The 2017 Eric Watterson All-Stars
Whilst you are standing there in bewilderment at the eye-catching, oxymoronic heading, probably shaking your head about to laugh – allow me to explain.
If you’re reading this, you’re most likely a basketball junkie just like me and no doubt familiar with ESPN’s resident NBA writing savant, Zach Lowe. If you know Zach’s work, you’d know all about a magical little team he puts together every year – 'the Luke Walton All-Stars'. Embed from Getty Images //embed.gettyimages.com/embed/577997960?et=SEaVkWNMStRhqcH_C5zotw&viewMoreLink=on&sig=4Nq_cDyQno2015mE6Hh1gOAiJmDj6mpkQHaTplAqFKw=&caption=true
The LWAS team, is meant to be a tongue-in-cheek celebration of NBA journeymen and role players who are thriving unexpectedly; those selfless players that fit their game into whatever is required for the good of the team. They regularly do the little things that don't always show up on the stat sheet but helps win you ball games. They’re the glue guys.
In my mind, there is only one man’s name that should be attached to an NBL version of this role-playing all-stars team: Eric Watterson.
‘Watto’, as he lovingly came to be known, averaged a meagre 3.2 ppg and 2.4 apg in 306 games across 11 seasons. He was a short man by basketball standards (around 6’1) and not particularly athletic or attractive in any notable way. Yet, during a golden era in NBL annals, he was able to hang around long enough to become a vital cog in the Perth Wildcat machine that played in 4 Grand Final series and won 2 Championships.
With those low numbers, for that long? How is that freaking possible? The answer is simple: He knew his role and despite his limitations, did it well.
Watterson’s role was to play spotty back-up minutes behind two NBL Hall of Famers – firstly Mike Ellis then Ricky Grace. When his number was called he had to take care of the ball, play body to body full-court defence like a hungry pit bull (think Dellevedova), run the offence, find the open man and splash the occasional dagger three – much to an eager crowds gleeful delight.
Similar to the way a cuttlefish neutralises its prey through a stunning and hypnotic light show – Watto’s flowing, curly mullet of sandy, golden locks clearly rendered his opponents stupefied. How else does one explain his success and longevity?
Legend has it that Billy Hoyle – the basketball hustler and world-famous trash-talker of White Men Can’t Jump fame – was based (almost entirely) on Eric Watterson. I, for one, don’t doubt it. Watto was obviously able to ‘hustle’ many a better player over the years while looking nothing like a basketball pro.
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For these reasons, there is no better candidate for the team’s naming rights honour.
So, with that eloquent intro behind us, I bring you:
The 2017 Eric Watterson All-Stars
The 2016-2017 NBL players who in limited minutes showed their 'Wattoworthiness' and impressed me. They might be old stagers with a little bit of magic left, young players that unexpectedly made a positive first impression or gents who been in the system and taken a leap forward.
Each one deserves recognition for the way they’ve played in lesser but still vital roles. All stats mentioned below are courtesy of RealGM and the NBL website.
Mika Vukona (F) (Vice Captain)
New Zealand Breakers
2017 NBL Stats: 27 Games - 19.6 MPG
6.5 PPG 5.0 RPG 2.2 APG / 63.0FG% 0.00 3PT% 70.0FT%
Per 40 Stats: 13.3 PPG 10.3 RPG 4.5 APG
ORTG: 109.9 DRTG: 106.8 PER: 14.5
Once Mika crosses that white line, the man is a raging bull. Simply put: there is no one in the league more relentless.
Now an elder statesman at 34 years of age, Mika unbelievably is still a game changer who will ‘bring it’ every minute he’s on court. He has command of the New Zealand Breakers team, setting the culture and the standards others will invariably follow long after he has retired.
Far from being a highlight-reel scoring maestro, he still has an underutilised array of skilful moves in his arsenal. With his old-man craftiness in the post – the smooth footwork and fantastic hands – he’ll do at least one move a game that makes you giggle with pleasure.
Effort plays are his signature though; think brick wall screens, crucial rebounds, diving after loose balls, taking charges and throwing bows. Anything to get a W.
