2016/17 NBL Round 7 Power Rankings: Sons of guns impress

Stockton to Malone!

Okay, not quite, but still, David Stockton’s debut week with the New Zealand Breakers was stunning. After numerous imports have struggled adjusting to the nuances of the NBL game, Stockton, son of NBA Hall of Famer John, seemed to pick them up immediately. Stockton averaged 13.5 points, 6.0 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals, while shooting 54.5 percent from the field in his first two games in Breaker colours.

He wasn’t the only son of a gun to impress in round seven. Perth Wildcats’ youngster Mason Bragg, son of former SEABL star Keith, made the most of his opportunity. With the Wildcats decimated by injury, Bragg injected a much-needed spark of energy into the line-up in their two outings against the Sydney Kings.

How much did Stockton and Bragg’s performances affect the power rankings, though?

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)

If advanced stats are your thing, then the Sydney Kings are your team. Embed from Getty Images

Sydney’s offence and defence has taken the top spot per 100 possessions, via Crunchtime shots. This has also seen the Kings have a NET rating of +6.3, the best mark in the NBL. Whether you believe in these metrics or not, it’s hard to ignore how well Andrew Gaze has his squad playing at the moment.

While they suffered a tough loss to Perth on Thursday night, Sydney redeemed themselves in Saturday’s return fixture. In what is becoming a trend, the Kings are using explosive offensive bursts to bury squads. Against the Wildcats, it was a 23-11 fourth quarter run that saw the Kings secure top spot on the NBL ladder.

Making their week even more impressive was it was done while Jason Cadee suffered shooting struggles, as he connected on just 3-of-14 of his attempts across the two games. However, as long as the likes of Kevin Lisch and Brad Newley continue to fire, Sydney’s first-placed power ranking spot should be safe.


2. Perth Wildcats (Last week: 4th)

Warning – please approach this number two ranking with caution. Embed from Getty Images

This should be the message around Perth Arena this week, after their injury toll reached unfair levels. After Jarod Kenny returned from a groin complaint, Damian Martin was the only ‘Cat left on the injury list. While not ideal, the Wildcats rolled out one of their healthiest units of the season in Thursday night’s win over Sydney.

However, things went pear-shaped on Saturday. Starting duo Matty Knight and Jaron Johnson left the court in pain, as Perth’s bad luck continued. The extent of Johnson’s injury is unknown, but Knight’s shoulder didn’t seem to be in good shape.

Knight injured the same shoulder he had surgery on in the offseason, and coach Trevor Gleeson wasn’t bullish on his big man’s health after the game. Reporters noticed Knight leaving the arena in a sling, which is never a good sign.

https://twitter.com/OlgunUluc/status/799934488314679296

The Wildcats controlled the league-leading Kings on Thursday, before fading late in the same fixture on Saturday. These results were enough to push them up to second, but the mid-week health update will be of utmost importance for the Wildcats.


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

New Zealand looked like two completely different teams on the same weekend. Embed from Getty Images

On Friday, it was the Breakers we all know and expect. Paul Henare’s offence was clicking on all cylinders, as his squad scored in triple digits, while shooting 55 percent and dishing out 22 assists. New Zealand leads the league in true shooting percentage, effective field goal percentage and assist percentage, and they displayed why on Friday.

This Breakers team must have forgot to board the plan to Wollongong, as they were decimated on Sunday afternoon. New Zealand could only muster 78 points against the Hawks, shooting just 41 percent. However, the Breakers did record 21 assists, confirming their commitment to ball movement.

While the Breakers do drop a spot, as Perth’s win over Sydney was more impressive than New Zealand’s one over Illawarra, they ultimately receive the benefit of the doubt. We have seen enough from Henare’s men to believe Sunday’s offensive stinker will be an outlier, as they maintain a top-three spot.


4. Brisbane Bullets (Last week: 5th)

It’s time to start talking about Torrey Craig as an MVP candidate. Embed from Getty Images

Craig is sixth in the league for points, averaging 16 a night, and he leads the league with nine rebounds per game. Yes, that’s right. The 6’6” Craig is averaging more rebounds than any of the NBL’s big man. Maybe we should have seen this coming, as Craig averaged 6.1 rebounds for the Taipans last season and 9.8 for the Wellington Saints in New Zealand’s NBL in 2016. Either way, Craig’s rebounding expertise is still eye opening.

The 25-year-old is also putting the ball in the basket on a highly efficient 50.8 percent of his attempts, 14th in the league and third amongst non-big man. Craig’s effectiveness was on display in the Bullets’ 105-87 demolition of Adelaide this weekend, as he connected on 14 of his 18 field goal attempts for 34 points.

