NBL Plus Minus – Round 8

Image Credit: Perth Wildcats

Another round come and gone. Forwards continue to stuff the stat sheet as well as the basket. The game looks great in New Zealand, particularly for JP Tokoto and the Perth Wildcats. Perth’s dominance is real and it begins on the defensive end. This is simply the ‘NBL Eye-Test’. You don’t need numbers to know what’s looked good, and what looks a bit off.

 


Mitch Creek (Plus)

I’ve put off celebrating Boomer beast Mitch Creek far too long this season.

The dominant 36er has held his own amongst the mass of talent at small forward in the league. If opposing teams aren’t terrified of the agile and ferocious Creek, they should be.

Creek has shot 70 % overall (75% in the paint) and is in the top ten in the league in both scoring and free throw attempts. Averaging nearly 5 free-throw attempts per game, Creek is getting to the basket and staying aggressive on offense.

He’s got it done on both ends of the floor, anchoring a deep and talented Adelaide side that is still finding its feet.

Watch as Creek anticipates the pass, pushes the pace and finishes despite the contact. Week after week he has outworked the competition.

Keep this man in any MVP discussion.

 


Perrin Buford Out-of-Bounds Plays (Plus)

Ok, so Buford – and his entire team – got burned by Joey Wright’s design and Mitch Creek’s dominant performance in the closing seconds of Friday’s game.

Before Creek was able to ice the game against Brisbane however, the forward found himself similarly out of position defending an inbounds play from the mind of Andrej Lemanis.

Brisbane ran this same look for the high-flying Buford in the first quarter of their Round 3 game against Illawarra.

Tim Coenraad is aware that Buford will attack the basket relentlessly all game until he collapses under cramping calves and wisely chooses to stay between his man and the basket. His effort amounts to nothing as explosive speed once again leaves the defender witnessing Buford wreak havoc in a parted sea.

So to be fair, Buford usually comes out ahead on out-of-bounds plays.

Somehow, I think he’d trade a few of his breath-taking dunks this season for a stop against Adelaide (or even just a timeout and play-call from his coach!).

 


NBL in NZL (Plus)

They’re our neighbours across the Tasman and they have the honour of having a lone team represent their entire country. The Breakers are a bit like the Toronto Raptors of the NBL, except they actually win.

So far New Zealand have made the most of their seven home games (5-2) in a season-long battle with Perth for top spot on the ladder. Not only have the Breakers been dominant at home, they’ve looked good doing it.

Photo credit: NBL

There’s something special about the aesthetics of games played in New Zealand.

Photo credit: NBL

Somehow every photo snapped at Auckland’s Spark Arena and the aptly named North Shore Events Centre comes out looking incredible. Saturated with colour; throwback yet contemporary with players contrasted against brilliant floors or the endless, black depths of Kiwi supporters that fill the stands.

Photo credit: NBL

This is best highlighted at the North Shore Events Centre: the parquet has extra court lines (netball, anyone?) running across its luscious two-tone full-length hardwood masterpiece.

In game I feel like I’m watching some sort of 1980s film about basketball at a Las Vegas convention centre with a floor peeled out of my 8th grade gymnasium. This is part of the magic. Who doesn’t want to imagine a pro-baller showing up to play at their school?

Photo credit: NBL

The opportunity to dine courtside at a table borrowed from an 80th birthday party or hotel banquet room also has to be a unique feature. Lucas Walker wasted no time in bringing the game to the people this round.
https://twitter.com/NBL/status/936484741326372865
But once the magic of editing and adjusted lighting has been worked, the stills from this game are breathtaking.

Photo credit: NBL

There’s no equivalent in the league, and it represents heart-on-your-sleeve New Zealand to a tee.

Photo credit: NBL

Have you ever seen such a happy-snap during a training session?

 


Wildcats’ Wingspan (Plus)

At this point in the season, very little separates the top two teams in the NBL. New Zealand have won two of three head-to-head matchups, but now find themselves looking up after the Wildcats snapped their nine-game win streak this round.

The old adage is that defense is what wins you championships, and at this point Perth’s monstrous length has them in prime position.

Legendary headache Damian Martin sets the tone for the Wildcats, leading by example for the intensity needed to champion a defense that leads the league in steals with eight per game.

Coming into Round 8, JP Tokoto (2.1), Martin (1.8) and Bryce Cotton (1.7) were the top three players in the league in steals. Their quick hands and pre-emptive reaches rubbed off on the likes of Derek Cooke Jr. and Jesse Wagstaff, while hardworking Lucas Walker sniffed out every rebound up for grabs.

As a team, the Wildcats give up nothing easy with their half-court defense set. Watch as the Breakers’ excellent half-court offense relaxes for one pass against a burst of speed from Tokoto.

