Teamcheck: Deutsche Bank Skyliners
Frankfurt’s basketball project has got all it takes to be successful: a nice training ground called BCM (Basketball City Mainhatten), very big names as major sponsors (first Opel then Deutsche Bank) and regular appearances in european competitions.
The first era with Opel had been quite successful as the club won the national championship in 2004 and established itself as one of the big names in german basketball. Canadian coach Gordon Herbert had formed a nice team back then and even when keyplayers like Mario Kasun and Robert Garrett had left the team Murat Didin got the best out of the fundament of the championship team and young talents and led the team to another BBL finals appearance.
But the summer of 2005 had been a turning point in the club’s successful history. Deutsche Bank took over as main sponsor and was giving the club even more money to spend, but false decisions in recruiting players and coaches made Frankfurt’s basketball project lose two years. With the return of Murat Didin Frankfurt success came back to the Skyliners. In 2007 they surpringly made it to the semi-finals and were only two points shy of another finals appearance. While the club was overachieving two years ago, last season was a bit of a disappointment. The club made it to the post season, but was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Oldenburg.
It has been a difficult summer for Frankfurt’s management. Maybe like no other team Frankfurt’s basketball project relies mainly on main sponsor Deutsche Bank. The 5-year contract with Germany’s biggest bank company expires in 2010 and with no guarantee about an extension or an alternative the team was forced to act very careful on the market for most of the summer.
Just for the second time in the 10 year history of the club the Skyliners will not play in a European competition as they declined to make use of a wildcard Fiba offered them to play EuroChallenge. For sure the financial situation was the main factor for this decision. It saves the club the travel expanses and embarrassing home matches in front of just a few hundred people.
Finally in late August the Skyliners’ major sponsor decided to extend the partnership – but just for one more year until 2011. Compared to the 5-year contract the bank had signed in 2005 this looks poor and does not give the Skyliners a lot of planning reliability.
In order to that Frankfurt lost more quality players than any other elite team. Eight guys left the team including fan favourites (Evtimov, Wysocki), difference makers (Simmons, Gordon) and talents (King, Weber).
No one would have expected such a tough cut in December 2008. Murat Didin’s team looked like a clear contender for the championship and was praised by experts, fans and even opponent players. Tübingen’s Jermaine Anderson was convinced after the game in Frankfurt (82-65 blow-out win for Frankfurt) that the Skyliners were among the best of the league:
”Frankfurt is really well coached and as a roster deeper than Alba Berlin. The Skyliners will be at the top of the BBL standings with Berlin at the end of the season”, stated canadian national player Anderson.
And also the management must have been extremely confident as General Manager Gunnar Wöbke stated in a press release that “we want to keep this team for the future”. Murat Didin agreed on that in December as he stressed: “This team is something special. And I’m sure we can achieve something big with this squad.”
Indeed Frankfurt’s 07/08 roster was without a doubt by far the deepest the club ever had in its 10 year history.
On almost every position the team had two quality players. Especially on the positions 2, 3 and 4 the team was loaded with versatile players that had already proved to be difference makers. With 13 pros on the team one guy even had to sit out in the standings (most of the time it was german youngsters Dominik Bahiense de Mello or Max Weber).
After winning 10 of the first 14 games Frankfurt was one of the top teams and headed to Berlin with confidence in January. Many fans and experts expected that this game could be a foretaste of a possible BBL final. But Frankfurt suffered a heavy 71-87 loss in Germany’s capital and somehow never recovered from that.
In 2009 Didin’s team managed to defeat teams from the mid-field and the bottom of the table, but almost any other play-off candidate was victorious against the Skyliners.
A disastrous record against the top 8 with just 3 wins out of 14 games was not a good sign for the play-offs.
American Keith Simmons still wonders why the Skyliners lost this good shape early in 2009 and thinks that injuries hurt the team a lot:
“In December, we were playing pretty well. That was one of the only times we had just about everybody healthy. I had come back off my injury, McKinney had just got back from his injury as well as Gordon. We brought in Titus Ivory and Greg Jenkins during that time too and we were very deep. For some reason after that point it seemed like we were never fully healthy again. I don’t know why but we were banged up for most of the second half of the season. When guys go down with injuries, rotations change, chemistry changes and players and coaches have to adjust. In December we were healthy and we were finding out how strong we could be but we never reached our full potential. I can’t exactly tell you why, it just wasn’t our year.”
