2016 was a landmark year for the NBL.
We witnessed the revival of a once-dying league, with incredible competitiveness, a sense of financial stability and a slew of homegrown, and international talent, suiting up in Australia’s premier basketball association. While it wasn’t all positive, as we saw another club fold, we did welcome back the Brisbane Bullets, with further expansion on the horizon.
Could those extra teams enter the NBL in 2017? According to the men in suits that make the important decision, it’s a huge possibility. That’s just one reason to be excited for the New Year, with an enthralling finals series sure to capture the imagination of basketball fans.
With so much anticipation for Australian basketball in 2017, how do the first power rankings of the year pan out?
These power rankings are the opinion of one man. To discuss the rankings, hit Luke up on Twitter at @lukesicari.
1. Melbourne United (Last week: 5th)
Take note, NBL, Melbourne has arrived.
After a frustrating start to the season filled with injuries and poor performances, United has turned it around and now stand as the league’s stiffest test. Their 31-point beat down of the league-leading 36ers was incredible, as Melbourne manhandled a squad coming into the game on an eight-game winning streak. It followed a grind-it-out victory over Cairns, where Casper Ware provided some more late game heroics.
United did it on both ends against Adelaide. Their offence was devastating, with Ware and Chris Goulding combining for 50 points, while the defence stifled any Adelaide attack. The two-way prowess sees United sit first in offensive and NET rating, and second in defensive rating.
We all expected United to be one of the NBL’s best coming into the season, but no one thought it would be done with Ware, not Cedric Jackson, and with David Andersen and Devin Williams injured. However, it’s where Melbourne is at the moment, riding a wave of momentum into the New Year.
2. Sydney Kings (Last week: 7th)
We have talked about Sydney’s strong depth during the season, and it paid dividends on Friday night.
With Kevin Lisch shooting 1-of-14 (yes, that actually happened), the Kings were still able to get enough offensive production out of the rest of the roster to secure a much-needed home victory over the Breakers. Jason Cadee headed the charge with 22 points, Greg Whittington added 17, Brad Newley 16 and Josh Powell had one of his best scoring outings with 10 off the bench.
It’s this slew of scoring options that still makes Sydney one of the NBL’s most dangerous squads. Yes, they’ve been in a slump but the talent that flows through this roster never left. Andrew Gaze still has an embarrassment of riches that can be unleashed on any given night.
Another positive development to come from the win over New Zealand was Sydney’s defence down the stretch. It generated easy scoring opportunities and helped the Kings grind out the win, one that could break their recent losing ways.
3. Adelaide 36ers (Last week: 1st)
Joey Wright kept highlighting how his team’s loss to Melbourne was one bad game, and the power rankings judge will do the same. Yes, the 36ers were beyond woeful but we have enough evidence to say the United loss wasn’t a proper representation of this squad, which is why they maintain a top-three spot.
However, that also doesn’t mean they get a free pass this week. Whether it was due to the 10-day break (another element Wright continually mentioned postgame), a lack of focus or New Year’s Eve parties, the Sixers couldn’t do anything right against Melbourne. Adelaide’s defence allowed way too much dribble penetration, which opened up numerous scoring avenues for United. Furthermore, the 36ers’ offence was unresponsive and lazy.
Something to note, this was the third time this season Adelaide has lost by over 20 points, and the sixth time they’ve lost by double-digits. It could be a major factor come seasons end, when point differentials will definitely play a part in deciding ladder positioning.
4. Illawarra Hawks (Last week: 3rd)
Rob Beveridge wasn’t afraid to let his players know what he thought after their loss to Perth on Saturday night.
“I just heard people blaming the referees for the loss but they had nothing to do with it and everything to do with us coughing it up 23 times,” Beveridge said, via NBL.com.au.
“I’m really upset about it because I told the guys that Perth would be desperate and hungry, and the attitude was like, ‘oh we’ve got this’. Some of our guys are so flippant sometimes, it’s ridiculous.”
