2016/17 NBL Round 19 Power Rankings: The toughest task

Compiling these weekly power rankings have been harder than anyone could have expected.

The NBL’s roller-coaster regular season has concluded, with the playoff-seeding coming down to the last game, as it only could. Additionally, it came down to the dying moments, with the NBL staying immediately tight right to the very end.

This will be the last power rankings column for the season. The discussion stemmed from these rankings has been a blast to be a part of, and now, it is time to enjoy the finals.

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)

Context must be applied to Adelaide’s two losses this past week. Embed from Getty Images

With the minor premiership already sewn up, Joey Wright took the conservative approach to his final two regular season matches. Giving his rotational players extra minutes in crunch time allowed them to gain experience in situations they haven’t been involved in, which could pay dividends in the finals.

While the defeats this week to Cairns have caveats, the Sixers have still lost four in a row leading into the finals. Is it a concern? Not a major one. The by-product of not having anything else to play for often sees a decreased focus and effort from a playing group, which has seemed to be the case for Adelaide.

This team is still the benchmark, and it’ll take a mighty effort to deny them the championship.

2. Cairns Taipans (Last week: 5th)

All season, we have talked about how unfortunate the Taipans have been. Whether it be the referees costing them a victory, or losing games they shouldn’t have, Cairns has had a rough run at it. Embed from Getty Images

So it’s only right, then, that Aaron Fearne’s men get gifted a golden ticket to the finals with the 36ers resting their best players in the clutch. What goes around comes around, and now Cairns, one of the competition’s most underrated sides heading into the playoffs, has a chance to shock the league.

Cam Gliddon’s turn of form came at just the right time, as the captain enters the series against Perth full of confidence. A pair of efficient 16-point performances should help him overcome a 1-of-5 effort against Perth a week prior. With Cairns’ offence needing as much scoring as they can get, Gliddon’s contributions could be the difference in winning or losing.

3. Illawarra Hawks (Last week: 3rd)

The Hawks had one simple job to do this weekend to punch their ticket to the finals.

And, boy, did they get the job done.

Embed from Getty Images

The clash against bottom of the ladder Brisbane could have been a danger game, but Rob Beveridge ensured his troops came out prepared and ready to take care of business. A 33-18 first quarter set the tone, proving Illawarra is primed for the finals, with their explosive offence humming along beautifully against the Bullets.

The Hawks connected on 52 percent of their shot attempts, with 20-plus point efforts coming from Oscar Forman, Rotnei Clarke and A.J. Ogilvy. It was a clinic and it gives Illawarra a wave of momentum to ride into the finals with.

‘Bevo Ball’ has been seen in parts this season. If it appears in full in the finals, then the Hawks are a huge chance to take down Adelaide in the semi.

4. Perth Wildcats (Last week: 6th)

31. Embed from Getty Images

It’s the number that defines the legacy of the Perth Wildcats. In a league that has been so fragile and unstable, the Wildcats have been the complete opposite. A model of class and consistency, Perth enters their 31st straight finals series after a win over Melbourne on Sunday.

It wasn’t easy, as a United team playing for pride took it right to the ‘Cats, but Trevor Gleeson’s men turned up the intensity when the game, and streak, was on the line. Casey Prather's dramatic return to MVP-form continued and Jameel McKay provided Perth with vital points and offensive rebounds.

Gleeson seemed overjoyed in the postgame press conference. The magnitude of making 31 consecutive finals was clearly on his mind. Now, though, the challenge of going back to back presents itself. And, if we have learnt anything over the past three decades, betting against the Wildcats is usually a bad decision.

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

The Breakers missed the finals in the worst possible way, by a decision that they had no control over.

New Zealand did what they needed to do – defeat Melbourne on Friday – but then had to sit patiently and wait on other results to decide their finals fate. Unfortunately for Paul Henare’s men, the ball didn’t bounce their way.

When looking at the Breakers’ season, it’s quite incredible they were so close to even making the finals with the amount of roster turnover they endured. Looking back at the media guide the NBL distributed at the beginning of the season, New Zealand didn’t have Corey Webster, Ben Woodside and Akil Mitchell in their finals chase. It’s a credit to Henare’s coaching tactics that this team was able to stay afloat amongst the turmoil, a debut season on the sidelines that should be seen in a positive light.

6. Melbourne United (Last week: 2nd)

Preseason favourites, and controlling their own destiny with a healthy roster heading into the final round, the frustration within United must be at an all-time high.

Yes, Melbourne was another team that dealt with injuries and import trouble during the campaign, but think about it. At the start of Round 19, United had all their soldiers available, and didn’t have to rely on other results. All they had to do was win, something they failed to do.

The performance against the Breakers on Friday was insipid. There was no sense of urgency or intensity, a fact that is hard to believe, considering what was at stake. Once the offence started stumbling, Dean Demopoulos has no back-up plan, a recurring theme during his tenure. Furthermore, the defence constantly got ripped a part by New Zealand’s off-ball actions.

This offseason could be a crucial one for the future of United. One of the competition’s cash cows, in one of the biggest markets, three straight seasons of Melbourne basketball has now ended in disappointment. It’s unlikely the men in suits will be happy with a fourth.

7. Sydney Kings (Last week: 7th)

Along with their Melbourne counterparts, the Kings face an offseason that could shape the franchise’s long-term future.

In fact, those decisions were probably made last offseason, with the hiring of Andrew Gaze and the signing of Kevin Lisch. In the first half of the 2016/17 campaign, it seemed as if Sydney was on the right path. As the season took a wrong turn, though, things unraveled, fast.

The days of the Kings signing their song on Instagram are long gone. As the losses piled up, the ego-filled locker room seemed to disjoint, with the on-court body language becoming poor.

The talent is certainty there. A core of Lisch, Brad Newley and Jason Cadee is enough to construct a championship contender. Now, it’s time to ensure the pieces they acquire to complement that trio is the right mix.

8. Brisbane Bullets (Last week: 8th)

Andrej Lemanis is in for the long haul.

Brisbane’s season became a disaster, results wise. However, looking ahead to 2017/18, and the Bullets will have Cam Bairstow back, while Torrey Craig, Daniel Kickert, Adam Gibson, Anthony Petrie, Shaun Bruce and Tom Jervis are all still contracted.

That group of NBL mainstays may not be enough to push the Bullets over the top, but find some strong imports, and remove the injury bugs from Brisbane, and Lemanis suddenly has a team he can do some damage with.

Until that point, though, the Bullets can only dwell on a forgettable first season back in the league.