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HOW ANTWERP CAN BREAK THE HEGEMONY OF OSTEND FROM THE FREE THROW LINE

On March 10th Filou Oostende and Telenet Anwerp Giants face each other in Forest National to win The Orange Cup. The dominance of Oostende over the last decade translated into winning the last 6 (!) Cups and the 7 (!) championship titles. On their road to the Final, Oostende eliminated Aalstar and Charleroi, while Antwerp knocked out Leuven and Brussels (including an impressive 74-36 blow-out against the latter). In this in-depth preview I will compare both teams analytically and have a closer look to their previous two match-ups from a coaches’ standpoint. Based upon those games, Oostende starts as a favourite at the jump ball, but I will finish up this analysis with THE key for Antwerp to dethrone Oostende.

         REGULAR SEASON

In this current campaign both Antwerp and Oostende lead the ranking with an identical record of 13 wins and 4 losses. In this section we will statistically compare the playing style of both teams on both sides of the court.

Playing style

Oostende was over the recent years by far the slowest – and at the same time the most successful – team of the league. This current season four teams in Belgium have less possessions a game, among which Antwerp.

Both teams differ a lot when it comes down to the use of the three point shot. Antwerp takes 40,5% of all field goals attempts from behind the arc (ranked 3rd in the league), while for Oostende this is only 32,1% (9th). On top of that, the Giants are way more efficient from three (40,9% (2nd) compared to 30,4% (8th)).

Offense

To evaluate how effective teams are in offense we will rely further on advanced stats – which basically take into account the pace of a team – rather than just points scored per game. A high paced team will generally score (but also allow) more points without saying anything meaningful about how efficient they are. The offensive rating (ORtg) is defined as the number of points a team scores out of 100 possessions, cancelling out the pace of the game.

If Oostende seems to be less dominant this year, it is mainly because of their offense. While they lead the ORtg last season, they are now only ranked 7th (109,2 points per 100 possessions) while Antwerp is second with 117,2.

More specifically, after losing Belgian Lion Jean Salumu in the off-season, BCO dropped to a surprising 8th spot in the effective field goal percentage (51,3%). This eFG% takes into account the extra point for a threepointer and evaluates basically the shot selection of a team. The poor 3pt percentage is another reason for this poor result for BCO. The Giants have the 2nd best shot selection of the country.

Putting pressure on the offensive boards is another big key to an efficient offensive system. With Jekiri and Kuridza leaving BCO in the off-season as their best rebounders, Oostende dropped to a 7th spot on the offensive boards (OR%) while the Giants limit the damage despite the long-term injury of their main big man Moses Kingsley to a 5th spot.

With six players in the rotation close to averaging double digits, Antwerp Giants have the second best offense of the country (behind Brussels). The biggest margin still to improve are the number of free throws they provoke, which reveals how aggressively a team attacks the basket. For every field goal attempt, Antwerp provokes 0,19 free throws (7th), while Oostende leads the league with 0,26.

Defense

Since many years, it has become the trademark of Coach Djergja to play solid defense. While BCO struggles more on offense, their defense is still on point. Oostende is the only team that can limit the opponent to under 100 points over 100 possessions. With a margin (defensive rating DRtg = 96,8) over their contenders they compensate in defense having only the 7th offense of the league. With a DRtg of 101,7 points, Antwerp has the third most disruptive defense. However, the Giants lead the league when it comes down to the percentage in which a defensive possession ends in a steal (STL%) or a blockshot (BLK%).

To summarize, one could say that the The Orange Cup final is a match-up between the best defensive (Oostende) and one of the best offensive (Antwerp) teams. The famous basketball adagio states that “Offense wins games while defense wins championships”, but – as everybody knows – the Cup final is a battle … over 40 minutes!

               EARLIER MATCH-UPS

Both finalists have played each other twice earlier this campaign. On October 20th Oostende won convincingly 88-63 while the confrontation in Antwerp on January 12th ended in a humiliation for the home team: 44-82. Statistically, these games will not lead to important lessons, because in both games the decision fell quite early and both teams started rotating heavily, saving energy for their European mid-week games. However, supported with some footage of the second confrontation, I will highlight three important keys that will decide on which team will be crowned next Sunday!

KEY #1:  The point guard position
The key match-up in this cup final might be the point guard position. Everybody in the packed Forest National arena will know that when it comes down to a final possession, BCO will put the ball in the hands of The General, Dusan Djordjevic. However, guard TJ Williams was a joker for BCO in the previous two games against the Giants, scoring 19 and 13 points. In the opposing camp, the importance of point-guard Paris Lee cannot be underestimated. In the two games against reigning champs he was quite invisible and not aggressive enough in offense, scoring only 7 and 2 points. The following clip focuses on the decision making of Paris Lee during the game in Antwerp and how to improve to create better shots for his teammates:

KEY #2:  Spacing
The use and efficiency of the threepoint shot for Antwerp has been discussed earlier in this analysis. In order to have these shots, spacing on the court is probably the most important condition. Those open looks behind the arc are often created by a player attacking after a pick-and-roll or hand-off situation:

KEY #3:  The Inside Game
In both earlier games, Oostende dominated the inside game. In the first game BCO won the points-in-the-paint with 50-22 (!). In the Lotto Arena, the local team knew only to provoke 8 free throws (23 for BCO). It was striking how the Giants were unable to finish around the basket nor to draw any fouls:

As a conclusion to this preview on the cup final, I dare to state that Antwerp Giants has a good chance to finally dethrone Oostende if they end up more often on the free throw line than Oostende. In order to do so, their guards have to attack and accelerate off the ballscreens, attacking the basket aggressively instead of shallow drives predestinated to kick out. Also the bigs have to go at the basket from the low-post or off an offensive rebound, instead of settling for contested fade-away moves. By committing the help defense of Oostende in the paint, they will create many open looks behind the three point line, which is so important for the offense of the Giants.

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Recently I did a podcast with Chris Oliver of Basketball Immersion.