2017-18 NBL Power Rankings R1: Making History
What better way to kick off the NBL's 40th Anniversary celebrations than with a barnburner first-up between Melbourne United and the Adelaide 36ers, followed by another heart pumper between Cairns and Illawarra?
It's the first time the opening two games were decided by two points or less.
The Sydney and Melbourne franchises also created history by competing in the US against NBA competition this past week. Whilst the results of those games won't be taken into account in these NBL power rankings, they certainly paint a picture of what we should expect from each team that played. Melbourne United's confidence will only be enhanced after almost stealing the game against Oklahoma City, going down by a solitary point 86-85 Monday morning (AEST). It was a display that serves as a timely reminder to all: the NBL is a league that deserves worldwide respect.
A few notables from Round 1: All teams appear to be following the worldwide trend of playing small ball, picking up the pace and exclusively attacking the rim for lay-ups or bombing from long range. Every team except Adelaide is scorching the nets from behind the arc early on. Scoring has spiked dramatically compared to last season. It's still early, but these trends will likely continue.
These power rankings are determined by many factors, including both offensive and defensive ratings, who you beat, who beat you and how you played. Being the first ranking of the season, this will be longer than what you can expect for the rest of the year. 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.
1. MELBOURNE UNITED
ORTG (6th - 115.9) DRTG (2nd - 113.6) PACE (3)
Melbourne hadn't won a game without Chris Goulding the last two years going 0-7. This year, they are 1-0 without one of their weapons. Goulding missed the season opening win (99-97) against Adelaide (and the trip to play Oklahoma) due to a bout of appendicitis that required surgery last week, and it will likely keep him sidelined until November.
The two games he has missed shows he might be more cream than cake for Melbourne.
Coach Dean Vickerman has the wherewithal and veteran weapons at his disposal to overcome the short term absence of CG43. Melbourne will be must-see viewing all season (even without Goulding) because of their potential; the team is a volatile mix with a lot of egos to feed, particularly with the passionate and angst-ridden Tai Wesley on court.
The OKC result could be enough to sway any doubters to get on board this potential juggernaut. They look to be the team to beat after the first week.
SPOTLIGHT: How will the return flight from the US and possible fatigue affect Melbourne over the next 7-14 days? Their next NBL game is Saturday against Adelaide, a team that likes to get out and run.
FUN FACT: In losing 86-85 to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Melbourne became the only NBL team in history to lose by single digits against NBA competition. In 1995, the Perth Wildcats lost by 44 points against the Houston Rockets (116-72) and last week the Sydney Kings lost to the Utah Jazz by 25 (108-83).
2. PERTH WILDCATS
ORTG (1st - 141.4) DRTG (6th - 126.7) PACE (7)
Bryce Cotton continued where he left off with 24 points and 5 threes, leading Perth to a comfortable 96-86 win over the new look Brisbane Bullets.
Perth went small against Brisbane, with Matt Knight, Derek Cooke Jr and bustling Angus Brandt combining for 30 minutes total.
Is this a sign of things to come for Perth? It's hard to tell. Brandt couldn't hit the side of a barn in the first half, missing his first five dinky hook shots at the rim. Import centre Derek Cooke Jr, didn't see any action until 7 minutes into the second quarter, leaving many Perth fans to wonder if he would see the court at all.
More importantly for Perth, Matt Knight sustained yet another injury 5 minutes into his season. A suspected broken cheekbone could sideline the bushman for a number of games and continues a wretched run for the ageing workhorse.
If you haven't seen Jean-Pierre Tokoto yet, you need to see the swagger this smooth athlete oozes during game play and the dunks he unleashes pre-game.
SPOTLIGHT: 6 minutes and 33 seconds, in a game that was never in doubt, is all the finally cleared for takeoff Derek Cooke Jr played in his first game with the team. It's a worrying sign for fans given the play of Brandt in his 18 minutes on court and the injury to Matt Knight. Are there other reasons behind 'DC' not playing?
FUN FACT: The Perth Wildcats have a 13-4 win-loss record with Bryce Cotton on the roster, including the last 8 straight dating back to 10 February 2017.
