Credit: Imago Images - Scanpix
Credit Imago Images - Scanpix

If there was a Bayern fan that stopped following Munich's team two years ago, he would be confused watching them play right now.

In 2020, at the start of the pandemic, Bayern played MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg and had their power forward Danilo Barthel matching up with overseas rookie Nick Weiler-Babb. And Barthel did everything to make his rookie experience really hard.

This power forward of an opposing team became a primary ball-handler of Bayern Munich, which will try to force the playoff series to Game 5 vs. the regular-season winner Barcelona tonight.

High-reward shift

"He played a hell of the game," Andrea Trinchieri praised Weiler-Babb after a tough German derby win against ALBA in January.

Nick stole six balls, five of them in six minutes of the first quarter. That's impressive, yes, but there were never any doubts about Weiler-Babb's defensive potential.

He has a rare combination of size, length, athleticism, body control, and game reading, making him a perfect perimeter defender.

According to BBallytics, Weiler-Babb makes the biggest defensive impact among all EuroLeague players.

Without him on the court, Bayern allows +15.6 points per 100 possessions. That ties for the biggest defensive impact in the EuroLeague along with Nikola Kalinic.

Weiler-Babb's defensive influence is unquestionable number-wise or based on pure eye-test. The role of the offense is a different topic, though.

But more often than usual, this year, a 26-year-old took ball handler responsibilities, setting up his teammates and himself.

He finished the game against ALBA with a typical stat sheet of Nick Weiler-Babb: 6 points on 3 of 7 shooting, seven rebounds (3 ORB), three assists, six steals (okay, that was not that typical), and one block.

3-pointers this season

37%
9,2
Points made: 9,2
Accuracy: 37,0%
Place in standings: 5
Record max: 14
Record min: 3
Most made 3FGs: Darrun Hilliard

His plus-minus? +27 in 28 minutes. For instance, Othello Hunter was the second-best in Bayern with +12.

Whether Bayern's point guards Corey Walden and Zan Sisko or other players were sidelined through the marathon of injuries and three covid outbreaks, Trinchieri used Weiler-Babb as his playmaker.

"What is the most common sentence of a player? Coach, let me play," Andrea Trinchieri started his story about Weiler-Babb.

"And this can be everything. Let me play without talking to me, without giving me tasks, busting my balls, without practicing hard. Just let me play," he continued.

"Nick never said it. Never. But this is what he was thinking," Trinchieri said.

"When we signed him from Ludwigsburg, he played like a 4-3. And then we shifted him into a backcourt. But still, I smelled it was not the right thing for him. It didn't fit what he could do. So this season, I make another shift and play him as a point guard. And the reward is very big. The credit goes to him," Trinchieri said.

Credit Imago-Scanpix

Nick Weiler-Babb averaged 5.5 points (55.2% 2FG; 25% 3FG), 3.9 rebounds (1.1 ORB); 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals this EuroLeague season.

Nothing so impressive for the playoff team's ball-handler, right?

But some things are hard to measure on paper.

As the 8th best scorer on Bayern's roster, he's the first by +/- in a team that made the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

Such a demanding and detailed coach like Andrea Trinchieri puts him as a primary ball-handler in a fight against the regular-season winners Barcelona, which is one of the best defensive teams in the tournament.

Weiler-Babb puts up a 12-point, 8-rebound, 4-assist, 20-PIR performance in Game 2 to tie the series in best-of-five.

He averages 9.3 points (46.7% 2FG; 50% 3FG), 5.7 rebounds (2.7 ORB), 3.3 assists, and 13.7 PIR in the playoffs.

Weiler-Babb played as a playmaker in the NCAA, but it took a few years in Europe to get this important assignment.

Numerous injuries and covid outbreaks also influenced this shift to a vital position in Bayern. But some things made Trinchieri confident about this re-positioning.

"Andrea and I had many talks about it. All through college, I was a point guard also. Going from a point guard to a four-man in Ludwigsburg was a shock, but it worked out for our team," Nick Weiler-Babb told BasketNews.

"Coming here last year, I wasn't playing much as a point guard. This year it's been a good transition for me. We had Corey and Sisko as our main point guards most of the season. I was just filling in with somebody sitting out, getting hurt, or getting covid," he added.

"I think the coach saw the potential and me taking care of the ball, not turning it over as much, making good decisions, and being more a pass-first guy than the main scorer. I think that let him put me at a point and trust my decision-making to be a leader on the court," Weiler-Babb said.

"Playing for Andrea helped me to grow as a player. Playing a point guard for this team opened many doors and opportunities," he concluded.

Tough love from Trinchieri

Trinchieri is in love with versatile players who have the tools to do many different things on the court. However, he had a tough time sparking a fire in his backcourt project.

In Trinchieri's eyes, Nick was too laid back, not aggressive or determined enough.

"Push! Attack!" These were things Trinchieri had to remind Weiler-Babb frequently.

The first few months weren't easy. Emilio Kovacic, a former Croatian basketball star and the head of Bayern's player development, helped him a lot.

Kovacic worked for the Phoenix Suns as an international scouting consultant from 2013 to 2018. His wife was from Denver, so this American background helped him connect with Nick pretty quickly.

"I had an approach toward Nick last year a little bit different. I was barking because I saw a lot of potential in him. Things that he didn't believe how good he could be," Trinchieri said BasketNews.

"I'm not the best one to handle players that are laid back. My job here is to maximize the roster. And sometimes to make more than that. If the player's impact is 7, at his best, I need to make it to 8, 9, 10. This is the only way to compete at the highest level in Europe," Bayern's coach continued.

