At least they ended their World Cup on a positive note by beating Canada. However, this did little to dispel the doubts about Henrik Rödl and his team after they crashed out in just two games.
The German basketball team's last run-out at the 2019 World Cup was a formality before tip-off. After losing their first two group-stage games and crashing out to cries of "disaster," Germany restored a modicum of pride with a 82-76 win against Canada. Having been seen as medal contenders going into the tournament, Germany finished in18th place; enough, at least, to secure another chance to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Henrik Rödl's team will take part in a qualifying tournament next summer, just before the Olympics, for one last shot at a trip to Japan.
Much work to do
What the team will have learned over the past few days in China is that a lot needs to change before then. The team displayed too much dependence on point guard Dennis Schröder, too little tactical flexibility, little sign of team spirit or hierarchy, poor communication on the court, and too little input from the coach. These are some of the main points of criticism since the tournament began, and all have at least some merit.
In the opening defeats against France and the Dominican Republic, Germany's excessive reliance on Schröder was particularly evident. Doubly so, given that the Oklahoma City Thunder guard also failed to bring his A-game to the courts in China.
Can Schröder lead the team?
This prompted much discussion as to whether the self-styled team leader actually has the requisite qualities for the role in the same way that predecessors like Dirk Nowitzki, Steffen Hamann or current coach Rödl did.
"I don't think that he is a leader. He's the best player, but not a leader," said Marko Pesic, sporting director of German champions Bayern Munich, recently on the broadcasting service MagentaSport. "He's an exceptional player, but not the kind of influence on the national team that many people say.
The president of Germany's DBB basketball association, Ingo Weiss, defended Schröder, who led Germany in points, assists and steals, but also in turnovers.
"For me, Dennis is not just a great player, but an excellent leader in this team. There's no discussion on that," Weiss said, presumably hoping that nobody noticed the ongoing discussion in which he was participating.
Why no troublemaker like Wagner?
The same could be said of debates on what mistakes coach Rödl may have made. Should the 50-year-old have done more from the sidelines? Could he have taken some of the pressure from Schröder's shoulders, perhaps by experimenting with a Plan B rather than stoically sticking with the 25-year-old? Might another NBA pro in the squad have helped, for instance Mortiz Wagner, who was dropped shortly before the competition. Not only does the Washington Wizard haul in a heap of rebounds, he could have helped take some of the attention off Schröder on court.
The 22-year-old big man can be a real jerk on the court, precisely the type of character who can come in handy when things aren't going to plan and the team could use a bit of trash talk or a subtly thrown elbow to bring the opposition out of their rhythm.
"Moritz still has so much ahead of him, he's shown that at a number of levels. But he's lacking a bit of game time and experience," Rödl said in defense of his decision before the tournament.
Poor showing from the big men
But even without Wagner, Germany's class at power forward and center should have been more than enough at the World Cup. Two other NBA pros, Dallas Maverick Maxi Kleber and Boston Celtic Daniel Theis, were at Rödl's disposal. Kleber impressed most on defense, while Theis generally played as center despite being small by the modern game's standards at 2.03 meters (6 feet 8 inches). Theis struggled on offense in particular, shooting well under 50 percent from the field and hitting just one in nine from beyond the three-point line. Theis' understudy, Johannes Voigtmann, ended up with better numbers and more minutes at center.
Ex-NBA player Paul Zipser also had a poor tournament at small forward. The former Chicago Bull did manage 12 points against Jordan, but only another 13 across four games.
Test bed in the European qualifiers
Rödl has been told by DBB president Weiss that his job's secure until the 2021 European Championship. He now has 10 months to get his team back on track in time for the next major competitive test, the Olympic-qualifying tournament. One thing might help him here: Despite cohosting the competition, and thus being assured of a place in it, Germany will compete in the qualifying rounds as a way to prepare for the competition. That means Germany's players are guaranteed more challenging matchups in the buildup – and given how they fared in China, that's not a bad thing.