By Simon Jatsch / @sJacas
Let me introduce this post by clarifying that I don’t care whether or not you like the EuroChallenge.
Now that that’s settled, here are my random notes on Friday’s semifinal between Nanterre and Frankfurt.
No shortage of quality is to be expected when the 2nd placed Pro A team faces the 6th placed BBL team¹. They’re also two of the more enjoyable teams in European basketball this season.
Nanterre are a talented, gritty, experienced, undersized — Frankfurt a talented, gritty, inexperienced, oversized bunch.
Nanterre have Mam Jaiteh and Joseph Gomis on separate ends of the spectrum and a group of quality players in their prime in the middle. Most undersized teams have this low point of gravity/under the rim strength to them; grown man basketball, think Alba Berlin. Nanterre are a little different. They have shooting everywhere and they’re those wiry, quick-on-their-feet, active athletes.
Frankfurt will finish their EuroChallenge season today as the 4th youngest team in the competition². They’re the youngest team in the BBL. Everyone wants young talent to play and succeed, but the reality is that you don’t usually win with kids. Less than 30 percent of teams from Top15 European leagues who are at least two years younger than league average have winning records. Frankfurt are playoff-bound for the 2nd season in a row.
Friday’s semifinal was a tie game going into the final minute before Weems’ three pointer ultimately pushed the score into Nanterre’s favour.
Quick Notes: Nanterre
Jamal Shuler has been a favourite player of mine for a while. Tremendous shooter, capable secondary pick and roll ballhandler, moves the ball, plays hard on both ends of the floor, good character guy, playing the best basketball of his career. One of those guys who actually jump-contest passes (see clip), thereby causing the ballhandler to hesitate and such. Values ball movement, always delivers those quick, underrated passes. He’s lean and I’ve seen him knocked off balance as a defender on dribble drives and on cuts. Armand did take advantage of that. Strength matters in this increasingly athletic environment of European basketball.
Kyle Weems is a game changer. He’s mini-Mirza, a deadly undersized shooter from the four spot. Was measured 6’5”ft without shoes at PIT ‘12, translates to 200cm with shoes, wingspan is 0.6cm wider than the average player 198-202cm tall (you better possess eagle eyes to spot that), no-step vertical was measured 14.6cm higher than the average player 198-202cm tall. Yes, he can get up.
You must love his ability to put the ball on the floor and attack the closeout. He’s also running the 4/5 screen and roll. He’s an improving passer, he’s patient, and he’s far from a defensive liability. Has improved his defensive IQ, has quick hands, and yet he remains undersized at the four spot.
Frankfurt have been defending the post by forcing the player baseline into the waiting help defender all season, and I thought Nanterre staff and players did a good job spotting and executing against that strategy; which was arguably the key to the game.
Mam Jaiteh had an up-and-down game, but I was impressed with his passing out of the post and on the mid roll. Did not allow himself to be forced baseline and immediately found the shooters on the weak side. Nanterre know what they’re doing in close out situations. This is a smart, veteran team, they’re quick decision makers. Play #3 killed the game. Frankfurt switch, as so often this game. Nanterre move the ball inside. Help comes over, Jaiteh finds Weems in the weak side corner: basketfaul.
Undersized U.S. point guards are always seen with considerable skepticism coming out of college, for no good reason. There are dozens of quality undersized point guards on winning teams all over Europe (it’s actually the U.S. seven-footer who regularly fails to fulfill expectations). TJ Campbell is one of those gritty, long range bombing floor generals. In the first half, Frankfurt run a side pick and roll and Campbell slides over from the weak side, forcing a Mike Morrison miss, yes, that Mike Morrison. Campbell has shot 45.5, 39.3 and 45.1 percent from three point range the last three seasons. Has a 4.5 assist-to-turnover ratio this season, all competitions combined.
Quick Notes: Frankfurt
Frankfurt had their big break of the season when they signed Justin Cobbs from VEF. Cobbs had been in training camp with the New Orleans Hornets and Baskonia, had underwhelmed in Riga, but very much filled a team need by taking his playmaking talents to Frankfurt. A rookie point guard, dubbed “The General” at the University of California; there’s things to like and not to like.
Cobbs is a competitor and quite the intense character. Has that “takeover” mindset in fourth quarters, and those heroball antics have backfired more often than not in recent games. Tends to overdribble. A typical rookie point guard problem; these guys have never played with a 24 second shot clock. His three falls frequently short, as if he were struggling adjusting to the FIBA arc.
Having said all that, I think his tools are promising, particularly his short mid range scoring game. I think the upper paint area is a key area for shot creation. The upper paint/elbow area is the main assist source for corner threes. Once you enter that area, you are considered (whether justified or not) an immediate threat and the defense reacts. I like when a player consistently scores from there, even if he’s going to average sub-45% for the season from said area. Marcelinho has taken this to absurd levels, leaving his feet for either the runner or, you never know after all, a late mid-air decision to kick the ball out or throw the lob to the roll man. Cobbs has A) shown the ability to get there by using the straight screen, navigating the re-screen, slashing away from the screen or getting there one-on-one, B) an accurate pull up J and leaner from the area, C) very good at-rim finishing and D) the skill to drop the ball off to the roll man or cutter. What he does not possess at all yet, is the proper drive and kickout game, another skill that often comes with age.
Johannes Voigtmann is super interesting. A late blooming passing center who makes plays on the perimeter. Friday’s was a slightly subpar game for his increasingly high standards, but he was still making plays. Most of the stuff you see from him looks simple, but a center who passes and slashes from the high post is causing problems; after all there’s usually four shooters around him to stretch the floor. Voigtmann started playing basketball late, he’s an extremely poor finisher at the rim and I do think he has shortcomings in defensive awareness and toughness, but he’s a fun-to-watch, unorthodox, creative five man.
Sean Armand had been a tremendously efficient scorer in his senior season with Iona. True Shooting has dropped 64.5 to 51.1 percent from senior year to rookie season. Had never shot sub-40 percent for a season, now 34.5. Having said that, I think he’s showing a learning curve as a secondary playmaker and decision maker. Has acquired the ability to put the defender “on his back” in pick and roll, thereby maintaining separation (see clip). I think he’s a decent passer at two guard out of stationary positions. Would love to see him develop a drive and kick game, but that is true for anyone.
Mike Morrison, who played in Finland last season, has been a more than servicable backup center for Jo Voigtmann this season. Enthusiastic, energetic player, above the rim finisher, knows his role.
¹ I have those two leagues somewhere between four and six in my domestic league ranking
² Minute-weighted age; 1st Antwerp, 2nd Biella, 3rd Södertälje
*You can catch the Eurochallenge Final between Trabzonspor and Nanterre on Sunday night at 17:00 CET.