Super Freaks - a closer look at Brose Bamberg
BAMBERG (Germany) - Nine German Championships, six German Cups and five German Super Cups. For Brose Bamberg, winning is a habit. Germany's most decorated club has already won the German Cup this season, defeating Eurocup finalists Alba Berlin on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Nikos Zisis. And that was far from the only drama those crazy fans have seen in Freak City this season.
No sooner had the champagne bottle smashed on the bow of its first season in the BCL, and Bamberg had already started riding tidal waves. Gameday 1 vs Fuenlabrada saw the Freaks lose on the buzzer to a Pako Cruz hail mary. That may not have been the ideal start to the season, but Bamberg has since gone on to enjoy plenty of success in late-game situations itself. That shot also set the tone for what has been the most unpredictable season of the BCL yet and made it clear to every neutral that Bamberg fourth quarters are not to be missed.
Road to the Final Four
If you look up the word "Freak" in the dictionary, you get the following definition:
"A very unusual and unexpected event or situation."
By that definition, Freak City's season has been so freak, that it is no longer freak when they do something unexpected or unusual. Especially as those unexpected events are becoming increasingly positive game-changing events. It did take some time to take shape though.
Bamberg started the first half of the BCL season 4-3. A combination of injury absences and a new squad - with young players in important roles - learning how to play together, meant that the Germans took some time to find their rhythm. At times Bamberg seemed reliant on the fourth quarter heroics of Tyrese Rice to get the wins column ticking over. After a confidence-boosting win over AEK on Gameday 10, the Freaks record was looking much healthier at 7-3. But after the departure of Coach Ainars Bagatskis and an uninspiring loss to Lietkabelis in Coach Federico Perego's first game in charge, it seemed unexpected was still to be expected.
The powers that be in Bamberg knew better than to worry about their new coach. Perego may be the youngest coach in the Final Four, but he managed a mid-season coaching change with the poise and confidence of a seasoned winner. Two wins, a loss, and a domestic cup later, and Perego's Bamberg were back on track. They rolled into the Play-Offs healthy and charged with belief.
The Round of 16 saw the Bandits of Banvit step up to the plate. With Gary Neal, Alex Perez, and Jordan Morgan getting it done, and a recent coaching change of their own also bearing fruit, the Turkish club looked very dangerous. In the home leg Elias Harris shot 89% on his way to 19 points, and big contributions from Rice, Hickman, and Rubit, saw Bamberg make one of the toughest road journeys in Europe to Bandirma, up by just a brace. The road leg was just as close but 32 points from Tyrese Rice re-affirmed his case for the MVP title. We also saw more signs of a team starting to bond through adversity and see challenging situations as opportunities:
0.5 on the shot clock, loud crowd against you - how about a halfcourt alley-oop for T-Rice? #RiceInHisVeins— Basketball Champions League (@BasketballCL) March 13, 2019
📺 https://t.co/KYh4DMj8fh @BroseBamberg @ReseRice4 #BasketballCL #Road2Final4 pic.twitter.com/TLkv57TyKI
The Quarter-Finals matched Bamberg with the Champions AEK. The Queen had already played its part in the BCL setting attendance records in the Round of 16. After Freak City and Cliff Alexander's breakout 19 points and 7 boards lead Bamberg to a 4 point lead in Germany, Perego's squad knew they would likely face a cauldron of noise in the second leg. Those AEK fans didn't disappoint.
Once again Bamberg rose to the challenge and once again, Tyrese Rice was clutch in the fourth quarter. It wasn't, however, all about the Riceman. Cliff Alexander was huge in both legs and every time AEK looked like they weren't ready to give up the throne, a different Bamberg player stepped up. The clearest example was Bryce Taylor nailing three daggers from 3-point land in the fourth quarter to drag Bamberg back from the abyss.
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If we look at the data story below we can quickly see where the Germans excel and where they have struggled this season.
