebound from a less than satisfactory season with new head coach Sebastian Gleim and find back to their old defensive success and reach the playoffs again. The good news is that Gleim is known for shaping defensive teams which he did at lower levels like the Pro B and NBBL, but will he have the same kind of success rate at the high level easyCredit BBL?

Miles Schmidt-Scheuber and Anthony Kickey in pre-season in Frankfurt

            It has been no secret that for years and years, the Fraport Skyliners have never been lucky with having sufficient money in their budget for getting the best players possible, but is something the club has gotten used to. Before the club set out to test the waters, they did a good job keeping some of their core players from last season. Most importantly having the Skyliner legend Quantez Robertson on board is always big and everyone will first realize what it is like when he one day is gone and only his jersey remains under the arena ceiling. He is the captain Mr everything and the anchor on defense and he will need to play extended minutes and fill the stat sheet for the team to be successful. EX German cup winner with Alba Berlin Akeem Vargas also remained and is known for his aggressive and pest like on man defense. He is limited on offense and will have to play consistent defense for the club to return back to their defensive ways. The biggest surprise last season and most improved player was German Leon Kratzer. He went from 3,4ppg an 3,3rp with s.Oliver Wurzburg in the 2017-2018 season to averaging 9,4ppg and 6,5rpg with Frankfurt which was 5th best in the BBL. He can be unstoppable in the zone and now he has to become that always dominant player which he can. He shoots over 60% from the field and important this year will be to up that even more, reduce his fouls and practice more free throws. Marco Voeller also remained and will be going into his fourth season. He is the type of player that every coach loves and wants, because he leaves his jersey on the court every night. He isn´t the most talented player, but will fight, be physical and get rebounds and score on occasion while filling up space in the zone. The big question mark this season will be can German Richard Freudenberg finally make his break through. Everyone including himself was hoping for it last season, but once again it didn´t happen.  The kid is so talented and has the skill set to become a very good player, but his game is like night and day. One night he is on top and the next night makes mistakes that will give any coach grey hairs. He has to become consistent. If he can be that, then it will immensely help this team with their depth.

            With so many problem players last season plus not being able to keep scorers Jason Clark or Tyler Larson, it was obvious that the team would engage in a massive house cleaning this summer. The team hauled in seven players and with the quality did a pretty good job with the minimal budget that they have. Probably the best signing was scoring ace Lamont Jones who is a lethal scorer as he was third best scorer in the NCAA with Iona as a senior at 22,6ppg, was fourth best scorer in the BBL with MBC at 17,6ppg and second best scorer in Japan at 23,9ppg with the  Kumamoto Vorters. He will be the go to guy this season and be hungry to rebound from his satisfactory and not great season in Ludwigsburg. He will have to be infected with Frankfurt´s team play and remember that there are other scorers as well. The most important signing is always the point guard. In the past, the Fraport Skyliners have had probably more luck than misery with their signings. In the last years probably the most forgettable signing was Kwame Vaughn and now the club hopes that Anthony Hickey can continue to keep the good Frankfurt point guard tradition alive. Even if he is a very good scorer leading the Polish league was and second in Cyprus, he is probably best known as being a defensive steal specialist. His consistency started in the NCAA at Louisiana State and Oklahoma State where he never had less than 1,8spg and carried right on over into the pro ranks as he has been a top the steal leader in every league and led the Cyprus league. Probbaly the most interesting pick up has been rookie Matt Mcquaid. BBL teams don´t usually sign an influx of rookies, but when they do, it is well thought out decisions. The American played at Michigan State and one would have to search the Skyliners archives to find a player that came from a better NCAA school than him. He comes from the Tom Izzo basketball school and is very versatile that can shoot and was his school´s best defender helping them reach the 2019 NCAA Final 4. Plus he has an amazing basketball IQ for his age. He has adjusted slowly to the BBL, but will with time.

