By: Sam Meyerkopf / @HoopLikeDrazen
How much can you ask of a 20-year-old point guard?
A whole lot if you’re Dule Vujosevic and Partizan.
The young French point guard Leo Westermann has become Partizan’s only true point man this season, putting the weight of a team’s Euroleague livelihood on his back.
Westermann flourishes in a pass first role. With his 6’7” frame, one quick crossover and Westermann can be seen going in an entirely different direction on the court. Once he gets space, he’s looking to penetrate for a dish. Some of his finest passing weapons include sudden bounce passes to his bigs in the lane, opposite corner kick-outs from drives, and getting the ball up the court with a flick on the fast break.
In a group of talented, fearless young players, Westermann is the glue that keeps them all together. Vladimir Lucic is the strongest piece glued on, but he doesn’t open up the offense for others like Westermann.
Standing tall, poised, and unselfish, Westermann is a player that his teammates love to play with. He’s the type of player who sees an anticipated passing angle before he drives. He notices the space you are giving him and decides quickly if it’s enough space to drive for a pass, drive all the way to the rim, or to pull up for a jumper. And at his most creative though, Westermann is an improvisation artist.
Dribbling down the middle of the court, long strides, covering loads of ground. He’s got his palm ready for a cupped one handed swing pass, his dribble bouncing fast enough for a quick flick alley-oop , and his finger tips ready to shred a one hop bounce pass right through the arms of a retreating defense. Rim defender steps up, he throws the oop pass. Corner or wing defenders converge on him, the ball has already been scooped out to an open three point shooter. No one picks him up, deep lane dribble penetration, the defender finally comes over to help, too slow, the bounce pass has already been received by Westermann’s big man running mate.
Westermann is such a creative thinker on the court that the beautiful anticipation moves can turn into ugly turnovers in a snap. No artist is perfect and neither is Leo. While he’s always looking for the open seam in the defense, the area he can attack, patience is necessary. Sometimes in a possession, that seam he envisions will never open up for him. Sometimes another player needs to create so the whole board can be shifted and new opportunities can open up. A willingness to wait is needed.
As savvy as Westermann is at noticing imperfections in the defense and exploiting them, he sometimes tries to create them when they aren’t there.
Westermann needs to keep improving his jump shot, get a little quicker going side to side on defense and work on his strength so he can finish stronger at the rim (he was stuffed three times by Sharrod Ford in Week 10). And even though improving those skills is very important, there is one needed area of improvement that trumps all of those imperfections:
Late game decision making.
Westermann is the type of player who usually seems calm and when he forces action, it’s to help get his teammates better looks. He’s someone all of his teammates trust to get them the ball in the right situation. So when it starts to get stormy late in the game, every shot and dribble becomes magnified, it’ll be Westermann who has the ball in his hands. He’ll be measured by these moments.
Playing in the “clutch” and helping his team get wins in those situations will be a crucial part to his game. While at 20 years old he already is fairly solid at maneuvering late game situations, we’ve seen some hurried hiccups that could be avoided.
In honor of this here is a breakdown of every offensive play Westermann initiated or was a real part of in the fourth quarter and overtime of Partizan’s down to the wire battle with Brose Baskets Bamberg last week to determine who would advance to the Euroleague’s next stage. In the 34 actual offensive possessions Partizan had in the fourth quarter and overtime with Westermann on the floor, he was directly involved in 20 of them - generating five points, one assist, and guidance of the Partizan offense. He was crucial part of more than half the team’s late game scoring opportunities and was the guy who started almost every offensive set with the ball in his hands.
Bamberg 68 - Partizan 62
1. 8:50 Half Court Play (HC) (68-62): Entry pass to Davis Bertans who gets shot blocked.
2. 8:15 HC (70-62): Pass to Nikola Milutinov who immediately passes to Lucic for drive for foul.
3. 7:40 HC (70-64): Scoop cross-court pass off Pick and Roll (PnR) to Lucic for a missed three.
