Fierce and relentless, Nathan Sobey focused on team success

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 04: Nathan Sobey of the Adelaide 36ers slam dunks during the round four NBL match between the Adelaide 36ers and the Brisbane Bullets at Titanium Security Arena on November 4, 2018 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

Since his entry into the NBL in 2014, Nathan Sobey’s growth has been nothing short of meteoric. Some might say he took a slight backward step given the dip in his ouput last year. But Sobey is back, and playing better than we’ve ever seen him before.

Sobey is one of the most magnetic players in the NBL. His moniker, ‘Aussie Russell Westbrook’, provides a telling clue as to what you should expect when you watch him play. Much like his unofficial namesake, Sobey’s approach to the game is fierce and relentless. Competition and proving his ability is what it’s all about for the über athletic Adelaide guard.

“I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder, that’s the way I’ve played throughout my whole career and I don’t think that will ever change,” shared Sobey in speaking with The Pick and Roll.

The desire to prove doubters wrong, combined with his refusal to ever take a backward step has on occasion led to him finding himself in the middle of confrontation. Only recently he was involved in a heated exchange with Mika Vukona during Adelaide’s clash with Brisbane on November 1. Yet the fiery guard sees his passionate play as the fuel that drives his success.

“I think I play with emotion, but it’s about channeling those emotions at the right times,” Sobey explained. “I think that’s been a big thing that I’ve been working on as well. I’ll always play with emotion because I love the game and that’s just how I’ll always be.”

A look at the numbers certainly backs up the effectiveness of his explosive approach. His average of 17.5 points per game – the highest of his career – is ninth in the NBL at the present time. His scoring efficiency has also been remarkable, shooting 47% from the field.

While scoring has always been a natural part of Sobey’s game, his emergence as an elite playmaker was a delightful surprise. His current average of 6.5 assists per game is more than double his average from last season, and is a mark that leads the entire league.

“I’m always working on different things and trying those things in games,” added Sobey.  “I’m playing the point guard role with the ball in my hands a lot more and I’m able to make a few more decisions.”

Sobey spoke glowingly of the leadership and teachings of Adelaide head coach Joey Wright. He credits Wright for a large portion of his growth as both a leader and playmaker.

“I’ve been working with Joey on leadership… I think that’s been a big part of it [improving], just learning from Joey even more than I already have.

“I’ve only ever played the two-guard position. Joey was point guard when he played, and he knows the game pretty well and he sees the game the right way. He explains what we need to do in certain situations, and I’ve been able to listen to that and communicate it to the four other guys on the floor.”

Sobey’s transformation into one of the league’s most prolific and dangerous playmakers takes his impressive versatility to another level. It was stunningly exemplified with a triple-double against the Cairns Taipans on October 26, the first time the feat had been achieved in the league since 2015. The rare achievement makes his unofficial title of ‘Aussie Russell Westbrook’ even more apt.

The signs pointing toward Sobey’s ascendency were evident before the NBL season officially commenced. His performance against the Utah Jazz during the NBLxNBA 2019 was one of the standout performances of the entire series. In 36 minutes he racked up 23 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds and 4 steals in an eye-catching performance.

Sobey’s history with the Jazz made his head-turning game even sweeter. In 2017, the former Wyoming Cowboy earned a spot on the Utah’s Summer League team after impressing at their free agent mini-camp. An ill-timed groin injury prevented him from truly showcasing his skills however, and Sobey would be overlooked for a place on the final roster.

“Being hurt during my Summer League experience, not getting the opportunity that I was hoping for, was disappointing,” Sobey said. “Obviously getting the chance with Adelaide to play against Utah was a fun experience.”

Following his electric play in the USA and his incredible start to the season, Sobey’s NBA dream remains very much alive. The Adelaide guard remains philosophical about future possibilities.

“The NBA is always going to be the dream. Whether it happens or not, I’m just focused on what we’ve got to do with this group at the moment. It sounds kind of corny, but it really is exactly the mindset I have. I’m just worrying about trying to get as close as we can to a finals position and try and win a championship.”

Right now, Adelaide doesn’t yet look like a team that will contend for a title. With a record of three wins and five loses, the 36ers are currently in sixth place on the ladder. Despite his exceptional individual play, Sobey is fully aware that more needs to be done as a group for the team to morph into a top contender.

“In a word, defence. We’ve given up way too many points to every single team we’ve played.”

Presently Adelaide are giving up 94.5 points per game to their opponents, the second worst in the league. Although the numbers are grim, Sobey is confident the group can turn the ship around quickly.

“We’re not executing on the defensive end, we’re not in the right mindset. I think we’re close. We’ve got to tighten up a couple of areas and we’ll be right there.”

Despite the shadow cast by Adelaide’s disappointing win-loss ratio, Sobey’s individual play has drawn speculation that this season’s MVP trophy could have his name etched on it, a notion he was keen to shrug off.

“I’m not worried about any sort of award like that. Usually when you win, the rest takes care of itself and right now we are not winning many games. We’ve just got to focus on that. The whole group will get their individual accolades when winning comes.”

Regardless of whether or not Sobey’s efforts are rewarded with some shiny hardware at season’s end, his status as one of Australia’s best basketball talents is undeniable. The best is yet to be.

Oliver Kay

Written by

Freelance sport journalist with a love for all things basketball.

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