Of course you cannot rule out that injuries bothered the team. But especially such a deep team like Frankfurt should have been able to deal with some injury trouble as they were not the only team to lose key players during the season.
A deep rotation can be very helpful to overcome injuries, but too much depth also brings a lot of frustration for those players who do not get as many minutes as they hoped for. Plus Murat Didin is a coach who does not use a permanent starting five. The players often don’t know what they are up to. On some games a player gets 25+ minutes, the next game he is just sitting on the bench. Especially with such a big rotation it seems very helpful to establish a team structure that could help players to know and understand what exactly their role is.
Some players looked lost throughout the whole season.
A player like e.g. Ilian Evtimov, who had a great first year with Frankfurt and felt comfortable in a frontcourt trio with Allen and Archibong in 06/07, could not contribute the way he and the coaching staff expected. Similar things can be said about Konrad Wysocki, who had a sensational season with Ulm the year before, but was not used in a way he could have helped the team a lot more.
Generally the team looked crowded on the positions 2, 3 and 4, but lacked a decent center and a solid backup for Pascal Roller.
These two problems were not solved all season long and especially in the second half of the season and during the play-off losses against Oldenburg these deficits became obvious. Under the baskets Frankfurt missed injured American Lorenzo Gordon and neither Derrick Allen, Greg Jenkins nor Anthony King were able to stop Oldenburg’s experienced big man Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje.
There was a typical situation for this that ended the whole season: It was game 4 of the first play-off round against EWE Baskets Oldenburg; Frankfurt led 64-60 in last quarter when Murat Didin decided to bench Roller. Adam Emmenecker came in and soon Oldenburg was able to take gain the lead and built a 64-69 lead. With just a few minutes left to play Frankfurt came back, but Oldenburg managed to stay in control and walked away victorious with a 69-72 win.
Of course this was just one game, a decisive though as Oldenburg won the series and Frankfurt’s season was over. Many stated that it was Didin’s mistake to bench Roller for to long, but the Turkish coach does not agree with this:
“Pascal always gave his best. He was tired and I took him out. People who think that we lost the game because Pascal was out are wrong. Even when they took the lead, we cut the lead back down without Pascal. It was a physical game and he needed a rest. If I had the same situation again today, then I would do it again,” stressed Didin.
But to avoid a situation like this in the future, Frankfurt’s management decided to hire a second point guard, whose quality is equal to Pascal Roller. During the summer Didin described the new point guard duo the Skyliners plan to establish:
“We are not looking for a back up point guard, but for a point guard. We don’t know who the starting point guard is. No players have a guarantee if they start or how much minutes they will get. The guys have to work to deserve playing time”, stated Didin.
Last season Roller’s backup was a player, who was part of the Cinderella story in NCAA basketball 2008. Adam Emmenecker was a walk-on as he did not get any scholarship offer to play basketball. But in his senior year for Drake University he came out of nowhere and led the Bulldogs to a title in the Missouri Valley Conference and their first NCAA tournament appearance for years. But Emmenecker’s Cinderella story did not continue in Germany. Certainly he proved that he has a deep knowledge of the game, but also that his offensive skills (making just 6 of 28 attempts from outside) are too limited to have a serious impact in Germany’s elite league. The 23-year old did not commit a lot of mistakes and contributed with some tough defense and a nice assist-turnover ratio. But generally he could not be an equal backup for Roller.
After two disappointing signings on the playmaking positions in the past summers (Emmenecker and Hunt), the Skyliners really took some money and decided to sign a real quality player to share the 1 with Pascal Roller.
American Aubrey Reese has had some nice years in Turkey and proved to be a great scorer. Last season he was the league’s third best scorer in Turkey and averaged 20.4 points in 21 games with Aliaga Petkim. Often described as a shooting guard in a point guard’s body the 31-year old has always had some nice assist numbers. In four seasons in Turkey Reese never averaged less than 4 assists per game and knows how create shots for his team mates.