Craig’s defence was also tremendous against the 36ers, as he helped hold Jerome Randle to a shoddy seven points. Teams devour over players with two-way versatility, and Craig has that trait.

As long as Craig’s quietly great season continues, Brisbane’s rise up the ladder, and power rankings, will be as quick as ever.


5. Illawarra Hawks (Last week: 6th)

Desperation breeds innovation, and Hawks’ coach Rob Beveridge showed this on Sunday.

After being abolished by the Breakers on Friday, Beveridge knew something had to change in their rematch on Sunday. Instead of going insane by doing the same thing, Beveridge made a major shake up to his starting five.

Kevin White and Cody Ellis earned a promotion with fellow starters Marvelle Harris, Mitch Norton and A.J. Ogilvy. The unlucky omissions to the bench were former NBL MVP Rotnei Clarke and last season’s Rookie of the Year, Nick Kay. After the result, a 31-point triumph, expect Beveridge to roll with this five-man unit in the future. Harris did suffer an ankle injury early in the game, but Beveridge expects him to play this week.

We finally saw Illawarra explode on the offensive end, after they did so numerous times last season and in round one. The Hawks scored 109 points, the first time they reached the triple-digit threshold since round one, and had multiple contributors. Clarke’s move to the bench seemed to rejuvenate the American, as he had 22 points, while Kay (17), Rhys Martin (15), Ogilvy (12), Norton (12) and Tim Coenraad (10) all scored in double-digits.

Illawarra shot 53 percent against New Zealand, and if they can be consistent with that magic offensive formula, the Hawks could be set for a huge mid-season run.


6. Cairns Taipans (Last week: 3rd)

Aaron Fearne is doing his absolute best with this Taipans squad.

Cairns’ three-spot drop in the rankings isn’t a result of their five-point loss to Melbourne United – rather, it is because it would be unjustifiable to place the Taipans over any of the five teams above them. Once again, another nod to how competitive and tight the NBL is this season.

The biggest concern surrounding this Cairns outfit is their offence, and we saw why in the first half against Melbourne. The Taipans scored just 22 points in the first 20 minutes, the lowest scoring half in the league this season. Cairns could simply get nothing going, as their lack of a go-to scorer proved costly.

In the third quarter, though, the Taipans scored 35 points, which offset their dismal first half. Cairns was able to get their offence going by feeding Nate Jawai, which then opened up things on the perimeter.

Which do you read more into – Cairns’ historically poor first half or the third quarter explosion? Based on 10 games of evidence, you’d have to lean towards the former. The Taipans have the league’s worst offence, via Crunchtime shots, an element that will keep Fearne’s men a tier below the elite.


7. Melbourne United (Last week: 8th)

New look, new result for Melbourne.

With Chris Goulding’s return and Casper Ware’s debut, United rolled out a shiny new backcourt on Friday night. Goulding was magical with eight three-pointers, while Ware did a strong job at finding his teammates and pushing the pace.

The duo gave United some necessary positive momentum, as Dean Demopoulos’ men look to start a winning streak.

Melbourne practically defeated Cairns twice on Friday. After letting a 17-point lead slip, United had to claw their way back from a fourth-quarter deficit to take a much-needed win. It showed a sense of resilience and persistence from United, attributes that they haven’t always shown this season.

Melbourne still has one of the NBL’s most talented rosters. With the new backcourt, along with the likes of David Andersen, Ramone Moore, Tai Wesley and an improving Devin Williams, United has the tools to climb up the ladder and power rankings. Now, it’s time to put those tools to use.


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

Did Joey Wright’s rant on the NBL’s financial situation really unveil anything new?

It’s a fact the NBL has been upfront with over the past couple of years and shouldn’t really gain much traction in the news cycle. After all, no Australian professional sport has financial fairness, especially the second-tier leagues.

On the court, the Sixers are starting to show some real problems. Wright’s men continue to run like he wants them to, as Adelaide are first in the league in pace, but not much else is happening.

Their defence is reaching shambolic levels, as another team had an offensive outburst against the Sixers. Randle has suddenly had two sub-par games out of his past three and Terrence Ferguson's struggles transitioning to the pros continue.

On the bright side, the 36ers got Daniel Johnson back and he doubled-up with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Additionally, Nathan Sobey’s breakout campaign gained more steam with 24 points. However, Adelaide’s lack of depth and poor defence will hold them back until a panacea is found.