2016/17 NBL Round 1 power rankings: Hawks soar, United stumble

Common sense would assume that after a week’s play, it would be easier to rank the eight NBL sides, as opposed to not having any evidence at all.

If anything, though, the results seen in round one has made curating NBL power rankings an even tougher task.

Nonetheless, here is how the teams stack up after a thrilling round one of NBL action.

These power rankings are the opinion of one man. To discuss the rankings, hit Luke up on Twitter at @lukesicari.

1. Illawarra Hawks (Last week: 3rd)

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When you set NBL history in your opening game of the season, you deserve to top the power rankings.

The Hawks’ offence in round one was terrific. They set the NBL scoring record in the 40-minute era (in non-overtime games), clocking up 122 points against a hapless Adelaide 36ers defence. Furthermore, Illawarra assisted on a ridiculous 36 of their 40 made baskets, another record in the 40-minute era. Illawarra’s offence peaked in the second half, where they scored 67 points and assisted on all 21 of their made field goals.

The scoring distribution amongst the squad was even, as six Hawks scored in double figures – Rotnei Clarke (23 points), Marvelle Harris (21), Michael Holyfield (14), Nicholas Kay (11), Oscar Forman (11) and Tim Coenraad (10). Amazingly, A.J. Ogilvy scored just four points and had six rebounds, so the Hawks have more firepower waiting to be unleashed.

With the Kings and a shaky Melbourne United on deck, the Hawks could be starring down the barrel of a 3-0 start. Until a team shows they can stop them offensively, they’ll sit comfortable atop these power rankings.

2. Brisbane Bullets (Last week: 4th)

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What a week for the rebooted Bullets.

After a slow-starting first half against Perth, Brisbane turned it on in the second half, with Jermaine Beal, Torrey Craig and Adam Gibson leading the charge in a comeback victory over the defending champions. The Bullets also survived a fast-finishing Kings team in Sydney on Saturday, to remain undefeated after a week’s action.

What gives Brisbane brownie points in these rankings is the fact they did all of this without Cameron Bairstow. The former Chicago Bull is still nursing a dislocated shoulder he suffered in the Rio Olympics and once he returns, Brisbane’s offence should become even more electric.

You saw glimpses of Andrej Lemanis’ defensive system in round one, too. Once the Bullets build some more continuity, they will become more accustomed to Lemanis’ demands, which will yield better results. For now, though, two wins is more than any other NBL team has, which has Brisbane high in the rankings.

3. Perth Wildcats (Last week: 1st)

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Interesting start to the season for the champs.

Despite pulling out a 10-point victory in overtime against the Taipans on Saturday, it wasn’t convincing enough for them to hold onto the number one spot. When you also consider the sloppy performance in Brisbane on Thursday night, it shows Perth might take some time to gel.

Jaron Johnson had a poor opening seven quarters in Wildcats’ colours, before his scintillating final quarter against Cairns. Johnson hit the three-pointer that sent the game into overtime and made winning plays in the extra period. That aside, Johnson showed he still needs time to get used to Perth’s system, as he was confident to a fault on the offensive end.

However, the Wildcats maintain a top-three spot because the things they do so well were still on display. Damian Martin played his usual bothersome defence and Perth still looked like the best defensive unit in the league. Despite some slight hiccups, round one showed the Wildcats are still a force to be reckoned with.

4. New Zealand (Last week: 6th)

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Any preseason questions surrounding the Breakers were answered, for one game at least.

In a mightily impressive win over Melbourne on Friday night, New Zealand showed their defensive capabilities are still elite and they have the scoring punch needed to lead them to victories.

Under new coach Paul Henare, the Breakers shut down an explosive United squad, holding them to just 71 points on 41.2 per cent shooting. New Zealand also contained Chris Goulding to just nine points on 3-of-13 from the field.