Just like that, the 6’5” Tokoto and his 6’10” wingspan (yeah, you read that right) has jumped the passing lane and turned a steal to a slam.

As the season has unfolded fellow new addition Cooke Jr. and his 6’9” frame have carved out meaningful minutes in Perth’s rotations. While he might not always have the footwork to keep up on defense, he makes up for this with sheer agility as a shot blocker.

Cooke Jr’s shot blocking has been a welcome presence in Perth’s half-court defense. His ability to relentlessly attempts in the paint adds to the success of Perth’s commitment to winning fifty-fifty balls with their hustle and length.

Cotton, while under six-foot, also has length and some good footwork to go along with it on the defensive end.

What this highlight doesn’t show is Cotton following up this terrific help-defense with an inspired impression of ‘Stretch Tokoto’ on the baseline getting a steal off the inbounds pass.

Because this gravity-defying threat to ball inbounders everywhere never gets old it’s important we celebrate yet another tipped pass from Tokoto that leads to a huge bucket.

The star forward has also put his hops to good use on numerous chasedown blocks and added to his portfolio of ‘thank you very much!’ slams in New Zealand this round.

For all the fouls called across the league this season, only Lucas Walker averages three per game and the team as a whole is amongst the best in the NBL at avoiding foul trouble. Well coached under Trevor Gleeson, this is a roster that stays home on defense and plays with sound fundamentals.

You get the picture. Perth are a powerhouse and their dominance on the defensive end has allowed them to feast on transition buckets and wear down opposing sides who just want a decent look at the basket.

 


A Break from Illawarra Dunks (Minus)

Everyone’s favourite big man Delvon Johnson treated us to a two-hand flush early, but Monday’s game between the Hawks and United certainly wasn’t full bang for buck.

Casey Prather held up his end – and led his team to a much-needed gimmie – but what we were meant to see was a flurry of Hawks attacking the rim.

AJ Ogilvy was unable to continue his up-and-down season due to injury, and Demitrius Conger robbed us of a showdown with Prather while serving a one-game suspension.

This is the most exciting feature of Illawarra basketball this year – yes, even better than their highly celebrated ‘1-3-1 Zone Flavour of the Week’.

Case in point, Illawarra’s offense doesn’t look great if Rotnei Clarke doesn’t have the ball in his hands. But you know what saves a broken play? A wide-open AJ Ogilvy working the baseline.

There you go – the Hawks’ basketball we all deserved to see Monday night in Melbourne. Here’s one more:

 


Alex Loughton (Plus)

I hate the long range two as much as anyone else.

Even if you’re wide open (in which case, why aren’t you stepping back for a three?) this isn’t a great shot. Teams like Brisbane and Adelaide drive me crazy with their constant choice to pop contested shots from deep that are only worth two (I’m looking at you ‘New Kings’ imports).

Playing on a team that scores the fewest points in the competition, Alex Loughton has to be the exception to all this.

He’s shooting 46% on two-pointers outside the paint this season according to Crunchtimeshots.com and you know what, I’m happy with Loughton taking these shots.

It looks good and it’s been clutch.

This is a Cairns team without several key players (Michael Carrera, Nathan Jawai & Stephen Weigh) due to injury. More importantly, the Taipans are often a team without a semblance of an offense – it took nearly six minutes in the second quarter Thursday night to get a field goal against Sydney.

I say: let it rain.

Loughton comes through when his team needs him most. Whether he’s lifting his team out of a slump or putting a stop to an opposing team’s outburst, Loughton is that guy who finds the bottom of the net at exactly the right time.

The forward lead an opening night victory over Illawarra and never looked back. The thirty-four year-old’s scoring has been a welcome surprise ever since.

It’s not as if Loughton hasn’t taken his fair share of the Taipans 25 three point attempts per game this season (second only to Melbourne). But his midrange game is the embraceable anomaly on a team that manages to shoot the lowest field goal percentage in the league.

Not only that but he does more than his share of the dirty work for a coach that demands dedication on the defensive end.

Surely that’s worth letting an artist go to work on behalf of his team.

 


The Tokoto Tuck (Mm– P…lus?)

NBA Champion Rip Hamilton once unintentionally did this in a befuddled attempt to check into a game in the twilight of his career while playing for the Chicago Bulls. JP Tokoto just considers it part of optimal flight conditions.

Another great photo from Aotearoa. Anthony Au-Yeung.

Is he getting extra endorsement money for rocking this look most games? What would people say if you had this fashion sense on the job?

If you performed like Jean Pierre did in Round 8 you might (just maybe) avoid getting fired.

*Actually, I’d like to propose a trend to see us through the last few ‘rounds’ of work for the year. Post photos of you rocking a #TokotoTuck at your work. This is going to be a thing. Note: JP and I take no responsibility for you staying employed in the new year.

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