Cinderella: a closer look at Telekom Baskets Bonn
BONN (Germany) - The Cinderella story of season seven is going to the ball. Telekom Baskets Bonn not only have the lowest budget at the Final Four, but also possibly one of the lowest in the league this season.
Bonn making it to the Final Four despite their budget is not the most outstanding fact about them. After all, we have seen this before and with Germany's own MHP RIESEN Ludwigsburg as recently as last season. It's the manner in which they have done it.
Often the blueprint for teams competing on a shoestring budget is to make sure you win the hustle stats, and to get there by force of will and specifically by being willing to work that bit harder than opponents which have more expensive talent and possibly feel more entitled to win.
In the chart above we see Offensive Rebounding Percentage, possibly the king of the anti-talent stats. Whilst you could make a case that size qualifies as a talent in basketball - it certainly helps to pull down rebounds - nobody can argue that recycling the highest percentage of your own misses is something that can be achieved without having the will to outwork your opponents, night in night out. And as we can see in the chart above, that is something coach Tuomas Iisalo's team does.
What sets this Bonn team apart from previous Cinderella stories is that they have also done it in style.
The top spots in the rankings for offensive efficiency are usually reserved for teams with the depth and talent to create advantages and high-quality shots at every position. Well, as we see above, that is also something this Bonn team has, they just managed to achieve it with much fewer resources.
How they play
Earlier in the season we spoke to Tuomas Iisalo , who has just been named coach of the season in the German league, about his journey to this point as a coach and the way that journey has shaped the philosophy we see so clearly on the court now. With a berth at the Final Four confirmed, let's take a quick refresher course in what you can expect to see on the floor in Malaga.
It sounds simplistic to say that Bonn play team basketball but that is exactly what it you will see. Iisalo often refers to "team reactions" to describe the rules and reads that his players make automatically when they create an advantage against the defense. For example, watch for the red arrows on the screen in the clip below.
- After running the entry into the offense and #6, Kessens, attacking off the dribble, Bonn finally create an advantage in the pick-and-roll between #7, Herrera, and Kessens.
- #10, Malcolm, lifts from the wing to the slot and pulls his defender with him.
- This leaves #13, Hawkins, alone in the weakside corner.
- Herrera spots Hawkins' defender helping deep in the paint to help on kessens rolling to the rim and makes the read and throws A pin-point pass to Hawkins.
- Kessens seals his own defender on the drive to prevent any protection at the rim.
What you are seeing in that clip above isn't a single example of a time Bonn got it right in their last game, that's just what they do. The other element that makes this offense so efficient is the speed of decisions. Every team wants the ball or the ball-handler to move almost as soon as they catch the ball. It makes sense because it prevents the opponent from being able to set their defense. Bonn take this to another level.
What you see in the next clip below is a 'drag screen' or ball screen in transition but in this case T.J. Shorts instantly throws the pass over to the weak side of the floor and before you can blink, Hawkins and Herrera have flipped the ball between each other and Bonn are into what Iisalo refers to as "third side" action:
Herrera reverses the ball again to Kessens and Shorts is already on the move to receive the handoff at the same moment as he catches it. The outcome is that the ball moves so fast that BCL play-by-play-announcer Jeff Taylor doesn't even get time to mention every name that touches the ball before Herrera nails the three-ball. If you count the screens, passes, and dribble-drives, that's eight offensive actions in 13 seconds. The defense had no chance.
Instead of set plays, Iisalo uses the team 'entries' to describe the formations and sequence of movements that his Bonn team uses to create advantages that facilitate situations where the team reactions and lightning-fast decisions kick in.
Two of the most common you will see are their 'Iverson' entry and the 'staggered' entry. This first clip is Iverson. The key thing to notice is that as #20, Morgan, makes the cut across the free-throw line, #9, Tadda, is cutting the baseline to clear that side of the floor if he receives the pass. Bonn unfortunately lost Morgan to injury but you can expect to see the likes of Ward, Tadda, and Hawkins all using the Iverson cut to start this entry.
The staggered entry looks very similar at times because the dynamics and timing are all that different.this time watch how Bonn use a staggered screen for Tadda to make the Iverson cut across the court and #3, Ward stays put in the corner.
Also notice the way T.J. Shorts manipulates the pick-and-roll coverage. He notices his defender go under and instead of being drawn into the shot, he hesitates and uses a 'hang' dribble as if to pick up his dribble and shoot. When the defender reacts, he uses it as a mini-closeout and blows by.
On the defensive end, Bonn are usually just as automatic. And they need to be. They style of defense they play is as flexible as it is aggressive, often mixing coverages and schemes. Sometimes even in the same possession.
- #24, Williams, and #10, Malcolm, switch the first ball screen.
- #7, Herrera pressures the pass, and #0, Shorts fronts the post entry.
- Shorts rotates to help on the drive after the skip pass.
- #6, Kessens, is the second rotation and deflects the pass. Bonn have all five in the paint, shrinking the floor on the drive.
In terms of minutes played it's no surprise to see the talisman T.J. Shorts averaging 30 minutes per contest. Almost 10 minutes more than the next player on the list. His numbers this season are absurd and although it's no secret that the entire offense flows through Shorts, the extra attention he receives often frees up space for others.
Next in the rotation is Delany, Hawkins, Malcolm, and Ward who play around 24 minutes each. Tadda and Herrera play around 20 minutes at the guard spots, the Kratzer and Kessens splitting the minutes at the center spot, with Williams' versatility giving him 15 minutes across a few roles on court.
With 10 players playing coming into the Final 4 averaging over 15 minutes on court, Bonn have exactly what they need to take on the challenge of two games in three days. Rarely do teams go deeper than 10 at big events or tournaments but the ideal situation is that they are all fully integrated into the system and understand their role within it. This Bonn roster reads almost like sudoku or a mathematics puzzle that has been solved.
TJ Shorts II ist #MVP der #easyCreditBBL 22/23 👑— easyCredit BBL (@easyCreditBBL) May 4, 2023
Der US-Amerikaner, der bei der Wahl im Vorjahr noch Zweiter war, tritt die Nachfolge von Parker Jackson-Cartwright an, seinem Vorgänger im Trikot der @TelekomBaskets.
⁰#mostvaluableplayer #welcometobonn #welcometowow @TjShorts5 pic.twitter.com/shLGtk2DqG
It has to be T.J. Shorts, the newly-minted MVP of the German league. The American guard has taken the BCL by storm this season, setting records for games with 20+ points and relentlessly dissecting everything opponents have thrown at him.
In a single knockout game, the space he creates could be enough for Herrera to knock down threes to change the game, or Kratzer to find space rolling to the rim. Bonn do have weapons across the roster that can win games but for the whole show to get started, their star man will need to show up.
It doesn't get much tougher than drawing the home team in the Semi-Final but when that home team is also the current champions of the Copa de Rey and also the number one team for overall efficiency in the league, nothing less than the best performance of the season will be enough for this Bonn team to advance.
So far, Bonn has produced those performances when they have needed them the most. They must surely be relishing the opportunity to prove the doubters wrong again.
Shorts could find himself matched up against one of the best defenders in Europe, Alberto Diaz. Tadda may need to find a way to stay in front of Brizuela. Hawkins could end up needing to win the scoring battle with Carter.
Can Herrera outshoot Kalinoski? Who wins the coaching chess match between Navarro and Iisalo? They will surely both also be in the running for coach of the year honors. So many questions that need to be answered in only 40 minutes and no second guesses if you get them wrong.