Even if the weather in Germany doesn´t feel like January, 2018 is here and everybody is more than content that it is what it is as in cities like Boston and New York the arctic cold has made the one or other quick trip to the grocery store for top European players Daniel Theis and Kristaps Porzingis a struggle, so for Telekom Baskets Bonn guard TJ DiLeo who hails from Cinnaminson,New Jersey, the -13 degrees Celsius that his family and friends woke up to on the first day of 2018 was something where he could only half-jokingly mutter over the phone with “well better bundle up” as the seemingly tropic like temperature in comparison of 8+ celcius in Bonn was something that Americans on the east coast could only have dreamt about. In Telekom Baskets Bonn country, the last thing on the mind of basketball followers was the balmy winter weather, but moreover about the current season and the very suitable and topical question of “When will the real Telekom Baskets Bonn please stand up?” With 2018 here there have been interesting basketball topics that have developed rather nicely in the last months like the abrupt continuation of the rise of Slovenian wonder boy Luka Doncic. For many he is a one in a million talent that only comes around once in a century and for many is better than Dirk Nowitzki was at that age as he is easily the best Euroleague player at the moment and best 18 year old player on the planet. Some other interesting basketball developments has been the stellar play of the MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg who continue to be a quiet title aspiration in the league and a Basketball Champions League title contender as head coach John Patrick continues to demonstrate why he is one of the best coaches in the league. In the NBA, the sudden rise of the Boston Celtics who belong to the top teams in the league despite having lost Gordon Hayward early in the season has been a hot news item. But one topic that just seems to drag on half heartedly and just seem to be going through the motions and not taking off the way the New England Patriots can at any time when they are behind in a game and can react like a wounded coyote are the Telekom Baskets Bonn who have so much talent, but aren´t developing the way they should, but there are reasons for that. The positive aspect is there is a lot of potential in abundance in the roster, but the question is will they be able to implement it n the best way possible which will lead to more success?
It is no secret that the Telekom Baskets Bonn have been the German basketball version of the NFL Buffalo Bills who reached 4 NFL Superbowls losing each one as Bonn have reached their fair of finals in the last 20 years, but are still looking for their first real club title as they are a five time BBL finalist and a three time cup finalist.
If it´s a curse who knows as they are to be broken as the Boston Red Sox showed as it took them 86 years to win another World Series, but let´s skip curses as Telekom Basket Bonn fans shouldn´t even be misled down a nasty road that no fan wants to reach as any Cleveland Indians fan will attest to as their title drought is currently at 69 years. Of course every club wants to win titles, but at the moment winning that title in Bonn is more distant than near as currently the club is just seeking consistency and getting away from that ugly underachieving label that they have inherited this season. The club has a lot of talent skilled players, a proven winner as a coach with Predrag Krunic, kept a healthy core of last year´s team and a 1-2 punch of Josh Mayo and Julian Gamble that belong to the top 3 best guard/center players in the BBL, or aren´t they yet?
The biggest problem with the Telekom Baskets Bonn not developing the way they should have is simply their injuries woes that they have had this season. Injuries is a sad chapter that each team has to deal with and then you have the luck of a type of player lottery and if you made the correct draw and how well they get integrated, how well they perform, how the team chemistry is affected and how well it can develop. Losing American Jordan Parks put a damper into the team culture early on and somehow the club hasn´t been able to recover from it finding that healthy team chemistry yet despite a good start. Despite not having a fit Ron Curry and Nemanja Djurisic who was playing at the European championships with Montenegro, the club had an excellent pre-season and started off the season with a refreshing 3-0 record rattling off a huge win against last season´s surprise team ratiopharm Ulm at home which had some fans already carefully dreaming of some kind of title as everything seemed to be working in their favor. Victories followed against lower teams Braunschweig and Gotha and they were able to display nerves and heart rallying to win in crunch time which gave them a lot of self confidence in the early going. But then their inconsistency started as they lost three of four games. Losing against Alba Berlin was no surprise, but then suddenly not having that gusto in crunch time in loses against lower teams MBC and Science City Jena was surprising. After a quick start the team was suddenly 4-3 and the first question marks arose. Their exciting roller coaster season continued as suddenly they were that potent crunch time team again reeling off two sensational wins against two up and coming teams that should be playoff teams this season with s.Oliver Wurzburg 78-75 and medi Bayreuth 85-82. They had important momentum now going into the big games against top teams Bamberg and Munich, but got crushed twice showing that there is a lot of room between them and those two teams in terms of skill, depth and experience. Once again they crawled out of the quick sand and did their own James Bond impersonation of the famous alligator scene from “Live and Let Die winning three of their next four games. They had a big and decisive win against playoff team EWE Baskets Oldenburg, defeated the always unpredictable BG Goettingen and last weekend stopped the current surge of the injury plagued Giessen 46ers who had miraculously won three games in a row despite missing their top two imports Dee Davis and Austin Hollins winning the Bryant German way. The Telekom Baskets are solid in producing points with 76 per game allowing 77 points per game and hauling down 30 rebounds per game. In this regard, they can still achieve a lot in improving these three vital stats showing that there is so much that they can achieve. So having a 9-6 record is more than solid, but still it seems like something is missing in their BBL season. The consistency isn´t there yet and their potential and upside is great which will make the rest of this season so enjoyable to observe.
