2017-18 NBL Power Rankings RD 12-13: Heritage Month is our favourite month.
Welcome to first Power Rankings of the new year, you will notice there has been a heap of movement up and down the ladder. As fans, we should hope that continues, though it is starting to look like the top 4 is beginning to break away from the bottom half. Can Illawarra make a late season run? They can't afford to drop games up 18 if they want to. Will the return of Nathan Jawai catapult Cairns?
The home stretch has come into view and as teams ramp up preparations to make the playoffs, rosters must soon be finalised. Or if you're the Sydney Kings, it's time to change tack completely and start prepping for the 2021 playoffs by making player development the number one priority; until next year starts and you change tack again. More on the Kings below.
The great news for basketball fans nationwide is that January is Heritage Month and I personally can't wait to see what the NBL and the clubs themselves have in store. One item on the agenda that is particularly pleasing: each team will wear heritage-themed jerseys at least twice (at home) during Heritage Month. According to the NBL, heritage-themed jerseys will be based on the following year(s):
Adelaide - 1998-99
Brisbane - 1985
Cairns - 2005-06
Illawarra - 1989-94
Melbourne - 2007-08
New Zealand - 2011-12
Perth - 1982
Sydney - 2004-05
I'm particularly looking forward to the Perth (Westate) Wildcats, Brisbane Bullets and Illawarra Hawks jerseys from those long ago eras.
These power rankings are determined by many factors, including both offensive and defensive ratings, who you beat, who beat you and how you played. The stats noted have been provided by RealGM.com and nbl.com.au.
The power rankings are the opinion of one man only. To discuss the rankings, hit me up on Twitter @alleighoops.
(ORTG= Offensive rating, DRTG = Defensive rating, PACE= pace of play)
1. MELBOURNE UNITED (Previous rank: 1st –)
ORTG (4th - 111.6) DRTG (1st - 105.8) PACE (3)
That was one hell of a comeback against a rampaging Illawarra outfit. Down 18, Melbourne should not have won that game but their never quit attitude, which was missing in the first half of the season, was there for all to see in this game. I don't know if that game said more about Illawarra or Melbourne.
Alas, the streak sits at 6 wins and continues into round 14 where the Perth Wildcats are waiting to ambush Melbourne at Perth Arena.
This could be a grand final series preview and with Carrick v Tokoto, Ware v Cotton, Wesley v Walker, Boone v Cooke Jr, it certainly has the best individual match-ups. Melbourne is seeking payback for the 32-point smackdown in round 7, but Perth is Perth. It won't be easy.
This is the game of the round and a must watch for everybody.
SPOTLIGHT: Casey who?
Casey Prather was a contender for the MVP award with his stellar play in the first 11 rounds of the season. The new guy in town, Carrick Felix, is making people forget all about that. Melbourne is in the rather envious position of having to make a tough decision on these two. Can't keep them both.
2. ADELAIDE 36ERS (Previous rank: 6th ↑)
ORTG (6th - 110.8) DRTG (2nd - 108.3) PACE (1)
Adelaide's defence and pace of play have exploded in the last fortnight. The defence has tightened up and is five points per game better (108.3 points per 100 possessions), moving them from 6th in defensive rating to 2nd behind Melbourne. Think the two are related? Of course they are. Adelaide had the best defence in the league in the early going and used a frenetic and crazed trapping defence to ignite a fast break machine that was well-oiled. It disappeared for a while but it's back in a big way now.
The issue for Adelaide has been maintaining a high level of play for an extended period. They haven't shown any consistency in that department at all. Can they now?
SPOTLIGHT: Majok Deng. Where did this come from?
3. PERTH WILDCATS (Previous rank: 3rd –)
ORTG (1st - 117.6) DRTG (3rd - 109.1) PACE (7)
Friday night against Melbourne United. It's a chance for Melbourne to exact revenge after a humiliating loss last time around. It's also a chance for Perth to further intimidate and put the foot on the throat of an opponent. The winner will gain a mental edge. The loser just wounds to lick. It's easily game of the round, a top of the table clash with so much riding on it.
Perth was surprisingly bad against Adelaide last round. They were utterly powerless to stop a bench-sitting role player who exploded and scored 16 points in the last quarter. Another game there to be won and Perth was found wanting, with poor execution and lax defence nearly every time down the floor.
Round 13 was another set of games that Perth was supposed to jump ahead on the table and didn't take advantage.
Thankfully, after the Melbourne game, Perth has a home and away set of games against Sydney in round 15. Thank god for Sydney.
