NBL Plus Minus – Round Five

Image Credit: Perth Wildcats

This is still a small sample size, but it’s a short season. Heroes are emerging, as are the numbers that distinguish players and get teams’ wins.


Édgar Sosa for the Win! (Plus)

 It was a career moment and the biggest shot of the NBL season. With two seconds left in the game, Sosa torched another defense for a wide-open three and New Zealand celebrated another victory.

The heart-stopping heave that found the bottom of the net for the Taipans’ Cam Gliddon after the final buzzer could have only made it sweeter.

Sorry Cairns faithful, basketball doesn’t get any better than this.


Adelaide 36ers: Disunited (Minus)

They’ve now gone three rounds and it appears Melbourne United have broken the spirit of what has otherwise been a successful start for the Adelaide 36ers.

It was three-quarters of the way through Saturday night’s game against Melbourne when coach Joey Wright fell on his own sword, a defiant general who was on his way to defeat at the hands of a mighty team that has proved beatable this season.

When the Sixers are playing basketball, winning basketball, against opponents other than United they lead the league in attempts in the restricted area. Coming into the weekend, Adelaide led the league in scoring at nearly 96 points per game and were second in both field-goal percentage and attempts.

They shoot a lot of shots in the paint, outright dominating the low post on the offensive end. Mitch Creek (who went 11-12 for 24 points against New Zealand on Thursday), Matthew Hodgson and Ramone Moore are all shooting 75% or better in the restricted area.

When this same offensive powerhouse comes to play against Melbourne it all changes. The Sixers start taking a lot of contested midrange shots, and unless you’re shooting it a whopping seventy percent above the key like Nathan Sobey, this is bad news.

Not that Sobey has been an exception to the Sixers woes against United, but Wright’s decision to once again move him around in the line-up puts the guard’s up-in-the-air status at the top of the list of team chemistry issues.

Shannon Shorter and Ramone Moore might be ‘some good guards’, but their respective net ratings of –10.3 and –20.1 (31.7 against the rest of the league!) against Melbourne haven’t helped their team maintain a winning identity.

As a whole, Adelaide’s offensive numbers drop dramatically when they come up against a Melbourne defense that forces them into low-percentage shots. At the end of Round 5, the Sixers had managed just 86.7 points per game on 41% shooting against United while posting dominant figures of 97.4 points per game and an accuracy of 54% against all other opponents.

Those are significant numbers, and when they come against a team as deep as Melbourne a thirty-six point swing can happen at an alarming speed.


Casey Prather Does It All (Plus)

This plus for basketball could run any week of the season, but it helps when your team triumphantly takes care of two games.

Casey Prather shows up every round.

For the season, the former trophy-lifting Wildcat has led a Melbourne side seeking unity with his action on the court – on this note, veteran Josh Boone also deserves a nod for his vocal leadership and relentless play. But Prather has been special. Through seven games he has averaged 18.4 points, 5 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.9 steals.

Forwards Perrin Buford (Bullets), Demitrius Conger (Hawks), JP Tokoto (Wildcats) and even Michael ‘season starts when I’m ready’ Carrera (Taipans) all belong in the conversation of incredibly athletic forwards who are transforming the NBL.

All of those players create highlight reels on a weekly basis at both ends of the court, but Prather’s relentless consistency as a defender, reliable point forward, spot-up shooter and team energiser have distinguished him as the most complete player at his position.

A leader has to play with heart.


Mika Vukona (Plus)

Anyone who’s had the chance to watch New Zealand’s winning ways of late has enjoyed the play of their guards, the ball movement of coach Paul Henare’s offense and the scoring of Tom Abercrombie and Alex Pledger.

The key behind it all? Veteran tough man and all-around glue guy Mika Vukona.

Vukona is now 35 years young, and at 6’6” is an unlikely candidate to be third in the league in rebounding – just over six per game – and second in offensive boards.

He’s undersized for the bodies that are fighting in the paint each night, yet if a rebound is up for grabs more often than not Vukona will secure it.

Against Adelaide this round, as his teammates continued to fire away from deep and attack the rim, Vukona secured 6 of his 9 rebounds on the offensive end.

His crucial steal to shut the door in the closing minutes of the Breakers’ win in Round 3 against Melbourne was another example of Vukona making the extra effort.

Whether playing gritty defense on one end or setting solid picks on the other, Vukona has proved himself to be an essential part of his team’s success.

Even when the ball stops being passed around, as happened against Adelaide this round, Vukona has stayed hungry on the glass and 50-50 plays. That energy gets his guards moving, confidence surges and shooters get going again.

As the Breakers continue to make noise around the league, look for Vukona to make his impact on the court in ways that few teammates choose to.


Matty Knight Goes Out the Right Way (Plus)

Hats off to Matty Knight on a phenomenal career, his retirement from basketball now official.

The NBL has lost one of its definitive players, a true big who tirelessly went to work and walks away from the game having won it all three times as a Perth Wildcat.

The 32 year-old had been dealing with severe injuries to his head since 2011 and has now made the decision that so many athletes who suffer from concussions struggle with.

As science around the health of athletes who sustain repeated head trauma continues to reveal startling long-term effects, players across different sports are making informed, if not easy, decisions.

“Obviously I would have loved to have been part of the whole season, but I’m happy with the decision and the club has been fantastic helping me and supporting me with this decision.”

Hopefully Knight’s statement Monday can be an example to others putting themselves under serious risk that hanging it all up and letting your existing legacy of work do the talking is in the best interest of the player, their family, their team and their sport.

“It was a pretty easy decision in the end to walk away.”

Champion.

 

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