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2017-18 NBL Power Rankings RD 6-7: Can the MVP bring back Gazey's smile?
New Zealand made the loudest statement of the last two rounds with clutch baskets and headstrong play against Perth resulting in two wins in their top of the table clashes. They haven't lost since October 8th against Cairns.
Perth took those two losses as one would expect a humbled champion to take them: coming out and absolutely scorching a heavily favoured and cocky Melbourne United in Melbourne by 32 points. United was held to 35 points in the last 30 minutes of game time. Damian Martin in particular responded like the champion he is with back to back 12 point games along with his usual all-world defence.
Illawarra extended their win streak to four games before using up all their come from behind tickets against Cairns, going down by 21 points. A foul stench remains around the way the Hawks have handled the Cody Ellis disappearance. Fans aren't stupid and people talk, this situation could have played out differently but honest and open dialogue hasn't been forthcoming.
Sydney welcomed the reigning MVP back into the fold and he signalled his intentions early with 28 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists in a commanding display against Illawarra. Randle will turn Sydney's fortunes around eventually, but even he needs a bit of time to fix this Kings outfit.
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. NZ BREAKERS (Previous rank: 1st –)
ORTG (2nd - 118.0) DRTG (5th - 111.2) PACE (6)
The streak has hit nine after taking care of Perth twice and getting the gutsy come from behind win against the Brisbane Bullets, 90-82 on Sunday. New Zealand now sits two games clear on top of the NBL ladder with a 9-1 record as we approach the half way mark of the season.
Strangely, it will be a case of deja-vu for the Breakers when they take on Perth and Brisbane again in round 8 and then Brisbane and Adelaide in round 9.
The Breakers will be favoured in all four of those games but how much longer can the streak continue?
Shea Ili is currently the front runner for the NBL's Most Improved Player award and is the leading candidate for the NBL's Sixth Man of the Year award too, he's that good.
The diminutive and dynamic little maestro has seemingly come from nowhere to average 11.2 PPG and 3.0 APG while being the man trusted by Coach Henare to close out games and get the win on many occasions.
Against Perth, in Perth, it was Shea that regularly hit the dagger bucket to keep the Wildcats at bay. He has been carving up opposition bench units and is a major reason there has been no drop off when Edgar Sosa or DJ Newbill sit for extended minutes.
Check out the nonchalant confidence here as Sosa sets him up for the triple.
2. PERTH WILDCATS (Previous rank: 2nd –)
ORTG (1st - 120.7) DRTG (2nd - 108.8) PACE (7)
I've been banging on about Derek "DO NOT call me Cookie" Cooke Jr in every single edition of the Power Rankings this season. It pleases us that the wider fan base of the NBL is now getting to see what he is capable of more regularly.
The man is a beast. Raw? Yes. Sometimes awkward and fumbly? Yes. But, still a beast.
DC gobbles up 12 rebounds per 36 minutes of action. For players with a minimum of 6 games that would place him second in the league behind only Josh Boone.
His per 36 minute averages are 16.1 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 1.9 APG, 2.2 SPG and 1.4 BPG. Sadly, he only plays 13.2 minutes per game.
What was most impressive against Melbourne, aside from the raw rebounding numbers and defensive grunt he provided, was the quick passing DC executed within the offense that set up easy buckets for others.
Ominously, he is looking more and more comfortable every game.
The early in-game confrontation between Casey Prather and Jean-Pierre Tokoto was one of the athletic highlights of the season so far, even if the match-up didn't quite live up to the pre-game hype overall. Perth's defence was otherwordly against Melbourne in their 91-59 smackdown Sunday.
3. ADELAIDE 36ERS (Previous rank: 4th ↑)
ORTG (5th - 113.0) DRTG (3rd - 109.1) PACE (1)
There is nothing like playing Sydney to get out of a funk and halt a three game losing skid.
Adelaide made quick work of the Sydney Kings and according to @NBLfacts, Adelaide's 60 point 1st half was the second highest scoring half of the year behind the 69 points they dropped on Sydney in round 3.
It seems Adelaide loves playing Sydney, the 108-93 win making it eight straight against the Kings.
Shannon Shorter deserves a place at the table of best point guards in the league too.
Shorter may not score as freely as offensive counterparts like Bryce Cotton, Casper Ware or the man he replaced, Jerome Randle, but he doesn't have to on this 36er team.
Adelaide has a lot of mouths to feed with Shorter, Mitch Creek, Daniel Johnson, Nathan Sobey, and Ramone Moore all putting up more than 12 points per game and Josh Childress and Anthony Drmic also looking for buckets in the equal-opportunity Adelaide rotation.
