Outlier Development Pathways: A Case Study

(Photo by Elmar Neumann)

There is no picture-perfect solution to player development, so it’s worth analyzing different methods and approaches. The approach described in this article is neither replicable nor desirable for most teams, but there are still some interesting conclusions to be drawn from it.

The subject of this approach is Peter Hemschemeier, a 2003-born German guard, who has had the most unusual developmental pathway possibly in the history of basketball. Besides being 6’3”, Hemscheimer wouldn’t stand out physically from a crowd of teenagers and yet, he’s the most successful scorer in the recent history of German youth basketball. Germany’s JBBL (U16) is known for its absurd statlines, but Hemschemeier took this to another level when he averaged 43.5 points, 9 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 6.2 steals per game during the 2018/19 season. The year after, he carried on his success in the JBBL (U19), where he averaged 24.3 points despite being two years younger than the oldest players in the competition. Observers of his games during the 18/19 season reported that these contests resembled 1v5 games with Hemschemeier doing the heavy lifting for his less talented teammates. People love to bring up that Hemschemeier’s parents hold high positions at his club in Paderborn, but you don’t average 43.5 points per game because of the position of your parents. You average 43.5 PPG, because you’re REALLY good at basketball.

Usually when young player dominate like this, it’s because they’re very advanced physically, but Hemschemeier is neither a remarkable athlete nor a knockdown shooter (during the two aforementioned seasons, he shot 48-191 (25.1%) from three) and yet, he was able score points in bunches and do it relatively efficiently (56.2% TS in 18/19 and 54.0% TS in 19/20). Hemschemeier attempted between 23 and 58 field goals in every game of the 18/19 season, a volume which would horrify every youth coach trying to teach his team how to share the ball. Evidently, Germany’s youth national team coaches were also skeptical as they didn’t select the young guard for the U16 European Championship in 2019, despite his obvious talent. For the 20/21 season, Hemschemeier moved up to Paderborn’s senior team, which plays in the ProA, Germany’s second highest level. At the time of writing this, he has played 13 ProA games and squashed a lot of concerns about how he can fit into a team with other capable players, and it’s largely due to his big role at the youth level.

The goal of every youth coach is to give his players as many on-ball reps, as many chances to make decisions in various different situations/scenarios as possible. This isn’t always easy, because there’s five mouths to feed at a time. Hemschemeier is the unusual example of what happens when you give all the reps and all the decision making opportunities to a single, exceptionally talented player. Despite his young age, he has a tremendous ability to read, sometimes even manipulate defenders and make the correct decision. Instead of being the primary creator, he’s shifted into an off-ball role and showed great ability when it comes to attacking closeouts, creating advantages with quick up-fakes or subtle hesitations. On the move, he’s never in a rush and finds high-level passing windows with regularity. He still produces quite a few turnovers, like every young pro moving up to a higher level, because there always are certain passes, which worked at the youth level that don’t work against pros, but the flashes he’s shown when it comes to creating easy shots in these closeout situations are still tremendous.

Hemschemeier has been able to contribute at the pro level at age 17 despite lacking the physical tools of most other players in the league. After 13 games, he’s averaging 3.8 points (64.4% TS, 5-13 threes) and 1.2 assists (1 assist per turnover) per game in slightly under 12 minutes of play. Nevertheless, he’s not an outlier offensive talent by any means. He’s turned into a really good player considering he didn’t attend an elite academy, but his ability to read-and-react in all kinds of situations doesn’t outshine that of prospects in academies with elite coaching, better teammates and better competition, one of many reasons why Real Madrid would never structure their youth team around a single player, even if he was a generational prospect.

Paradoxically, the most interesting part of Hemschemeier’s game is his ability to move off the ball. With the usage rates he produced at the youth level, you’d expect him to be inexperienced when it comes to moving and creating opportunities off the ball, but that’s not the case at all. In fact, he might be the smartest off-ball player I’ve seen in the whole 2003-class, of which I’ve seen at least 100 players. His ability to read defenders has translated to his off-ball game: he’s constantly looking for opportunities to get the ball and create opportunities for himself or for teammates, whether that’s through timely baseline cuts or relocations along the three-point line.

Why he has developed these qualities is hard to determine, especially because German youth league footage is just as accessible for outsiders as Fort Knox (luckily, this is set to change next season), but it’s reasonable to assume that he drew a ton of defensive attention in his junior games, so he must’ve worked hard every possession to get the ball. And because of that, presumably combined with natural talent, he may have become adept at reading defenders off the ball. If that’s the case, this should be the main takeaway from this way of development. In a youth team setting, all five players should constantly be encouraged to read defenders and find ways to get the ball in advantageous spots, though it’s surely not the easiest task to convey to teenagers, especially younger ones, that moving off the ball can help their team. In my opinion, no young player should be parked in the corner for prolonged periods of time – young players should also not have set plays help them get open at that level, though most youth teams agree with that anyways. Instead, they should be encouraged to dabble in all skills and roles on the floor. Hemschemeier learned to do everything (offensively), play on and off the ball, because his team needed him to. In any elite academy/youth team, this should happen, because the team wants its players to acquire a broad skill set and not specialize in a certain role too early.

Of course, this is a complete outlier among developmental strategies, and it’s something you will and should never see on high-level youth teams, but the most outrageous methods sometimes yield the most interesting results, which is why Hemschemeier’s case is worth examining. It’ll be interesting to see how his career progresses, because there’s no doubting his talent anymore.

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