3. CAIRNS TAIPANS
ORTG (3rd - 126.3) DRTG (4th - 124.9) PACE (5)
Aaron Fearne was in mid-season form right off the bat, with Fox Sports having to cut the mic feed early in the Cairns v Illawarra game, due to a few expletives that made their way across the airwaves. Surely there are tense moments in the control room during Cairns timeouts, but this was during game play.
Cairns is 2-0 and has done it with a 'whoever's hot' mentality across the two games. Against Illawarra, it was Alex Loughton taking us back to his rookie year by scoring 19 points in 21 minutes off the bench, including the winning free-throws. Against New Zealand, Dayshon 'Scoochie' Smith and Steven Weigh shouldered the scoring load with 18 and 17 respectively.
Cairns is a well-coached and surprisingly deep team that shares the load, with ten players getting regular minutes every night.
SPOTLIGHT: Nate Jawai is still the biggest, baddest man in the league. The loss of the immovable object, who scored 12 points in 14 minutes before tweaking his left ankle while rollicking to the rim, wasn't felt in either game thus far. He missed the rest of the game against Illawarra and the Sunday matinee game against New Zealand but his scoring and much needed rebounding punch can't be overstated.
FUN FACT: The Cairns Taipans extended their record home opening win streak to 17 straight seasons.
4. ADELAIDE 36ERS
ORTG (5th - 116.8) DRTG (1st - 112.7) PACE (2)
Adelaide has changed its style of play with the loss of Jerome Randle. The ball movement is sharp and the offensive wealth evenly spread with nine players capable of scoring in double figures on any given night. Defensively, they are employing a full-court, hard-trapping defence from the get-go, then sinking back into a zone defence for long stretches. It's the best 'D' in the league so far and it had Melbourne rattled and unable to make a shot early.
Once a rebound is corralled, the mandate is clear: run! run! run! The 36ers look to get easy baskets with the defence napping. The entire squad runs to fill lanes and get to dangerous spots. Mitch Creek, Nathan Sobey, Shannon Shorter, Ramone Moore and reigning rookie of the year, Anthony Drmic thrive in this system.
Adelaide racked up 29 points in the last 6 minutes against a shell-shocked Sydney Kings unit and is the only team averaging 100+ points.
Drmic appears ready to have a season-long battle for the 6th man of the year award against 2016-17 winner, Rotnei Clarke. He was outstanding against Melbourne with 17 points in 21 minutes, before following that up with 11 points in 18 minutes against Sydney. He's a sparkplug.
SPOTLIGHT: Import Roland Roberts was cut on the eve of the season, before a bizarre and oftentimes shambolic tit-for-tat involving the 36ers coach, Roberts and Roberts' girlfriend. The 36ers claimed he was injured, Roberts claimed he was fine and Wright "has a huge ego". In the end, all parties came off looking bad.
FUN FACT: 3-time Coach of the Year Joey Wright, has never started any season 0-2 in his 15-year NBL coaching career.
5. ILLAWARRA HAWKS
ORTG (4th - 124.9) DRTG (5th - 126.3) PACE (4)
Illawarra let one slip against Cairns, going down 88-87 on a last second free-throw by Alex Loughton. With 9 of their first 12 on the road, Rob Beveridge would be extremely disappointed that his team came up short a number times in crucial moments, costing his team a chance to put a win on the board early.
Import Demetrius Conger looked comfortable and will only improve. Beveridge has already called for his players to force feed Conger the ball more often.
Three time All-NBL 1st teamer, AJ Ogilivy started with a bang: 22 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists clearly solidifying his status as the best bigman in the game.
SPOTLIGHT: Can anybody stop Rotnei? When somebody (a former MVP no less) gets hot, you should make sure you keep an eye on them and rotate out when they look like getting the ball. Cairns was incapable and it nearly cost them. Rotnei was on a mission from the moment he hit the court, nailing seven three's from seemingly everywhere.
FUN FACT: AJ Ogilvy has had a double-double in 13 of his last 17 games - averaging 16.2 pts and 10.4 rbs in this calendar year.
6. SYDNEY KINGS
ORTG (7th - 109.3) DRTG (3rd - 119.6) PACE (1)
RealGM has Sydney as the tallest team by average height, but their starting line-up is grossly under-sized against most teams. Perry Ellis has a chance to be special but he is being played out of position far too often, taking away from his strengths and limiting his effectiveness. The Kings need a dominant centre/power forward to complement the pieces already in place. Until then they will struggle to rebound, get easy buckets and more importantly stop teams defensively.
