2016/17 NBL Round 6 Power Rankings: Rare occurrences rule a wild week

Was this past Sunday the craziest day of the season?

The Cairns/Brisbane thunderstorm incident, which saw the game abandoned with 1:37 left and the Bullets leading by eight points, is the most bizarre occurrence this season – one that’ll be hard to top. The Taipans challenged the ruling, but the NBL was simply following FIBA rules, meaning the result, as expected, stands.

https://twitter.com/lukesicari/status/797969701791932418

Just a few hours later, the Wildcats and Breakers engaged in another overtime classic. However, it’ll be Jaron Johnson’s late turnover (or missed foul call, depending on your view), that’ll catch the headlines. It subsequently led to Corey Webster’s game winner, before Johnson missed his chance at redemption at the buzzer.

So, with all that, how do the teams stack up after round six?

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: 1st)

Embed from Getty Images

You had to be in the Kings’ postgame press conference after Saturday night’s win over Melbourne to feel the excitement stemming out of Andrew Gaze.

Returning to Melbourne for the first time in Sydney colours to square off against his ‘former’ side, Gaze was adamant this was just another game. However, based on Gaze’s smile and enthusiasm when talking about coaching in Melbourne, seeing old Tiger teammates at the game and discussing the black, yellow and red wristband his daughter made for him and his former Tiger mates, it was clear this wasn’t just another game.

Gaze’s delightfulness is a microcosm of this Kings team right now. Despite a hiccup in Brisbane, where a poor final quarter cost them the game, Sydney has been in magnificent form. Last week, we documented their numerous defensive contributors, and they have the same thing going on the other end.

If Brad Newley doesn’t get you, it’ll be Kevin Lisch. If Lisch struggles, then Jason Cadee will step up and hit shots. Even Greg Whittington gives Sydney an athletic presence on the offensive glass. This team is the cream of the crop at the moment and a very “huggy” group, as Lisch explained.


2. New Zealand Breakers (Last week: 2nd)

Embed from Getty Images

Roller-coaster week for the Breakers, who suffered an upset home loss to the Taipans, before evening things out with an upset win on the road in Perth.

Playing without the injured Ben Woodside and new import David Stockton, New Zealand was able to tread water with a makeshift line-up, which saw Webster regain a spot in the starting five and play some more point guard. Webster delivered, hitting the aforementioned game-winner against Perth, which capped a 20-point night. A few days earlier, he finished with 17 points, as he is beginning to find some rhythm offensively.

If New Zealand can get some consistent performances from Webster, who is connecting on just 35.1 percent of his field goals this season, it’ll unlock a whole new element to the league’s top ranked offence.

The Breakers have the third best net rating (offensive rating – defensive rating) in the league, as Paul Henare is starting to show his credentials as a head coach. With a team full of shooters, Henare has been able to implement a strong offensive system, which is predicated on off-ball movement and slick passing, as they lead the league in assists. Along with their always-strong defensive principles, the Breakers showed enough this week to remain in second spot.


3. Cairns Taipans (Last week: 4th)

Embed from Getty Images

Who forgot to pay the power bill in Cairns this week? Because they might have cost the Taipans a victory.

Jokes aside, it was always going to be a tough task to comeback from an eight-point deficit with just 1:37 remaining. Cairns challenged the decision to give Brisbane the victory, but there was really nothing the NBL could do about it. If things were a one possession game at the time, it would have made for a tougher decision, but it wasn't, so Cairns must move on.

The positives for the Taipans this week come from a road win in New Zealand. While Cairns’ defence was strong, disrupting the Breakers at the point of attack, it was Cam Gliddon’s breakout game that made the squad smile.

Gliddon, who has struggled out of the gates after winning the pre-season MVP award, exploded for 25 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 from the three-point line. This is way up on his season averages of 11.4 points, 41.2 percent from the field and 30.6 percent from beyond the three-point line. However, was this performance just an outlier? Against the Bullets, Gliddon scored just three points and shot 0-of-3 from the field. The last thing an already under-talented offensive squad needs is their best player playing inconsistent ball.

Overall, though, the positives outweigh the negatives this week for Cairns, with the big win in New Zealand validating their playoff chances and knocking them up a spot in the rankings.


4. Perth Wildcats (Last week: 3rd)

Embed from Getty Images

The basketball gods decided Perth’s run of luck is over, as coach Trevor Gleeson alluded to after their loss to New Zealand. Or maybe, it was just Johnson’s bad day.

It was unusual to see the Wildcats, who are masters in late game scenarios, lose their way when they had victory in their hands. Leading 78-76, the ‘Cats, and Johnson in particular, lost track of Breakers’ sharpshooter Thomas Abercrombie, who nailed the triple. Then, Johnson had two chances to seal the win, but would only make one of two free throws and miss a pull-up jumper with just six seconds remaining.

Things didn’t get much better for Johnson in the overtime period. While he managed to make some clutch free throws, that won’t be remembered, as Johnson’s pass that sailed out of bounds with 11 seconds left, and the Wildcats up 86-85, led to the Webster game winner. Why Johnson threw that pass will remain a mystery. New Zealand were going to foul, so all Johnson had to do was protect the ball and wait for the foul. Instead, he threw the pass while leaving his feet, a cardinal sin in basketball, and the results were disastrous.