If that’s what he said to the media, who knows what Beveridge blasted behind closed doors. No matter the word choice, though, the message stays the same. The Hawks shot themselves in the foot multiple times against the Wildcats, which actually shadows their solid execution on the night. Illawarra had 26 assists on 29 made field goals and shot 50 percent, but when you give the opponent that many extra possessions, the result shouldn’t serve as a surprise.
5. Perth Wildcats (Last week: 6th)
While their offence survived without him against Illawarra, you can bet the ‘Cats cannot wait for Bryce Cotton to debut.
With the ex-NBA guard hoping to suit up this weekend, Perth has found themselves a much-needed secondary scorer next to Casey Prather. The duo will form one of the most athletic combos in the NBL; something coach Trevor Gleeson hopes is enough to elevate his last-placed offence to an acceptable level.
In the win over the Hawks, we also saw another element that could help Perth’s offence. Jesse Wagstaff scored 20 off the bench, something that won’t happen every game. However, if the ‘Cats can get that type of production from a role player on a game-by-game basis, it could be enough. Until Damian Martin returns to steer the ship, Perth may need to take a committee approach on the offensive end, but with the likes of Wagstaff, Knight and McKay, it’s possible.
6. Brisbane Bullets (Last week: 8th)
What a difference a week makes.
After being embarrassed by Melbourne a week prior, Brisbane came out and handled Cairns, giving their fans reason to smile heading into the New Year. Despite the on-court inconsistencies, there is no doubt 2016 was a successful one for the Bullets, considering it saw the franchise exist again.
As encouraging as the victory over the Taipans was, you have to wonder if the injury woes will catch up to the Bullets. Anthony Petrie joined Cam Bairstow on the season ending injury list this week, as Brisbane’s frontcourt stocks narrow. Andrej Lemanis has replacement options, with Isaih Tueta and SEABL MVP Jeremy Kendle already joining the squad. Additionally, the likes of Tom Fullarton, Matt Kenyon and Jarred Bairstow could all see an increase in opportunity.
With Brisbane’s fluctuating form, the last thing they need is constant roster turnover. However, if Lemanis’ men play with the intent they did against Cairns, they could manage enough victories to make a finals appearance.
7. New Zealand Breakers (Last week: 4th)
Boy, the Breakers let that one slip.
As they have done so often this season, New Zealand is left pondering a loss that should have never happened. Against Sydney, the Breakers missed 15 free throws and turned it over 20 times, handing the Kings’ high-powered offence extra scoring chances.
“The ball is still in our court and we’ll keep fighting, and my job is to make sure they keep that belief,” coach Paul Henare said after the loss, via NBL.com.au.
He is right, as the Breakers controlled the result of Friday’s game, and their carelessness gave it to Sydney. However, New Zealand’s defence did manage to stymie the Kings’ offence for most of the night, so positives can be taken from the game.
When it mattered, though, the Breakers fouled when they didn’t need to and turned the ball over more than once. In a league that is this close, throwing away wins like that is costly.
8. Cairns Taipans (Last week: 2nd)
The same old issues doomed the Taipans this week.
Failing to crack the 80-point mark in a pair of losses, Cairns’ cold offensive streaks returned. In a thrilling Thursday night affair against United, the Taipans could only muster 14 points in the crucial final quarter. While Melbourne managed just 17, and the period had 11 lead changes, it doesn’t neglect Aaron Fearne’s men struggled to put the ball in the basket.
Cairns could have, and probably should have, still beaten United. A couple nights later in Brisbane, though, the Taipans couldn’t withstand their offensive troubles. It once again occurred in the fourth period, as Cairns scored a paltry 15-points, compared to the Bullets’ 29.
Fearne’s men are a feisty defensive team, but to win, you need be adequate on the other end as well. The Taipans have the talent, in Travis Trice and Cam Gliddon, but until they conjure up a lick of offensive consistency, they’ll find it difficult to keep pace with the NBL’s best.