Reese is a true competitor and steps up when it comes to important games. Against Euroleague club Fenerbahce Istanbul the 183cm / 6’0’’ guard produced 22 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. Another important factor is that Reese has already played for coach Murat Didin and knows his visions of basketball. But a player with his vita does ask for quite some money. Frankfurt decided to give Reese a contract for three months and hopes to convince some of their sponsors to give some extra money to keep Reese for the rest of the season.
After two seasons without a decent backup for Pascal Roller it seems like this season Didin has got two quality point guards. It will be interesting to see how Roller will come to terms with the club’s decision to rely on another playmaker with starter calibre.
Because ever since Roller took over this postion from Kai Nürnberger he has been the undoubted number one playmaker Roller already had some difficulties through out the last year and finished the regular season with just 9.0 points per game. That was Roller’s lowest average since 2001. But playing for a team with multiple scoring options it did not really harm Frankfurt. After 12 years as a pro Pascal knows that he has to arrange his strength. But when the play-offs started the former national player showed that he is still one of the best players on his position in this league. He outscored reigning MVP Jason Gardner in the quarterfinals and produced sensational 14.3 points, 2.8 assists and 1.8 rebounds per game. He made 13 of 23 three point attempts and was one of the main factors that kept Frankfurt in the series.
It could also be an option to play with Roller and Reese on the court. Pascal has been playing shooting guard before and with his nice shooting touch he is able run systems that usually end with a reliable three pointer. But if the Skyliners plan to play with both playmakers they clearly look undersized and have to play fast to compensate this possible deficit.
The addition of Reese was the last the Skyliners did and surprisingly on the paper it looks like Reese is the only quality player that has been added to the team.
On all other positions the team obviously signed with new players who still have to prove that they can make an impact in a league like the BBL. If you compare the estimated salaries of those players who left with those who were signed for the upcoming season, it is easy to see that the new players earn a lot less than their predecessors.
But not only did the management obviously spend less money. They also decided to change their philosophy of building a team. Ever since those bad years 2006 and 2007 when Frankfurt signed mainly BBL-unexperienced players and made some bad experiences with overrated superstars from Poland or Portugal, the management had an unwritten law of signing primary players with experience in Germany or guys who had been successful in better leagues like Turkey. This philosophy brought in players from the calibre of Derrick Allen, Koko Archibong, Titus Ivory or Konrad Wysocki.
But surely these players got their price. With uncertainty about the future with or without main sponsor Deutsche Bank, the Skyliners management was forced to turn their backs on this philosophy. But instead of relying on a mixture of ProA players (Germany’s second division players) and some german youngsters, Frankfurt opted for the American way.
After some really bad experiences with “unknown import players” three seasons ago, the new acquired players are mainly dark horses for fans and even experts.
If you google e.g. for a guy like Grayson Moyer you find his myspace profile instead of a scouting report. The 23-year old shooting guard spent last season in the ABA, a league usually not known for quality players. It seems that he was surprised to end up with such a decent team like Frankfurt:
“I just kept working as hard as I could in the camps and I never thought that I would get a situation as good as this in Frankfurt. I am simply ecstatic right now”, declared Grayson Moyer.
The 196cm /6’5’’ guard (check the German Hoops article about him) can give the team some aggressive defense and has a nice rainbow shot from downtown. But he has not played in a league of BBL level so far and it is very hard to judge what impact Moyer can have on this league.
The Shooting Guard position shows Frankfurt’s belt-tightening.
With Titus Ivory an experienced player who had won a championship in Germany with Cologne in 2006 left the team. Right after the last season it was stated that his salary demand would be too high. Ivory had been a very important player for Frankfurt’s 07/08 squad as he was one of the few players with experience and leadership qualities. Ivory leaves a gap of 7.9 points, 3.0 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game that now needs to be filled by ABA player Moyer and last year’s backups.
Without a doubt Jimmy McKinney has all the talent to become a great player in Europe. He has a nice long-range shot, has the ability to penetrate hard to the basket and plays committed defense. Unfortunately injuries kept him down for major parts of all three seasons he had spent in Frankfurt. The fans in Frankfurt will probably never forget that Jimmy was willing to compete in the 07/08 play-offs even though he had suffered a broken bone in his shooting hand.
