Spread 'em - a quicker look at MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg
LUDWIGSBURG (Germany) - We are accustomed to seeing MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg teams play brutal, physically-dominant basketball under coach John Patrick. In particular, we have grown especially accustomed to seeing them wear teams down with full-court pressure defense and relentless offensive rebounding. What we aren't accustomed to seeing is the Giants of Ludwigsburg at the top end of the offensive efficiency tables but that is exactly where they have been all season.
The data dashboard above has two charts; the first one shows where each club ranks for Offensive and Defensive Rating, then the chart below shows Net Rating as a scale from bright yellow (bad) to dark green (good). We see Ludwigsburg in the bottom right corner, which means they are in a sweet spot for efficiency on both ends. They second for Offensive Rating at 120.4 points per 100 possessions, with Galatasaray as the only team scoring at a higher clip of 120.6 per 100 possessions. And we also see them sitting second overall for Net Rating at an impressive +15.3 points per 100 possessions.
The formula is simple but incredibly effective. This Ludwigsburg team wants to spread you out with four or five players spaced outside the arc and use lineups with as many of those players as possible capable of putting the ball on the floor and making a play. It's one thing to go with stretch fours or even stretch fives but when all five can also put the ball on the floor and attack a closeout, it presents a very difficult challenge for opposing defenses. Especially for teams like Tenerife with a majority of their lineups including traditional big men like Shermadini or Guerra.
When you watch the play below the first thing you will notice is the rapid first step of #12 Jonah Radebaugh to create an advantage out of nothing at the end of the shot clock (what a discovery he has been, btw). However, the key thing to notice in this play is #7 Jonathan Baehre playing the stretch five position for Ludwigsburg. After slipping his ball screen, Baehre instantly fills the weakside corner and knocks down the corner pocket jump shot. He's shooting 50 percent on 2.5 attempts from deep so this is clearly no freak occurrence either. We have also seen him put the ball on the floor several times and attack closeouts this season.
The example to highlight the point in the video above is Jonathan Baehre but it's about the entire squad. Despite their spacing, Ludwisgburg don't actually shoot many threes at 24.4 attempts per game but they shoot them at 41.8 percent which is second in the BCL - only Hereda San Pablo Burgos shoot them at a higher percentage (44 percent). Ludwigsburg are also unique in their distribution of attempts. Wolfarth-Botterman and Herzog are the only players that are on the floor over 10 minutes per game that don't average over one attempt.
Again, when you watch the play in the video below, the first thing you will notice is the unreal athleticism of #5 Justin Simon as he attacks the seam on a diagonal drive and throws it down. What we also need to be aware of is that the lineup used by John Patrick has #13 Yorman Polas Bartolo playing the five and setting pick-and-pops instead of rolling or occupying the dunker's spot in the short corner. The outcome of that is that when Ludwigsburg's offense didn't create an advantage from any screening actions, they know they have the ability to hunt a perimeter matchup that can break the shell, and once they do, there is always space at the rim when opposition shot blockers are busy chasing the likes of Polas Bartolo around the perimeter.
The set in the video below is probably the most common action you will see from Ludwigsburg this season. The play starts with a handoff from #21 Darden to Radebaugh. Darden then curls over a screen from Baehre, sucking in the weakside defense at the same time. Usually, the next flow of actions would be a ball screen from Baehre to Radebaugh but in this case, there was no need as the defense was sucked in so far Radebaugh was able to make a direct skip pass to the wing for an open Hulls three-ball.
Here we see Ludwigsburg set up in the same way again but this time, instead of the handoff, Polas Bartolo keeps the ball and the play then switches to staggered screens on the weakside. What we need to notice is that the Germans are slipping every ball screen. This is likely to prevent Tenerife from being able to hedge or play any kind of aggressive pick-and-roll defense. The outcome is that Darden slips a screen and creates an advantage. Again, Polas Bartolo is the defacto center in this lineup with seven-footer Giorgi Shermadini guarding him and we find him spacing the floor in the weakside corner pocket. On this occasion, he chose the short floater instead of the jump shot. For Shermadini, playing help and then getting out to guard Polas Bartolo is a very tough ask.
Of course, going with a spread (slightly positionless) offense also has a knock-on effect on a team's defense. If you don't have giants in the paint protecting the rim, you need to be very good guarding the ball because you might be leaving the same space at the rim that you want to attack on the opposite end. Just as well this is a John Patrick team and guarding the ball is what they do best. Ludwigsburg use full-court pressure defense on 32 percent of their defensive possessions. The next team in that respect is Oldenburg at 15.9 percent. Ludwigsburg press twice as much as any other team in the BCL
The play in the video below is classic Ludwigsburg. #20 Rawle Alkins picked up the ball from around the free-throw line and was all over Todorovic like a cheap suit. There were hands in every line of sight and he stayed in front on the drive to the basket. This meant that Polas Bartolo and Baehre were able to stay home instead of helping. It isn't very often we see a Tenerife possession with so many dribbles and no passes before a contested shot. It just isn't the way they play... This type of pressure defense can get to a team, even a team like Lenovo Tenerife.
Another advantage to smaller, quicker lineups is that you are able to switch more screens. In the play below, Ludwigsburg switched every screen except Jonathan Baehre.
So far so good for John Patrick's "Spread 'em" offense. After 5 games in the BCL, they are top of the group and confirmed as top of the group so guaranteed a spot in Round of 16. In Germany, they have played 11 games and sit third in the BBL. It's looking very positive indeed. Up next they face a resurgent Promotey team at home. The last matchup between the two teams resulted in a 22 point win in Ukraine.
They can expect a much sterner test from Ronen Ginzburg's squad this time around as they look to finish the Regular Season on a high. One thing we know for sure is that they will be grouped with Galatasaray in the Round of 16 and we will get to see which of the top two ranked offenses is king this season. Given the pace that Galatasaray play at and Ludwigsburg's ability to match them with their five-out lineups, that isn't a match up you will want to miss as both teams look like very real Final 4 candidates at this early stage of the season.