AS FAR AS NOWITZKI WILL TAKE THEM...
Germany do not consider themselves a one-man team. But everyone knows the key to stopping Germany is stopping Dirk Nowitzki. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, very few have figured out a way to do that. And the Dallas Mavericks star will again be crucial to Germany's success as well as how Coach Dirk Bauermann lines up the troops behind his superstar.
Like no other team at the 2006 FIBA World Championship, Germany will rely on one player. But Coach Dirk Bauermann is just happy he's got Dirk Nowitzki on his side. Much of the coach's decisions will be based on how to best utilize his other players' skills to best fit around the Dallas Mavericks star. Germany proved at the 2005 EuroBasket that this system can work, as Nowitzki carried his team to the silver medal - the nation's best success since winning the 1993 European Championship in its own country and the bronze medal at 2002 FIBA World Championship. Expect much of the same this time around. Bauermann allowed his star to take off as much time as possible, not bringing him into the mix until just before Germany's warm-up matches against Canada. But don't expect Nowizki to have any problems with playing for Germany - something he values very much. He loves playing with his German team-mates, including his friends from back in Wuerzburg Robert Garrett and Demond Greene.
But without a doubt, Germany will only go as far as Nowitzki takes them. Bauermann's offence will revolve around him, and the coach is comfortable enough knowing that Nowitzki will get his team-mates involved if he needs help or is struggling. "The guy is unbelievable. He can do anything. It makes my job easier," Bauermann said of Nowitzki. The NBA All-Star has changed his game since leading Germany to the silver medal in Belgrade last summer. At Dallas, he took on even more responsibility in the leadership department. He also adapted his game from mainly the outside to become a threat in the paint as well. Always an excellent rebounder and passer, Nowitzki added a physicalness to his game which some said was missing. And that has made him into a legitimate Top-Five superstar in the world. Added to all his skills will be extra motivation to prove he is truly a champion after taking much criticism for not leading Dallas to the NBA title after taking a 2-0 lead on the Miami Heat.
Still, regardless of how good Nowitzki is, no team can win with just one player. And Bauermann will be called upon to find enough support for his star.
One of the leaders will be veteran Ademola Okulaja. When healthy, he is still a very dangerous scoring threat who can do it all. Okulaja gives Bauermann some good size and a lot of options at the wing position. In addition, the coach can also call upon Dennis Wucherer or Robert Garrett, neither of them great defensive stoppers but players who can hurt opposing teams in numerous ways on offence. Sven Schultze is another guy who can spell Okulaja - and even Nowitzki at times and come up with mismatches because of his size and quickness.
At center, Bauermann has a lot of experience with Patrick Femerling as his main man in the middle. His defensive presence in the paint allows Germany's guards to really pressure the ball knowing that Femerling is behind them, ready to erase any mistakes they make. And that's crucial in Bauermann's tough-as-nails defensive system, which he emphasises even more than his patient, efficient passing offence. Neither Robert Maras nor Jan Jagla can really dominate a game for any extended periods of time. But both are adequate reserves to give Femerling or Nowitzki a breather.
Bauermann has three different types of players to deploy at the playmaker position. The steady, efficient Pascal Roller may have the inside track after playing so well in Serbia & Montenegro. He made the right decisions in Bauermann's controlled offence. And he made some big shots - with floaters in the paint and bombs from beyond the three-point arc. Steffen Hamann is by far the team's best defensive point guard and will receive plenty of time because of that. But Hamann, who missed the 2005 EuroBasket with a torn ACL, is not the best passer and sometimes plays out of control on offense despite an excellent first step. The third option is the diminutive but quick and effective Mithat Demirel, just a couple years removed as the German BBL league Player of the Year.
Demond Greene will likely be Bauermann's starter at the shooting guard spot. The powerful Greene fits well into Bauermann's system by doing a bit of everything well, especially not making mistakes. He can score points in bunches, from either inside or outside, and can bury opponents with his three-point shooting. Garrett will be Greene's main back-up and plays a similar role. Bauermann could also call upon Johannes Herber from West Virginia in the United States as a further reserve.
This is one of final runs for this group of German players. Nowitzki is now 28 years old and has said he would like retire from the National Team after the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In addition, Okulaja (31), Wucherer (33), Femerling (31) and Roller (30) are all 30 years or older. That leaves Bauermann with the difficult task of bringing some young blood into the team while using the advantages of his experienced players.
Many consider Germany lucky to have been drawn into Group B with Spain, New Zealand, hosts Japan, Panama and Angola. But Bauermann's troops face the difficult task of opening their group play against Japan.
"It's never easy playing the hosts. They always have the home support. And they will be very motivated to show they belong," Bauermann said. The coach is happy the team has two games (Japan and New Zealand) before they face Spain in a rematch of the 2005 EuroBasket semi-final. Germany then must remain concentrated to finish the group strong against Panama and Angola to focus on the later stages of the tournament.
That's when Germany will need Nowitzki even more.