“Mika’s relentless and he loves to win and will do so at any cost. You know when you’re playing with him, he’s never going to take any shortcuts” Breakers teammate Tom Abercrombie
Mika is a 5-time NBL champion who still surprises through will and nous. He may not be a purist’s favourite, but for many fans including myself, he’s an absolute joy to watch.
Shot a career high 63% from the field in 2016-17. Turned back the clock with 9 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists in just 21 minutes against Perth, Dec 15. Could not miss against Cairns on Australia Day with 16 points and 6 rebounds in 18 minutes.
Has made 50 of his last 71 shots (70.4%) but hasn't made a 3-pt basket since 2012.
Tom Jervis (C)
2017 NBL Stats: 27 Games - 15.8 MPG
7.4 PPG 4.9 RPG 0.7 BPG / 53.3 FG% 0.0 3PT% 86.5 FT%
Per 40 Stats:18.1 PPG 12.3 RPG 1.8 BPG
ORTG: 113.4 DRTG: 109.6 PER: 18.1
Many Perth fans were gutted when 'Jervo' left the Wildcats and it’s pretty easy to see why. Don't be fooled by 2017's lowly assist average of one a game. It's clear that Tom is one of, if not the best, big man passers in the league when allowed to operate. He also led the league in block percentage the last two years with Perth, something that fell away badly with Brisbane.
Tom has great hands and can routinely hit cutters with soft little dink passes in the paint or find the open shooters with cross court kick outs. He makes it look easy. Has a deceptively effective post game that should have been better utilised more often at Brisbane.
When Cam Bairstow went down and was subsequently ruled out for the rest of #NBL17, I assumed Jervis would see an immediate and steep uptick in his minutes. Instead, his minutes went down. Hovering around 20 per game early in the year, he finished the season at only 15.8 per game.
The Bullets underlying issues all year were conceding offensive rebounds and defensive breakdowns, two areas where Tom Jervis could have helped if given more time . He knows it too:
“That’s just simple stuff, getting outworked … there were a lot of scout breakdowns that we didn’t take care of,’’
“It’s something we have to work on and just stick to the process.’’ said Tom.
I'm not sure the Brisbane Bullets coaching staff know what they have in the holster.
Unleash Jervo in 2018!
Dominated 2 x NBL 1st-Team selection AJ Ogilvy to the tune of a season high 18 points with 7 rebounds and 2 assists in just 19 minutes, Dec 10. Had 12 points and 5 rebounds against Cairns in just 15 minutes, Nov 13. Scored 14 points with 6 rebounds and 3 assists in just 19 minutes to close out the year against Illawarra, Feb 11.
Shot a career high 86.5% from the stripe, missing just 7 free throws all year.
Mitch Creek (F)
2017 NBL Stats: 18 Games - 24.3 MPG
12.4 PPG 5.3 RPG 1.8 APG / 57.9 FG% 47.6 3PT% 71.2 FT%
Per 40 Stats: 20.5 PPG 8.7 RPG 3.0 APG
ORTG: 125.2 DRTG: 106.8 PER: 20.1
I have to admit I showed up late to the Captain Creek party.
The bullocking and athletic 24 year old swingman from Horsham just has a knack for making winning plays over and over and over again. It's great to watch if he plays for your team, not so much when you know it's coming as an opposing fan.
After a gruelling nine month regime to get ready for the season, just a few games in Creek heard what he described as a "bang" while he was running down court and then his foot gave way. Incredibly he played for a few minutes before realising what was going on.
Adelaide then found out their Captain would be gone for at least two months while recuperating.
“I sacrificed many things for this season... to be the best athlete I can.” Mitch Creek following the injury in October
As no surgery was required, I imagine Mitch spent the whole time lifting and working on his skills because by the time he had found his way back, he was huge (literally and figuratively).
After missing two months of action, he steps on court and goes off for 14 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals in just over a half.
Despite a shortened campaign, Mitch set new benchmarks for points, rebounds, assists, three pointers made and attempted per game, offensive rating and PER.
