Gießen, we have a problem
The Gießen 46ers started the new season with great ambition and confidence. After being granted a wild card by the BBL, Gießen vowed to not make the same mistakes they did in the past and wanted to come out running early. Now, six games into the new season, Gießen finds itself yet again in last place in the BBL. Technically, they are still 15th in the league (thanks to the strange new FIBA rule that gives teams a point for just showing up), but the 46ers remain the only one of the 18 teams in the BBL that is still winless. Sure, the 46ers caught a bad break with injuries to starters Lorenzo Williams and Johannes Lischka, both of whom will be out for the next four to six games. And yes, Gießen played a strong game against ALBA, giving the odds-on-favorite all it could handle in an overtime loss. ALBA’s recent loss in Tübingen, however, helps put this game in perspective, as Berlin’s slow start to the BBL season (due to their Euroleague qualification games) has led to ALBA not being as consistent now as they undoubtedly will be later on during the season.
Gießen was recently blown out in Göttingen and especially in Düsseldorf and appeared totally overwhelmed in both those games. The reasons for Gießen’s lack of success are manifold. In former Purdue Boilermaker David Teague (currently leading BBL in scoring at 24 ppg with 39% three-pointers and 50% overall field goals), the 46ers signed one of the most talented scorers in the BBL this summer, but in hindsight, the other signings appear questionable at best. Point guard Lorenzo Williams is solid and one of the few consistent scoring threats on this team. However, his deisgnated backup Viktor Jacovic appears to be vastly overmatched in all facets of the game. In the Düsseldorf game, Jacovic got serious minutes and looked like a turnover waiting to happen. As a reaction, the 46ers signed Chuck Reed as an insurance for Williams right before the start of the season, giving them three point guards and pushing talented youngster Falko Theilig to number four on the PG depth chart.
And lo and behold, Williams got injured in the third game of the season. After Williams’ injury, Gießen turned to Austen Rowland, formerly a guard for Ulm, Trier, Jena and Kaiserslautern. While Rowland is a solid player, he is not a scorer, thus depriving the 46ers of another position where they could use a solid scoring threat. As of now, Gießen has three point guards, none of which would start for any other BBL team. For the two backups, it is unlikely that either Reed or Jacovic would log significant minutes anywhere else. The question remains whether Gießen could not have bundled Reed’s and Jacovic’s salary to get a solid backup point guard who can run the show by himself if need be. A player of former Gießen PG Danny Lewis’ quality would have been sufficient to get the team through a handful of games without their starting playmaker. But both Reed and Jacovic do not exude the seniority and ball control that Lewis did, instead appearing insecure and making ill-conceived decisions on the court.
Another main problem are the big men. In a year where just about everybody else appears to have added some significant meat up front, Gießen is getting very little production inside. Joe Werner is giving the team very little on the stat sheet even though he brings a lot to the table as a workhorse. Kevin Johnson gives the 46ers some presence on the rebounding end, but also cannot be counted on to score regularly. The biggest disappointment of all, however, is Austrian starting center Martin Kohlmaier, who arrived from Spain’s LEB Gold. Why the Austria-Gießen pipeline is still intact despite several disappointments (Richard Poiger or, most notably, former Austrian MVP David Jandl) is beyond me. Kohlmaier, at 7-2 and 260, is averaging a whopping 1.8 rebounds per game as the starter down low. Even worse, Kohlmaier is averaging less than one defensive rebound. Chances are, my grandmother on stilts would be able to top that. The presence of Kohlmaier inside makes Gießen fans, who were not exactly spoiled by Robert Maras and Flo Hartenstein last year, wish they had either one of the two veterans still around.
The only positive story here is the ongoing development of 23-year old Jannik Freese, who is starting to take away the minutes from Kohlmaier. After a slow start to the season, the 6-11 center has scored more over the last couple of games. While he can still be overanxious at times and mess up great offensive moves with hasty finishes, Freese remains Gießen’s best shot to get some inside production.
When 6-8 Johannes Lischka went down with his injury, it was apparent that Gießen needed somebody who was able to not only score from the wing, but also go down on the low block and get some points there. Gießen turned around and signed…Maurice Jeffers.
Now I don’t want to make this as though Jeffers were not a good enough basketball player. He played a very solid year for Gießen before going down with a season-ending injury in March. The decision to sign him, however, appears questionable. Teague likes to take the ball from 25 feet out on the wing and go one-on-one. Jeffers likes to take the ball from 25 feet out on the wing and go one-on-one. Teague is great at using picks and can be spectacular in the lane. Jeffers is great at using picks and can be spectacular in the lane. You get the picture. Yes, Jeffers is stronger physically, and yes, Teague is a better three-point shooter, but still – they tend to get in each other’s way. Against Düsseldorf, Gießen tried to put Jeffers in the mid-post position and have him operate from there. Even against a team like the Giants, who are notoriously weak on the inside, he did not exactly set the world on fire trying to score from the post. Gießen’s go-to-guys will now be Jeffers and Teague, both excellent swingmen.
However, Gießen will have difficultires getting consistent scoring from any other position with this personnel. Plus, as long as Williams is sidelined with his injury, opponents will be able to lay off Gießen’s point guards and focus their defensive energy on Teague and Jeffers. Düsseldorf ran out to an early lead just by keeping the ball away from Teague. Sure, Teague will get his points on any given night, but the harder a team makes him work for it, the worse things get for Gießen. If Gießen cannot find any scoring on the inside and consistent guard play, the 46ers will continue to get blown out by middle of the pack teams like Düsseldorf or Göttingen.
With their current roster, the 46ers are dependent on Teague and Jeffers to score big and hope the duo gets some support from Freese and Johnson. Against Bremerhaven, however, even this was not enough. Gießen will have to steal a game or two before Williams and Lischka return from their injuries. Their best bet for that elusive first victory appears to be the game against Paderborn Baskets, which Gießen will host on November 7. Otherwise, the 46ers will be in catch-up mode for the entire season again. And Gießen cannot count on obtaining a wild card every year.