4. 6:40 HC (73-64): Goes opposite way on PnR for drive that draws a foul (makes both FT’s).
5. 5:50 HC (73-68): Goes opposite way on PnR again for drive, right side again but blocked by Sharrod Ford and goes out of bounds off Westermann. Turnover.
6. 4:40 HC (75-70): Rotates ball to Lucic who drives for short jumper.
7. 4:05 HC (75-72): Takes Ford off dribble on mis-match at top of key, gets to rim but stuffed easily, Brose fast break ensues.
8. 3:40 HC (75-72): Passes to Lucic running off screens who misses three.
9. 3:05 HC (75-74): Off mini PnR, entry pass to Drew Gordon posting for turnaround jumper. Assist.
10. 2:00 HC (77-75): Pass to Lucic on right wing, he drives and ball goes out of bounds off Brose.
11. 0:55 HC (77-77): Hands off to Dragan Milosavljevic on right wing who isos for three, Lucic offensive board.
Last play of fourth quarter for Partizan is a Davis Bertans iso, desperate pass to Milosavljevic who draws foul. Westermann was not involved.
Bamberg 80 - Partizan 80
12. 4:50 HC (80-80): Leo drives baseline with big mis-match on him but gets blocked by Ford again at rim.
13. 3:55 HC (82-81): Westermann passes to Bertans at top of key for missed iso pull up jumper.
14. 3:20 HC (82-81): Defense switches, Boki Nachbar on Westermann, lulls him to sleep with crossovers and goes crossover-hesitation-pull up three. Three Points.
15. 2:50 HC (84-84): Tries pull-up three again, this time with John Goldsberry on him, covered tight, misses.
16. 2:25 Off-Rebound (85-84): Tip pass from Lucic, ball is bouncing from rebound, Westermann gets it back with no time left in shot clock for 3, misses but Djordje Gagic draws fouled underneath during rebound.
17. 1:50 HC (87-85): Designed play out of timeout, Westermann finds Lucic on right wing for three coming off screens, he misses.
18. 1:15 HC (88-85): Passes to Lucic on right wing to try to feed Gordon in post, passes right back to Westermann who is late and forces pass to Gordon, Nachbar anticipates and deflects pass right into Milutoniv’s hands who sinks jumper.
19. 0:20 Off-Rebound (90-89): Gordon gets rebound right next to Westermann, hands it off, Westermann whips a pass right away to an open Lucic under the hoop but Gavel back-tracking gets hand on pass for a steal. Turnover.
Fast break ensues after Gavel misses second free throw, Milosavljevic gets blocked by Nachbar on one on one drive to rim.
20. 0:07 Out of bounds under own hoop (91-89): Westermann passes ball in, sees Lucic running towards right corner off designed out of timeout play, is open, passes to Lucic, his hands tip it but great defense by Gavel, Lucic loses footing, and ball hits ground where Goldsberry grabs it. Turnover.
After all of that there are two plays in the waning seconds of overtime that could have totally changed Partizan’s chances to win the game with the ball directly in Westermann’s hands. First was with 20 seconds left off an offensive rebound from Drew Gordon who immediately hands the ball off to Westermann, who sees this:
Vladimir Lucic is wide open under the basket. Partizan’s best scorer, the guy Westermann is looking for is as open as you get this late right under the hoop. Westermann sees it, and whips an over-head pass as quickly as he can to Lucic and then this happens:
Anton Gavel sees Lucic out of the corner of his eye and gets a quick back track step towards the hoop and then flings a hand up in the air stealing the pass. So it wasn’t Westerman’s decision making that was wrong. But if he gives a hard lob instead of straight-line pass, Gavel can’t jump for it, or can only get a fingertip on it to send it out of bounds. If the ball gets through Lucic either converts an alley-oop or catches the ball and draws a shooting foul. With such an instant reaction moment for Westermann, he just tried to get the ball to Lucic as quick as he could but Gavel is an incredible defender and didn’t let the ball get there. Partizan is only down by one at this point so a basket would have given Partizan the lead with less than 20 seconds left.
