There is a point when a hot streak ends.
That can mean either the winning has been stopped, or the wins continue, but they’re a result of a team playing up to their potential, not a result of a couple of hot weeks. For the Adelaide 36ers, they’ve reached the latter.
Adelaide’s seven-game winning streak isn’t because the team is experiencing a rich vein of form. It’s because they have one of the NBL’s best point guards, a stacked big man rotation, a Most Improved candidate at the two-guard spot, an inspirational captain and a budding NBA first round pick on the wings.
Of course, this means the Sixers top the power rankings this week. Where does everyone else fall, though?
These power rankings are the opinion of one man. To discuss the rankings, hit Luke up on Twitter at @lukesicari.
1. Adelaide 36ers (Last week: 1st)
As Cam Tragardh said on commentary this week, the 36ers are in the “penthouse.” Others would simply say Adelaide has gone from last to first. Or, some would connect a number with smile emojis.
— Big Joe Tertzakian (@big_joe101) December 18, 2016
Whatever you want to call the Sixers’ win streak (the power rankings judge personally prefers the General Manager publically supporting his team), there is no denying how impressive it has been. The idea of an Adelaide seven-game winning streak seemed crazy about a month or so ago. Now, the fact that the 36ers were once on a four-game losing streak is the illogical thought.
Jerome Randle rightfully gets a lot of the credit, but don’t discount the contributions across the board Adelaide is receiving. Nathan Sobey’s breakout campaign continues to grow, Daniel Johnson is producing at an extremely high level, Mitch Creek hasn’t missed a beat and Terrance Ferguson has found his comfort zone as a starter.
With two wins over the Kings, has Joey Wright overtaken Andrew Gaze in Coach of the Year discussions? Probably – to turn a team around like this in the middle of a season is a mighty effort.
2. Cairns Taipans (Last week: 7th)
Cairns beat Illawarra at their own game on the weekend. This means the team that’s second-last in pace defeated the team that’s second in pace, in an up-and-down affair, an impressive feat.
The Taipans ran up 38 fast break points in their 99-82 handling of the Hawks, which included a 53 percent field goal percentage and a 54 percent three-point shooting rate. Not bad for a team that ranks sixth in offensive rating. Aaron Fearne’s men executed his complicated, off-ball action heavy offence to perfection, breaking down Illawarra’s zone defence time after time.
If Cairns can manage this kind of offensive proficiency on a weekly basis, they will be major contenders in the playoffs. We know a Fearne-coached squad will always play hard defence, something the Taipans do. If they can add points to that defensive toughness, though, it opens up a whole new world of possibilities.
Also, could Cam Gliddon become the Cairns Rotnei Clarke? Gliddon’s move to the bench allowed him to play aggressively with the second unit to put up 18 points. Was this just a response to the benching, or will it become a sustained effort? The Taipans hope it’s the latter.
3. Illawarra Hawks (Last week: 4th)
Not sure what happened in the third quarter against Cairns on Saturday. The Hawks, after outscoring the Taipans 32-19 in the second period, were beaten 28-11 in the third term (and 26-18 in the last for good measure), losing a game they controlled for the first half.
Like we mentioned earlier, the affair against Cairns was an up-tempo one, which is usually where Illawarra thrives. While they couldn’t get the job done, the Hawks managed to turn things around in Brisbane on Monday night – another game that was played in chaos.
Rob Beveridge’s men were at their wild best against the Bullets, racking up 41 fast break points. It was a track meet, albeit an ugly one. The turnovers and missed shots were frequent, but that actually favoured the Hawks, a team that enjoys playing in that boisterous nature.
Illawarra has managed to forge out an identity similar to last season’s ‘Bevo Ball’ squad. This team still pushes the tempo, but isn’t as effective. They have a strong guard rotation, but they struggle on the defensive end. While this resume doesn’t make the Hawks a transcendent unit, it’s enough to elevate them to the playoffs.
4. New Zealand Breakers (Last week: 6th)
It may have been ugly, but it was a win, and that’s all that matters to Paul Henare.
In fact, the unattractiveness of the Breakers’ 69-57 victory over Perth may have been refreshing for Henare. The rookie head coach has been pleading for weeks to see his team show some defensive intent and they did against the ‘Cats. New Zealand was able to hold Perth to a paltry 30 percent shooting percentage, while the 57 points they put up was the equal-lowest in a game this season.
The Breakers’ rotations were on point, communication was strong and the on-ball pressure was suffocating, especially when they switched to a full-court press. New Zealand’s offence was still plagued by turnovers, but to have three players score in double-digits in a grind-out game is an encouraging sign.