What I like about Mitch is: there is no discernible drop off in performance whether he plays in a win or a loss. You know what you are going to get every time he steps foot on the hardwood. He's going to push the pace, hit his shots, play team basketball, inspire his teammates and never give in.
Prophetically and astutely, Mitch proclaimed his thoughts early in October about this particular Adelaide team:
"We can really become a dangerous team" Mitch Creek
The guy's a genius and has lead his team into becoming very dangerous indeed.
A fantastic, cerebral player that gets it done.
Holy cow did he start with an almighty bang in Round 1, netting 24 points in just 13 minutes of action. 3 of 4 three's, 8 of 10 overall. Are you freaking kidding me?
In three October games before being sidelined by injury, Mitch was shooting at a phenomenal clip - 61% overall, 60% from downtown and 90% from the line.
Jameel McKay (F)
2017 NBL Stats: 28 Games - 22.3 MPG
8.3 PPG 6.3 RPG 1.5 BPG / 56.2FG% 0.00 3PT% 61.7 FT%
Per 40 Stats: 14.9 PPG 11.3 RPG 2.6 BPG
ORTG: 117.9 DRTG: 102.6 PER: 19.5
I've been a big Jameel "The Predator" McKay fan since day one with the Perth Wildcats. The 24 year old Milwaukee native, has been underrated by many basketball followers almost the entire year.
Look no further than the final game of the season against Melbourne United as to why he will be critical in the playoffs for the defending champs. When the whips were cracking and the game was there to be won, it wasn't Bryce Cotton or Casey Prather that rose to the occasion and tore the game apart, no, it was the often forgotten third import with the 7' 4 wingspan - Jameel McKay.
From the moment Jameel checked in at the 7.24 mark of the last quarter he took the game by the balls and didn't let go. He scored a two-point jump shot, corralled an offensive rebound, hauled in a defensive rebound, crammed home a thunderous dunk, scored another two point shot, vacuumed a defensive rebound then another offensive rebound, put back another lay -up and then grabbed an all-important defensive rebound.
The only bad thing he did in this amazing display of winning basketball was miss two free throws. It's been a crux of his most of the year. After starting 10-11 (91%) at the line he went 40 -71 (56%) the rest of the way.
Jameel finished the Melbourne game with 14 points and 10 rebounds but in the 5 minute span noted above he had 8 points and 5 rebounds. Wildcats win, 31 straight is now a reality.
His mantra has been known since December 12th, following a win against Adelaide:
“I guess you could say it comes down to desperation,” said McKay.
Jameel doesn't get the league wide kudos of his fellow imports Bryce or Casey. Make no mistake though, with that burst of inspired ball, he is the reason Perth is playing in their 31st straight playoffs. Now, if the rest of the Wildcats could just listen to these words from Jameel:
“We were thirsty to get out there and get a win, it felt good but now we have to keep it going.” Jameel McKay.
Started the year with a bang netting 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks in 22 minutes against the Bullets Rd 1. Had 13 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks against Adelaide, Dec 3. Scored a season high 19 points with 9 rebounds and 4 blocks in 28 minutes against Sydney, Jan 7.
Recorded 7 games with 3 or more blocks and 5 games with 4 or more blocks. Strangely, had 38 blocks in 19 games at 2.0 per game...then recorded just 3 in his last 9 games to finish second to AJ Ogilvy in total blocks.
Jarrad Weeks (PG)
2017 NBL Stats: 28 Games - 16.0 MPG
6.5 PPG 1.3 RPG 1.9 APG / 37.7 FG% 38.8 3PT% 79.1FT%
Per 40 Stats: 16.2 PPG 3.3 RPG 4.7 APG
ORTG: 100.8 DRTG: 110.2 PER: 11.5
27 year old Jarrad was cut by the Sydney Kings in 2014 after three, disappointing, development years. In 22 games he showed he wasn’t actually very good at basketball: 33.0% overall and 18.7% from 3 with more turnovers than assists, which for a point guard is a death knell.
With no signed contract or offers on the table (he didn’t play any NBL games in 2014-15) Jarrad obviously spent many lonely hours working tirelessly on improving his game – especially his shooting.
