2016/17 NBL Round 16 Power Rankings: On a razors edge

NBL imports must feel like they’re walking on eggs.

If the madness of the Jaron Johnson saga earlier in the season wasn’t enough, then the shock release of Jermaine Beal, and to a lesser extent Fuquan Edwin, displayed how fragile NBL rosters are.

The constant rewiring of squads is a by-product of a few ingredients. One, when players aren’t performing, sometimes it’s best for both parties to depart. This seemed to be the case with Beal. Adjusting to a new lifestyle and country can simply be too difficult, which was what happened with Andre Ingram. An opportunity which offers greener pastures could arise, such as the Steve Blake to Sydney deal, but even that had a poor ending.

Additionally, injuries have also made a big impact. The long-term medical report is growing, both in terms of length and star power. It’s occupied by the likes of Cam Bairstow, Corey Webster, Julian Khazzouh, David Andersen and more. Scrambling for imports at such late notice to cover a wounded asset puts both the team and individual in a tough spot, but it’s the reality of the NBL.

It’s no surprise, then, that the one squad that’s had a relatively healthy season remains a top of the rankings, and have secured the minor premiership.

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

1. Adelaide 36ers (Last week: 1st)

Adelaide is no longer just winning games. Joey Wright’s men are destroying teams. Embed from Getty Images

In their two victories this past week, the combined margin was 47 points. In their current six-game winning streak, the Sixers have won by a total of 135 points, which calculates to a 22.5 average. They’re simply a mind-boggling set of numbers that illustrate the 36ers’ run of domination.

Opposition coaches must be running out of ideas to stop this Adelaide uniform. They can beat you in so many ways, whether it’s their bench coming up big, Jerome Randle going off or a swarming full court press.

Adelaide, who have secured their first minor premiership since 2000, are charging towards the playoffs, with no signs of slowing down.

2. New Zealand Breakers (Last week: 4th)

The Breakers’ renaissance continues to grow, with Kevin Dillard and Paul Carter remaining at the forefront of it. Embed from Getty Images

In fact, New Zealand’s two wins came in extremely different fashions this weekend, but Dillard and Carter were still key reasons why. Dillard’s brilliance (26 points, seven assists) counted out Carter’s struggles (2-of-10 shooting) against Illawarra, while a role change took place on Sunday. The stat line still favours Dillard (20 points, five rebounds, four assists), but three eight-second violations saw him battle Perth’s full-court press. However, Carter’s efficiency (7-of-10 shooting), was a calming influence.

Despite the impact the pair of new imports have made, mainstay Kirk Penny remains an integral part of the Breakers’ make-up. His 23 points against the Hawks, and subsequent 25 against the ‘Cats, were vital to both wins. Additionally, with Thomas Abercrombie’s return on the horizon, this Breakers team is more than formidable.

3. Cairns Taipans (Last week: 6th)

The Taipans do, and should, feel robbed of what could turn into an important win.

While Cam Gliddon made minimal contact with Bryce Cotton on the final possession of regulation, calling a foul in that situation is unjust. It’s a shame that, yet again, a finish came down to an incorrect call, as opposed to the teams executing.

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However, Cairns did the only thing they could, and that’s respond with a win, despite the mighty scare they received. Up by 21 points in the third quarter, the Taipans should have cruised to a home victory over the Hawks. Like they have done so often, though, Aaron Fearne’s men took the foot off the gas and allowed Illawarra back in the game.

A welcome return to form from Gliddon would have pleased the Taipans, as he scored 18 points on an efficient 6-of-10 shooting against Illawarra. If he can carry that play for the rest of the season, Cairns could be set for a late charge towards the finals.

4. Illawarra Hawks (Last week: 2nd)

Just when it looked like the Hawks were flying into the finals, their wings were clipped this past week. Embed from Getty Images

In a battle against another red-hot squad in the Breakers, Illawarra shot themselves in the foot, with a dreadful third quarter costing them the win. In a 10-minute stretch that could doom them later in the season, the Hawks connected on just 4-of-17 of their field goal attempts, while getting outscored 26-14, undoing the work of a solid first half.

The loss against Cairns was a complete 180, as it was Illawarra who staged the comeback, which ended up going to no avail.

It’s no coincidence that these two defeats came when Rotnei Clarke’s offensive output diminished. Against New Zealand, Clarke scored 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting, and he was worse against Cairns, finishing with 10 points on 4-of-11.

Rob Beveridge’s squad is still filled with talent, but with the season getting closer to the end, 0-2 weekends can’t be on the agenda.

5. Perth Wildcats (Last week: 5th)

Perth continue to mystify.

As mentioned in the Taipans’ paragraph, the win on Friday night was mired in controversy, a word that has been placed next to the Wildcats’ name a lot this season. To Perth’s credit, though, an opportunity for victory presented itself, and the champs took it.

That positive fortune didn’t board the plane to New Zealand, as the ‘Cats’ admirable late charge was too little, too late. Cotton’s hot form continued, which gives Perth something to take from the road trip.

If they want to secure a spot in the finals, the Wildcats have a dream fixture to do so. While there are no easy wins, playing Melbourne twice, Sydney, Brisbane and Cairns to end the season means Perth avoids the NBL’s in-form squads.

6. Brisbane Bullets (Last week: 7th)

When Beal was released after Brisbane’s embarrassing loss to Adelaide, it seemed as if Andrej Lemanis was the first coach to throw in the towel on season 2016/17. With one of their stars gone, more playing time opened up for the youngsters such as Shaun Bruce and Matt Kenyon, while Jeremy Kendle was exposed to a starting role.

Then, of course, the madness of this NBL campaign kicked in, and the Bullets blitzed United on Saturday night. Sitting last at 10-14, a finals berth is unlikely for Brisbane, but the role of spoiler is certainly available, and the Bullets put in a strong application against Melbourne.

If wins can couple the development of Kenyon, Bruce and Tom Fullarton, who will return to the squad this week after a set of US college visits, then it’ll be a win-win in a rough first season back for the Bullets franchise.

7. Melbourne United (Last week: 3rd)

Boy, Melbourne will be absolutely kicking themselves after their woeful effort against a heavily undermanned Brisbane outfit.

With Dean Demopolous’ men looking to rectify their poor start to the season with a set of late wins, defeats like that one are simply inexcusable. A team stacked with offensive weapons could only muster a 32 percent shooting percentage, while Demopoulos’ stiff defence allowed Brisbane to connect on a 50 percent strike rate.

Casper Ware remained proficient with 27 points, while Chris Goulding limped his way to 17. Help was few and far between, though, as the two-headed monster couldn’t overcome no other teammate scoring in double digits.

With two straight road games on the fixture coming up, Melbourne has to quickly fix their away issues, or else the preseason favourite could wonder what might have been.

8. Sydney Kings (Last week: 8th)

What an interesting juxtaposition between top-placed Adelaide and last-placed Sydney.

In the Round 7 edition of this column, the roles were reversed, as the Kings were, well, kings, while the 36ers were holding up the rankings. Oh, how things have changed since then.

Andrew Gaze is no longer the feel-good story, Kevin Lisch’s impact has dwindled as the season has progressed and Brad Newley hasn’t played since New Year’s Day. Furthermore, the defence isn’t having the same suffocating affect and the points have dried up.

Such a mass mid-season turn in performance has Sydney shaking their heads. For Adelaide, though, it’s brought smiles and accomplishments, in a representation of how crazy this season has been.