One Giant Leap - a closer look at Telenet Giants Antwerp
ANTWERP (Belgium) - What a season Telenet Giants Antwerp are having! Roel Moors' squad is enjoying the club’s best period in years (possibly ever), both domestically and in Europe. Since 2011, Oostende has been the biggest gun in Belgium, but the pecking order is much less clearly defined in 2018-19. The Giants have already broken the monopoly on the Belgian cup - in March Antwerp became the first club to beat Oostende in seven years. The race for the EuroMillions Basketball League title is also very much on. In Europe, Antwerp has already gone one better than its esteemed rivals by becoming the first Belgian club to reach the Play-Offs of the Basketball Champions League. The fact that it has not only gone on to make the Final Four but also host the event on a weekend when they already had the Sportpaleis booked, has an air of fate about it.
🚨 This Wednesday in Antwerp (13:00 GMT+2), the 4 remaining teams (@BroseBamberg, @CB1939Canarias, @VirtusBo & @AntwerpGiants) will know their fate in the #BasketballCL Final Four! pic.twitter.com/azrOsucbUh— Basketball Champions League (@BasketballCL) April 10, 2019
The Road to the Final Four
If anyone tries to claim that they predicted Antwerp having this kind of success this season, they are probably lying, or they are Roel Moors in disguise. After splitting the first two games of the season - an impressive road win at Lietkabelis and a disappointing home loss to Montakit Fuenlabrada - nobody was quite sure what to make of this young Antwerp group. Once they had dispatched Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem at home in the next game - scoring 101 points during regular-time in the process - everyone sat up and took note. Of course, Antwerp’s BCL season didn’t start in the Regular Season.
The Giants (like the Giants of Ludwigsburg last year) progressed from the first round of Qualifying to reach the Final Four. Even after that impressive win over Jerusalem, it would still have taken a brave person to put stock in Antwerp coming out of a stacked Group C. But make it out they did. Even though that was the only time Antwerp beat any of the other Group C beasts that progressed to the Play-Offs (AEK, Jerusalem and Bamberg), the Giants finished with a 7-7 record and made history for Belgian basketball.
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The Play-Offs offered another opportunity for the doubters to doubt. Last year’s third-placed team UCAM Murcia had only lost one game in the Regular Season. With so many of last season’s squad returning, the experience and quality on the roster looked a tough matchup for Coach Moors' squad. Paris Lee, however, hasn’t been much interested in the thoughts of doubters all season. The American Point Guard plays like a man that has been proving doubters wrong his whole life. His 21 and 14 points in the two legs earned him a spot in the Team of the Round of 16. The three-point heartbreaker he nailed at the end of the first leg also gave Antwerp an 8-point cushion heading to Spain. It was a lead that proved too much for Murcia. Ismael Bako and Jae’Sean Tate also contributed double-figure scoring in both games as Antwerp outworked one of the competition’s hardest working teams. More than outwork, Antwerp also out-executed Murcia. By the time the Quarter-Finals tipped off, Antwerp was the Belgian Cup winner and went into both legs against Nizhny Novgorod with so much confidence that the contest was over before it ever really started. The Giants did most of the damage on the road in Novgorod and then it was more a case of crossing the t's and dotting the i's at home.
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Statistically, this Antwerp team has been strongest in three categories; they rank second amongst the Final Four teams for rebound percentage, steals, and three-point shooting. The Giants hoover up 51% of all available rebounds, collect seven steals each contest and shoot over 35% from deep. The Giants are also the second-best team in the Final Four for shot-blocking, erasing over 7% of their opponents' shots.
If we look at Antwerp's advanced data over the last ten games, we can see that - aside from the demolition of Fuenlabrada on Gameday 9 - the Giants offensive and defensive efficiency have been stable. Antwerp is 6-4 over its last ten games and looking at Offensive Rebound Percentage, Turnover Percentage, and Effective Field Percentage, we don't see any significant trends for either stat in relation to those wins and losses. Where we do see a trend is Pace. Antwerp averaged 71.6 possessions per 40 minutes on the season. League average across all teams has been 72. The Giant's two highest Paced games of the season was the Regular Season losses to Jerusalem and Bamberg. Of all the games the Giants have played with a Pace higher than the league average of 72, the outcome has been a loss. On the flipside, when the Pace has been 72 possessions per 40 minutes or below, Antwerp has won six and lost only once. Even then, that loss was the second leg against UCAM Murcia and was as good as a win.
