Relentless - a second look at MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg
MIES, Switzerland (Basketball Champions League) - From the qualifiers to the Final Fours! MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg are the first German club to reach the Final Four of the #BasketballCL and are clearly a club on a mission.
After their impressive start, we took a closer look at Ludwigsburg earlier in the season. The question then, was around their ability to maintain their form and go further than last years Quarter-Finals appearance - Ludwigsburg have answered that question and aren't ready to call it "mission accomplished" yet.
All of the hallmarks of coach John Patrick's team, that were present early in the season, are still present now. The Giants are extremely good at what they do and they aren't about to change for anyone. This team is like a playground bully. They take things from teams and don't give them back - only, unlike a bully, if you stand up to this team, they don't back down. medi Bayreuth stood up to them in the first leg of the Quarter-Finals and beat them in Ludwigsburg - matching their physical intensity in the process. John Patrick's men responded by taking the physicality up a notch and returning the favour in Bayreuth - reaching the Final Fours in the process. Justin Sears in particular, was a great representation of their fortitude. Assem Marei had bullied him and smashed him on the way to basket, for most of the game. Sears' response was 15 points in the final quarter and a place in our 'Team of the Quarter-Finals'.
Not much has changed statistically since our last conversation with coach Patrick. MHP are still an elite rebounding team - especially on the offensive glass - and they are still excellent at blocking shots. An Offensive Rebounding % (Orb%) of 32%, is joint best in the #BasketballCL and they block 8.2% of every shot their opponents take, making them statistically the best rim protecters in the competition. The elite statistical profile doesn't end there. Ludwigsburg turn the ball over less than anyone and only AS Monaco force their opponents to turn the ball over more:
- MHP TOV%* =12.2%
- Opponent TOV% = 19.6%
They are also second to only Monaco in Steal%* at 14.3%. Steal to Turnover Ratio is an interesting stat when it comes to evaluating how efficiently teams use their possessions, compared to their opponents. MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg lead the league......
The way Ludwigsburg play is almost unique in the world of elite, professional, basketball leagues. Nobody else presses for 40mins, especially not with the intensity that John Patrick's Giants do. It's part of their DNA and goes a long way to explaining why they have been able to produce such a unique and dominant, statistical profile.
To merely state that Ludwigsburg press for 40 mins, is to make it seem like they press indiscriminately. This isn't the case. There is nuance and detail that goes into making this such a successful pressing team. They will invariably leave the inbounder free to pass the ball in and hound the ball-handler up the floor but what they don't do, is trap full-court for the whole game. They are expert at picking the right line-up to attack and the right moment in the game, for a destructive burst of chaos. This sequence in the video below, was from our first look at Ludwigsburg and is exactly one of those bursts. Elan Chalon had fought their way back into the game but in the space of two minutes (more importantly the final two minutes of the half), the game was a blow-out again. Watch how Ludwigsburg are trapping on the first catch, rotating on the pass out and switching to stay in front and keep the pressure on. Also worth noticing, is the line-up they have on the floor - Evans is playing the center, giving them a speed advantage on offense and defense. They will trap and press with Sears as a more traditional center but anytime you see them with a five-out line-up, expect carnage.
Lots of teams will set up their press from a make or a Free Throw. Ludwigsburg are different because they want to hunt the ball and outwork their opponent at every opportunity. Even a miss or a turnover. This next clip you see them turn a poor offensive possession, into a lay up with their trademark relentlessness and opportunism.
Ludwigsburg are equally disruptive in the half-court as well. They always have their hands active, they always communicate and they always rotate and scramble. It's exhausting just to watch this team play defense. One of the more curious stats that their style of play creates, is Opponent Assist %. Ludwigsburg's opponents score from an assist on 71% of their possessions. This is the highest in the #BasketballCL by a clear margin and on the surface, would rank Ludwigsburg last in a defensive stat - very out of character. The context however, is that their opponents only record 16.2 APG, which is comparatively low. Ludwigsburg also allow their opponents the fewest field goal attempts (FGA) per game at 54.8.
Adika Peter-McNeilly with active hands on defense
Teams record such a high Assist % against Ludwigsburg because they are forced to. This team is so good at guarding the ball, their opponents have to move the ball to create good shots. They record such a low number of FGA, because Ludwigsburg very rarely allow easy looks, early in the shot clock. The combination of forcing turnovers and making teams work so hard to create good shots - often late into the shot clock - creates a perfect storm of extremely efficient defense. Watch the two possessions in the next video, you see all of the above; Excellent defense by Thomas Walkup in clip 1, to contain the 1v1 and pick-and-roll. Then in clip 2, you see the type of offensive effort that's required, to create a good look against this defensive machine. To emphasise the point, the only team to beat Ludwigsburg twice this season, was Iberostar Tenerife - a team that is set up to move the ball very quickly and also set up to be comfortable creating patient shots, deep into the shot clock.
Spacing and aggression are the name of the game for Ludwigsburg on offense. They have a platoon of guards that come in an out of the game like the hokey-pokey and it doesn't really matter which combination is on the floor, they are running in transition and attacking the basket. Ludwigsburg create a lot of their best shots at the rim from offensive rebounds. Justin Sears and Dwayne Evans leads the team on the offensive glass but everyone chips in - Adika Peter-McNeilly and Thomas Walkup are two of the better rebounding guards that you could see in the #BasketballCL. The next two clips give you a good window into the what a typical, Ludwigsburg offensive possession might look like. Clip 1, and they are running in transition, floor spread and they want to attack teams as early and often as possible. Waleskowski leverages his shooting and attacks a closeout, Cook drags behind into his slipstream, to open a passing lane and second dribble drive. Clip 2 and Ludwigsburg are in a 'Horns' half-court set. This time Cook rolls to the rim, sucking defenders away from the new recruit, Jacob Wiley. Wiley introduces himself to the Basketball Champions League with a wide open 3-ball.
The style of basketball that Ludwigsburg play doesn't really lend itself to dominating star players. They rotate in and out of the game to keep the pressure defense fresh and get so much of their offense from steals and offensive rebounds. In the Play-Offs however, Elgin Cook has started to step forward. Cook has been doing everything on both ends and will certainly be one of the players to watch in Athens.
The same could be said for Thomas Walkup. Built like a small forward but playing the Point Guard, Walkup leads the team in assists and usually gets the task of defending the opposition's best perimeter scorer. In Athens, you will also be just as likely, to see him blocking shots and crashing the boards, as you will see him do the traditional work of a Point Guard.
AS Monaco. For the neutral spectator this match-up is fascinating. If you are scheduled to be one of the match officials, make sure you get a good night's rest. This is going to be a battle of the two best defensive teams and the two most physical teams, that we have seen in the Basketball Champions League. The French club will come into the game as favourites, having had the experience of last years Final Fours and only losing one game in the Regular Season. That won't make any difference to Ludwigsburg though. You can rest assured, they will come in and look to stamp their authority in the same way they have done all season. DJ Cooper and Aaron Craft are two of the smartest and most competitive guards that we have in the #BasketballCL but even these two, won't have encountered a team like Ludwigsburg before. Ludwigsburg give up more 3-point attempts than any team in the Final Fours and Gerald Robinson has been on fire from deep in the Play-Offs, so that is another battle to keep your eye on. The physicality that both teams play with, also lends itself towards a game that could be decided at the Free Throw line - an area where Ludwigsburg have been 2 % points better for the season. However it's decided, it's going to be close.