SPOTLIGHT: Many pundits (including yours truly) have had enough of the calls for Derek Cooke Jr to be axed. The main noise in favour of axing is coming from Shane Heal and Homicide Williams during game broadcasts no less, which strikes me a borderline unprofessional.
Thankfully Derek just goes out and kicks butt. In the Sydney game he made them look like fools by dominating their favourite, Jeremy Tyler. 10 points, 15 rebounds including 7 offensive, 2 blocks, 1 steal.
4. NZ BREAKERS (Previous rank: 2nd ↓)
ORTG (2nd - 114.6) DRTG (5th - 112.2) PACE (5)
Is running up the score against a beaten foe disrespectful? In the NBA this would have caused a riot, but not so in Australia/New Zealand. We must remember that percentage is all important in the race to the playoffs, so every point counts.
Personally - I don't have a problem with this. What do you guys think?
SPOTLIGHT: How many centres does it take for New Zealand to play basketball? One? no. Two? no. It looks like it takes three!
The arrival of Rakeem has brought about a quandary that I'm having a hard time understanding.
Why have the Breakers signed an import centre to the spot they already have a solid tandem? Both Alex Pledger and Rob Loe were recently rated top 10 centres in the NBL by the Pick and Roll. There is only 40 minutes a game.
Someone on this team is not going to be happy.
The Breakers could potentially be jeopardising their team chemistry, this close to the playoffs and whilst sitting equal top of the ladder.
For what it's worth: if I was GM for a day, I would move Vukona to a sub role, shift Abercrombie to power forward and bring in a Tokoto, Conger or Prather type. If only it was that simple, right?
The Breakers had an ace up their sleeve with that third import slot and this is a risky move that on the surface doesn't make much sense.
5. ILLAWARRA HAWKS (Previous rank: 7th ↑)
ORTG (3rd - 112.8) DRTG (6th - 114.0) PACE (2)
Illawarra's offense is firing on all cylinders of late. They've climbed from 7th in offensive rating to 3rd since the last rankings.
Losing the unlosable game against Melbourne United, how will they respond? They can't afford to drop many more games in the race for the four. The words of Coach Bevo should still be ringing loudly in the ears of every player.
“We went to water, we were soft." Rob Beveridge (source)
Illawarra has a round 14 game against New Zealand (at home) before a home and away series against Adelaide. The two Adelaide games could very well decide which of those teams makes it into the top four.
The Hawks must remember these words from their Coach:
“There’s no doubt we were very, very good except for when it counted. It’s a big hiccup because, right now, this league is so close that, if you drop games like that, it can really, really hurt.” Rob Beveridge after the loss to Melbourne
SPOTLIGHT: The best small forward in the game, Demitirus Conger, is racing towards being crowned the best player, period. He has competition, particularly from a couple of studs in Perth and even his own teammate Rotnei Clarke, but he is on such a hot streak, the buzz is building. He has one hand on the trophy, lift Illawarra into the playoffs and it's practically sealed.
He makes plays like this look routine.
6. CAIRNS TAIPANS (Previous rank: 4th ↓)
ORTG (8th - 109.6) DRTG (4th - 110.4) PACE (8)
The biggest towel soaker in the league is back; which coincidentally means employment for towel boys and court wipers is again booming. Nate Jawai finally made his much anticipated return to action after missing the last three months.
Nate was predictably rusty against the Breakers, here he gets blocked easily by Alex Pledger and then throws up what can only be described as a forced line-drive jump throw. Then he gets blocked again. Timing and reading the defence was off, which is to be expected. It's Nate Jawai though, he will make a difference as Cairns looks to crash the playoff party. He has 7 games to make up for lost time.
Cam Gliddon got the record and is extending it into round 14 action
Cairn's defence has plummeted recently from the best to the 4th ranked according to defensive rating. This coincides with the demotion to the bench of defensive-minded playmaker Scoochie Smith.
SPOTLIGHT: While Cairns's defence has suffered, Jarrad Weeks has been balling since being inserted into the starting lineup four games ago. In 2018, Jarrad is averaging 15 PPG, 3 RPG, 3 APG and is 6 of 12 from three point range. He finally looks comfortable running the Taipans offense as lead guard and off-ball when McCarron or Gliddon take over the offensive play calling.