If you look at their shot map, you will also see that the impressive thing about Antwerp’s shooting is that every zone outside the arc is an efficient zone for the Belgians. Among the Final Four teams, only Tenerife take more shots behind the arc. The fact that Antwerp is consistent from every 3-point shooting spot on the floor makes them a real threat. This is also a team with Ismael Bako that gets a high volume of efficient shots directly at the rim.
The player shot map below gives a pretty accurate visual for what you can expect from Antwerp's roster. Paris Lee is an efficient 3-point shooter off the dribble, especially as the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll, Jae'Sean Tate shoots 39% from deep and is even possibly a better shooter above the break. Dudzinski stretches the floor and Bako is a lob catching menace around the rim. Also, keep an eye out for Hans Vanwijn on the high and low post. Tyley Kalinoski's 80% from the left corner is eye-catching, but also on a low volume of attempts. Kalinoski has shown himself to be a player that can get into the paint and score efficiently.
This young Antwerp squad is special for a variety of reasons. Starting with the coaching, Roel Moors is the favorite to win Coach of the Year for good reason. Moors was a legendary player at Antwerp and has his jersey retired in the Lotto Arena. He is already working towards becoming a legend as a coach there too. What he has done so well, is to find a stable structure that also allows this team to express its energy, creativity, and unpredictableness. The rotations have been strict all season so these young players know where they stand. If we contrast the rotation chart below with the full season rotation chart we looked at before the Quarter-Finals, we see that Victor Sanders and Yoeri Schoepen have been inserted into the starting unit for the Play-Offs.
In Sanders case especially, this decision appears to have paid off. The American is playing his rookie year in Europe and has grown as a player throughout the season. His contribution in the first leg of the Quarter-Finals, may not jump off the page in the box score but was absolutely critical. We can also see that Hans Vanwijn's role has increased during the Play-Offs. Vanwijn does a bit of everything and looks an incredible player in the making. The main threats on this team are Ismael Bako anywhere around the rim (but especially above it), Paris Lee creating from pick-and-rolls, and Jae’Sean Tate brimming with energy, hustle, and ideas. All three are regulars in the closing unit for Moors' squad.
Telenet Giants Antwerp's best lineup for Plus/Minus in the Play-Offs has been:
Paris Lee, Ismael Bako, Tyler Kalinoski, Yoeri Schoepen, Victor Sanders (Plus/Minus: +11)
For the season in total it has been:
Yoeri Schoepen, Ismael Bako, Tyler Kalinoski, Paris Lee, and Victor Sanders (Plus/Minus: +7)
Tyler Kalinoski has been in Antwerp's most productive lineups
When choosing three players to take a closer look at, it makes sense to go with Antwerp's big three; Paris Lee, Jae'Sean Tate, and Ismael Bako.
In the preview for the Quarter-Finals, we spoke about the fact that this Antwerp team goes where Paris Lee follows. That is a huge amount of responsibility for a young Point Guard still adapting to a new basketball culture, and possibly still adapting to life in Europe as well. The thing that Lee has impressed with - particularly in the Play-Offs - is his ability to adapt to the way teams defend him. Lee is heavily left-handed but as you see in the clips below, forcing him to his right hand is a tactic he has quickly adjusted to. Lee is lethal shooting off the dribble going to his right hand, if you don't stay tight, he will pull on jumpers without conscience. If you get too tight, his right-to-left crossover gets him back to his left hand, and he can also drag back to create his own shot. In the last clip, you see Novgorod trying to force Lee to his right hand in a late clock situation. Lee uses his drag back, then as the defender closes the gap to take away the jumper, Lee crosses back to his left hand. Almost unguardable.
A big part of Antwerp's offense is predicated around Lee as the playmaker and clearing the corner to remove the help defenders in pick-and-roll actions with Bako. As you see in the first two clips below, Bako is a big-time lob-catcher and Lee is very good at reading the help to time his pass. In the last clip, you see that this time the offensive player in the corner stays put. As Lee is going downhill to his left, the help has to come and Lee makes a great read to kick it to the corner for three! At this stage in the season, as soon as Lee can turn the corner on a pick-and-roll, it doesn't really matter which direction he is going, he has the tools to cause damage.
