19 September, 2017
06 May, 2018
15 Miro Bilan (FRA)
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Paid the cost to be the Bost - A closer look at SIG Strasbourg

MIES, Switzerland (Basketball Champions League) – With the World Cup Qualifying window now shut, it’s all eyes back on the Basketball Champions League. All the last-second drama and titanic battles for the Play-Off places in round fourteen, have been saved in a folder marked 'end of season montage'. Now it’s time to twist the lens and focus on the next game, the next match up, the next action, the next play. Without doubt, one of the teams drawing a lot of attention will be SIG Strasbourg.

"We don’t expect anything to be easy, all we are thinking about, is finding a way to be better than our next opponent."Vincent ColletVincent Collet

One of the big stories of the second half of the regular season, was the drastic turnaround at SIG Strasbourg and the return of Dee Bost. Before the new year, the French club were the unlikely holders of a 4/5 losing record and despite possessing a clearly talented roster, something wasn’t right.

Early season frustrations in Strasbourg

Fast forward to the end of Gameday fourteen and Strasbourg have beaten Banvit – last year’s finalists – in Bandirma and taken the top spot in Group C. Whilst everyone could see the potential threat that Strasbourg possessed with an elite level coach and an expensive roster, many were struggling to understand why the results weren’t forthcoming. We spoke to Strasbourg and France Head Coach, Vincent Collet – fresh from winning two games and leading France to the top of their WCQ group – about the transformation and his feelings about the competition.

This is the 2nd season of the Basketball Champions League and your second season also. Can you describe your experience of the competition?

"This year the competition is much stronger all round, both in the organization and the level of the teams. Last year, we went out in the first round and this year it’s been even more challenging. You only need to consider that teams like Estu (Movistar Estudiantes) and Reyer (Umana Reyer Venezia) didn’t make it (to the Play-Offs) and even up to the last game it could have been anyone qualifying."

What have been your highlights so far?

"The best moment so far was the win in Athens after the loss in Madrid. In Madrid, we were so bad and knew we had to play so much better. Winning that game showed us that we could win anywhere. We knew it would be just as tough against Banvit in Bandirma but the win against Venezia, also gave us the confidence to move forwards."

The win in Athens was huge for SIG Strasbourg

On the turnaround:

Has anything been different in the way you have prepared for games and was there a catalyst that you could point to?

"The problem we had was that some of our new players came in late and it took some time to integrate them. After Michael Dixon’s departure, we lost in Olimpija and straight after that was Dee Bost’s first game. It takes time to build a team but since Dee Bost came in, the chemistry has certainly been much better."

On the topic of chemistry, the change in mood and positivity is apparent in more than just the results. The team is visibly more coherent on court and since Bost’s arrival, you can find statistical upticks for multiple players in multiple areas. None more so than Zack Wright. The partnership between the two players was strong in Monaco last season and clearly hasn’t taken long to rekindle - especially on the defensive end. Both players are like an angry wasp on the defensive end and combined, they become a swarm. The other thing that exists between the two guards, is a sixth sense when it comes to turning that defense into offense. Zack wright is averaging 2.6 Steals PG since Dee Bost arrived and the moment either one gets a hand on the ball on D, the other is already running.

It’s not just steals that Wright contributes on the defensive end either. Whilst not directly linked to the arrival of his backcourt partner-in-crime, a reinvigorated Zack Wright has been showing is his chops as a rim protector as well. At 1.9m (6’2”) Wright is almost certainly the finest shot blocker from the guard position, in the Basketball Champions League.

The chemistry is also clearly visible between Bost and another of the key recruits that Coach Collet spoke about – Miro Bilan. The combined threat of Bost’s speed turning the corner in the pick-and-roll and Bilan as the roll man, has posed problems from game one. When you add in the instinctive relationship between Zack Wright making back door cuts out of the corner and Bost knowing exactly where he is, a very potent attacking trio is forming.

"As I said, it does take time to build chemistry but as a coach you need to know your philosophy and also have the ability to adjust to the strengths of these players. New players bring new qualities and a new rhythm."Vincent ColletVincent Collet

When it comes to the Play-Offs, everyone has scouted you and set plays are often easily extinguished. The ability to force teams to pick their poison on simple actions, is now the key and Strasbourg certainly have the ability, to force difficult decisions now.

On the topic of adding Dee Bost:

When you recruit a player like Dee Bost mid-season, does that change your system, and what are the challenges as a coach, when it comes to best utilizing that player?

"We were lucky to make the changes we did. Bilan and Bost, both changed the level of our team. As I said, it does take time to build chemistry but as a coach you need to know your philosophy and also have the ability to adjust to the strengths of these players. New players bring new qualities and a new rhythm. If you have a PG that is a shooter, you should accommodate that. It’s the same if he is a driver."

Coach Collet telling his players how to get it right

In the case of Dee Bost, the American PG is certainly a driver. Particularly in transition. Number 1 for Strasbourg, plays the game at a speed that is unparalleled in the Basketball Champions League. The first two clips in the sequence below would be forced shots for most players. Dee Bost sees angles and has the speed to make it through gaps that most can’t. When you have a player like that, it makes sense to put them in transition ball screens and that is exactly what Coach Collet has done. The last clip, you see Venezia go under the ball screen to try and stop Bost turning the corner. In the past that may have been the right choice but Bost is shooting a career high 35% from 3 this year and at that percentage, the advantage swings back from the X’s to the O’s.