Just the same in their Basketball Champions League season that has been a riddle waiting to be solved. The club started off with a miserable 1-5 record. The first thoughts were how can this talented team be only 1-5 in this competition? Once again statistically they are doing nothing great, but seemingly just doing the needed to pass by, but that isn´t cutting it in that competition. Whereas their crunch time nerves has helped them in the BBL, in the Basketball Champions League it has let them down. Instead of a 3-6 record now, with a few bounces here and there and buckets, the team could be 6-3 and battling Nanterre and Nymburg for the second spot in their group. They suffered three bitter crunch time losses against Nymburk, Besiktas and Oostende and could of beat Oostende and Polish team Stelmet a second time. In the Basketball Champions League they have been defending ok, but had problems on the pick and roll and on offense haven´t been finding efficient shots like in the BBL as their percentages are down and the effort on the offensive rebound also has been unsatisfactory as less second chance points are surfacing. Another problem is relying too much on star player Julian Gamble when in fact they have enough capable players like Josh Mayo, Malcom Hill and Nemanja Djurisic to contribute more and shutting off the obvious. However the club was able to make adjustmenst and won two of their last three games and still have a shot to advance. They had convincing wins against Scandone and Stelmet where they came together on the defensive end and played better together allowing only 60 points per game against both. The good news is that they will be focused to get revenge on Nymburk, Besiktas and Stelmet who they lost to at the end, but the bad news is that they have three road games out of five games. It will definitely be an interesting ending to whether they can qualify or not?
When one looks back to last season where the Telekom Baskets two main import signings were Julian Gamble and Ken Horton who turned out to be golden pick-ups, then the current 9-6 BBL record and 3-6 Basketball Champions League record where in both competitions the team is having momentum shows that the pick-ups of this seasons two main imports Jordan Parks and Ron Curry seem unimportant as they have found ways to compensate their absence on the court, but one has to wonder where the club would be now had they been able to make an impact on the court right way the way Gamble and Horton did. American Malcolm Hill has been an important and interesting acquisition as he gatherd first professional experience with Purefoods Star Hotshots (Philippines-PBA) averaging 26ppg, but one can´t forget he is a rookie and his inconsistency is showing as that second viable scoring option behind Gamble. Djurisic´s biggest strength may be his versatility as he does so much on the floor filling the stat sheet, but he also could be scoring more. The two Germans TJ DiLeo and Yorman Polas won´t score 20 points on a consistent rate, but do other quality things. DiLeo is the ultimate team player as his defense and energy is important for the team while the athleticism of Polas and his defensive energy can quickly turn the tide of a bad Bonn phase into a positive one. Both like to push the ball in transition. One also can´t forget that this team would have a totally different dimension had German Konsatntin Klein not missed most of last season. His rugged and hard nosed defensive qualities are there, but his offense is still missing. He is slowly getting back to his old self and should be an important contributor in the stretch run for the battle of the playoff places. The club recently got experienced Croatian Tomislav Zubcic who was drafted by the Toronto Raptors in 2006 and has extensive Euroleague experience with KK Cibona VIP Zagreb. The 208cm big man who has won 8 titles in his homeland has needed no time to adjust and will help the team spread the floor with his inside out game. The supporting cast of the Telekom Baskets Bonn is a good one, but can the two stars Gamble and Mayo be better than they already are?