After Paris Lee, the next player Antwerp will turn to for creating something offensively, is Jae'Sean Tate. At 1.93m (6'4") Tate isn't the tallest for a wing player but he is an explosive athlete and has a release quick enough to get his shot off over taller defenders. The fact that Tate is shooting 39% from deep this season means that defenders need to stay close. That affords him driving lanes. Tate has proved all season that he is agile and also creative as a finisher.
In a team full of young, breakout stars, Ismael Bako may be the biggest discovery of them all. The young Belgian leads the BCL in dunks and plays with the kind of motor that could finish the Le Mans 24 hour race, and still drive the team bus home after. You have already seen the kind of threat Bako brings around the rim offensively, what you may not have noticed is what Bako brings to the table defensively. Antwerp's Center is an active post defender and defends the roll-man in the pick-and-roll as well as anyone at the Final Four. His mobility also affords Coach Moors the option of adjusting his pick-and-roll coverages without having to adjust his lineups. In the first clip, you see Bako show and then sprint to close out on the pick-and-pop. Once he gets there, he shows the foot speed to stay in front of Delroy James on the drive (something that nobody managed at last year's Final Four). In the second clip, you see Bako hedge hard to get the ball out of Kendrick Perry's hands. Bako then sprints back to recover on Dragicevic in the post - watch how he uses his hands to bully the Nizhny big man away from the rim.
Then there is the shot blocking. In the home leg of the Quarter-Finals, Bako had a one-man block party. We could analyze why each clip is impressive, but there is really no need. The Sportpaleis really is Antwerp's house for one day of the season every year. Expect Bako to make it his house in the Semi-Final.
If the rotation patterns have had the structure and consistency required to facilitate a young squad, the system has also been the right combination of discipline and room to freelance - especially in transition. In the halfcourt, we have seen Moors draw up must-watch plays after timeouts all season:
Antwerp plays an uptempo, fluid system with a ton of floor spacing and drive-and-kick actions. This team has some serious chemistry and make passes with a sixth sense for where each other will be.
The other thing that impresses about this squad is the way that players effortlessly switch roles in Coach Moors' actions. Watch the two clips in the video below. In both clips, Antwerp runs a "Zipper" cut into a middle pick-and-roll. In the first clip, Tyler Kalinoski makes the zipper cut to receive the ball, and as he enters the middle pick-and-roll with Ismael Bako, Hans Vanwijn empties the corner (theme alert). Kalinoski turns back to Bako for the dribble pitch and nails the 3-ball.. In the second clip, this time it's Vanwijn making the zipper cut into the middle pick-and-roll. At 2.08m (6'10") to see Vanwijn move so fluidly as a ball-handler is impressive. In this case, however, the purpose is not to use the big Belgian as a playmaker. Instead of emptying the corner, Kalinoski slides up the wing to take a dribble handoff (DHO) from Vanwijn. The outcome in both clips is the same: Tyler Kalinoski splashing out on a 3-ball from a DHO.
The final clip to show you is one of Coach Moors' pet set plays. Antwerp has three guys in Lee, Kalinoski, and Sanders that it can go to if they want to make a shot on the bounce. If there is a need to break defensive pressure and get one of them the ball, this is the set you may well see. The play starts with a "Ghost" screen and pop. At the same time, the shooter is receiving a cross screen and making a cut up the guts of the lane to receive the DHO. This isn't a high volume action for Coach Moors but it's one that has been super efficient.
This Tenerife team is potentially the most challenging matchup for this Antwerp team. This is youth vs experience, consistency and sustained excellence vs fearlessness and unpredictability. Look out for Paris Lee, Tyler Kalinoski, and Victor Sanders against the likes of Rodrigo San-Miguel, Ferran Bassas, and Nicolas Richotti. Then the battles between Ismael Bako and Colton Iverson, and Tenerife's wings against Jae'Sean Tate.
In two seasons of the Basketball Champions League Final Four, the hosts have won on both occasions. There will likely be the best part of 18,000 fans in the Sportpaleis, and when you combine that with the fearlessness and talent of this young Antwerp squad, even the most hardened doubter from earlier in the season, would be hard pressed to write this team off. It is pretty clear that several members of this young group are going to have distinguished careers. We can already tell they have very bright futures. For now, though, it is all about finding out what they are capable in the present.