Bamberg is first in the Final Four for Pace at 72.9 possessions per 40 minutes and second for Assist Percentage (AST%) with 63% of its made baskets coming from an assist. The German club ranks third of the Final Four teams for Offensive Efficiency at 110 points per possessions (which is still above league average) but because it plays at the fastest Pace, you can see Bamberg is second in points scored per game. The Freaks strongest category statistically is Free Throw Shooting - leading the BCL at 82% from the charity stripe, and also getting to the line more than any other team in the BCL. Bamberg's Free Throw Rate (FTR) is 33%, which means they shoot 33 shots from the line, for every 100 shots they take. If we dive into the data since Coach Perego took over, we can see this is an area that has improved since the coaching change. What we can also see is a perfect illustration of how freakish Bamberg's season has been.
Starting with FTR, you can see that Bamberg reached over 40% on three occasions; Gameday 13 and 14. Then on the second leg of the Round of 16, Bamberg essentially lived at the Line, shooting 55 Free Throws per 100 shot attempts. That 55% FTR translated to 31 FTA's, which the Germans converted at 91%!....If that wasn't unusual or unexpected enough, the very next game, at home (where teams usually get to the line more), Bamberg's FTR was a season-low 12% vs AEK.
You can see this kind of volatile swing from game to game across the board for Bamberg. At home vs Banvit in the Round of 16, they rebounded 26% of their misses, but on the road in Bandirma, the number was just 7%. Yet despite that, if you were to look at Bamberg's numbers as a moving average since Coach Perego took over, you would see a 3.7% drop in Turnover Percent (TOV%), a 4.5% increase in FTR and an 8.4% increase in shooting efficiency (eFG%). They say progress is never a straight line. It seems they are right.
Moving onto Bamberg's shooting profiles, we can see they are shooting good percentages from all the areas that are desirable. Both corner 3-point zones and directly at the rim are hot spots. This team also shoots at more than 1 point per shot from the top of the key and the left wing.
Given Bamberg's trust in Tyrese Rice to deliver in the clutch, you might expect to see the American PG dominate the player shot map below. We do see that Rice is Bamberg's most efficient shooter from two zones behind the arc - he has shown us all season that his range extends from that left wing. But what we also see is the versatility of Augustine Rubit. Rubit is the king of both areas in the paint and is also shooting at a high clip from three of the four midrange areas.
We already looked at Bamberg's data since Coach Perego took over, so it makes sense to look at the way he has used his squad since taking the reigns. If we contrast this rotation below to the chart we showed in the Quarter-Final preview, we can see several noticeable differences. The Primary adjustment has been the insertion of Tyrese Rice into the starting lineup. Nikos Zisis and Augustine Rubit's roles have largely stayed the same but we can see now that Ricky Hickman and Bryce Taylor have returned from injury and been tasked with leading the second Unit. We can also see a dramatically increased role for Louis Olinde. The youngster made several huge plays on the defensive end against AEK and really stepped up for Bamberg in the absence of Elias Harris. The final thing to observe the use of Harris and Hickman in the closing unit. Harris is really starting to look like he's found his flow and Ricky Hickman was the alpha guard for Bamberg last year. His contributions from the bench really highlight the depth of this Bamberg backcourt.
In the Play-Offs Bamberg's best lineup for plus-minus has been:
Ricky Hickman, Tyrese Rice, Patrick Heckmann, Cliff Alexander, Augustine Rubit (Plus/Minus: +11)
For the season in total it has been:
Louis Olinde, Patrick Heckmann, Tyrese Rice, Nikos Zisis, Cliff Alexander (Plus/Minus: +10.8)
When looking for three players to take a closer look at, the obvious place to start would be Tyrese Rice. There has been so much written about Rice already and the chances are he will win the MVP award to boot. We could also talk about the steady experience and cultural presence of Nikos Zisis and Patrick Heckman. In this case, let's talk about the area that sets this Bamberg team apart- the frontcourt. No other team can claim the combination of physicality and versatility that Harris, Rubit, and Alexander bring.
As a former LA Laker and a serial winner with Bamberg, we probably shouldn't need to tell you that much about Elias Harris. What does need to be said is that he is the most efficient post scorer in the Final Four. 1.4 points per possession when he catches it on the block, is lethal. Harris has a combination of strength, balance and crafty footwork to create his own space, and also the ability to hit jumpers on the fadeaway.
