2016/17 NBL Round 2 power rankings: ‘Cats reign supreme again

NBL power rankings are proving to be the impossible task.

After each game, there is more evidence that this NBL season is the most competitive in recent memory. The upsets have been thrilling, form swings dramatic and superstars stunning, as no team has done enough to separate themselves from the pack yet.

With all of that being said, here is how the teams stack up after round two.

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

1. Perth Wildcats (Last week: 3rd)

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Despite the NBL experiencing an infusion of talent like never before, the Wildcats have still proven to be the league’s top dog after two weeks.

Apart from a horrific third quarter, Perth dominated New Zealand on Friday night. They outscored the Breakers 25-11 in the second quarter and 20-14 in the final term, while holding distinct advantages in points in the paint, fast break points and points from turnovers.

Casey Prather’s final quarter was electric, scoring 10 of his 29 points in the final frame. Now, with Jaron Johnson’s shock release, Prather will need to continue playing with this offensive proficiency, with contributions such as Jesse Wagstaff’s 16 points, helping along the way.

While they experienced a slight hiccup on opening night against Brisbane, the Wildcats haven’t shown as many weaknesses compared to the rest of the league. That, combined with their stellar defence, is enough for the ‘Cats to sit comfortably on top of the rankings.

2. Melbourne United (Last week: 7th)

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The trajectory of United’s season immensely shifted this week.

After their offence stumbled and defence showed no improvement in round one, Melbourne seemed to be a different beast this week. United came out and destroyed an Adelaide side that beat them just days prior, and thoroughly outplayed championship-contenders Illawarra.

Melbourne connected on 46.8 per cent of their shots against the 36ers and 51.4 per cent against the Hawks, two ratings that easily bettered United’s round one percentages. How good was it to see Todd Blanchfield get more touches against Illawarra? Blanchfield had 27 points and he could be a wildcard in United’s title chase.

It may be a huge jump in the rankings, but it’s deserved. Melbourne’s offence returned to the form we all expect and their defence did enough to shut down a Hawks team that set offensive records last week. Now it’s up to Dean Demopoulos’ men to constantly play this well.

3. Brisbane Bullets (Last week: 2nd)

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While the Bullets self-imploded late in the game against Adelaide, dropping them any lower would be ignoring everything they have done well so far.

In their first game with Cameron Bairstow in uniform, the former Chicago Bull slotted right in. Playing 27 minutes off the bench, Bairstow contributed 15 points and seven rebounds, without disrupting the flow of the team. The way coach Andrej Lemanis has gotten a whole new group of players to gel almost immediately has been impressive.

That being said, Brisbane’s late-game execution was horrible. The Bullets’ fourth quarter and overtime period was littered with turnovers, poor passes, defensive breakdowns and questionable shot selection. Brisbane had trouble with Adelaide’s pressing defence and let a should-have-won game slip.

However, they only drop slightly in these rankings, as the collective strengths the Bullets have shown so far have been more impressive than the weaknesses.

4. Illawarra Hawks (Last week: 1st)

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Who saw that coming?

After Illawarra set a bundle of NBL offensive records in round one, they struggled to replicate any kind of offensive cohesiveness this week. Against a porous United defence, the Hawks failed to get on track, shooting 38.2 per cent from the field and connecting on just 8-of-34 three-pointers. Their ball movement, which was so devastating in round one, was lacking, as Illawarra assisted on only 12 of their 29 made field goals.

It was a similar story against the Sydney Kings on Thursday night. Shooting rates of just 38.4 per cent from the field and 17.4 per cent from the three-point line saw the Hawks fall to 1-2 on the young season.

While they weren’t going to set records weekly, to see Illawarra’s offence stumble twice in a week was eye opening. Could round one be an outlier, while the Hawks experience growing pains with the new backcourt of Rotnei Clarke and Marvelle Harris? Possibly, but this team is still too talented to be overly worried about.

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

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After following an embarrassing effort with a shock win in round one, Joey Wright’s men played by the same script this week.

Melbourne outplayed Adelaide on Friday night. Don’t be fooled by the 98-87 final score – Adelaide made up the margin with some desperation ball late. When the game was there to be won, the Sixers folded in their first home game.

However, those memories were wiped away on Sunday night, where Adelaide delivered a sensational overtime win in Brisbane, in what was the game of the year so far. Outscoring the Bullets 58-45 in the second half and overtime, the 36ers outworked a Bullets team that is set for championship contention.

While Jerome Randle continues to strengthen his hold on the ‘best player in the NBL’ title, Adelaide can’t be ranked any higher until we see consistency. If the 36ers can play at their best more often than not, they’ll be in playoff contention. Conversely, if the opposite occurs, the Sixers will be bottom-feeders. The task just got tougher with Mitch Creek set to miss the next eight weeks with a stress fracture in his foot.

6. Sydney Kings (Last week: 8th)

The Kings deserve to be higher, but the five teams above them don’t deserve to be any lower. Welcome to the wacky, wild and wonderful world of NBL power rankings.

Sydney bounced back from an indifferent round one performance to take down the Hawks and Taipans this week. The two wins offers optimism for the Kings, but it didn’t come without a cost.

MVP Kevin Lisch suffered a scary knock to the head against Cairns, as he received four stitches to a bleeding ear and passed a concussion test. Whether or not Lisch will play on Thursday night in New Zealand is unknown.

If Jason Cadee plays like he did this week, though, it’ll help Sydney overcome the loss of Lisch. Cadee was awesome, scoring 20 points against Illawarra and bettering that with 23 against the Taipans. Cadee’s 17-point final quarter against Cairns guided the Kings to victory and validated his stake as one of the NBL’s most improved players.

Import Greg Whittington has made his mark early and these Kings showed promise in round two. Now, it’s time to do it on a weekly basis.

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

It’s hard to gauge the Breakers’ lose to the Wildcats on Friday night.

On one hand, New Zealand found themselves down by 14-points in the first half, after a strong opening five minutes. If that’s the focus, than the storyline is how the Breakers are now a level below the league’s best.

However, on the other hand, the Breakers outscored Perth 23-8 in the third quarter and had a chance to send the game to overtime at the buzzer. If you solely look at this part of the game, then New Zealand is still as tough as any opponent and just fell short to knocking off the champions at home.

In reality, these Breakers are somewhere in the middle right now. There have been positive signs, as Ben Woodside has shown his basketball smarts, while Tom Abercrombie and Kirk Penny are performing. Some more consistency out of Corey Webster wouldn’t hurt, though.

Until New Zealand settles, it’s hard to get a strong read on this squad.

8. Cairns Taipans (Last week: 6th)

Another encouraging effort from Cairns was overshadowed by a late-game fade out.

With 7:30 remaining, the Taipans held a 72-68 lead over the Kings on Saturday night. They seemed to be in control and were threatening to blow the game open. Sydney was without the services of Lisch, so the table was set for Cairns to taste victory for the first time this season. From that point on, though, Cairns was outscored 24-6, unable to muster any momentum to close the game.

Some positives did present, as four Taipans scored in double-digits: Cam Gliddon (13), Nnanna Egwu (12), Mitch McCarron (10) and Travis Trice (10). Nate Jawai looked good in his season debut, too.

Until the Taipans show some winning qualities, though, it’s hard to see them getting off the bottom of the rankings.