Miles Schmidt-Scheuber and ex Michigan State guard Matt Mcquaid at the Fraport Skyliners 20 year anniversary party in Spetember

            The club´s first signing was Shaquille Hines who played at  UTRGV (NCAA,) and brings a season of BBL experience to Frankfurt with the Basketball Loewen Braunschweig (Germany-BBL) playing 34 games averaging 8.2ppg, 4.6rpg, FGP: 53.8%, 3PT: 34.5%, FT: 66.1%. He is a solid scorer averaging double figures in Sweden and Greece and is an excellent defender. He will be a very vital puzzle piece for the club having defensive success again. Especially if the rotations want to function again, he will have to be able to guard the bigger players. Another pick up was veteran guard Daniel Schmidt who has won the most titles from any player on the roster with 6 as he spent 9 seasons with Brose Bamberg, but never really made his break through there, but was able to gain valuable experience and play Euroleague. He is a good pick and roll player and can shoot and is a guard that just won´t do anything he can´t do. He will be the back up point guard and will be able to lead the team in the minutes he is on the floor well something he learned playing behind top guards in Bamberg. The most exciting pick up was German guard Bruno Vrcic. He came from FC Bayern Munich. He knows how to win having won two NBBL titles, a Albert Schweitzer International Tournament  title and a Bronze at the 2019 U-20 European championships. He played 32 Pro B games with Munich and at the age of 19 still has a lot of potential. He will have a double license and will see quality minutes in the BBL: His best attribute is his shot, but he has an overall good game that will only get better working on a daily basis with the leagues best individual coach Klaus Perwas. The last signing was veteran Adam Waleskowski who brings 9 years of BBL experience with him and played the last 8 years in Ludwigsburg. No one should dare to say that he is over the hill at age 36 as last season he still put up respectable stats of  8.0ppg, 3.9rpg, 1.5apg, FGP: 45.8%, 3PT: 41.2%, FT: 53.5%, 3.3rpg, FGP: 56.3%, 3PT: 21.2%, FT: 83.3%. His best asset is his great character, a team player that every team needs. He is a versatile inside/out player that may not be the quickest anymore, but his experience and role model qualities will be huge for Leon Kratzer and Aaron Kayser.

On paper the roster looks really good. The question will be how well will they perform and how well can head coach Sebastian Gleim construct a team chemistry that will be potent and successful? A strength again will be the defense especially on the perimeter. Before the 2018-2019 season, Gordon Herbert preached those words, but was let down, but this season the duo of Quantez Robertson and Anthony Hickey could be among the top steal getters and guard defense tandem that the BBL will see. Not to mention putting the rookie Matt Mcquaid into the equation as an additional pest as well as the always aggressive Akeem Vargas will make the Frankfurt Skyliners a very very scary team to approach in the back court. The competent defense won´t stop there as down low, the club will make it very tough for opponents to get room and good shots when you have a potent shot blocker in German Leon Kratzer and a good off the ball defender and can match the quickness of smaller guards with Shaquille Hines. Freudenberg will bolster the defense inside as well as the physicality of Marco Voeller on the pick and roll will help from the bench. Defense won´t be the problem and they will definitely have their moments on the offensive end, but can they be consistent? One can´t expect consistent scoring from a Quantez Robertson, but guys like Jones and Hickey should be able to score consistently and carry the offensive load. The team will have enough other players like Mcquaid, Hines, Kratzer and Waleskowski who will be able to give their support with the scoring. The team also should be a better than average rebounding team. With Kratzer holding down the fort and having guy like Freudenberg and Hines giving support down low and guards like Robertson and Hickey crashing the boards, the team should be able to hold their own when controlling the boards.

So where will the Fraport Skyliners land this season. On paper they are a boarder line playoff team, but it all comes down to staying healthy and being able to build chemistry and as Gordon Herbert loves to preach, “it´s all about getting better each day”. There are some question marks that have to be addressed. Can Quantez Robertson continue to soak up massive minutes in the 30-40 range. It would be fatal for him to get an injury. Will Anthony Hickey not only be able to be that lethal and consistent scorer, but will he also be able to be a keen playmaker that will be able to make his teammates better? Possibly the club´s most important quality that they will need to possess is having Richard Freudenberg to finally find his game and groove and perform the way everybody has been waiting for. With German Niklas Kiel out for the season and his career on the line, Freudenberg gets the big opportunity to get more minutes. The German who played at St Johns(NCAA) and seemingly hasn´t been able to put his poor season in New York to rest needs to step up not only for the club Fraport Skyliners, but also for himself. If he has another average or below average season, then that could be it for his BBL career as the Pro A would be the next option. The good news is that the Fraport Skyliners have never given up on him and believe in him and his abilities. All the kid needs to do now is finally show some consistency on the court. A break out season by Richard Freudenenberg could be the difference between squeaking into the playoffs or not. The Fraport Skyliners will finish somewhere between position 7-13.

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