What Shorter does do well is manage game tempo and provide the workman-like defensive intensity that Joey Wright craves.
In nine games, Shorter is averaging a well-rounded 13.9 PPG, 5.2 RPG and 5.3 APG in 27 minutes per game.
4. CAIRNS TAIPANS (Previous rank: 6th ↑)
ORTG (8th - 109.3) DRTG (1st - 108.2) PACE (8)
The loss of Michael Carrera and subsequent performance by Cairns has brought up an interesting discussion point. Despite his passionate performances and scoring nous in the games in which he played, Cairns has clearly performed better in the games he hasn't been a part of.
Against a white-hot Illawarra team riding a four-game win streak, the Taipans won by 21 points, 87-66, and both Mitch McCarron and Cam Gliddon each responded with one of their best games of the year.
Mitch was certainly pumped after this throw down.
Jerry Evans Jnr has the tools to make a mark in the NBL. 6'8 long-armed bigs with a smooth stroke, that can drain 43% from behind the arc, will always have a place on a team somewhere.
Especially if they can also do this to Rotnei Clarke
Cairns is the only team that has beaten the New Zealand Breakers, Perth Wildcats and Melbourne United. More impressively, each win has been by double figures. Cairns also has inflicted three separate 20-point beat downs on opposition teams this year too, the most in the league.
5. ILLAWARRA HAWKS (Previous rank: 5th −)
ORTG (5th - 111.5) DRTG (6th - 113.9) PACE (2)
#freecody #whereiscody #bringbackcody #letcodyplay
So the Cody streak, currently at 8 games, is keeping pace with New Zealand's win streak.
An intense twitter war between the Illawarra Mercury and Hawk's owner James Spenceley, erupted over the Cody playing time scandal in the past week. You can read the article that spawned the war of words here.
The situation has been handled poorly by Hawks management from the start, they are clearly in damage control and have blinkers on to the rising tide of angst from their fan base which obviously includes the people that cover the team.
With Demitrius Conger sitting on the sidelines for at least a game, one wonders if Cody will now be miraculously injury free so he can cover for Conger's loss?
Certainly something to keep an eye on this weekend.
Despite the 'company line' being espoused by Bevo, he is not a happy coach. Rob develops players and empowers them. He makes players better by building them up with confidence injections and playing them (see D Martin, M Knight, J Weeks, N Kay, M Norton etc, etc). That's who Bevo is and always has been.
He does not shackle or demean his players in public view, nor belittle them in front of a knowing fan base.
To stop playing someone who scored 9 points in 6 minutes the last time they played doesn't seem to fit with the player developing, championship coach's style we all know and love.
This is madness.
The Sydney Kings could possibly be looking for a new coach in the off-season, or maybe even one of the new AFL/NBL clubs if expansion is realised.
There will always be options for one of the better coaching minds in the game and if any coaching vacancies do come up, the first person that should be called (besides Brian Goorjian) is Rob Beveridge.
6. MELBOURNE UNITED (Previous rank: 3rd ↓)
ORTG (6th - 110.2) DRTG (4th - 109.6) PACE (3)
It was a really bad night for Melbourne against Perth with a number of records for ineptitude being set.
There was one man up for the fight, ex-Perth champion and 2016-17 club MVP, Casey Prather, the only player taking it to his old club.
That followed a 92-69 butt-kicking by the Cairns Taipans to start round 6. Melbourne's offense has cratered and Coach Vickerman needs to find a way to feed all the egos before another year is wasted.
CG43 is currently in the biggest shooting and scoring funk of his life.
Per 36 minutes, he is 48th in the league in points and scoring fewer than less 'notable' rotation players such as Stephen Weigh, Mitch Norton, Reuben Te Rangi, Alex Pledger, Cam Gliddon, Jarrod Weeks, Alex Loughton, Jesse Wagstaff, rookie big man Isaac Humphries, Angus Brandt, Tom Jervis and Shea Ili.
Nailing 3 from 3 against Shane Heal, without any defenders in a Fox Sports interview segment, obviously wasn't enough to get him out of this mental funk. Perhaps another type of healing is needed?
Against championship level defence from Perth, Goulding clearly wilted and was only able to score on two free throws, missing all six of his field goal attempts. It was the second time in three games he has scored two points. In the last four games he has hit 7-26 FG's (27%) including 5-18 (28%) from 3PT land and averaged just 6.5 PPG.
