We’re back into NBLxNBA for the third year running, and the Adelaide 36ers tipped the annual preseason series off this year. Despite playing a Utah Jazz team without Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert, the 36ers were still taken to school, and ended with a final scoreline of 81-143, looking very much like a team still trying to put the pieces together.
Here are some of the big takeaways –both good and bad– from Sunday’s game.
1. Eric Griffin is the energy guy the 36ers badly needed
Jacob Wiley’s departure for Europe earlier this year was a big blow to Adelaide. His physical and emotional energy was infectious and many wondered how badly the absence of a big and athletic forward would hurt the 36ers. Judging by today’s performance, Eric Griffin might be the answer to the riddle.
The Campbell University graduate finished the game with 12 points, 6 rebounds and an impressive 4 blocks. Griffin’s instincts as a shot-blocker were on full display. His timing and aggression was excellent.
Although he was called for goal-tending once, his unfettered desire to effect any and all shots was inspiring. Griffin’s bounce and ability to elevate in pursuit of blocks had the Utah commentary team in awe.
Griffin looks like he’s Adelaide’s new hustle guy, the player who does the dirty work with pride and gusto. His defensive instincts, rebounding capabilities, and an ability to run and jump opens up exciting options for the 36ers in transition.
Questions linger on whether or not Griffin can fill Wiley’s shoes offensively. Wiley could, when required, create his own shots and had a decent mid-range and three-point jumper. Griffin, on the other hand, put up nothing but bricks from long-range against Utah.
Griffin has the potential to have an immediate impact on Adelaide’s season; how much of an impact is still unknown.
2. Jerome Randle is back, who else will step up?
Today was our first opportunity to see Randle in an Adelaide uniform since he departed the club in 2017, and his return is a welcome presence to the new-look 36ers. The experienced guard finished the game with 18 points, two assists and three rebounds, shooting a hair above 55 percent from the field. He was the highlight in an Adelaide offence that still looked a bit flat – like it was being learnt on the fly by the many new players.
Randle played with his trademark zip and aggression, seemingly unbothered by the attention of the Jazz’s long defenders. His scorer’s mentality was allowed to run wild in Joey Wright’s run-and-gun system. His shot selection was incredibly aggressive, and he shot the ball early in the shot-clock from all areas of the floor with impressive efficiency.
At times, the line separating aggression and forcing the issue was blurred. When an easy pass was available, Randle opted to attack as a one-man-army. However, this is more of an indictment on the 36ers and their lack of dependable scorers, an issue that has hung over their collective head since early preseason.
When Randle was on the floor there was a clear focus, and a purpose to Adelaide’s motion. In comparison, the 36ers looked lost and tentative when he was on the bench during much of the third quarter.
Although the box score reveals three other 36ers finished the game with double digit scoring, those points mostly came in the second half when the game was already decided.
Looking at 36ers optimistically, a lot of their offensive problems against Utah can be explained away by the rigours of international travel, to play a top NBA team with a newly-added star player that most of the team has never played with before.
All that may be true, but that doesn’t change what we saw. Randle is looking great, but if Adelaide is going to compete for a top-four spot it needs to be more than a one man show.
3. At the end of the day, what was the point?
NBLxNBA grows the game of basketball in Australia and raises the NBL’s international profile, and with adequate breathing room, can offer NBL teams invaluable learning experiences beyond the confines of Australia.
The Adelaide 36ers, New Zealand Breakers and Melbourne United made sacrifices to take part in NBLxNBA 2019, and the cost of participation is high. Aside from monetary investment, there is the drain of travel, risk of injury, and interruption of preparation on the brink of the 2019/20 NBL season.
The question has to be asked: do teams who engage get a return on their investment, or does it do more harm than good?
Melbourne’s situation is particularly bizarre. After playing the South East Melbourne Phoenix in round one, a game with real meaning and long term impact on the season, they head over to California to play two exhibition games against NBA teams, before heading back home to play the Perth Wildcats in round three.
Having not yet played their season opener, Adelaide’s NBLxNBA tour isn’t as baffling as Melbourne’s. However, the questions of cost versus benefit still stand. Adelaide lost in a one-sided rout and travelled thousands of kilometres across timezones, the equator and the international dateline to receive it. What did they learn that they can apply to their looming season – that they aren’t as good as an NBA Western Conference title contender? This isn’t news, and neither is it particularly useful.
If Adelaide does return to Australia a revitalised and rejuvenated team, maybe the trip was worth the disappointment. However, until we see them play their NBL opener, that question remains unanswered at the moment.