The last season was tough for the former Mizzou standout as he missed the first 12 games of the season and never really found his role on a deep roster. With just 3.1 points, 1.1 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game Jimmy has played his worst BBL season by far.
During the summer there had been some rumours that McKinney could finish his basketball career in overseas and try his luck with a possible baseball career. But he still has a valid contract with the Skyliners for the 09/10 campaign and came back to Frankfurt during off-season.
It will be interesting to see if McKinney will be able to get back in old shape. He is in a nice situation again and should be the starting shooting guard.
Dominik Bahiense de Mello was one of the players who suffered the most from last season’s deep rotation. With two experienced import players ahead of him de Mello did not see a lot of quality minutes and even garbage time was limited. The 24-year old guard has played his fourth season in Frankfurt and still got the label talent on his forehead written.
De Mello’s qualities should not be doubted. He had his big games in almost every season, but clearly lacked the coach’s confidence and regular time on the court. E.g. during the 06/07 season he shocked SLUC Nancy in a Uleb Cup home game and dished in five three pointers in the first half. With money not growing on trees any longer in Frankfurt de Mello could take advantage of a slimmer and not as qualitative line-up as in recent years.
Behind McKinney it will be rookie Moyer and De Mello who should fight for minutes.
Do not expect Filmore Beck to get a lot of minutes. The 18-year old prospect spent last season with Eintracht Frankfurt in Regionalloga 2 (Germany’s fifth division!). He will probably spend most of the time with the Skyliners second team that plays ProB (third division) and just practice with the Bundesliga squad.
On the Small Forward position the Skyliners had hoped to bring back Konrad Wysocki. Even though Wysocki was not as productive as he had been in Ulm, he still was Frankfurt’s first choice. But due to financial reasons the club did not exercise the team option on Wysocki, but offered him a new contract that was more than 20% less worth.
The german national player was not willing to accept that and signed with polish team Turow, where he will be coached by Sasha Obradvic and play EuroCup.
Meanwhile Ilian Evtimov’s big contract and his rather poor last season made it easy for Frankfurt to end the partnership with the French-bulgarian forward with the nice shooting touch. Even though he had a really disappointing second season with Frankfurt many fans will miss Ilian’s shots from downtown, his nice running hook shot and his above average basketball IQ.
Murat Didin and GM Gunnar Wöbke would have loved to keep swingman Keith Simmons for another season, but the 24-year old, who averaged 11.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game, got an offer from Turkey that was worth three times as much as Frankfurt could have afforded.
Doliboa (video) has been one of the best import players in Portugal last season and he is a lot more mature than Calhoun, who is coming straight out of college. For undefeated champion Benfica Lisboa the 28-year old American averaged 17.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. The name Doliboa had been in Frankfurt’s player book for quite some time. But the 203cm / 6’8’’ forward had already retired from basketball in 2006. After a two year break he returned to Portugal last season and his nice performance got him a job in BBL.
Didin is convinced that Doliboa will be a very good player for his team:
“He is a born scorer. Seth gave the business world a try in 2006 and retired. He has a big appetite to play and he needs to show that he can play at a high level in Europe. Now he is in a strong basketball community. He decided to get out of business world and play basketball again and he has to feel he is part of a high business level in Frankfurt.”
During the pre-season Doliboa had been Frankfurt’s topscorer for most of the time and it seems that this two year absence from basketball did not harm his abilities. Watch out for Doliboa as he could become one of the steals in this league.
Qarraan Calhoun (video) is a very athletic player, who can play on both forward positions. Still he has a lot to learn in his rookie year, but coach Murat Didin paises his maturity:
“He may be a rookie, but that is in the mind of the beholder. I know rookies that act like 30 year olds, and I also know some 30 year olds that act like rookies. Quaaran wants to be someone. The club has given him the maximum and he must give the same in return.,” says Didin.
In a press statement Didin called Calhoun “one of the biggest talents of last year’s NCAA season.” Either Didin has seen something other scouts and experts did not see or he saw tapes of a different player. Calhoun (further informations) can bring in a lot of athleticism and power, but he still is very raw and unexperienced on European playgrounds.
