MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg - a pressing matter
LONDON (England) - "It ain't all good and that's the truth. Thangs ain't going like you think they should." So goes the hook on that De La Soul and Chaka Khan anthem. And so goes the story of MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg's season to date. To go from Final Four contenders to 0-5 (2-10 including domestic games) is more than a little disconcerting.
When Patrick's Giants brought Trevor "The Beast" Mbakwe back to Germany, and added Aaron Best, Jordon Crawford and Malcolm Hill around him. Then added the hunger and athleticism of a player like Karim Jallow to support them, everything was in place to make you think Ludwigsburg was set to capitalize on their own overachievement. If only Basketball was so logical. Sadly it isn't and Ludwigsburg is yet to even match their previous form, let alone build on it. Let's dip in and try to uncover why things aren't going as we'd all thought they should.
Thangs ain't going like you think they should
When we talk about the Giants of Ludwigsburg, "God knows they've done been there and paid their dues". Having battled through the qualifying rounds, Ludwigsburg became the first German club to reach the Final Four of the Basketball Champions League - they did it in swashbuckling style too. Coach Patrick's team are known for a "street fighting" brand of basketball. They play aggressive, physical, full-court defense and they aim to do it for the best part of 40 minutes every game. Every season so far they have forced teams to make turnovers and not given up many in return. They have also crushed the offensive glass, taken pleasure in the dirty work and been extraordinarily difficult to beat. So far this season, they are playing the exact same style of basketball with none of the same results.
The stats report on Ludwigsburg doesn't make for attractive reading. Ludwigsburg has already lost four games this season while leading at Half Time (HT). This is more than in any of their two previous seasons in the competition. In almost every game this season they "were certified hot (at HT) then dropped to lukewarm". For context, In 2017/18, they lead at HT in fifteen games and went on to win twelve (80% win%). Also in 2017/18, Ludwigsburg was the team that made the fewest turnovers per game (10.8) and the team that forced their opponents to make the most turnovers (16.6, tied with Monaco) in BCL. This season they have turned the ball over more than their opponents in every game - this is essentially unheard of.
The game tape is - at times - even less flattering than the stats. It's not that Ludwigsburg have changed their style of play and it's taking time to adapt. They are still pressing and playing aggressive defense, they just haven't been able to turn it on whenever they need it. Ludwigsburg will have pressure on the ball for close to 40 minutes, but the most devastating thing about the press is the sequences where they turn on the full-court traps and score immediately from the forced turnovers. This is still happening this season. Watch below as they obliterate Anwil three times in the space of a minute. Anwil even called for a timeout in between to try and adjust. This is what Ludwigsburg basketball looks like.
The issue is they haven't been able to switch it on at will to close out games (like they did so often last season) and it appears that "them kids be schemin' on what they done copped". Or, in other words, teams have noticed the success of the Ludwigsburg press and are getting better at beating it. The clip below shows Anwil coming out of a timeout again but this time in the second half. Anwil breaks the press and executes easily in the half-court.
If you take a closer look at the same play it also offers an insight into some of the other things that have been going wrong. Ludwigsburg is conceding more points per possession and more FGA than either of their two previous seasons in BCL and it's often down to fairly simple breakdowns and lapses in concentration. Watch Anwil's #11 Likhodei after he passes over the top of the press to break it. He runs his man (Trevor Mbakwe) into one screen and Ludwigsburg switch. Now as Likhodei sets a screen himself for #23 Michalak, Ludwigsburg should switch again but the communication goes kaput. Now Likhodei is wide open on the pop and playing a 2 v 1 screening situation with #33 Szewczyk. To exacerbate the situation, Ludwigsburg is then late on a basic help rotation to the rolling big man. We could have found numerous breakdowns like this - particularly from the third and fourth quarters this season.
Then there are the turnovers.... We could describe and analyze the two turnovers in the clip below but there isn't any need. There has just been way too many like this - relatively unforced and indicative of a worrying chemistry issue.
There are positives; Aaron Best is shooting north of 60% from deep and has started to take ownership of the Adika Peter-McNeilly role, Karim Jallow is also showing bursts of genuinely elite potential, Malcolm Hill has shown he can carry the scoring lead and incoming Donatas Sabeckis started his Ludwigsburg season with 14 Points and 6 Rebounds. It could be as simple as a starting lineup tweak or a shuffle in the rotation - especially in the second half. Jordon Crawford and Konstantine Klein are both playing major minutes and really get into people defensively.
But for both players, the team is -11 with them on the floor. Maybe Sabeckis coming into the rotation will give Coach Patrick some much-needed length in the guard spots and also allow him to shuffle his rotation a bit. The other area to consider is the Power Forward position. Last season Ludwigsburg could choose from Elgin Cook, Johannes Thiemann or Jake Wiley. All of them had the ability to pull a rebound and lead the break without having to find a guard. So far this season Ludwigsburg are scoring 1.3 points per possession on the Fast Break (which is good) but they aren't getting out on the break nearly enough from half-court defensive situations. Maybe a lineup tweak could help here as well.
Coach Patrick will need to find a way to get his team executing defensively again
The season is still young as well. A 0-5 start is abysmal but it's not yet fatal. There is time for small changes to make huge differences. Keep an eye on John Patrick's Giants in the third and fourth quarter against UCAM Murcia next week. Maybe a revenge game for the third and fourth place game in our Final Four last year, could be exactly what's needed to get some confidence and belief flowing again.
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