We have already shown you how important Rubit is to Bamberg on the player shot map. It makes sense to show you how he goes about creating his most efficient shots. A lot of Rubit's best work is a product of just putting in the work. Rubit is an excellent floor runner for a guy that size and has a nose for a gap in transition. Watch the first clip in this video and see that he starts behind Tyrese Rice and level with his matchup (Morrison). Rubit sees the game and is deceptively quick. The other clips are further examples of Rubit outworking and beating everyone down the floor to find a pocket.
In the half-court, Rubit is another post killer like Harris. In the first two clips of the next video, you see Rubit go to that jump hook over his left shoulder. All season he has been able to get to that shot when Bamberg needs a bucket. The third clip you see exactly why Rubit is shooting 67% from the right block - that Dirk-leg fadeaway was a thing of beauty. Then finally the pick-and-pop from the top of the key. The fact that Rubit can skill you - or outmuscle you - on the post, and also step out to hit jumpers, is what makes him such a tough cover.
Alexander has been feasting the entire Play-Offs. Every game seems to be a feeding frenzy with a bonanza of dunks and putback jams (maybe we have just been watching too many David Attenborough documentaries ). You have seen the lobs where Tyrese Rice just throws the ball anywhere in Rim County, and somehow Alexander catches it and throws it down. What you may not have noticed is how much of a load Bamberg's big man is on the offensive glass. In the first clip, AEK bodies are flying everywhere, as literally, nobody was getting between Alexander and that rebound. The second clip and AEK don't even bother trying this time. Alexander gets the putback and gives them a primal scream loud enough to silence the OAKA!
What you also may not have seen, and probably didn't expect either, is Alexander's ability as a switch-friendly isolation defender. Alexander stands at 2.05m (6'9") with a 2.22m (7'3") wingspan, and he makes full use of it defensively. He leverages the extra length by giving himself some extra space on the ball. For a 285lbs player, his feet are surprisingly quick - which is what made him such a headache for Vince Hunter - and we have seen Bamberg willing to switch him on to guards all season.
Federico Perego studied under one of the best offensive minds in basketball in Andrea Trinchieri. You can already see the influence in the actions that Bamberg has run since Perego started calling the shots.
The first set to highlight is the application of Tyrese Rice as the back screener in their "Spain" pick-and-roll action. Most teams want to choose their match-up for Rice and aren't willing to switch or help off him. This means that Rice is able to get the roll man open on a regular basis.
From there, we have also seen Perego tweak the action and add a further flare screen for Rice to get open in the corner. Simple, but very smart and very effective.
LOVE this from Perego, @BroseBamberg and Tyrese Rice. Spain PnR into a back screen for a corner 3!!! Rice calls for his mant to sub after... you can see the influence of @andreatrinkieri on this! #BasketballCL pic.twitter.com/oqGAIT6PNG— Diccon Lloyd-Smeath (@DLScoaching) March 6, 2019
We already spoke about Bryce Taylor going off for three daggers from deep in Quarter-Final. But what many may not have noticed is that the first two of those daggers came from the same set - with the first one drawn up by Coach Perego in the timeout. In the first clip, watch how Perego applies Rice as a "Forced Curl" around Taylor's screen to create enough space for Taylor to sprint off the pin down himself. Then the second clip, Rice force curls again, but this time goes full-circle and back to the wing off the pin down. The purpose of this is purely for misdirection though, as Taylor is already sprinting to the other side of the floor to get open off another screen for three!
We have also seen this action tweaked to great effect earlier in the season. Watch how Bamberg set up exactly the same way to run the action you just watched, only this time no forced curl and Alexander slips the pin down to catch the lob.
Segafredo Virtus Bologna
Two newcomers to the BCL and two big hitters in their first season. Two very well matched rosters and two teams that have the ability to move the ball and win with team basketball, but also the scoring talent to isolate and win with 1v1 basketball.
Rice vs Punter, Harris vs M'Baye, Alexander vs Kravic, Zisis vs Taylor, Hickman vs Chalmers, and Perego vs Djordjevic. There are fascinating duels everywhere you look. And that's just on the court, with Antwerp within shooting distance from Bamberg and Bologna, we can expect to see and hear Freak City and the Bologna fans in full effect.
We could go through the minutiae of the different matchups and how it may work out, but that is probably futile. This is a game for the fans and neutrals that can feel the game. In all likelihood, it will come down to which team manages their emotions the best.