Next there are seven seconds left after Bamberg comes down and hits one of two free throws. Dragan Milosavljevic has just tried to go one on one with Boki Nachbar on the fast break and gets swatted out of bounds. A timeout is called. Westermann takes the ball out under the basket and this is the set up:
Lining up all down the middle, Milosavljevic and Lucic are up top with Gordon and Milutinov down low. Milosavljevic runs right first but is covered so he cuts towards under the basket, the bigs come up to set picks and open up space and Lucic cuts a little wider than Milosavljevic but the same direction. This is what Westermann sees:
Lucic was open, he had a step and space on Gavel. Once again Westermann wants to go to Lucic if he can and the guy is open. The right decision is to pass it to Lucic. The pass should be hard enough to get there so Gavel can’t recover but soft enough so Lucic can catch it on a really quick cut.
Then this happens. Whether Lucic lost his footing, couldn’t hold on to the ball, Westermann’s pass was too hard, or because of Gavel’s little push of Lucic’s body, the ball is not caught. It pops into the air, Goldsberry recovers and all but seals the game for Bamberg (although Milosavljevic got three free throws to tie the game with one second left but we won’t go into that).
This was the right decision again by Westermann but maybe not the perfect pass. At least this time he got the ball into Lucic’s hands so he could make a play on the ball but still a crucial turnover for Partizan. Also let’s not forget how amazing of a defender Anton Gavel is, as it is him both times who foils Westermann’s plans and comes up with the two biggest defensive plays of the game.
Improving In Late Game Decision Making
So when looking back at the clutch moments of this game and seeing what Westermann did, it’s hard to put too much fault on him. He made the plays his coach would have wanted him to make, he read everything well, but his execution was just a tad off. Could he have lobbed the ball to Lucic with 20 seconds left, sure. But with a second to think, he saw Gavel, could have thought that might give Gavel too much time to recover and zipped the ball in there as quick as he could.
Then when taking the ball out under the basket he sees Lucic is going to get close to the out of bounds line with his momentum so instead of leading him with a pass he throws it slightly behind him. Lucic was moving too quickly and can only reach back to get a hand on the ball but can’t catch it.
There was a window for those passes. They were open for something like a second, a second and half. Five feet by three or two by eight. There is a combination of time and space that Westermann had to get the ball in there to Lucic on both occasions and he barely nipped the post on the window both times. He knew had to get the ball there, just couldn’t get it through the window.
But these are nuances of the games you learn as you go along. Veteran plays as they say. Westermann’s late game imperfections shouldn’t be looked as a negative as much part of the learning process for a young prospect. Because he’s played so well he’s raised our expectations and we now expect him to fit that pass in there.
These are all reps. Every situation like this Westermann gets into, only helps in his development. The week before when Partizan took Barcelona to overtime, Westermann dumped off a beautiful pick and roll pass to Dejan Musli for a potential game winning shot but he was stuffed by Nathan Jawai. It was the right play in the clutch but not the right result. All of these close bouts Partizan have had in the Euroleague this season (three OT games) have only sped up Westermann’s learning process.
He seems to understand the play he needs to make, now he needs to understand how to execute them. Read and react. But to get to this level of intensity and pressure in a practice setting is near impossible. The more lumps and obstacles he has to overcome late in games will make him more aware the next time.
Continue to be calm when chaos is going on. Westermann just played nine of ten fourth quarter minutes and all of overtime. Mental and physical fatigue were at their peak. But this is when as a point guard you improve. Understanding what to do in these situations and executing it is what your coach will expect of you as the team leader out there. In these few, precious moments a player experiences, growth is the only option and soon break threw and total understanding of what to do will come. Once again, patience is necessary.
Even the smallest part of the play is huge, especially this late in the game. For now, just to get his team in this position, Westermann deserves praise. To get to a level great point guards find themselves in, he needs to keep improving in this stage of the game and soon enough, Westermann will fit the ball right through that window.
And if you wanted to watch the whole overtime to see everything for yourself, go right ahead: