2016/17 NBL Round 4 power rankings: New leaders and bottom-feeders

Death, taxes and wacky NBL results.

Just when we thought tiers were starting to be formed amongst the NBL teams, Cairns and New Zealand completely demolished them in the span of a weekend. Meanwhile, there has been a shake-up at the top, and bottom, as it becomes clear that there is no easy beat in this season’s NBL.

It’s always a tough task to determine how much stock to put into one individual performance against an overall body of work. Yours truly has tried his best to balance that in this week’s power rankings.

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

1. Sydney Kings (Last week: 2nd)

The Kings continue to impress and it’s the even contributions they’ve received that’s stood out so far.

Sydney has six players averaging double-digit points, led by Jason Cadee and Kevin Lisch (16.6), followed by Brad Newley (14.2), Greg Whittington (13.4) and Josh Powell (10.8). The sixth player, Steve Blake, is averaging 12.0 points, but he has only played one game, so that must be taken into consideration.

Blake shouldn’t be doubted, though, after he settled down nicely after a shaky start to his NBL debut. With Lisch out for 1-2 weeks with a calf injury, Blake will step into the starting line-up like he did against the Brisbane Bullets. Blake showed his ability to work the pick and roll game effectively, and once he gets more accustomed with his new teammates, his impact will be even more profound.

Andrew Gaze has the Kings clicking on all cylinders at the moment, meaning there is no reason to place anyone above them.

2. Perth Wildcats (Last week: 1st)

The Wildcats’ loss to the Illawarra Hawks on Friday must be put into a wider context.

Perth were shocked by the news Andre Ingram wanted to go back home due to personal reasons, which led to the squad bringing back the previously waived Jaron Johnson, in a situation awkward for everyone involved. With Damian Martin and Jarod Kenny out injured, the Wildcats were rolling out a makeshift line-up on Friday night.

The Wildcats started developmental player Corban Wroe, alongside Casey Prather, Greg Hire, Jameel McKay and Matty Knight. It’s a starting five that coach Trevor Gleeson could have never foreseen just four rounds into the season, but that’s the reality the Wildcats are facing.

Despite all of this, the ‘Cats almost knocked off the Hawks, losing by five points. A strong showing from the squad, along with a near breakout performance from Dexter Kernich-Drew, is enough for them to maintain second spot. Perth has too many runs on the board to drop any lower.

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

Power rankings respect historical performances, and the Breakers’ effort against Adelaide on Saturday was mighty.

Let’s run through some of the records New Zealand set in their 26-point win. The 119 points New Zealand ran up on Adelaide was the highest total for the franchise in the 40-minute era. Additionally, the Breakers’ 62 first half points was their highest first half total since 2011, or 155 games ago.

Some more beautiful offensive numbers for you to devour over includes the Breakers’ 31 assists, 57 percent field goal percentage and 53 percent three-point shooting percentage. It was a joy to see Corey Webster break out of his slump, as he scored 22 points, while Kirk Penny (27) and Thomas Abercrombie (15) were proficient.

If New Zealand can get that trio rolling, along with the constant contributions from Akil Mitchell off the bench, then they could find themselves soaring up the ladder – and the power rankings.

4. Cairns Taipans (Last week: 8th)

All of the concerns surrounding Cairns – the lackadaisical offence, underperforming players and soft defence – were abolished in the span of two games.

They say winning cures everything and that was the case for Aaron Fearne’s men. The Taipans craved up Melbourne's defence on Thursday night, while Travis Trice had his best game to date, putting up 28 points on a highly efficient 10-of-15 from the floor. Cairns looked even better against Illawarra, scoring 98 points and connecting on 56 percent of their shot attempts.

All of this offensive work was complemented by a strong Taipans defence, which limited the high power offences of Melbourne and Illawarra to sub-par nights on the scoreboard.

However, it wasn’t all good news for Cairns, as Trice left the game against the Hawks with a right elbow injury. His status is unknown at this stage. If he were to miss time, the likes of Mark Worthington, Cam Gliddon, Nnanna Egwu and Fuquan Edwin would all need to step up, like they did this week. If they do so, Cairns could see themselves stay off the bottom of the power rankings.

