2016/17 NBL Round 9 Power Rankings: ‘Cats crash

In a season that is so close, everything matters.

Whether it is regular season series wins against a team, or hitting a three-pointer at the buzzer in a blowout to slightly increase your percentage, every finite detail counts. It’s expected numerous teams will finish with the same win totals come seasons end, so these aspects that may be overlooked at this time of the campaign will prove to be major factors in a few months.

Another thing that can be added to that list is injuries. In fact, injuries have already played a huge part in this season, as these power rankings suggest. They have struck the Perth Wildcats, while squads that have finally reached full health like the Cairns Taipans and Melbourne United are starting showing their full potential.

How does injuries, and another weekend of upsets (albeit not as immense as last week), effect this weeks power rankings?

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


1. Cairns Taipans (Last week: 1st)

Once again, the Taipans were able to outplay one of the most well coached units in the league, solidifying their spot atop of the rankings. We mentioned last week how all of Cairns’ six wins have been impressive and you can add the victory over Brisbane on that list. Embed from Getty Images

Not to write the exact same comment for the Taipans two weeks in a row, but boy, Travis Trice is the barometer for this team. When the Ohio native is on the court, Cairns has one of the craftiest scorers in the league. While the likes of Casper Ware, Kevin Lisch and Jerome Randle get most of the praise, Trice has to join them in the ‘best scorers in the league’ category. On the season, Trice is averaging 16 points in just eight games, and if he can stay healthy in the season’s second half, Aaron Fearne will finally have the talent to match his beautiful offensive system.

Other positives for the Taipans this week included Nate Jawai’s offensive explosion (16 points), forcing turnovers that led to easy transition baskets (22 points off turnovers), another road win (their third of the season) and getting through a game against Brisbane without the lights going out.


2. Melbourne United (Last week: 2nd)

Sunday’s matinee beat down of the New Zealand Breakers marked the first time this entire season that Melbourne played without an injury. If this game was an indication of what this team looks like when fully healthy, we may have found ourselves a title favourite, because Melbourne can get it done on both ends. Embed from Getty Images

While it’s common to talk about United’s downfalls on the defensive end, lets stop that narrative for a second. Dean Demopoulos’ men finished third in defensive rating last season and have backed that up, holding the same spot after 13 games. Their matchup zone defence has constricted open areas for opposing offences and the intent at the point of attack has been a positive development in United’s three-game win streak.

Casper Ware continues to look right at home in the NBL, adding 26 points against the Breakers. However, the impact Ware has made on Chris Goulding has been just as vital. No longer can defences cheat over to Goulding, as Ware’s long-range shooting gives United one of the best offensive backcourts in the league. While Goulding’s scoring has gone down since Ware’s arrival, his efficiency has gone up, making things a lot easier for the 2016 Olympian. Once Todd Blanchfield is released from his minute restriction, Melbourne will add another shooter on the court, enhancing the defences' headaches.

After four weeks of one-game rounds, United has a road double-header in Perth and Sydney this weekend, so it’ll be interesting to see how those legs hold up. One slip-up from Cairns in the spot above them, and Melbourne seem poised to pounce upon it.


3. Sydney Kings (Last week: 4th)

That huge sigh of relief you can hear is Andrew Gaze’s.

Things weren’t getting to panic button level in Sydney, but after a few hiccups last week, a win over a surging Illawarra side was a must. More importantly, though, it secured the regular season series win for the Kings, something Gaze was aware of.

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“That’s our first series win against any team, and with the competition so close, series wins are going to be vital,” Gaze said, via NBL.com.au.

How good was it to see Jason Cadee finally break out of his shooting slump. There comes a time when a slump becomes a worrying trend and Cadee was reaching that line, after averaging just five points on 17.8 percent shooting in his last four games. However, his 22-point effort against the Hawks will hopefully install that offensive confidence back into him.

If the Kings can get Cadee consistently going again, along with the constant brilliance of Brad Newley and Kevin Lisch, then they remain one of the NBL’s toughest outs. Furthermore, Greg Whittington gives them a versatile weapon that is virtually unmatchable.


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

Adelaide is still the NBL’s biggest enigma. This team looked dead and buried just a couple weeks ago, but whatever Joey Wright said to his boys (or whatever was tweeted), has awoken them.

It isn’t just the fact that the Sixers are putting wins on the board, but it’s the fashion in which they’re doing so. During this three-game win streak, Adelaide has had a blow-out victory, a win built on a strong final quarter and an overtime triumph this past weekend, proving they can win in different ways.

An underrated aspect of this 36ers team is their big man depth. Wright can mix and match with his bigs, as Daniel Johnson, Matt Hodgson, Eric Jacobsen and Majok Deng all bring something different to the table. Johnson is the finesse on the offensive end, Hodgson is the defensive rock, Jacobsen is a bit of both and Deng is the versatile weapon. With their already sensational backcourt of Randle and Nathan Sobey, the Sixers’ slew of bigs makes match-up nightmares for the opponent.

