Constantly finishing in the overachiever’s category, the Cairns Taipans will look to finally break through and establish themselves as genuine championship contenders this season. With a returning core combined with some exciting new imports, does Aaron Fearne have enough resources to achieve the ultimate goal?
You won’t find a better name than Dayshon ‘Scoochie’ Smith in the league this season, and you might not find a better import.
The Taipans have been held back by a lack of scoring and individual offensive creativity over recent campaigns, finishing in the bottom-three for points per game in the past six seasons. They’ll be hoping Smith is the panacea for these issues.
With Travis Trice off to Brisbane, Smith will fill the starting point guard void. While he didn’t feature in the pre-season Blitz with an ankle injury, the 22-year-old averaged 17.7 points per 40 minutes for Dayton last year.
Smith can also adequately run a team-based offence, something that’s a necessity in Fearne’s system.
Threads for the season! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/xCtoiL65zH
— Cairns Taipans (@CairnsTaipans) September 6, 2017
Cairns will be looking to fast-track the implementation of Michael Carrera and Kuany Kuany into the squad.
Carrera averaged 14.7 points and 5.8 rebounds last season, playing for Marinos de Anzoategui in the Venezuelan national league. The Taipans will hope the 24-year-old’s versatility, aggressiveness and competitiveness will be a major asset.
While he stands at just 6’5”, Carrera has a freakish wingspan of 7’1”.5, which should cause opponent’s trouble trying to navigate past him in the interior.
Kuany will be entering his inaugural professional season and his development will be something to keep an eye on throughout the campaign.
Strength in stability
Continuity should hold Cairns in good stead. With Cam Gliddon, Stephen Weigh, Nathan Jawai, Nnanna Egwu, Jarrad Weeks, Damon Heuir, Mitch McCarron and Alex Loughton all returning, the Taipans’ core will already have a strong grip on Fearne’s sometimes hard to grasp philosophies.
Guess who's backkkk…. 😏 pic.twitter.com/Ak0dWOxRua
— Cairns Taipans (@CairnsTaipans) September 21, 2017
The imports will need time to adapt to their new squad, but that’s a problem every NBL coach has to deal with annually. Where Cairns has an advantage on their rivals is Fearne will be doing it for the ninth year in a row, the longest coaching tenure in the competition.
The Taipans have traditionally won games off the back of their defence, and nothing will change this season. Fearne has often gotten his squad to punch above their weight, an immense competitive mentality on the defensive end covering up offensive deficiencies.
Last season, the five-man unit of Loughton, Weeks, McCarron, Egwu and Weigh allowed just 89.8 points per 100 possessions, leading the team for line-ups with at least 70 played possessions.
This one figure represents Cairns’ two biggest strengths – continuity and defence. It’s a formula that Fearne will abide by again this season.
As outlined earlier, the biggest hurdle the Taipans need to clear if they want to be genuine contenders is scoring.
Fearne’s offensive system is underpinned by ball movement and complicated schemes. When it comes off, it’s as beautiful as any offence in the league. However, those moments of brilliance are few and far between.
The issue has come down to talent. Last season, Trice and Fuquan Edwin failed to fill the scoring gap, and that responsibility will now fall on the shoulders of Smith and Gliddon.
Gliddon has oozed talent and potential for years, but has never been able to take the competition by the scruff of the neck. Smith has all the talent, but is an import and is injured, so a learning curve will be inevitable.
Cairns’ secondary options, such as McCarron, Weigh and Weeks, also need to find more consistency in their offensive output.
The Taipans’ offensive frameworks aren’t going to look greatly different from the past, but if they want to succeed, the results must be more fruitful.
Egwu’s talent and athleticism is undoubted. He has the capacity to be a menace on the defensive end, a tall, versatile weapon that Fearne can utilise in different scenarios and coverage’s.
Unfortunately, too many times last season, Egwu seemed lost on the court and was caught out of position numerous times. This breeds frustration, because the 24-year-old has all the ability, but just hasn’t been able to piece it together.
If Egwu can grow comfort and consistency amid Cairns’ offensive and defensive structures, he could develop into one of the NBL’s most unique weapons.
Can Cam Gliddon elevate himself to the elite level?
Gliddon has teased for years and it’s time for him to release the shackles and take the league by storm.
While he averaged 10.6 points last season, his highest rate over the past three campaigns, it isn’t enough for someone with the amount of talent Gliddon possesses. Throughout 2016/17, the West Australian had three games of 20+ points, but cancelled those out with 13 matches where he failed to crack the double-digit barrier.
The Taipans have been crying out for a go-to, first-option offensive scorer for years. Gliddon has all the tools to be that guy, but just has to embrace the role and become more aggressive on offence.
Cairns has their core values that they’ll stick to and that grit mentality will win them matches. However, the questions on the offensive end are far too large, and if history is any indication, little faith lies in them turning it around.