With just four games on Adelaide’s schedule from December 12th to January 16th, the 36ers didn’t have much of an opportunity to make their move into the top four, however that’s exactly what they’ve done. With New Zealand’s offense struggling even more so than usual over their past four games, all losses with offensive ratings of 85.9, 103.1, 89.8 and 95.8 per RealGM, Adelaide have found their groove and now sit top three in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency after four straight wins against Townsville (twice), Melbourne and the Breakers.
An errant Adam Gibson pass (see above) that led to an incredible turnover and loss in Townsville preceded this four game run, and combining that unexpected loss with the extended break in the schedule (as well as simply having more time together as a group), the 36ers found a catalyst for a win streak.
"He’s been a little more focused since then and for that matter, our team has been a little more focused" - Head Coach Joey Wright on Gibson’s fatal turnover in Townsville “The thing is, we didn’t lose any momentum because before the break, we didn’t have any. It gave us a chance to find our identity and the mood now is very good.” - Assistant Kevin Brooks
Jerome Randle and Daniel Johnson
The two-headed offensive monster of Jerome Randle and Daniel Johnson is the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about the 36ers recent run and it's not hard to see why when taking a look at the numbers. Last 4 Games PTS FG% FTM 3PM AST TOV REB Randle 26.8 44.7 7.8 2.0 7.5 3.8 3.8 Johnson 21.5 55.6 6.8 2.3 1.0 1.8 12.3 Randle’s ball dominance means that he is such a huge piece of opposition scouting reports with his scoring, speed, handle and playmaking on full display as he uses screens to throw the defense into chaos before either successfully attacking the rim or nailing a pull up jumper. Although they haven’t reached the pace of the 2014-15 Sixers, his ability to push the tempo has fit in perfectly with what Joey Wright’s Adelaide teams generally want to do on offense. W-L Record Pace With Randle 10W-7L Now 95.2 3rd Without Randle 1W-3L Pre Randle 90.2 7th The offense is racing along at 111.9 points per 100 possessions with Randle on the floor (per spatialjam.com), which is predictably the highest number for anyone on the team, whilst he is an overall +10.6 per 100 possessions when looking at both sides of the ball. Randle is tough as nails with his size having had little to no impact on his ability to constantly attack the rim and either finish or draw fouls at a tremendous rate. Balance this with his deadly mid-range jumper that he loves to take out of the pick and roll, his capable three point shot, as well as his play-making, and you’ve got a dominant offensive player that will keep you in most games.
“He is probably the best import I’ve played with. He’s got crazy handles, puts it to the floor, makes great decisions out of on-balls and can shoot it. “He’s great off the free throw line if you foul him” - Anthony Petrie on Randle
Daniel Johnson tantalises us with his inside-outside game with an ability to shoot efficiently from three point range and with soft touch at the rim. Outside of his cuts, post catches, tip ins and spot ups, you can also get him to set a pick for a guard like Randle. The defense then has to make a number of quick decisions as they have to consider their finishing ability inside, ability to draw fouls, Randle’s passing and pull up game, as well as Johnson's ability to roll, crash the offensive glass, or hit the outside shot. Season PER USG% AST% TOV% Restricted Area FG% Non RA FG% Mid-Range FG% 3P% FTM per game 3PM per game Johnson 20.5 21.4 6.3 9.4 68.5 31.9 27.5 38.3 4.6 1.2 Randle 21.1 33.0 32.2 14.5 69.0 51.7 46.6 31.3 5.3 2.1 Whilst Johnson can be a threat in the pick and roll on offense, it’s his play in these situations on the defensive end that can cause some issues. Outside of his fantastic defensive rebounding, which helps end plenty of defensive possessions, DJ has issues with containing the pick and roll. His foot speed and inability to get to the right positions on the floor can be frustrating, and he’s certainly not at the top of your list for bigs that you are comfortable with switching onto guards if forced to. Regardless, he's still been a clear positive this season (+4.4 per 100 possessions), and any unit with both Randle and Johnson on the floor has wreaked enough havoc on offense and had the right players around them on defense to record a healthy +7.0 net rating.
Other Adelaide line-up and personnel notes
One item that I was eager to find the numbers on was how much Joey Wright staggers his starters and line-ups compared to other teams. His willingness to play all ten guys this season and mix up his combinations more than any other coach was clearly evident (especially in the first three quarters). Below are Adelaide's five most used lineups: Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 Player 4 Player 5 ORtg DRtg Net O Poss D Poss Johnson Petrie Walker Gibson Randle 121.3 120.4 0.9 139 134 Johnson Petrie Ere Gibson Randle 97.2 111.2 -14.0 138 137 Johnson Petrie Creek Gibson Randle 112.2 107.0 5.2 119 112 Johnson Petrie Creek Ere Gibson 104.4 115.5 -11.1 65 73 Johnson Walker Ere Gibson Randle 95.0 111.3 -16.3 54 58 Contrary to my thoughts on Lucas Walker's natural position, given his physical profile and skill-set, Wright has gone big with him as his starting small forward next to Johnson and Petrie, although these three haven’t been playing a lot of fourth quarter possessions together. Line-ups with this three man combo have performed well in limited time thus far, although this does include an offensive rating of 120.5 which screams of small sample size. The more conventional small forward in Mitch Creek has played significantly more time alongside Petrie and Johnson and has also performed well with them (+7.3 net rating). Regardless of which one of these guys is out there, I like the idea of each of them with Randle with their ability to switch and disrupt on defense and run on the offensive end.
Ebi Ere hasn’t played well, but being an import means that they will likely continue to use him and hope that he can make some timely plays and provide some spacing. He’s featured in their most frequent fourth quarter line-up and has shot the three at 39.1% in that quarter (he’s only at 35.2% from the field this season), but he offers little if his shot deserts him at the wrong time of the game, and defensively, his most common five man line-up combos have been leaking points. The 36ers own a +2.5 net rating overall, but they are at -1.5 in fourth quarters which leaves them with some work to do with their closing units.
Unsurprisingly, Adam Gibson's offensive play is something that comes and goes with Randle dominating so much of the ball, but a timely boost from him could be exactly what the Sixers need to ride this run into the playoffs. This thought however does sound familiar after similar cries from Adelaide fans last season around he and Jamar Wilson both thriving at once.
With the red hot Illawarra on their schedule three more times to close the season, Adelaide have plenty to do, although they may have caught a break if injury sidelines Kirk Penney for a couple of weeks. The playoffs are there for the taking if they can take some scalps, but I find it hard to see this team developing into the threat that the 36ers were on the eve of the last seasons playoffs.
Any questions? Find me on twitter @crunchtimeshots