Miro Bilan has been expertly assimilated as well. The big Croatian is a perfect fit for this squad. Maybe the best representation of that fit, is the partnership forming between Bilan and the excellent Louis Labeyrie. The win against Umana Reyer Venezia was huge – as Coach Collet mentioned – and time and again in that game, Strasbourg went to the combination of Bilan and Labeyrie playing High-Low exchanges. Time and again it paid off. In the context of a Play-Offs two leg tie, that kind of combination could be enough to decide the contest.

It’s not just with Bost and Labeyrie that Bilan has clicked. Across the squad, the trust is there. If they can create advantage and draw a second defender, everyone knows exactly who to throw it to. The last clip below you see Bilan, at 7 feet, run the floor, beat guards down the floor and dish out a large serving of regret. OOF!

Coach Collet also spoke about accommodating the different strengths of his new players on the defensive end:

"As a coach you always want to put as much pressure on the ball as possible but this can’t come from me as a coach, it comes from the players’ ability. The reality is that Dee Bost is a much better defender than Dixon which means we can apply much more pressure now."

Coach Collet wasn’t kidding. Strasbourg now have a top five Defensive Rating at 104.3 points per 100 possessions. This is thanks in no small part, to having a top three Steal %. Only Monaco and Ludwigsburg steal the ball at a higher clip and if Bost had Wright had been playing together from the start of the season, they could be top. One of the ways Coach Collet has maximised this, is by putting out line-ups with three PG’s.

# Lineup Team Efficiency PTS MIN
1. BILAN Miro - BOST Dee - WRIGHT Zack
SIG Strasbourg 36 34 15
2. BILAN Miro - LABEYRIE Louis - WRIGHT Zack
LOGAN David - SY Pape
SIG Strasbourg 31 30 15
3. DIXON Michael - LABEYRIE Louis - ATKINS Darion
LOGAN David - LELOUP Jeremy
SIG Strasbourg 29 19 8
4. SY Pape - LOGAN David - BILAN Miro
SIG Strasbourg 29 26 10
5. LOGAN David - WRIGHT Zack - BOST Dee
SIG Strasbourg 25 18 7

Unconventional yes, but defensively lethal. When Logan, Bost and Wright share the floor - especially with either Leloup (the captain), Inglis or Atkins at the PF - expect carnage. Watch this clip and notice how Strasbourg's guards are able to keep the pressure on up the floor, then Atkins has the foot speed to hard hedge, then recover to the second defensive rotation and block a jump shot. This is a great example of playing offense without the ball, instead of defending. Venezia end up taking a rushed shot, playing perfectly into the Strasbourg plan.

At times, we have even seen Strasbourg go super small with Leloup or Atkins playing centre. When you consider the problems, they have caused teams with the combination of Bilan and Labeyrie as two bigs, the versatility this squad possesses, is very impressive.

"As a coach you always want to put as much pressure on the ball as possible but this can’t come from me as a coach, it comes from the players’ ability."Vincent ColletVincent Collet

Damien Inglis is another late recruit that has brought some fantastic versatility with him. Strasbourg have often employed Inglis as a screener but he also has the perimeter skill set to slide over to the wing. His jump shot is certainly a work in progress but when teams have helped off Inglis, he has punished them - since joining Strasbourg, he has shot 42% from deep. When he does play the PF, Inglis not only has the ability to put the ball on the floor in transition and attack closeouts with the agility of a legitimate wing but also the wide body and strength to create himself a shot in the post. This combination makes him a match-up headache for most teams. The young French Guianese didn’t have the greatest spell at Capo D’Orlando but is looking at home and ready to flourish for SIG Strasbourg.

Up next for Strasbourg is Neptunas Klaipeda. The Lithuanians may have lost Arnas Butkevicius and Palacios but they remain a dangerous foe and certainly not a team that Coach Collet is willing to take for granted.

On the Play-Offs draw and finishing first in group C:

"We know Lithuanian basketball is always very strong and Neptunas will be a tough team to face but we know where we want to go. We don’t expect anything to be easy, all we are thinking about, is finding a way to be better than our next opponent."

"We brought Zack and Bost back together and they are both very hungry from last year’s Final Four. The whole club is."Vincent ColletVincent Collet

"Home court isn’t always so important in a do-or-die game but having our fans behind us is huge. The atmosphere has been getting hotter and hotter."

On the club’s policy of recruiting so many players with Basketball Champions League experience.

"As we get to the do-or-die games, it is really important that you have players with this kind of experience and that they share that experience. We brought Zack and Bost back together and they are both very hungry from last year’s Final Four. The whole club is."

What seems abundantly clear from this club, is that they are very serious about winning the Basketball Champions League. The proactive recruitment policy, through to the intent shown by the players and coaches, all points to one direction; winning.

Success doesn’t come cheap but whether it’s the investment in one of the Basketball Champions League’s most expensive rosters, the coaching skill required to turn that roster into a team, or the blood and sweat put in by the players, to produce the up-tempo, basketball product that we are now watching, SIG Strasbourg are certainly proving that they are willing to pay the cost.