Raoul Korner (BAYR), 9 David Stockton (BAYR), 3 Kassius Robertson (BAYR)
08/01/2019
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Processing - a closer look at medi Bayreuth


BAYREUTH (Germany) - Last year’s surprise package medi Bayreuth, are a surprise no more. Last time around, a well oiled Bayreuth machine caught Besiktas unaware in the Play-Offs and also very nearly knocked out fellow countrymen Ludwigsburg. Coach Korner’s team have carried a bigger target on their chest ever since. This year medi Bayreuth are locked in a seven-team race for the Play-Offs in Group D and despite struggling against SIG Strasbourg on Gameday 9, recent form has started painting the picture of a very dangerous Play-Offs team. If Bayreuth does make it to the knockouts, they will again be a team that all of the big guns will want to avoid.

We spoke to Head Coach Raoul Korner about his new team finding their flow in a season that nearly false started due to injuries and finding ways to win when every opponent now knows they have to tune up their engine to face them.

Virtus Segafredo Bologna brought their A-game against medi Bayreuth

Bayreuth is in its second season in the Basketball Champions League and after a slow start, you are starting to find the kind of performance levels that saw the club reach the Quarter-Finals last year. What have been some of the differences between this season and last?

"Last year the start was smoother for very obvious reasons. We had been able to keep the core of the team playing together for the year and that is a big advantage, especially for those first few weeks. We were battle tested. The other advantage we had was that nobody really had us on the map. Nobody knew medi Bayreuth in international competitions."

Beating Besiktas last season helped put Bayreuth on the map

"This year we had to totally rebuild because a lot of our guys were ready to take the next step. Then because last season in the BCL we were a top-eight team, teams had us on the map. Preseason was also very tough, we had many players gone with their National Teams, and some key injuries. It was very bumpy. The first time we had a full team to practice was after the season started and that’s not how you build a team. At least not a team the way we want to play."

Can you talk about coming through the Qualification rounds and the challenges that presented?

"Torun was a very good team. They beat Estudiantes and they played very good basketball. They also had the same advantages we had the year before, in that they had kept the same guys and had continuity. I wasn’t sure we were ready for a team like that and I was very happy that we managed to qualify."

Domestically and in the Basketball Champions League, your form has really taken a turn for the better. What goes into enabling a squad to turn the corner like that?

"The main thing is that everybody on the team understands what’s going on. Everybody has to understand that team building is a process, you don’t go out bowling and then you are a team, it doesn’t work that way. And it has to go through ups and downs. You have to have the stormy periods and then experiences together both good and negative and you have to have them as a team."

A basketball season has its ups and downs for everyone, even the mascots

"I think one factor was that the players remained very positive and kept the belief. Everybody was really buying in. Of course, you don’t like losing but it never got to a point where others were blamed or people were just trying to save their own bums. It was always a very productive working atmosphere."

How do you build that kind of culture within the club?

"It’s about approach. If you don’t keep believing in the players and how they can help you, it’s not going to work. But this is not who we are (at Bayreuth). With many games already we were in the game. In Bologna, for example, we were right there in the game but then Punter hit the shots and we didn’t. I felt that we lost against a very highly talented team but not against the better team. We didn’t have this punch that you need, we didn’t have a closer."

Coach Korner then expanded on the point of trust between the players and the club. Often clubs can be quick to lose trust in the players they have and look externally to make in-season additions to the roster.

"Sometimes you don’t need this, sometimes you can develop this within the team. We are in the process of finding this out. Do we need somebody who can help us in those stretches or can we solve this within the collective of the players we have? Most of the guys we have in those positions are very young and that’s why it just takes time."

This faith has already been rewarded as several players have stepped up in big moments for Bayreuth. Rookie Kassius Robertson, in particular, has demonstrated an ability to close games.

 

How have you found the level of the competition this year?

"Last year we had a very tough group as well. The level is still as high. From what I have seen, it definitely didn’t get lower. You have teams now like Jerusalem, teams like Bamberg in this competition and that really shows that it’s become more interesting for bigger teams with big names. It’s not seen anymore as second to Eurocup. Now it’s that you have two competitions at the same level and you can choose. It’s definitely a league on the rise."

Last season you told us that your team was much more offensive minded than usual. How does the mindset of your squad compare to last year?

"We have the potential to be a much better defensive team this year. Last year we had a couple of players that we really had to hide. This year we don’t have this, at least not through ability - maybe through size."

"I also think at the beginning of the season the only reason we won games was because of our defense and our ability to lock teams down. Now we are developing more of an offensive flow and rhythm. We are not a great rebounding team yet and that’s the next thing we have to fix but that’s a little bit the story of our season. We are going from one construction site to the next."

When searching through the game footage, it doesn’t take long to find examples of the offensive improvements that Coach Korner is referencing. Since beating Oostende in the Oberfrankenhalle, Bayreuth has gone 4-1 in the BCL with an Offensive Rating of 117.9, whilst shooting an eFG% of 57% - both of which would be equal to the 3rd in BCL.