In the words of Homicide Williams:
"what the hell am I paying you for, man? C'mon!".
7. BRISBANE BULLETS (Previous rank: 7th –)
ORTG ( 3rd - 114.7) DRTG (8th - 122.6) PACE (5)
Brisbane had a tough round to try and continue their winning momentum, playing the top two teams back to back in round 7. The good news is Brisbane was in both games to the end but was again let down by their lack of focus at crucial moments along with defensive lapses at key points that shifted momentum.
When Travis Trice hit a deuce with less than five minutes left in the third quarter against the Breakers, Brisbane was up nine (51-42) and had New Zealand reeling. Coach Lemanis then made the mistake (in hindsight) of taking their best defender Perrin Buford out and bringing in Stephen Holt. New Zealand went on a 19-7 tear led by DJ Newbill (who was being guarded by Buford) and his 9 points. Brisbane was never able to recover.
Travis Trice is nearly as bad a thief as UCLA's LiAngelo Ball. Against Perth, he tried to sneakily take a few free throws that belonged to Buford in the closing stages of the game. It didn't work and Brisbane ended up going down 90-85 against the reigning champs. What was he thinking? Both players shoot roughly 75% on their free throws.
Thank goodness for Perrin, the only man that can stop Shea Ili and dunk on unsuspecting 7-foot fools too.
8. SYDNEY KINGS (Previous rank: 8th –)
ORTG (7th - 110.1) DRTG (7th - 122.4) PACE (4)
The arrival of Jerome Randle and Jeremy Tyler was supposed to be manna from heaven for the struggling Kings fan base (and coaching staff).
So far, in three games for Jeremy Tyler, he has more personal fouls (14) than rebounds, assists and blocks combined. Not exactly what Gazey wants from his shiny new toy that was supposed to gobble rebounds and block a ton of shots. Jeremy is obviously having a hard time adjusting to the international rules because he fouled out in 10 minutes in his first game against Melbourne and lasted only 11 minutes before fouling out against Adelaide.
He will find his way eventually, in the meantime we will wait in anticipation for more of this:
Jerome "MVP" Randle on the other hand has done what we all expected him to do in his two games back: score buckets and stare down much taller foes that get in his face.
What Sydney desperately needed, and what Jerome Randle will give this team in spades, is toughness and a never-back-down attitude. He is a competitor who's not afraid of the moment. Against the 36ers, Jerome proved he will hold teammates accountable at all times, something Gazey has been desperate for.
It's good to have the MVP back, isn't it?
Speaking of Andrew, I'm worried about him. He appears to be losing some of the spark he came in with as a wide-eyed coaching neophyte.
Last season, I wrote about the joy Andrew seemed to get from coaching in the NBL and how successful he had been to start off his career on the sidelines. At the time, Sydney was on top of the ladder with an 8-4 record.
Since that piece was published, Andrew and the Kings have gone 7-20 and Andrew is having a hard time concealing how that makes him feel, as noted by the Adelaide Advertiser here.
Sydney has three very winnable games coming up in round 8 and 9 against Cairns (home and away) and Brisbane (home) before taking on a flaky Melbourne United team to close out round 9.
They are 3.5 games out of fourth place with 17 games to go. Anything is possible, especially as Jerome Randle imposes his will more and more each day.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK:
Jerome Randle (Sydney): 28 pts, 9 rbs, 5 atsts v Illawarra; 18 pts, 2 rbs, 5 asts v Adelaide
Perry Ellis (Sydney): 21 pts on 6-9 FG's, 11 rbs v Illawarra; 26 pts on 11-14 FG's, 8 rbs v Adelaide
Bryce Cotton (Perth): 24 pts, 3 rbs, 5 asts 4-6 3PT's v Brisbane; 24 pts, 3 rbs, 2asts, 3-8 3PT's v Melbourne
Casey Prather (Melbourne): 22 pts, 6 rbs, 3 asts v Sydney; 20 pts, 5 rbs in a solo performance v Perth
Cam Gliddon (Cairns): 20 pts, 5 rbs, 3 asts v Melbourne; 15 pts, 4 rbs, 4asts v Cairns; 18 pts, 6 rbs, 4-7 3PT's v Illawarra
Shannon Shorter (Adelaide), Perrin Buford (Brisbane), Isaac Humphries (Sydney, Lucas Walker (Perth), Shea Ili (New Zealand), Damian Martin (Perth), DJ Newbill (New Zealand), Mitch McCarron (Cairns), Josh Boone (Melbourne), Reuban Te Rangi (Brisbane)