Oh, by the way, have we mentioned Mitch Creek yet? The Horsham product was on track for a career year before his devastating foot injury, but is slated to return this week. All of a sudden, with a healthy Creek in the line-up, and Adelaide looks like a legitimate finals contender.

https://twitter.com/MitchCreek23/status/805958712917528576

Of course, consistency and defence hasn’t been staples of this team yet, so questions still linger. At the moment, though, things are positive.


5. Illawarra Hawks (Last week: 3rd)

The Hawks’ Jekyll and Hyde act continued this week. After looking like defensive world-beaters against the Breakers on Friday night, Illawarra couldn’t stop the Kings to save their lives on Monday.

This is what happens when you have a squad that is built on the back of a run-and-gun offence. Playing such a high-tempo game, or ‘Bevo Ball’ as it’s called, leaves your transition defence vulnerable. It worked for Illawarra last season and we are seeing glimpses of the system yielding wins this season, especially after Rob Beveridge’s line-up changes. However, you wonder if the Hawks can sustain a level of success playing this style of ball all season and into the finals, if they make it. Trying to outscore teams on a game-by-game basis is such a risky proposition.

Illawarra rank second in pace and equal-first in offensive efficiency, so if you want entertaining basketball, you know where to find it. The possibility of a Hawks/36ers playoff series would make offensive purists the happiest people on earth.

One of the main reasons the Hawks’ offence has replenished its magic touch, is Rotnei Clarke’s move to the bench. The former MVP is averaging 23.6 points off the pine and seems to have been given the ultimate green light. By moving Clarke to the second unit, Kevin White and Mitch Norton have been able to start, giving the Hawks some defensive minded guys out there from the tip, even if the defence, and this entire team, is still a mystery.


6. Brisbane Bullets (Last week: 8th)

Brisbane looked so good in Perth, but then was equally as disappointing against Cairns. Hey, Illawarra, anymore room on that Jekyll and Hyde bus?

One week, the Bullets look unstoppable, with a Boomers-like offence and strong defensive principles. Other nights, though, Brisbane look disinterested and fail to execute. It must be a difficult task for Andrej Lemanis, trying to drill consistency into the minds of his troops. If the Bullets do find a level of stability in the second half of the season, though, watch out. This team has all the tools to cause serious problems in the playoffs.

Their offence is still one of the best in the league when it’s on, their defence is passable and Torrey Craig is playing like an MVP. On the flip side of that, they turn the ball over at an alarming rate and surprisingly have low assist totals, ranking second-last in assist percentage. That being said, Brisbane had 20 assists on 29 made field goals against Cairns, but also had 18 turnovers. Against Perth, the Bullets had 15 assists on 32 baskets, but coughed the ball up 21 times.

Jeez – just add them to the growing list of ‘teams we can’t figure out.’


7. New Zealand Breakers (Last week: 6th)

What was that?

If anyone remembers the last time the Breakers looked so bad in the span of two games, it’d be an impressive memory. New Zealand’s Achilles heels’ are so easy to point out, but seem to be so hard to actually correct. Despite a team full of offensive weapons and a smartly drawn-up Paul Henare playbook, the Breakers are second in turnover percentage. We saw those issues this weekend, as they had 16 turnovers against both Illawarra and Melbourne. It isn’t just that New Zealand is turning the ball over, though – they’re being punished for it. United racked up 25 points off turnovers on Sunday, the Hawks 22 on Friday.

The most frustrating thing for Henare must be how careless some of the turnovers are. Players not focusing when a pass is being delivered to them and miscommunications on the offensive end are becoming way too common. There isn’t much Henare can do about this – he draws up the plays, but doesn’t determine whether the ball goes in the hoop, or even stays in bounds.

Along with the turnovers, New Zealand’s defence is reaching alarming levels. Both Illawarra and Melbourne got easy basket after easy basket against the Breakers. New Zealand’s rotations were slow and they were playing a Swiss-cheese type defence.

It’s so unusual to see the Breakers playing fundamentally bad basketball, but that’s what’s happening, and it’s why they rank so lowly in the rankings.


8. Perth Wildcats (Last week: 7th)

As unpredictable as the NBL has been this season, the Wildcats have to be the biggest surprise, and not for reasons they would like.

As outlined in the intro, injuries have destroyed Perth’s campaign so far. Damian Martin is still nursing his torn MCL, while Matty Knight’s hip injury looked horrific on Thursday night. We are still unsure of Knight’s return timeframe, but the big man simply cannot catch a break. The Tassie product is a rock for the Wildcats and gives them so much on both ends – which also means Perth losses so much when he is out.

This team has so many questions and not a lot of answers. Does Perth Arena have the same intimidation factor? The Wildcats are 5-3 at home this season, after losing just two games there all of last season. However, ask any team in the league if they would want to play in Perth in the playoffs and the answer will be no.

How about Jaron Johnson? The maligned import has had one of the weirdest NBL seasons in recent memory, and his on court play adds to it. For the first three quarters against Adelaide, he looked lost. Then, he exploded for 13 points in the final period and overtime. Johnson, and his hair, remains impossible to figure out.

At the end of the day, though, these are still the Wildcats – but how long will that mantle last? Can a culture and system trump talent levels? Perth’s second half of the season will help decide that.