Watch the two clips below and you see Bayreuth execute the same action twice against two different opponents and two different defensive coverages. Clip 1 vs Oostende and the pick-and-roll coverage is flat. Oostende are concerned by Hassan Martin rolling to the rim and help early off the high man (De’Mon Brooks’ man). Bayreuth throw the skip to the corner then quickly hit the extra pass to the open Brooks!

Clip 2 vs Neptunas and this time Jerai Grant hedges high and aggressively on the pick-and-roll. Adonis Thomas has the height to see over the top and find Hassan Martin rolling. Martin recognizes that the help has come from the low man (Robertson’s man) and finds Kassius Robertson who is “Kash” from the corner!

On both occasions, the execution is clinical and carries the hallmarks of a team that understands their strengths and how to apply their system to take advantage.

 

The increased defensive mindset in this years group also rings true in the game film - especially the ability to turn defense into offense. In both clips below, Bayreuth employs the defensive activity of Gregor Hrovat and the length of Andy Seiferth to double the post from the baseline side. As soon as the trap is set, Bayreuth read the passing lanes and are off to the races. This ability to pressure the offense into mistakes has become a Bayreuth calling card this season.

 

If you have a more defensive mindset, is that thanks to changing the system?

"It’s a little different because the players are slightly different but I wouldn’t say it’s completely different because as a coach you have a certain philosophy and you pick the players that fit this philosophy. I think we are more balanced this year. We don’t have one clear go-to-guy yet. Last year, if we needed some veteran play, we gave Nate Linhart the ball because he had experience and the quality in those situations. Or we gave the ball inside to Marei."

Assem Marei was an ultra-competitor for medi Bayreuth last season

"I don’t think we are at the point where we have that, we are more balanced but you can feel - especially the last couple of games - that certain players found out where they can help us the most. We have a good group of guys that understand each other's strengths and how to maximize those strengths. And also how to hide each others’ weaknesses."

We have already seen video evidence of medi Bayreuth players demonstrating their increasing comfort and understanding of the system. The next video emphasizes the point further. Three times we see them run the same (fairly common) action, a side pick-and-roll into a quick ball reversal and step up screen. In each example, they create a different shot. Clip 1 and Djordjevic over helps on the side pick-and-roll. Hrovat finds David Stockton (42% 3P for the season) relocating for the wide open three. Clip 2 is the next time down the floor and this time Bayreuth reverse the ball into the step up screen and look for Martin on the roll to take advantage of his strength and speed advantage inside.

Finally, clip 3 against Neptunas and the Lithuanians have read the scout report as they deny the reversal to Stockton. Bayreuth smoothly flows into a counter by throwing the ball to Seiferth in the high post and Stockton cuts into a “Blind Pig” handoff in the high post. Neptunas contain the advantage well but it allows Seiferth to secure deep, post position in the paint.

 

We have seen Gregor Hrovat come to the club from Petrol Olimpija. What were the strengths he was recruited for and what has he brought to the team?

"I wanted someone who has the mentality of shutting someone down and someone with a willing mindset of doing everything it takes to win - someone who is prepared to sacrifice to win the game. Gregor is also more than just a defensive bulldog, he has the creativity in his offense. He is very versatile and he’s still young. Sometimes we forget this because he has all this experience. He has the ability to really become a complete all-around player."

Earlier in the season, we spoke to Luka Bassin who was an Assistant Coach with Petrol Olimpija last season. He used video of Hrovat playing denial defense to illustrate how they adjusted to playing Bayreuth and Gabe York. The first two clips below show you that Hrovat is still bringing that same energy on the defensive end. In the following clips, you see Hrovat’s expanding playmaking. The Slovenian is averaging 4.7 APG. Last season he averaged 3 APG in the BCL. In transition particularly he has been consistently productive.

 

Adonis Thomas has already enjoyed two successful seasons in Europe. Is it safe to say he is a player slightly out of the normal “Heroes of Tomorrow” recruiting profile for Bayreuth?

"The thing with Adonis is that in previous places he has been just a shooter but with his body, he can be so much more. We both think he can be more than strictly a shooter. I think he is in the process of discovering what tremendous potential he has on both ends of the floor. We are trying to put him in more pick-and-rolls and trying to put him in the post where he can make plays. We are giving him more responsibility than he probably had before and that way, trying to lift him to the next level. This is also what he was looking for coming here, to not be seen as a one-dimensional player, a spot-up shooter in the corner, but someone who can create for his teammates and do more things."

This clip shows you exactly the kind of shooting stroke that has seen Thomas repeatedly recruited to fill it up from range. His athleticism in the full court and high release makes him a lethal transition 3-point shooter.