7. SYDNEY KINGS (Previous rank: 8th ↑)
ORTG (7th - 110.1) DRTG (8th - 120.0) PACE (4)
The Kings hierarchy made the tough call to release Jeremy Tyler, the second best centre in the league (according to the Pick and Roll) but a clear distraction to everyone involved with the Kings. If it's true that he also missed numerous training sessions, then the Kings have made the right call.
Tyler was seemingly a problem from the moment he walked through the airport and clearly was unable to contain his emotions during the course of a game.
It begs the question: what type of background scouting, if any, is the General Manager doing behind the scenes? The blowtorch must be laid squarely at the feet of Jeff Van Groningen, the man who should be under the spotlight.
SPOTLIGHT: What is the plan, Van?
Sydney and by extension, Jeff Van Groningen, loves to make a splashy signing and over the course of his tenure he has undoubtedly signed some big names: former NBA players Steve Blake and Josh Powell, NCAA and Kansas star Perry Ellis, reigning MVP Jerome Randle and Aussie Boomer Brad Newley just to name a few.
It's clear that despite this ability, he hasn't mastered how to build a roster that complements each of those players strengths and weaknesses. It's been a wild ride of changed plans, changed directions, bad recruiting and short lived player stints because due diligence, watching tape and digging deep on every player hasn't been done adequately; it's almost like he's running an NBL Fantasy team and is just looking at the stat sheet (on that note, I bet even Homicide Williams could beat JVG).
According to RealGM, Sydney has used a total of 29 different players*, including 10 different imports, over the last 18 months under Coach Andrew Gaze. Let's be clear: Andrew Gaze has coached less than 50 games and is not Brad Stevens (the man who manages to coach the hell out of whatever roster Danny Ainge throws at him in Boston). To get the best of Andrew, he needs a consistent and constant approach; there needs to be less player turnover. *For the sake of comparison, the two-time defending champions have used just 21 players.
To most onlookers, including yours truly, there appears to be no purpose, rhyme or reason to many of the recruiting decisions made.
Sydney continues to be run on the fly, with forever changing directions on roster construction and what type of team they want to be. If indeed the direction now is to play and develop younger players, then please stick to it. And when next year comes around, continue in that direction and recruit imports that complement that philosophy (or even better try and keep the ones you've already got).
It should not be forgotten, most championship teams with substance are built from stable environs where internal growth is paramount.
8. BRISBANE BULLETS (Previous rank: 5th ↓)
ORTG ( 5th - 111.0) DRTG (7th - 116.6) PACE (6)
You may recall me stating in a recent power rankings, that Brisbane was smokey to make the top 4 after going on a mini three game win streak. Well that's over. The Bullets still think they are a chance at the playoffs (mathematically that's true) but Brisbane has just lost five games in a row at the worst possible time. Included in those losses were a 1-point loss to Melbourne United, a 3-point loss to Cairns and a 6-point loss to Sydney after being up most of the game. Those are the games that you have to win to make the playoffs.
Brisbane's next four games are Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide and Melbourne again. With that schedule, and the way Brisbane is closing out games, the playoffs aren't happening.
SPOTLIGHT: During the five-game losing streak Brisbane decided to reinsert import Stephen Holt back into the starting line-up in place of Perrin Buford. It didn't work.
Holt gave Brisbane just 9.0 PPG, 1.2 RPG and 1.0 APG in 27 minutes per game.
It could have been an opportunity for Reuben Te Rangi to be given some extra burn but unfortunately he too was unable to grab the opportunity, scoring just one point and not making a field goal in three games. It's a shame because he was blossoming prior to that with scores of 11, 12, 11 and 9 in four of the previous five games.
The NBL's Top Players from Rounds 1 to 12
During the week, The Pick and Roll ranked the best of the best, the Top 5 for each position over the first 12 rounds. A summary is below for those that missed it.
If you wish to read up on each player simply click on the positions link.
Point Guards : 1) Travis Trice. 2) Edgar Sosa. 3) Jerome Randle. 4) Casper Ware. 5)Shannon Shorter
Shooting Guards 1) Bryce Cotton. 2) Rotnei Clarke. 3) Ramone Moore. 4) Mitch McCarron. 5) DJ Newbill
Small Forwards 1) Demitrius Conger. 2) JP Tokoto. 3) Casey Prather. 4) Perrin Buford. 5) Mitch Creek
Power Forwards 1) Tai Wesley. 2) Perry Ellis. 3) Lucas Walker. 4) Daniel Johnson. 5) Alex Loughton
Centres 1) Josh Boone. 2) Jeremy Tyler. 3) Derek Cooke Jr. 4) Tom Jervis. 5) Alex Pledger