It’s that time of year, when the NBL schedule thins out just enough for us to take a breath and prepare ourselves for the run home.
In a season that is this hotly contested, teams are going to be desperately hoping that Santa brings them that little extra something they need to secure a precious playoff spot.
Let’s take a look at what’s topping each team’s wish list for Christmas 2016…
Adelaide 36ers: More T-Ferg highlights
It was about a month ago to the day that Terrance Ferguson soared over Jermaine Beal to deliver the dunk of the season in Brisbane.
— NBL (@NBL) November 24, 2016
This team is absolutely rolling, comfortably atop the NBL ladder on an eight-game winning streak. When you don’t need any help from Santa to make a finals run, all you can do is ask for a little gravy for the Christmas turkey.
Brisbane Bullets: A little less gift giving
Bullets coach Andrej Lemanis isn’t so focused on his team receiving gifts this Christmas. He’s more concerned about his players giving gifts to their opponents on a nightly basis.
Brisbane have been turning the ball over at a historic rate in season 2016/17. Here’s how they shape up to the teams that have led the league in carelessness in recent years, per RealGM:
|Season||Team||Turnovers per game|
|2015/16||New Zealand Breakers||13.7|
It might not quite be in the Christmas spirit, but Andrej will be hoping for a little less generosity from his players in the run home.
Cairns Taipans: 20 points per game from Travis Trice
It’s been something of a rollercoaster season for Travis Trice. He has battled injuries and criticism from his coach. But then he has also delivered game-winning performances, and moments like this:
— NBL (@NBL) December 17, 2016
After the Taipans’ Round 11 win over the Hawks, coach Aaron Fearne said of Trice, “When he performs, we win.”
He’s right. Cairns are 4-0 when Trice scores 20-plus in season 2016/17.
This Christmas, the Taipans will be wishing for their star import to bring that scoring punch in every game to lead them to the playoffs.
Illawarra Hawks: A return to 2015/16 form for A.J. Ogilvy
The Hawks are well placed heading into Christmas. After starting slowly, a rejuvenated Rotnei Clarke sparked a climb up the standings. Shifted to the bench by Coach Rob Beveridge, Clarke reeled off six straight games of 20 or more points as Illawarra picked up three vital road wins in a 4-2 stretch.
Bevo must be wary of the team becoming a little too dependent on his Oklahoman sixth man, and A.J. Ogilvy is the obvious man to step up. The Hawks centre has been solid, but his per game output certainly hasn’t been at the level that earned him equal-third in 2015/16 MVP voting:
|Season||Points||Rebounds||Assists||Steals||Blocks||Turnovers||True shooting percentage||Player Efficiency Rating|
A.J. flashed signs of a return to 2015/16 form with a blinding performance in Illawarra’s 87-75 win over the Kings last night. If that trend continues, the Hawks will be right there in the championship mix.
Melbourne United: Good health
Melbourne United haven’t had a chance to figure out who they are yet. Dave Barlow, Chris Goulding, Todd Blanchfield, Dave Andersen, and now, Devin Williams, have all had their seasons rudely interrupted by injuries.
Their presumptive ideal starting five – Casper Ware, Goulding, Blanchfield, Andersen and Majok Majok – have spent a grand total of one minute and twenty-five seconds on the floor together, in a brief stint during their 98-74 demolition of the Breakers in Round 9.
That won’t be changing anytime soon, with Andersen still about a month away. But coach Dean Demopoulos will be hoping he can at least get some continuity from the rest of the roster as they try to climb into a top four spot.
New Zealand Breakers: A unicorn
Much like Melbourne, the Breakers have had a horror run with injuries. No sooner had they announced Corey Webster’s indefinite absence than Thomas Abercrombie suffered a fractured hand in training.
The Breakers are searching far and wide for an import to replace Webster. They need someone who can match his scoring and shot creation off the dribble – and not hobbled, 2016/17-level Corey Webster – we’re talking someone to match primo, 2014/15, borderline NBA-level Corey Webster.
And now without their best perimeter defender in Abercrombie, they really need that import to also have the ability to lock down the opposition’s primary wing scorer. Someone who can guard Brad Newley, Nathan Sobey and Torrey Craig in upcoming fixtures.
Basically, Breakers coach Paul Henare is wishing for a unicorn this Christmas.
Perth Wildcats: Forgiveness, and a saviour
The Wildcats have stumbled into the Christmas break in unfamiliar territory, at the bottom of the table, and battling some unfathomable roster instability. Usually setting the standard in organisational culture and continuity, the Wildcats of season 2016/17 have been unrecognisable.
Perth announced yesterday that Jaron Johnson has been released (for the second time, unless you want to argue the semantics of ‘deactivated’ versus ‘released’). The official club statement cited the reason for the decision as “an effort to improve team balance.” In that case, it makes it difficult to understand the decision to reactivate him in the first place.
First up, the Wildcats will be asking for forgiveness this Christmas, for the way they’ve treated Johnson. Clubs have to make harsh decisions, but the way the ‘Cats have handled this surely can’t sit well with them.
Their second wish will be for a replacement import saviour to descend upon the West and lead the Red Army back to the promised land.
Sydney Kings: An injury-free backcourt
Most expected the Kings to replace Steve Blake with another guard to provide some depth behind Jason Cadee and Kevin Lisch. Well, that Christmas wish seemingly went out the window with news that Julian Khazzouh would not make it back this season, which precipitated the signing of combo forward Garrett Jackson as their third and final import.
With Tom Garlepp, Jeromie Hill and Craig Moller already providing backup forward minutes, it’s a strange move to say the least. Gaze floated the idea of Greg Whittington spending some time as a guard, per nbl.com.au, which did not exactly set the world on fire against the Hawks on Friday.
Ultimately, barring a surprise late signing, the Kings have put themselves in a position where a long-term injury to Cadee or Lisch would be catastrophic. We saw them struggle without Newley against the Hawks, and he’s not even a primary ball-handler. Their number one priority this Christmas is ensuring a clean bill of health for their two guards for the rest of season.