Thanks to a bye next week, the Breakers don’t play again until the 30th of December. Will the long break be a benefit or disadvantage? Time will tell.
P.S., let’s hope Corey Webster gets himself healthy sooner rather than later. The 28-year-old hasn’t been himself on the court this season, and has had off-court dramas as well. Now on the injury waiver list, we can only hope for the best in Webster’s recovery.
5. Brisbane Bullets (Last week: 8th)
Let’s hope Cam Bairstow’s leg injury isn’t as bad as it looked.
Yes, Bairstow did walk it off but there is no doubting the look on his face wasn’t an encouraging one. The former Chicago Bull was starting to get into a rhythm, averaging 15.2 points and 5.0 rebounds over his past five outings. To see Bairstow, who has battled numerous injuries since the Rio Olympics, go down yet again, sucked.
As we hope for Bairstow’s health, the Bullets’ offence was an enigma this weekend. On Saturday night against Melbourne, they were unstoppable. Andrej Lemanis’ men put up 100 points and shot 59 percent in the win over United, getting baskets wherever, and whenever, they wanted. Against Illawarra, though, Brisbane could only muster 85 points in overtime, connecting on 42 percent of their field goal attempts and turning the ball over an alarming 25 times.
In fact, Round 11 was a microcosm of the Bullets’ season. Sometimes they look really good, other times they look like the worst team in the league. All of that combined makes Brisbane one of the hardest teams to get a read on.
6. Melbourne United (Last week: 2nd)
Todd Blanchfield is experiencing the Kevin Love syndrome.
When Love joined the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014, his immense skillset at the elbow and near the basket wasn’t used. Instead, Love was relegated to a glorified catch-and-shoot three-point shooter. It’s only now, two full seasons after the initial trade, that the 28-year-old is playing like the superstar we all saw in Minnesota.
Ever since Blanchfield joined Melbourne, the former Townsville Crocodile has been surrounded by talented, ball-dominant teammates. This has seen the 2015 Most Improved Player now take 71.83 percent of his field goal attempts from beyond the three-point line, where he is connecting on a just above average rate of 37.3 percent.
However, like we have seen over the past few seasons with Love, there are games where Blanchfield shows how devastating he can be. Saturday was one of those nights, where a rim-running and aggressive Blanchfield scored 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting. These performances are few and far between, though.
Of course, the situation isn’t this simple. You can’t take the ball out of Casper Ware and Chris Goulding’s hands. Blanchfield’s long-range shooting fills a role within Dean Demopoulos’ offence. You just wonder if a more determined Blanchfield would unlock another element of Melboune’s offence.
7. Sydney Kings (Last week: 3rd)
Don’t look now, but the Kings, once the consensus championship favourites, have lost five of their past seven.
Gaze’s celebrated ‘shuffle’ offence is yielding questionable results. The system makes sense for this Kings team, as they posses multiple ball handlers and don’t have a dominant scoring presence in the post. However, you wonder if it’s the individual offensive talents of Kevin Lisch, Brad Newley and Jason Cadee powering the system, not the actual scheme itself.
Maybe that’s overlooking the obvious, as you need great players to execute efficiently. However, it’s something worth monitoring, as Sydney looks to fight out of their slump.
On the defensive end, there are pressing issues. Adelaide outran the Kings in their double-header on the weekend, showing an inability to contain the opponents’ biggest advantage, twice. Sydney’s transition defence was poor on both nights, as they gave up 22 and 39 fast break points in the two defeats. Additionally, the pick and roll defence remains an Achilles heel of this team.
Sydney has too much talent to be stuck in this purple patch for much longer, but it’ll be intriguing to see how they break out of it.
8. Perth Wildcats (Last week: 5th)
Trevor Gleeson said it best.
“It was a terrible game, wasn’t it? I kind of wish I was in the [corporate] boxes having a beer,” Gleeson said, after the Wildcats’ loss to the Breakers, via NBL.com.au.
As do we all, Trev.
On a more serious note, that was probably one of the worst Perth efforts in recent memory. We already talked about how it was an ugly win for New Zealand, which subsequently means it was an even uglier loss for the ‘Cats.
The Wildcats’ field goal percentage hit rock bottom at 19 percent during the third quarter, before they finished the game shooting 30 percent. Gleeson’s men were finding new ways to turn the ball over (it’s a surprise they only finished with 14), and their defence let up once the Breakers’ offence starting getting on a roll in the second half.
It’s weird to imagine what the playoffs will look like without the Wildcats in them. With each passing week, though, that possibility gets closer to reality.