From seemingly being out of the league for good, Jarrad was thrown a lifeline by Rob Beveridge and the Illawarra Hawks at the start of the 2015-16 season. Due to his relentless energy, determination to stick around and his now deadly shooting ability, he played well enough to be signed for the rest of the year, appearing in 31 games and becoming an overnight league-wide fan favourite.
Weeks had certainly improved and it was his 3pt shooting that stood out most, going from a dismal 18.7% whilst at the Kings, to a robust 42.6% with Illawarra – good for 3rd in the whole league.
“My season with the Hawks definitely instilled a lot of confidence in me that I didn’t have before,” said Weeks.
Thanks to the Hawks opportunity, a chance that he grabbed with both hands, Weeks signed a two-year deal with Cairns to be their point guard.
“I’ll just do what I can to help these guys out. I’m going to go with an open mind, play my role and try to get even better.” Weeks – showing his Wattoworthiness.
In 2017 with Cairns, Jarrad hasn't quite been able to replicate his barnstorming shooting from last season. He has however set new career highs in minutes, field goals made and attempted, three's made and attempted, free throw %, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks and points per game.
He's clearly improving and as he got more comfortable with his new surrounds, Jarrad got back to the same, flashy player, that announced his arrival last year.
What jumped out to me is his shooting better from long range than inside the arc and his comfort level as a reserve as opposed to starter.
In 6 games as a starter Jarrad averaged 20 minutes with 5.5 points at 28% overall and 33% from 3. In 17 games as a reserve he averaged 16 minutes with 8.0 points at 41% overall and 40% from 3.
Sometimes less can be a whole lot more.
WATT 'O' BENCH
Craig Moller (F)
2017 NBL Stats: 14 Games - 7.9 MPG
3.1 PPG 2.1 RPG 0.3 APG / 46.9 FG% 21.4 3PT% 100 FT%
Per 40 Stats: 15.5 PPG 10.8 RPG 1.4 APG
ORTG: 133.4 DRTG: 109.3 PER: 17.9
By the end of the season, it wouldn't be too far-fetched to suggest only Nathan Sobey had visibly improved as much as former Fremantle Docker, Craig Moller.
Having trained with the Kings since last season, his sole mission was to earn a spot on the fulltime roster this year. Something he was able to accomplish when Steve Blake was released.
His impact in the garbage minutes initially provided, gave Gaze no alternative but to play him more. With each ration of trust dished out by Gaze, Moller's confidence grew until by the end he was a key rotation player for the first year coach. In Moller's own words, getting to that point was not easy:
“It’s been a long process. It’s about a year on since I started playing basketball again, and when you put it into context of not having played for five years, I think I’m going all right".
A highly rated high school baller for the Sutherland Sharks, Craig initially had to rely on all out hustle, energy and will until his skill level and confidence caught up.
Watch a Sydney game and it's obvious good things happen when he is on the court. Rebounding like a madman and hustling after loose balls with the hardness expected of an AFL footballer, the ball seems to follow him, even just a little. He's the energy and hustle role player that every team needs.
I will be the first to stick my hand up and admit I had a chuckle when Sydney signed Moller. I'll be honest, I didn't think he would play 5 games in his first season, with possibly 25 total by the time it was all said and done. A lot of people thought the same thing about Eric Watterson.
With a strong finish to 2017, Craig Moller now looks to be a valuable bench cog for a Sydney team hoping to bounce back from disappointment and make a run at the playoffs in 2018. I won't be surprised if he turns into a 150 game player. Hey, I can back-flip with the best.
“Obviously I’m aware of where I am but I’m pushing pretty hard. I’m starting to feel really comfortable now after a year back into it and I think I’m in a really good spot.” Craig Moller
In all seriousness, regardless of how many games he plays now, to be a professional at two elite sports by the time you turn 22... that's pretty incredible and should probably be talked about a lot more.
I'll be keeping a keen eye on his improvement over the break.