5. Illawarra Hawks (Last week: 6th)

Up and down week for the Hawks, who only rise a spot because they left round four with a victory – something the three teams below them cannot say.

While the scrappy win over a banged-up Perth squad showed the Hawks’ resilience, it’s hard to put much value in it after they followed it up with a poor showing against the Taipans.

Illawarra has a number of concerns at the moment, none more pressing than the form of former MVP Rotnei Clarke. While he is averaging 13.3 points per game, second on the squad, Clarke has done so in an inefficient manner. Clarke is connecting on below 40 percent of his field goals, while his playmaking ability has been lacking. If he didn’t have the MVP mantle next to his name, one wonders if Clarke would be receiving more criticism.

If Clarke can get back on track, and Marvelle Harris continues his strong offensive outings, then the Hawks can continue to creep up the rankings. A.J. Ogilvy has also had a relatively slow start to the new campaign, but the Hawks still have the offensive firepower to explode on any given night. At the moment, though, Illawarra’s reality of poor performances is overshadowing their potential to be a title contender.

6. Adelaide 36ers (Last week: 3rd)

It’s difficult to decide what to take from the 36ers’ loss to the Breakers.

Do you say New Zealand were simply playing at a historic level, and no team could have stopped them? Or does Adelaide take the blame for the Breakers' offensive prevails, as the Sixers abysmal defensive effort definitely played a part in the result.

This is the balancing act coach Joey Wright must be weighing up at the moment. Yes, you must acknowledge your team didn’t come out to play at all and were embarrassed. However, in the grand scheme of things, Wright would know that this result is an outlier, and it can be used as a learning experience.

Plus, it wasn’t all bad for Adelaide. The inspiring Nathan Sobey continued his meteoric rise to stardom, putting up a game-high 32 points, pulling down eight rebounds, dishing out five assists and grabbing two steals, while shooting 11-of-17 from the field. Sobey and Jerome Randle all of a sudden look like one of the best backcourts in the competition, a duo that should help ensure Adelaide don’t suffer another heavy defeat and maintain respectability in the power rankings.

7. Melbourne United (Last week: 4th)

It was a tumultuous week for United, both on and off the court.

As a strong believer in good wins, bad wins, good losses and bad losses, Melbourne’s defeat to Cairns falls in the final category. It was a stage for United to prove they can play well without Chris Goulding’s services, facing a Taipans squad that, at the time, hadn’t recorded a victory.

The start was encouraging. David Andersen was getting an adequate number of looks on the elbow and in the post, while Ramone Moore was hitting his shots. However, the same old issues showed its ugly head, as Melbourne’s lack of rebounding, an interior presence and all-around defensive shortcomings were too much to overcome.

Off the floor, United General Manager Vince Crivelli had to publicly shoot down rumours of the sacking of underwhelming import Devin Williams, which is never a positive sign.

United has missed Goulding more than anticipated, despite his slow start to the season. With a Breaker team who is full of confidence and defeated United earlier in the season coming into Melbourne on Friday night, it looms as a gut-check game for Dean Demopoulos’ men.

8. Brisbane Bullets (Last week: 5th)

We have often talked about Brisbane’s growing pains in the power rankings. If the trend of poor quarters spelling doom for the Bullets continues, though, it’ll need to be concluded that it’s more than just growing pains for Brisbane.

Against the Kings on Sunday, it was the second quarter, again, which lost Brisbane the game. After a strong opening 10 minutes, the Bullets were outscored 23-12 in the second stanza and were unable to close the gap in the second half. In last week’s loss to Melbourne, it was a similar story, as Brisbane was defeated 29-10 in the second quarter of that contest.

Coach Andrej Lemanis is weary of the issues, but has had little solutions so far. Jermaine Beal and Torrey Craig continue to chuck shots up at an inefficient rate, Daniel Kickert, for as good as he has been, has failed to get his outside shot working and the bench has provided little.

For Brisbane, the play of Cameron Bairstow has been the best sign. The former Chicago Bull leads the team in scoring at 14.7 points per game and it’s just a matter of time before he finds himself in the starting line-up and off a minutes restriction.

Until the Bullets can find some sort of consistency across the board, they’ll struggle to climb up the power rankings.