 

In these next few clips, we can see his growth as a playmaker in the pick-and-roll situations that Coach Korner spoke of. Clip 1 and you see Thomas see his man cheat under the screen early and he nails the shot. Clip 2 is another example of his ability to see over the top and find a passing angle. Clip 3 and 4 are all about the patience to take an extra dribble and create the angle for the pocket pass.

These last clips, in particular, are made to look simple but that’s a sign of a trustworthy and consistent skill set (we also added a bonus clip of Thomas passing from the post but we are yet to see his best in these situations). If Thomas can combine this playmaking ability with an increased shooting % from inside the arc, it’s hard to know what his ceiling really is.

 Adonis Thomas getting it done in the pick-and-roll

We have seen medi Bayreuth consistently recruit guards that go on to make big career jumps. It's taken some time but we are starting to see the same from your new guard recruits. Can you expand on the adjustment process for David Stockton and Kassius Robertson?

"David took a while to settle and there is a reason for this. David is also not a typical recruit for us because usually, I don’t touch players that have spent more than one season in the G-League. It’s a league where nobody wants to be there and I think the way that basketball is played there reflects that. It’s only about stats, If you are in this environment for too long, you can lose the ability to play team basketball. With David, I made the exception because he had some stints outside the G-League and also with his background, he has some team genes in his blood. You could tell that it took him a while to get rid of certain habits. This was the first time (as a professional) that he was really demanded to consistently defend and it was also the first time that he’d really had to play against physical pressure defense. In the G-League, you also don’t have to control the Rhythm of the game, you either get the assist or take the shot yourself. It’s not about pulling the right strings or making teammates around you better. The concept of European basketball is very different."

"With David, you could tell that he had that in him. There is no question that he wants to win. It was a matter of time. He is a smart and also a very intelligent team player and he’s been able to make that transition."

 Stockton's defensive hustle and playmaking have made him a popular teammate

"Kassius is one of the guys that had a tough time finding his rhythm. He played excellent in preseason then he didn’t start the season shooting well and lost his confidence a bit which is common for rookies. His profile is very similar to Trey Lewis in my first season here and Gabe York. They are all shooters with very deep range. The thing with Kassius is that with all the rookies I have coached, he is probably the most focused. He is a real student of the game. I know this expression is used inflationary with most coaches but it’s really the case with him.  Also, it’s unbelievable the strides he has made defensively. When he arrived he couldn’t guard anyone, but he’s a guy that really wants to improve and he studied his defense and he’s now at a point that he’s really playing great defense. Even if he’s not making shots, we need him on the floor defensively."

 Robertson is currently shooting 61% from three on 4+ attempts

The last recruit that we have to ask you about is Hassan Martin. Were you expecting such an impressive start to his career in Europe?

"Hassan has incredible potential. He is the prototype of a center that performs well in the BBL; he is a little undersized but he’s explosive, he has long arms, he can run the floor and has excellent foot speed and great hands. He is a good guy too and that’s also important. In fact, that is one of the main things that I look for when I am recruiting."

Martin is unfortunately out for several weeks after injuring his foot in Bayreuth’s first win in Bamberg for over 20 years. His arrival has none-the-less, been nothing short of a revelation. Not just for Bayreuth but arguably for European basketball.

 

When speaking to Coach Korner it quickly becomes abundantly clear that he has a team this year that he has a lot of confidence in. These are just the new recruits we asked about, but he was also equally excited by the opportunity to work with Lukas Meisner. Returnees like Bastian Doreth, Andy Seiferth and Steve Wachalski were also credited for the club’s ability to build a culture that enabled them to stay positive during a tough start to the season. Then there is De’Mon Brooks who is scoring 13.6PPG and pulling 4.6 RPG, whilst shooting 54.9% from the field and 50% from deep. His development is possibly the perfect representation of what a move to medi Bayreuth can do for a player’s career.

The last topic we spoke about was the race for the Play-Offs and the clubs ambitions for the season.

"We are still trying to make the Play-Offs. It’s going to be very tough but we haven’t played an opponent where we have felt that we couldn’t beat them. It’s a nice group, there is nobody that you can look at and say that’s an easy win but at the same time there is no team that you feel you can’t beat. We are in with a chance and that's all you can ask for."

"It’s a competition where you are challenged every night but you are never chanceless and even with a small budget we can still be there and get some success. Last year, we played against a Besiktas team that had one player making more than our entire roster, but this is who we are. We are used to overperforming and we aren’t an organization that complains. We are happy with where we are and keep trying to improve. You always have enough, you just need to make the most of it."

Bayreuth's fans will be vital, home and on the road

Bayreuth travels to Patras to play Promitheas on Wednesday. Promitheas are another club that started the season with the same advantage of roster continuity that Bayreuth benefitted from last season, and have certainly caught some teams by surprise. They now meet at a pivotal point of the season and also a point when that advantage starts to balance out. Both teams also play attractive team basketball.

Gameday 10 throws up some huge matchups but this one is going to be must-watch basketball.