It took 6 games before he scored a point in the NBL. Did not miss a free throw all year going 10-10. In his last 5 games he averaged 7 points and 3 rebounds in just over 14 minutes per game.
Angus Glover (G)
Illawarra Hawks (Development Player)
2017 NBL Stats: 2 Games - 5.1 MPG
3.5 PPG 1.0 RPG 0.0 APG / 50.0 FG% 50.0 3PT% 50.0 FT%
Per 40 Stats: 27.4 PPG 7.8 RPG 3.9 SPG
ORTG: 68.3 DRTG: 94.7 PER: 7.6
After only a couple of games, are you serious? Damn straight! That’s all it took for Angus to show me he has ‘cult status’ written all over him.
“I’m looking forward to getting out there if my number gets called and giving it everything I’ve got. If that happens then hopefully the boys are happy with my performance” Angus Glover prior to his first game.
That’s Wattoworthiness right there, folks.
Illawarra will only have Glover for this year before he departs for the St Mary’s Gaels campus in the U.S. If his first few NBL minutes are any indication, the Hawks appear to have found themselves an unpolished diamond. Rob Beveridge is just the man to mould and get the best out of him.
When you watch Angus play, he gives the impression of being under control at all times: never under pressure or overawed by the moment. That’s big time for any player, let alone an 18- year old rookie seeing his first NBL action.
Languid and fluid as only lefties can be, he conjures memories of a young Slo-Mo Joe Ingles. In limited minutes, he has showcased a good stroke from outside, an ability to control the fast break or drive and dish in traffic, along with a defensive awareness that belies his newbie status. Being related to Gordie Macleod has clearly fast tracked this fearless, red haired little devil.
Keep your eyes open people: there’s more to be written about this young Watto All-star in the years to come.
It's a quirky stat line you may have noted above - 50-50-50. Angus has shot the ball 4 times from distance making 2 and shot 2 times from the line making 1.
Tom Garlepp (F) (Captain)
2017 NBL Stats: 28 Games - 16.6 MPG
5.6 PPG 2.6 RPG 1.1 APG / 43.7 FG% 33.3 3PT% 74.4 FT%
Per 40 Stats: 13.4 PPG 6.3 RPG 2.6 APG
ORTG: 105.3 DRTG: 110.3 PER: 11.6
Finally, we finish up with the Captain of this fine team.
Tom Garlepp, statistically just served up his worst season since being a rookie in 2011. Yet, he has been absolutely incredible for the Sydney Kings, giving them whatever they have needed as they re-establish themselves into NBL contenders.
Tom just set career lows, or near lowest numbers, in basically... every... single... statistical... category known to man and I, along with the Sydney coaching staff, LOVE him for it!
Tom Garlepp has given us all an insight into true 'Wattoworthiness', the Watto spirit of sacrificing your game and your numbers for the greater good.
To tell the story of 2017, we need to look back to his team MVP year of 2016. When called upon due to injuries, Tom (as Co-Captain) stepped up his play to keep the team afloat by averaging 13.8 points 4.2 rebounds and shooting the ball at 53% overall and 50% from three.
He set the foundation for the culture of the club and exemplified that culture by handling his demotion to bit player this year with aplomb.
Tom never complained about playing time or plays being run for him, instead he just made every minute on court count doing whatever he could to help the Kings.
Words that describe Tom are - selfless, team-player, club stalwart, loyal. The same words described Eric Watterson.
He is the epitome of being a Watto All-Star and that's why he has been honoured with the Captain tag.
Tom showed just how much he sacrificed this year to be an Eric Watterson All-Star.
Look at his numbers as a starter across 5 games: 17.1 points 5.8 rebounds 2.6 assists 49% overall, 57% from three and 88% from the line
That's All-NBL 1st team stuff.
These gentleman just missed the cut for the first annual Eric Watterson All-Stars but during the year, each displayed a level of 'Wattoworthiness' wattoworthy of praise.
Isaih Tueta (G) New Zealand & Brisbane
Oscar Forman (F) Illawarra Hawks
Majok Deng (C) Adelaide 36ers
Matt Kenyon (G) Brisbane Bullet