Some thoughts about EWE Baskets Oldenburg
Alba Berlin and the EWE Baskets Oldenburg could not meet expectations last season and had an early summer holiday after being surprisingly knocked out in the quarterfinals. So both managements decided to go for some major changes and rebuild their rosters. While Berlin managed to keep the McElroy-Jenkins duo, Oldenburg’s only key-player left is Rickey Paulding.
I was curious enough to make my way to Berlin to see both teams compete at this early stage of the season. The level of performance was not really that great and both teams seriously need to work on adjustments. But still one could see that both clubs should be in the mix for the BBL championship this season.
So here are my thoughts about Oldenburg’s new squad:
EWE Baskets Oldenburg
Arrived: Louis Campbell (Eisbaeren Bremerhaven), Robin Smeulders (University of Portland), Christopher McNaughton (BG Göttingen), Aron Baynes (Lietuvos Rytas), Steven Smith (Ironi Nahariya), Oliver Stevic (KK Crvena), Nemanja Protic (FMP Belgrad), Mindaugas Lukauskis ( ASVEL Villeurbanne)
Remained: Rickey Paulding , Daniel Hain, Acha Njei
Left: Jason Gardner (destination unknown), Daniel Strauch (end of career), Je´Kel Foster (Vanoli Cremona), Jasmin Perkovic (Vanoli Cremona), Ruben Boumtje Boumtje (Artland Dragons), Marko Scekic (BC Buducnost), Marco Buljevic (ETB Essen), Milan Majstorovic (Assignia Manresa), Joshua Carter (Maccabi Ashdod)
As you can see, this is a whole new team. But coach Krunic cherished to his idea of creating a team that is mixed with athletic Americans and players from former Yugoslavian States with very good all around qualities. And again the depth on the frontcourt reminds one of last season’s team and the squad that won the championship in 2009. It is also interesting to see that Alba Berlin and Oldenburg play with a bigger rotation this season.
But let’s first have a look at Oldenburg’s starters this season:
Well what can you say about Rickey Paulding? He is playing his fourth season in Oldenburg and even though his last season was rather mediocre, he is one of the best players in this league and Oldenburg ‘s management did not hesitate to re-sign with him. At the beginning of the season it seemed like he had left some of his skills back in the states. But one should never underestimate his defense and his clutch shooting. Against Berlin he made a very crucial shot from way beyond the three point line in overtime to bring his team back.
When Oldenburg signed Louis Campbell this summer they already announced in the press release that the 31-year old American is meant to play on the shooting guard spot. This was kind of a surprise because Campbell had played an incredibly great season with Bremerhaven in 09/10 and was probably the league’s best point guard. Against Berlin Campbell did not look good at all and made his first field goal late in the fourth quarter. I think he’s still trying to adept to his new role. He had one great game this season (including a BBL career-high 29 points), but apart from that he struggled so far.
Nemanja Protic? Many Oldenburg supporters were disappointed when they heard the name of Jason Gardner’s successor. The management’s announcement to sign one of Europe’s top playmakers did certainly not help to avoid that confusion. In the first few games the 24-year old Serbian could not shine and had some problems getting the job done. Against Alba Protic came from the bench and helped his team on both sides of the court. For three quarters he could shut down Berlin’s much more experienced playmaker Marinovic and controlled Oldenburg’s offense. I really liked the way how he read Alba’s defense and managed to draw a lot of fouls while driving to the basket. Protic could have been the player of the day if he had sunk a free throw at the end of the game or stayed away from Marinovic’s three point shot. Instead he missed both free throws and gave Marinovic the chance to tie the game with seconds to play. Needless to say that he made all three to send the game to overtime and win it all at the end. Still I think that Protic should do well in Oldenburg. One should not forget that he is just 24 years-old and it’s the first time for him to play professional basketball outside of Serbia.
First of all Steven Smith is a great athlete! When I saw Paulding and him before the game side by side, I really thought that Paulding must have lost some weight during the summer. Next to Smith he looked so unusually slim, almost skinny. Unlike Majstorivic or Perkovic, who played the 4 spot in Oldenburg last season, Smith’s primal strength is his physical game. I was surprised to see that instead of making use of his physical advantage Smith mainly relied on his shooting. OK, he’s a +30% shooter from outside, but I think he should rely much more on his athletic abilities. Krunic certainly did not like Smith’s bad shot selection and has to find a way to make Smith play more team oriented. So far, I am a little disappointed with the 27-year old La Salle Alumni. He could turn out to be a second Desmond Penigar (the only good thing about him were his individual stats) instead of a much needed bigger version of Rickey Paulding. So the only really remarkable thing about Smith were his yellow shoes this evening.
Watching Aron Baynes doing his job is entertaining, that’s for sure. Even away from the ball he can’t help himself but has to throw some soft elbows or to trip someone. Early foul trouble prevents him from getting more playing time (just 15 minutes per game!) and with 3.5 fouls per game he is among the league leaders. But there are moments when he shines. The 23-year old Australian is tough to defend and once he has a nice position in the paint the opponent is simply lost. Derrick Allen had to find out that Baynes is a tough matchup as he could not stop the young center to score against him for four times. Watching Baynes brings back some nice memories of a young and raw Mario Kasun. And I’m sure Baynes will have some dominant games this season. But I still don’t understand what Krunic sees exactly in him. You want your starting center to see more than just 15 minutes and be more reliable. Also defensively Baynes does not look as stable as his predecessor Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje.
It looks like Mindaugas Lukauskis is meant to play the versatile forward that Milan Majstorovic played in the past years. His grey hair is already telling the story: the 31-year old Lithuanian is very experienced. He is a two time UlebCup/EuroCup champion and spent most of his career with Lithuanian power house BC Lietuvos Rytas. Most BBL coaches would love to have a guy like him on the team and even though he will mainly come from the bench Lukauskis is a guy who should see a lot of time in the last minutes of games.
Oliver Stevic is a versatile Power Forward/Center who has some nice moves in the post and good feeling for rebounds and all the little things that can not be seen on the stat sheet. Currently he is making 60% of his shots and is probably doing better than many expected. The 26-year old serb is also coming from the bench, but his ability to play two positions guarantees him valuable playing time. Especially with Smith and Baynes having a knack for getting into foul trouble Stevic will be a very important player for Krunic.
Chris McNaughton will be remembered best for his sensational performance in this year’s EuroChallenge final. Later that summer he became a member of Germany’s national team and left Goettingen to join Oldenburg. So far McNaughton did get just 9 minutes per game. But with the Baynes situation in mind one should not be too surprised if he gets some quality minutes this season.
It’s the same with Daniel Hain who even started against Berlin. With Protic still adjusting and Campbell stuck on the 2 spot Hain’s strong defense should guarantee him playing time. On good days Hain can be a beast and defend any point guard in the BBL.
Robin Smeulders is a member of the dutch national team, but since he also has a german passport he helps Oldenburg to meet the quota of five german players that have to be on every team. He is just 23 years old and is still raw in some aspects. But now and then he could earn some minutes. But don’t expect him to be anything more than a backbencher like Daniel Strauch was last season.
Oldenburg has the quality to be one of the top 4 teams this year. But rebuilding is never easy and maybe this new squad will show its full potential next season if a core of players remains for one more season. They have the quality and the depth this season to challenge reigning champion Brose Baskets Bamberg. Though they were not in good shape against Berlin and have to work on some adjustments I expect them to at least make it to the semi-finals.