A thrilling final quarter showed the Breakers can still put up points in bunches, despite the loss of Cedric Jackson. Ben Woodside adequately controlled the offence, flanked by a red-hot Corey Webster, who scored eight points in under two minutes to solidify the New Zealand’s lead. Mika Vukona was his usual reliable self, ditto Thomas Abercrombie.

The Breakers’ win won’t mean much if they can’t follow it up against Perth on Friday night. From what we’ve seen, though, it validates the Breakers' fourth spot in these rankings.

5. Adelaide 36ers (Last week: 7th)

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A tale of two games for the Sixers.

After getting destroyed by the Hawks on Friday night, it seemed as if Adelaide’s roster just wasn’t up to scratch. However, in a complete 360, Joey Wright’s men controlled Melbourne in all facets of the game on Sunday.

The 36ers played with a physical presence that knocked United off their game. The contributions from Daniel Johnson, Matt Hodgson and Eric Jacobsen were significant down low, while Adelaide’s guards also went at the Melbourne defenders at the point of attack.

Jerome Randle also showed why he is the NBL’s best player. Going up against Jackson, Randle was proficient, scoring 30 points and connecting on 13-of-23 from the field. His quickness, smooth jumper and strong finishing at the basket were on full display.

As impressive as the win was, though, the 34-point loss to the Hawks means Adelaide can’t be ranked any higher than fifth. If round one is a microcosm of their season, then it’s going to be a wild ride for 36ers fans.

6. Cairns Taipans (Last week: 5th)

The Taipans are the latest evidence of the league's overall improvement in quality.

They didn’t do anything to justify a drop in the rankings. Cairns played the Wildcats as good as anybody can in the Perth Arena, before letting a sure-victory slip in the final moments and subsequently overtime.

The majority of what we saw from the Taipans was positive. They showed resiliency, coming back from a 14-point deficit to lead by six points mid-way through the final quarter. Cairns took good care of the basketball, turning it over only six times and played pesky defence, coming up with eight steals.

All of this was done without Nate Jawai and Stephen Weigh in uniform, and with an offence that struggled all game. It’s safe to say the Taipans won’t rank this low for long.

7. Melbourne United (Last week: 2nd)

How the mighty fell in round one.

Everything that was promised from United, such as an explosive offence, an improved defence and better schemes, wasn’t shown in round one.

Melbourne’s offence was a debacle in the first two games, failing to crack 80 points and shooting 41.2 per cent and 37.2 per cent in both outings. Goulding’s iso-heavy personality was a hindrance, as he shot just 6-of-28 in the two defeats. Jackson struggled to make an impact with his new squad, while United will experience growing pains getting David Andersen enough touches.

Defensively, Melbourne was still as soft and weak as last season, which turned out to be their ultimate downfall. Unless that can be corrected, they’ll fail to make a serious crack at the title.

Coach Dean Demopoulos’ tactics are also worth watching. United didn’t show an effective offensive or defensive system in round one, two things that reflect on Demopoulos.

It may seem harsh to rank Melbourne this low after just one round but based on what we saw from the other six teams above them, it would be foolish to place United higher. They’re too talented to be this low for too long, though.

8. Sydney Kings (Last week: 8th)

This week has been a solid, but not spectacular, start for Andrew Gaze’s tenure as Sydney coach.

This season's Kings displayed a more competitive streak, but have some ways to go before they can be considered a playoff side. Brisbane handled them easily down low, exploited holes in the Kings’ defence and were able to stifle Sydney’s offence.

Last season's MVP, Kevin Lisch scored 20 points in his Kings debut. Not to be outdone, Jeromie Hill and Jason Cadee also proved themselves worthy of defensive attention, as the duo combined for 25 points. However, too many of Sydney’s key players, such as Brad Newley and imports Greg Whittington and Michael Bryson, made insignificant contributions. They need to be better if Sydney wants to get some wins on the board.

Sydney will fight hard each game, but until they show some tangible elements that’ll help them win, the Kings will be holding up the rankings.