"Sometimes, you have to go against the player daily. Because you have to convince him how good he can be. He's soft-spoken, extremely smart. He knows every player in Europe, he knows every play. When I understood this, I changed my approach to him. I stopped barking. It doesn't mean he will have every good game. Sunday, he was bad. But I believe that we've built something with this shift," Trinchieri explained.

"Last year was definitely tough. I was in a tough place learning how to play for him. I never played for a coach like this," Weiler-Babb admitted with a smile.

"He's very demanding, aggressive, loud, and outspoken. But this year more than last year, I learned how to take what he says. I think the best thing was learning what to listen to and what not to listen to. He is doing it to push me. He asked me how to coach me better. I asked him how to maximize what he said, not taking anything personally. The second-year being together definitely helped," Weiler-Babb told BasketNews.

His European basketball knowledge comes from his brother Chris.

After a short stint with the Boston Celtics and the Maine Red Claws, Chris Babb headed to Germany, Ratiopharm Ulm, in 2015.

As Nick remembers, he was keeping up with what his brother was doing when he went to the high school. He started watching Chris' games in Europe and found things that impressed him.

"I like watching European basketball more than trying to stay up to 2-3 in the morning. I just loved the style of the game and that competitiveness how every game matters. Everybody is out there fighting for every possession. I loved to watch it," Weiler-Babb said of the European game.

He is aware of another John Patrick's alumni career path, which is very similar to Nick's.

Thomas Walkup played in Ludwigsburg in 2017-18. Now he tries to contain the top EuroLeague scorer Mike James in the playoffs defending the 2nd seed status with Olympiacos Piraeus. And he's doing pretty well.

Walkup also played as a power forward in college, later shifted to the backcourt, and then Sarunas Jasikevicius made him a point guard in Zalgiris Kaunas.

"I had talks with John Patrick in Ludwigsburg about Thomas and me having kind of the same path we took," Weiler-Babb smiled.

"Ludwigsburg helped us to get where we are," he added. "We had to talk about it last year when he was in Zalgiris. And this year, we had this connection and similarities to talk about. Us both taking that step in Ludwigsburg didn't happen for no reason. We have a similar path. The game is different, but we also play defense very well. He's on a great team, and I think he's a big part of why Olympiacos are playing really well."

Weiler-Babb still needs to work more on his playmaking skills to follow in Walkup's footsteps.

"There's always room to improve when you think you've done great. Obviously, taking care of the ball, making shots, and making better decisions is definitely an area of improvement," Weiler-Babb assured.

Extension incoming?

Bayern's sports director Daniele Baiesi went to the Portsmouth Invitational tournament in 2019 and fell in love with Weiler-Babb from the beginning.

The Italian specialist saw Nick's potential to become an exciting player for Europe, so he recruited Weiler-Babb with a three-year project.

However, due to different circumstances, he signed with Ludwigsburg for the 2019-20 season.

A year later, Baiesi went after Weiler-Babb again.

The entire situation was very tricky, though. Munich was still working on Maodo Lo's extension. However, Lo reached an agreement with ALBA Berlin, so Bayern needed a new point guard.

Way before the summer of 2020, Zalgiris Kaunas was thinking between Steve Vasturia and Nick Weiler-Babb. But that season, Zalgiris made an early move for Vasturia, and Weiler-Babb became closer to Bayern.

However, Khimki Moscow Region were interested in buying out Thomas Walkup in the off-season. Zalgiris could have easily turned back to Weiler-Babb as his potential replacement.

Bayern also had other options on the table, but Baiesi was very determined to do everything to bring Weiler-Babb to Munich.

Walkup finally stayed in Lithuania for his third season, and Bayern signed Weiler-Babb for a buyout from Ludwigsburg.

Credit BasketNews/Begum Unal

"He changed his approach to the game. He can do everything both defensively and offensively," Nihad Djedovic, the captain of Bayern, talked about Weiler-Babb.

"Especially with 50/50 balls, rebounds. As you saw in Barcelona, he jumped out of the bounds to save the ball. We know he can lockdown everybody in defense, especially the best players in the opponent team. He can do small things, but he's also improving in the offense. He's taking more responsibility, taking more shots. He's extremely important for us in both parts of the court," Djedovic concluded.

"He can play wherever he wants. He's that type of a player," Deshaun Thomas, Bayern's 4-man, smiled when asked whether he likes Nick as a power forward or a point guard.

"I like him as a point guard, and I like him as a power forward. Whatever the teams need, he can do. He's so athletic. Athletic guys can do most of the things. He's doing well. He's playing well. People see that. It's going well for our team," Thomas said BasketNews.

Trinchieri still wants him to be more consistent offensively.

He encourages him to be more aggressive and confident with his offense.

But Trinchieri will keep the direction where Weiler-Babb will orchestrate his offense in Bayern.

In a pool of sharks, such an organization as Bayern has to think out of the box. Weiler-Babb is an unpolished project they're developing, but the reward is intriguing.

Big EuroLeague teams were already checking Weiler-Babb for the upcoming free agency. They started recognizing his defensive abilities and his offensive potential as well.

But according to BasketNews sources, Bayern is nearing a contract extension with Nick Weiler-Babb and sees him as a primary ball-handler.

"Honestly, I love it being here in Munich. The past two years were great. I love the city, I love the organization, from Daniele Baiesi to Marko Pesic and Andrea Trinchieri," Weiler-Babb expressed his happiness in Bayern's family.

Bayern's future is in Weiler-Babb's hands now.

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Nick Weiler-Babb

Nick  Weiler-Babb
Nick  Weiler-Babb
MIN: 26.31
PTS: 5.89 (49.7%)
REB: 4.07
As: 2.78
ST: 1.15
BL: 0.22
TO: 1.26
GM: 27