One doesn´t always want to admit it, but stats is usually that what everyone looks at concerning the worth of a team or player and why they are performing the way that they are. And in most cases stats don´t lie. Last season in the BBL Gamble averaged 13.2ppg, 6.0rpg, 1.7apg, Blocks-3(1.2bpg), FGP: 61.7%, 3PT: 25.0%, FT: 58.0%; In the FIBA Europe Cup, he averaged 12.8ppg, 6.4rpg, 1.4apg, FGP: 61.8%, 3PT: 25.0%, FT: 58.2%. His scoring and rebounding is almost identical to last season while his shooting from the field is a bit down this season. He is that defensive monster in the paint and can change the impact of the game with one defensive play, but surely is on himself wanting to be even better and improve his blocks average. “I have more levels to unlock. I feel I am not even in my prime yet and still have a while until I get there. My goal this year is to lead the league in blocks and cause problems on the defensive end for every team. I just want to do whatever I need to do in order to help us succeed at the highest level”, stressed Julian Gamble last summer. Josh Mayo last season belonged to the top point guards in the BBL as he was third in scoring averaging 15.8ppg), 2.8rpg, Assists-5(5.1apg), 1.0spg, FGP: 53.6%, 3PT: 40.6%, FT: 93.1%. In the FIBA Europe Cup, he averaged 12.9ppg, 1.9rpg, 4.6apg, FGP: 47.5%, 3PT: 43.8%. Mayo´s stats in the BBL in scoring and assist are down while his precision dangerous three pointer is doing damage this season currently at 42,3%. Both guys are having good seasons, but not great. Both players are true professionals and focused in their work ethic, but one has to ask the pertinent question can these guys heighten their game and make the next step not only in their stats, but as leaders on this team. With their talent and still upside in their game, these two stellar players could surely still make a next step. Mayo is 30 and in his ninth season and one has to ask if he already reached his prime last season, but in his case stats don´t lie as he has consistently proved of being a top scorer, assist man and three point shooter in countries like Latvia, Ukraine, Turkey and Italy. Gamble on the other hand is two years younger and only in his fifth professional season and made a name in the Belgium league as a top scorer and rebounder and was the top shot blocker three years in a row. The biggest similarity that both Americans have is that in 15 combined seasons, they have never won a professional title. That has to be a big drive for them to continue to want to work hard and develop. For some years in Bonn the combination of Jared Jordan and Tony Gaffney not only filled up the highlight reel with their alley-op dunks and gave fans many special moments in the Telekom Dome, but was also seen as a top 1-2 point guard-big man duo in the BBL. Bonn have that type duo again with Mayo and Gamble now, but somehow everyone is waiting for them to put it all together. They have the talent and will, but so far haven´t been able to consistently demonstrate it.
So where will the journey of the Telekom Baskets Bonn end in 2018? They will make the playoffs for sure if they don´t suffer a serious injury plague. The club have a potent scoring attack and will surely continue to make strides in that regard, but are underachieving as a defensive unit. They have superb defenders and just need to be more consistent and play with effort and heart not only in games, but bring that defensive attitude atmosphere to every practice. In May anything is possible as Bonn always tends to win a playoff game against Bamberg as the last years have shown. They have depth in their roster, but a few question marks. Will Ron Curry amount to anything worthwhile on the court who is already a part of Bonn basketball nostalgia as the discussion interest about him on social media has taken off and been as popular as the fleeing of Jared Jordan to Bamberg in February 2014. Can Malcolm Hill up his game more and find consistency and how well will the potent tandem of Mayo and Gamble develop over the next months and how well can they continue to lead their teammates? More exciting at the moment will be if the Telekom Baskets Bonn can get over the hump and reach the next round of the Basketball Champions League? Everything is possible as they are only one win away from fourth place and have a tight battle there with Scandone, Aris and Oostende. If they can win on the road in Nymburk and then come home and defeat Greek team Aris who they surprisingly beat in a tough environment on the road, then that could give them added self confidence to qualify as well as their next encounters in the BBL as they will have a real tough stretch where they will have to show their true colors playing five of six potential playoff teams. The season is still long and still enough time for the real Telekom Baskets Bonn to please stand up. One thing is for sure when the real season starts in May and TJ DiLeo calls home, he won´t have to worry about his mother complaining about iced roads and nasty wind chills as everything will be back to normal as it will be warmer in the States than in Germany which is the way it should be.