05 October, 2021
15 May, 2022
John Patrick (MHP)
to read

The Invention of PatrickBall

The growth of the Basketball Champions League saw a rise in media coverage in all of Europe. This week, we hand the floor over to Kemal Rutkay Ozcan from TrendBasket, who will give us his insights on MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg.

ISTANBUL (Turkey) - Months have gone by, seasons have passed, and we’re now at the Christmas of the whole basketball season. Play-Offs are why they play the games, and Final Four is the celebration of exquisite, consistent, winning basketball. Final Four participant MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg is an embodiment of these three traits. They do it in style but differently. As excited as ever, I already wrote about them back in December. Now, I feel like going back to what made Ludwigsburg special to update my thoughts on them. If George Lucas can update Star Wars or if Kanye can update Life of Pablo, I should have a shot at updating my article.

Guys who play taller

"Ludwigsburg and the post-modern basketball" was the title, and it had everything to do with the roster composition. Bavarian powerhouse decided that having so many tall players is too mainstream, so they went with guys who play taller than their heights.

Sometimes the height of the head is what we measure guys. So, we say that Tremmell Darden is 1.92 or 1.93; we say that Justin Simon is 1.95, 1.96, and we say Kyle Hines is 1.94. But actually, these guys have high shoulders, long, strong arms. They play bigger than some guys who are 2.10 with maybe a long neck and short arms.

This quote by coach John Patrick summarizes what I’m about to tell regarding the roster. Made famous by Golden State Warriors in 2013, the idea of having five players at between 1.90 and 2.00 meters is embraced here.

And how not to be? When you get creative, monstrous guards who can hit the bullseye from the range like Jordan Hulls, Jonah Radebaugh, Patrick Brothers, James Woodard, and even Lukas Herzog to play together, you can expand the zone on both sides of the court.

Jonas Wohlfarth-Bottermann (Wobo) and Jonathan Baehre contribute to the expansion positively, as both are capable of playing face-up and shooting from outside. Along with Ethan Happ, they are the only ones over 2.00m.

The third part of the roster is what I call the enforcers. Tough, bulky guys you would not want to argue within traffic like Justin Simon, Tremmell Darden, Yorman Polas Bartolo, Rawle Alkins, and Tekele Cotton are among this group. They complement the quick, resourceful guards with high technical capabilities. And here’s the key to unlock PatrickBall.



John Patrick forces the limits of the small ball by playing all these players together, with a substitution frequency of an NHL team. And this is not some ploy to stun and slow down the opponents; this is the foundation of Patrick’s Megali Idea. When you watch how Ludwigsburg attacks and defends, this ultra-small-ball approach makes a lot of sense.

Firstly, let's dive into defense, where Ludwigsburg shines throughout the season. I am not even sure to call it a small-ball approach because Ludwigsburg has five pass rushers (shoutout to JJ Watt and all the NFL enthusiasts) in the group of guys I described above as the third part of the roster. They do so much more for the team than what we see on the boxscores. We see Miro Bilan (2m13) or Andrija Stipanovic (2m08) defended by one of those five rather than a true center. The tallest one of them is Justin Simon at 1.96. Even one pass rusher or enforcer makes any other team go up by a level on the defensive end, and Ludwigsburg has five of those guys.

We do have versatile guys who are athletic. Some are 39 years old; some are 17. All of them can jump, and run, and handle the ball, and shoot. So, sometimes our quickness and ability to pressure the ball in defense can be a small-ball advantage, instead of being a disadvantage.

The ability to pressure the ball in defense often comes into play here. As soon as the ball crosses the half-court line, yellow or black jerseys start to haunt you. It disrupts the rhythm of guard-heavy teams like Galatasaray Nef while making it near impossible to deliver the ball to low-post experts like Bilan or Shermadini.

