After each round of the NBL season, I’ll be taking a look at three ‘winners’ and three ‘losers’ from the events of the preceding week. Anyone, or anything, is eligible…
Adelaide’s rim protection
In what is fast becoming a recurring theme, the 36ers find themselves heading the winners list.
Adelaide’s blistering offence is garnering most of the attention, but their defence deserves some kudos too. Their home-and-away mini-series opponents in Round 11, Sydney, entered the weekend as the most efficient interior scoring team in the league at 59.7% on shots inside the paint, per crunchtimeshots.com. Yet, across two losses to the 36ers this weekend, the Kings were held to just 34 of 69 (49.3%). That’s no accident.
Whether it’s Nathan Sobey battling hard against a bigger Brad Newley:
Or Matt Hodgson’s excellent rim protection defending a Newley-Maric on-ball screen (sorry to pick on you twice, Brad):
Eight of Adelaide’s top ten minutes-getters (all but Randle and Teys) have either the length, athleticism, or both to really trouble opponents finishing around the rim. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still not setting the world on fire defensively. But when you’re the best offensive team in the NBL, you don’t have to.
The Taipans, not once, not twice, but Trice
Do you remember, back in Round 3 at Titanium Security Arena, when the Taipans attempted 42 three-pointers and only made 13 (31%) of them, and we all had a good laugh at their expense?
Well, against the Hawks on Saturday, they made the same number of triples as that fateful night in Adelaide. Only, this time, they took 18 fewer attempts. That makes for a sizzling 54.2% from deep, and a comfortable 17-point win.
Six players shot 50% or better from beyond the arc, Travis Trice being the chief destroyer with 5 from 7.
They did it with a healthy dose of transition bombs, but there were none better than this zone-breaking masterpiece from Aaron Fearne out of the three-quarter time break.
Best-of-five grand final series
Because five games is more than three games.
Crunch time brain fades
Four of the six games this weekend were within 5 points with less than 2 minutes remaining. It made for exciting basketball, but for an unfortunate few players, it gave rise to some questionable decisions when it mattered most.
The return bout between the Kings and the 36ers was a coach-killing comedy of errors down the stretch. Both teams were in team fouls, yet seemed hellbent on sending each other to the line for cheap points.
Mitch Creek started the party. Up six, with 1:18 to go, he overplayed the inbound pass and bundled into Kevin Lisch (a lazy 84.9 % free throw shooter), giving Sydney two points from the line with barely a second run off the clock.
Luckily for the 36ers, Newley returned the favour with a hip check on Randle a good 90-odd feet from Adelaide’s basket (not to worry, only a 93.2% shooter from the charity stripe this season).
The Kings came up empty the next time down the floor, but there was still hope, down six with a minute to play. Until Greg Whittington gave Randle another hip check, another two freebies, and the game was iced.
A.J. Ogilvy must have been watching, because the following night he outdid them all. Up two, with 17 seconds remaining in regulation, he went for the old-fashioned slap-from-behind steal. That sent A.J. to the bench with five fouls, and, you guessed it, the Hawks were in the bonus, so it meant two free throws for Jermaine Beal (to be fair, Dolla only makes 82.1% of his free throws). Luckily for A.J., his teammates were able to bail him out in overtime.
On Friday night, Josh Powell was not so lucky.
Perth’s offensive horror show
8 points in a quarter.
23 points in a half.
57 points in a game.
Perth’s efforts to score in their loss to the Breakers on Thursday were truly agonising to watch.
The biggest worry is that it’s hard to see a path to improvement at that end of the floor for the Wildcats. Their top three players in true shooting percentage – Dexter Kernich-Drew, Jameel McKay and Angus Brandt – have all been given a pretty short leash by Trevor Gleeson. Perhaps it would help to get those three a few more looks with some more minutes. As it stands, it’s hard to see Perth putting up a winning score without a superhuman effort from Casey Prather.
The injury curse strikes again
We want this bottleneck of an NBL ladder to be sorted out with the cream rising to the top, not the hobbled sinking to the bottom. Unfortunately, Round 11 saw a couple of massive injuries that will be very difficult to overcome for their respective teams.
Cam Bairstow had flown a little under the radar in his first NBL season. When adjusted for pace, the ex-Chicago Bulls big man was leading the NBL in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) at 21.6, as well as leading the league in rebound percentage (20.1%). That’s really, really good. He was outmuscling and outsmarting most of his opponents, and the Bullets have some massive shoes to fill.
Meanwhile, in the land of the long white cloud, despite an ugly-but-well-earned win over the Wildcats, things are going from bad to worse. On Tuesday, Thomas Abercrombie fractured his hand at training and could be out for up to six weeks. With Corey Webster already out, the Breakers’ depth is being seriously challenged. They need an import to plug the gap, and fast.
It would be remiss of me not to mention news that Julian Khazzouh has been ruled out for the season in Sydney, losing his race against the clock back from a torn quadriceps injury. And Melbourne United are on the hunt for an injury replacement as Devin Williams has joined Dave Andersen on the sidelines with a medial ligament strain.