Fabian Franke is a prospect who will mainly play with Frankfurt’s second team in ProB (third division). The 21-year old signed a 3-year contract with the Skyliners and needs still to develop to get more than just some garbage minutes.
After a very difficult season Derrick Allen should be Frankfurt’s first scoring option again. Last season he had to play away from the basket and let Lorenzo Gordon get the ball inside the paint. D.A. does not deny that he prefers to play under the baskets:
“Last year, at the start of the season it was tough at first to get adjusted to my new role with the team. But me playing the 4 spot, and playing outside really helped me with other areas of my game. So I do think it was beneficial at the end, and I learned a lot also. But I hope this season I will get to play more inside, with just using my post game like I always have been able to.”
Allen really showed how much of he pro he is and never had any bad words about his new role away from the basket. Even if he was benched for extended periods or did not get many shots, he always was professional about it and never showed his discontent. With Lorenzo Gordon being the dominant inside player, Allen’s numbers dropped. But at the end of the season with Gordon injured Allen got his inside role back and showed that he is more productive in the paint. So you can expect Allen to play something close to a 20/10 season as he is the Skyliners primary scoring option again.
Doliboa and Calhoun can both play as backups for Allen and in a small line-up with Allen as center even all three of them could play together. Doliboa’s nice touch from downtown will help Allen to get all the space he needs for his patent ballerina moves.
Even though many fans were disappointed in Greg Jenkins, the Skyliners still believe in his abilities and brought him back.
In Paderborn Jenkins had been one of the better centers in this league in 2007. But missing the whole preseason last year and injury trouble throughout the season really must have hurt him. Somehow he never seemed at 100% and lacked both confidence and aggressiveness. Murat Didin always praises Jenkins’ “god-given body” and he is convinced that Jenkins can do a better job. Last season he looked really lost sometimes and with his phlegmatic movements he became an easy target for disappointed fans. Especially in the play-offs Jenkins looked like a schoolboy against Boumtje-Boumtje. During the pre-season Jenkins did not really shine and with new acquired big man Marius Nolte his starter role is not set in stone as Murat Didin stresses:
“It will be a competition between them. We have no starting center. Perhaps later we will bring in a young center. It is normal that whoever works hard deserves to wear the uniform.”
Nolte and Jenkins were team mates in Paderborn back in 2007. The 28-year old german is a tough worker defensively, who plays team oriented and likes to play with his back to the basket offensively. His style seems quite unorthodox and unesthetic, but often very efficient. After many years with Paderborn Nolte decided that it was time for a new challenge. It will be interesting to see if Nolte becomes another Center-victim of Didin or if he can step his game up and really become a serious threat for the more gifted player Jenkins.
PG Roller / Reese
SG McKinney / Moyer / De Mello / Beck
SF Doliboa / Calhoun / Franke
C Jenkins / Nolte
New players bold
If one just looks at the names, the estimated salaries and all those players who left Frankfurt this summer it becomes obvious that the Skyliners have to work with a slimmer budget this season. With many other teams improving this summer (Ludwigsburg, Artland Dragons, Bremerhaven and Braunschweig) the Skyliners could easily find themselves in the deep mid-field.
With the exception of Reese and Nolte all other new players lack experience on BBL level. The Skyliners really have to hope that Doliboa, Calhoun and Moyer can compete in Germany’s elite league to have a chance to fight for the play-offs. If those new acquired guys do not turn out to be helpful it will be very difficult to make it to the post-season.
Derrick Allen is very realistic about the new team:
“We lost a lot of players. To me every season is tough, but I don’t expect to make the playoffs. We are a young team and will just have to work really hard. to get to the playoffs.”
To Murat Didin less money does not automatically mean lesser chances of making it to the post season. Ulm, Goettingen and Paderborn showed last season that it is not about big budgets but dedication and team spirit to become a play-off contender:
“If you start to analyze a team by their budget, then you don’t need to play. We will be a strong team and I feel we can belong to the upper places in the standings.”
Well in the past Frankfurt had the financial power to sign great players, but many times were not lucky with their picks.
This time the management and coach Didin can not afford to make bad choices. It is not impossible to make it to the play-offs, but some questionmarks need to turn into exclamation marks to make success possible.