It sounds harsh to dump the loss on Johnson, as his efforts after Casey Prather fouled out were admirable at times. You can also point to the Wildcats allowing two offensive rebound tip-ins to Akil Mitchell as key moments in the defeat. Either way, it was a win that got away from Perth, but with Damian Martin and Jarrod Kenny still sidelined, it was a strong effort from the ‘Cats and enough for them to maintain a top-four spot.


5. Brisbane Bullets (Last week: 8th)

Brisbane endured a role reversal this week.

Instead of being the team on the receiving end of a large run that put a win out of reach, as has been the story of their season, the Bullets were the squad relying on strong patches of play to secure a much-needed 2-0 week.

Against the league-leading Kings, Brisbane exploded on a 20-6 run in the final four minutes (or a 20-3 run, if you exclude a meaningless Newley three-pointer in the dying seconds). Brisbane finally was able to execute Andrej Lemanis’ offensive system effectively for a period of time, while getting big contributions from Torrey Craig (18 points) and Jermaine Beal (16 points). The Bullets also played a physical style of ball, one Sydney couldn’t match.

However, the win over Cairns is more noteworthy, as it displayed a sense of urgency and resilience not seen from Brisbane this season. The Taipans took a 12-point lead with just 4:23 remaining before half time. It seemed as if the Bullets were doomed, but then, they responded with a 19-5 run to end the half, showing the fight that Lemanis has searched for all season. Once again, Brisbane got physical with Cairns, out-rebounding them 37-23 and holding a distinct advantage in points in the paint, 44-28.

The Bullets have underperformed to this point, but if their season needed a get-me-up, then this week may have provided it.


6. Illawarra Hawks (Last week: 5th)

The Hawks won a very un-Hawks game on Saturday.

Instead of relying on their up-tempo, electrifying offence, Illawarra grinded out a victory over Adelaide with a stifling defensive performance. Coming off a 40-point effort the week before, Jerome Randle couldn’t get anything going against the Hawks, who held him to just 11 points on 5-of-17 shooting. Illawarra threw a healthy diet of Mitch Norton, Kevin White and a zone defence at Randle, disrupting him all game long.

The Hawks’ team defence was able to hold the high-octane Sixers to just 74 points on 31 percent shooting. It was a completely different formula for victory for Illawarra, who set offensive records to defeat Adelaide in round one.

Despite the win, questions still linger over this squad. Can they play this well defensively weekly? Can A.J. Ogilvy get his game going, after a slow start to the season? Can Rotnei Clarke and Marvelle Harris improve their efficiency? Can they overcome their rebounding deficiencies, after getting beaten on the glass 62-49 against the 36ers and sitting sixth in the league for rebounding percentage?

Just too many queries to move the Hawks any higher, despite the win.


7. Adelaide 36ers (Last week: 6th)

Adelaide desperately needs the services of Mitch Creek and Daniel Johnson again. The injured duo give the 36ers so much when they’re on the court, which means Adelaide also losses a lot when they miss time.

Creek is still expected to be out for at least another three weeks, while Johnson’s hamstring is being monitored on a weekly basis – however, coach Joey Wright said he expects Johnson to return in time for this Saturday’s game against Brisbane. How this impacts the big man rotation, with Matt Hodgson coming off a dominant 18-point, 14-rebound effort in extended minutes, will be worth watching. Either way, Johnson’s return will be a welcome one.

It’s Creek’s offensive versatility, though, that the Sixers miss the most. Nathan Sobey’s increased offensive output has been welcome, but Creek is able to give Adelaide a different look. The 36ers have a wing weapon with Creek, someone who can slash to the basket, get to the foul line and knock down the open jumper.

Despite playing in just three games, Creek is fourth in scoring for Adelaide, evidence of how impactful he is on that end. The Sixers will continue to fight and push the pace. But Creek’s absence is becoming more prominent by the week, and without him, Adelaide’s winning chances are lowered.


8. Melbourne United (Last week: 7th)

The final score doesn’t indicate United’s respectful efforts against Sydney on Saturday night.

In a game where Melbourne’s offence was as balanced as it has been this season, with five players scoring in double-digits, they pushed the league-leaders for three quarters. However, as is often the case, Melbourne’s defensive shortcomings proved all too costly in the final term, where the Kings, and Lisch in particular, scored 24 final quarter points.

It seems unbelievable Melbourne are 3-7, after they entered the season with as much hype as anyone. However, the injured pair of Chris Goulding and Todd Blanchfield has made a larger impact than many expected, exposing Melbourne’s shallow depth. Cedric Jackson’s tumultuous time in United colours came to an abrupt end, opening the door for 26-year-old Casper Ware.

Ware’s biggest weapon is his defensive instincts on the perimeter, which is an attribute Melbourne craves. Can he be a panacea to an offence that looks out of whack, a flawed defensive roster and a team that simply looks out of sorts? Probably not immediately, but combined with the hopeful return of Goulding this week, and Blanchfield a couple of weeks after that, United could get back to the level we know they’re capable of.

The question then becomes if at 3-7, can Melbourne dig themselves out of this hole they’ve created for themselves? With Cairns, Sydney, New Zealand, Perth and then Sydney again their next five games, it isn’t an easy road back.