Nobody is afraid to step out to the three-point line to hedge or trap a ball-handler. Recovering to your defensive task after going to double a player is never a problem. Staying in front of the most vicious isolation specialists in the BCL is just child’s play. This allows them to not get stuck with switching every single time but alternate between switching and fighting over the screens. I already wrote about the importance of applying different schemes without resorting to only one of them every time.

Everybody on the roster is feisty and quick and more of those, but if you can make Ethan Happ go out 9 meters away from the basket to trap, you have a solid defensive plan. Powered by the pressure on the perimeter so disruptive that it doesn’t need a goalkeeper around the rim, the defensive side of PatrickBall has produced 72.5 opponent points (best in the league) and 25.8 opponent field goals (second), and 8.1 steals per game (third). The PatrickBall offense gets its juice also from that small-ball approach, only with a few adjustments.


Firstly, the small-ball approach with skillful players removes the main limitation of modern basketball in building a pick-and-roll-heavy offense. Like the Warriors, 5-out motion is again the way to attack the BCL defenses for Ludwigsburg. This has a lot to do with not having a big that rolls hard to the rim. Nonetheless, the main point is that pick-and-roll is not the only option on the offense. This scheme reduces the number of assists. Ludwigsburg averages 13.5 assists per game, the second-fewest number in the BCL. But when the ball goes to the constantly-moving players at the right time, you can wriggle yourself out of modernity’s obsession with assists. Bobby Knight, who is the pioneer of 5-out motion and has once thrown a chair onto the court out of his frustration with the referees, must now be sitting in another chair peacefully.

Ludwigsburg was one of the deadliest shooting teams of the BCL back in December, but that label has detached from them. Although shots from beyond the arc are still a focal point of the offense, the Germans have gone through many games where those shots were never going to fall. They won most of those games with the help of defense, turnovers as few as 11.1 per game, and their propensity to take it to the rim. Intelligent players who have guard skills absolutely helped them in these regards to maintain their winning ways.

Also, offensive rebounding and the presence of Ethan Happ surprisingly helped them. Star guard Jonah Radebaugh is an incredible offensive-rebounding machine despite his small stature at 1m91 and 84 kilograms. They lead the league with 14.8 offensive rebounds per game; they are one of the two teams that crack the 40-rebound threshold. Only Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem (41.8) hauled more rebounds per game. This is the psychological aspect of PatrickBall wearing down its opponents.

Signed in January, Ethan Happ looked like the opposite of what this team is looking for in its players. He never stands out as a brute force in the paint, but he gave a necessary depth to the roster as a finesse player. To be honest, I’ve been critical of his signing until the Cluj series. In that series, Happ dominated anybody not named Stipanovic on the low block. And when he used a short roll to get the ball, he ate the space between him and his defender to take advantage of his skill to get buckets. 60.8% of accuracy in 2-point shots (14-of-23) in three games against a tough Cluj interior defense is something to note.


“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it,” said Salvador Dali. He accurately describes the state Ludwigsburg is in.

Cluj series showed us that Ludwigsburg is still unable to exceed a certain level of physicality. The champions of Romania outmuscled them in all three games, and it hurt them in the first game, especially after Cluj made 11 threes. I’m not going to do an overview of the series, but that’s something that happened. Losing duels under the rim immediately starts a chain reaction.

And in these cases, Ludwigsburg does not have a clear go-to guy. Justin Simon is the closest name they have to it. While an all-around player with a shot at the season MVP award, he’s both an ineffective one-on-one player and can be defended by staying two steps off him. He currently has a 43-17-73 slash line from all areas of the floor. That’s tough, in the wrong way.

Radebaugh’s propensity to lean on his jump shot against a defense he couldn’t penetrate makes Ludwigsburg unable to produce a Plan B. A poor sign ahead of a clash with the equally disruptive defense of BAXI Manresa.

Still, this is a team to remember. John Patrick shows all of us that consistency makes success a matter of when, rather than if. They are still not my favorites to be crowned champions in Bilbao, but they are as fun as it gets.

Kemal Rutkay Ozcan