Whilst Sydney has a lot of big 'name' players like Brad Newley, Perry Ellis, Todd Blanchfield and Travis Leslie, they appear too similar in game style and position. Sydney is still coalescing and Gazey has his work cut out integrating six new faces (seven if/when they get another import) into the line-up.
Jason Cadee handled his demotion with aplomb, scoring 16 points in 25 minutes off the bench, including 4 three-pointers in the final stanza trying to lift his team from their jet-lagged malaise. It still wasn't enough.
Kevin Lisch continues to be solid with 16 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists despite shooting 3 of 11 from the field. It was a big week for Kevin celebrating the birth of twins shortly after arrving home from Utah.
SPOTLIGHT: Their lack of size upfront. Sydney has yet to fill their final import spot and no one knows why. Out-rebounded 26-12 in the second half of the game, it's clear they need some help immediately and a big man has to be on the radar to round the roster out.
FUN FACT: Have lost their last six games against Adelaide and allowed the 36ers to score 29 points in the last 6 minutes of their home-opener. 29 points!
7. BRISBANE BULLETS
ORTG (2nd - 126.7) DRTG (7th - 141.4) PACE (6)
New look, same result for Brisbane. Sadly, it could be another long season for the Bullets after losing to the Perth Wildcats 96-86 in Perth.
Travis Trice may have scored 9 points early and 23 overall but at least 12 of those came in garbage time against a Wildcat team with a double-digit lead, which invariably padded his stats. When the game was there to be won, he was found wanting against Bryce Cotton.
The much-heralded Steven Holt struggled mightily in his much anticipated return to the NBL, scoring 7 points on just 6 shots in a tad over 24 minutes. Dan Kickert scored his usual 18 points but must do more, grabbing only one rebound and dishing zero assists for the night.
Perrin Buford is a keeper: 17 points on 58% shooting and 5 rebounds was a good start to this 23-year-old's NBL career. Buford, Kickert and Trice form a nice, three-headed monster but the rest of the roster is severely limited. They need help.
SPOTLIGHT: Brisbane's bench is super thin and will be a cause for concern all year long, they were outscored 29-17 against Perth and lack scoring punch.
FUN FACT: Four-time NBL champion Jesse Wagstaff, outscored Brisbane's entire bench unit by himself Saturday night: 18-17.
8. NZ BREAKERS
ORTG ( -) DRTG (-) PACE (-) (stats unavailable at time of publish)
New Zealand looked a fair way off after being played to a standstill on their home court against the Cairns Taipans, losing 82-71. The 71 points - with only 8 assists - has to be cause for serious concern. Coach Paul Henare must instil better ball movement to create some easy baskets.
Thom Abercrombie continues to improve despite turning 30 in July. This is his team now and the 23 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks against Cairns has to become the norm for this team to go anywhere.
New imports Edgar Sosa (15 points) and DJ Newbill (12 points) played about 20 minutes each but showed they have a place in this league. Whilst the ageless one, Mika Vukona, is still one of the most effective players in the league scoring 6 points with 9 rebounds in only 9 minutes of action.
SPOTLIGHT: Is this the end for Kirk Penney? The second oldest player in the league (behind Chris Anderson) struggled his way to 7 points on 2 of 6 shooting in 24 minutes of game time. Perhaps Henare needs to give some of those minutes to his imports Sosa and Newbill and save Penney's legs for short scoring bursts.
FUN FACT: New Zealand has lost three straight home games against the Cairns Taipans.
(ORTG= Offensive rating, DRTG = Defensive rating, PACE= pace of play)
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK:
Casper Ware (Melbourne): 23 pts, 8 rbs, 6 asts, 0 tov, 6 of 11 from 3PT.
Bryce Cotton (Perth): 24 pts, 4 rbs, 3 asts, 5 of 8 from 3PT. MVP favourite.
AJ Ogilvy (Illawarra): 22 pts, 11 rbs, 4 ast, 2 stls, 1 blk.
Nathan Sobey (Adelaide), Alex Loughton (Cairns), Brad Newley (Sydney), Rotnei Clarke (Illawarra), Thom Abercrombie (NZB), Ramone Moore (Adelaide)