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The Brisbane Bullets are finally proving themselves as title contenders
The Brisbane Bullets' current five-game win streak puts them in fourth place and favourites to hold on to that final spot and make the playoffs. The Bullets constructed a well-rounded roster that had underperformed earlier in the 19/20 NBL season. However, recent wins against the South East Melbourne Phoenix, Adelaide 36ers and New Zealand Breakers, suggest the Bullets have resolved the issues that plagued them earlier in the season and are reaching the potential many hoped they would.
A great deal of the Bullets' success comes down to their MVP candidate Lamar Patterson, who possesses an almost unstoppable inside and outside offensive game. A slow start for Patterson, by his standards, contributed to Brisbane’s struggles earlier in the season. However, the 28 year old scoring machine has picked it up recently with a 35- point game against the Perth Wildcats and 27 points against South East Melbourne. In the last couple of minutes against Phoenix, Patterson hit a big three-pointer and set up Will Magnay for an easy layup, showing why he is one of the best players in the league. These scoring outbursts have placed him back in MVP discussions while he averages 20.87 points per game, making him the third-best among leading league scorers. Over the last few seasons, Patterson has established himself as one of the most clutch players in the league, competing for the title with the Perth Wildcats' Bryce Cotton. Patterson's role as an efficient scorer and facilitator at the end of games could help Brisbane win a playoff series.
Patterson isn’t the only reason people should be excited about Brisbane. Their talented group of Australian guards makes this team almost unstoppable when they’re hitting shots, which wasn't happening earlier in the season.
This starts with Nathan Sobey, who suited up with the Australian Boomers in the FIBA World Cup last year, and has been one of the best guards in the league for the past few years. Sobey's points, rebounds and assists are down compared to last season, but he’s a talented player who can facilitate an offence, defend and average almost 16 points per game. The sharpshooting pair of Cameron Gliddon and Jason Cadee are also members of Brisbane’s talented back court. Although Gliddon’s scoring average is down compared to previous seasons, he gives Brisbane a tall wing who can stretch the floor and defend both guards and forwards. Jason Cadee has been in the Sixth Man conversation in Jacob Doole's NBL awards race. Since hitting six three-pointers against Melbourne United at the end of last year, Cadee has been gaining momentum. He proceeded to put up 15 points against Illawarra and 13 points against South East Melbourne, and gives Brisbane a huge scoring punch off the bench.
Credit to Brisbane coach Andrej Lemanis for staying patient and believing in the process, taking time to experiment and figure out a successful rotation.
"... Having said that [on early season record], there’s still a really good belief in who we are, where we’re going and the fact that we’re going to get there. It’s just taking a little longer to figure out our identity. We’ve changed up a little bit; trying some different styles and playing people in different positions and we still haven’t landed on our true identity of what is the best version of us right now. We keep tweaking some stuff and as a result we’ve had ups and downs. We’ve had some great moments and we’ve had some moments where we haven’t been great. We’re still a work in progress as every team is. Over the last three weeks though, it feels like our practices and the role definition within the group is starting to come together. So I feel good about where we’re headed from here."
What makes this team so dangerous is what they do differently, compared to other teams in the league. One of these contrasts is the recent move to start two centres instead of a smaller, mobile lineup. Will Magnay's meteoric rise has made him the frontrunner for the Most Improved Player award. Starting the season with a limited bench role, he has developed into one of the best defensive centres in the NBL with a reliable post game and outstanding athleticism. He leads the league in blocks with 2.09 per game, which includes a monster six blocks against the Illawarra Hawks last week and then seven blocks the following week against the Phoenix. Meanwhile, the seasoned Matt Hodgson has been contributing a career-high 10.13 points and almost six rebounds per game, ensuring Brisbane can rely on their big men to help secure offensive rebounds and retain possessions. Veteran Mika Vukona has been coming off the bench, his championship experience ensuring Brisbane have a talented and deep front court.
Another way this Bullets roster differs from most teams is how they have two imports come off the bench, as most teams usually start their imports and heavily rely on them for scoring. EJ Singler and Taylor Braun average around 7.5 points per game each and seemed to have embraced their non-starting role. Both imports have proven they can shoot from three-point range and defend opposing guards and forwards, shown by Singler scoring 13 points alongside a season-high 9 rebounds in the win against Phoenix. Other contributions coming off the bench include last year's Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player, Reuben Te Rangi. The forward has had a disappointing year but posted nine points, shooting 80% from the field in the win against Adelaide, showing he still has a role on the team. The Bullets also have expert coaching, as no other team can say they have Andrej Lemanis, the head coach of the Australian Boomers for 6 straight years which included an Olympic Games and World Cup run. Lemanis has changed the Bullets' offensive game to a more run and gun style, one that has helped players like Nathan Sobey, who can excel in a fast-paced system. These changes have allowed Brisbane to reach their potential, as they have led the league in offensive efficiency over the past month.
Like any team they have weaknesses, which includes a poor road record and guards sometimes being inconsistent from three-point range. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing this team is their schedule - the Bullets have a big game coming up against Melbourne United, with huge playoff implications as they are also fighting for the fourth spot on the ladder. Right after, they will battle against teams ahead of them, Perth and Cairns, both preparing for the playoffs, meaning it will be a challenge for Brisbane to make the post-season. The Bullets also struggle to play away, winning only five games all season when not at the Armoury. Fourth place could become a problem when facing either the Wildcats or Kings in the first round. However, with a coach who has always believed that “we have the talent and chemistry to win the championship”, no one should consider this team an easy first-round exit.
The Brisbane Bullets have inserted themselves into the playoff picture, suggesting that they have fixed the problems which caused a slow start and can offer a significant challenge to anyone they face in the postseason. It’s clear why Corey ‘Homicide’ Williams has repeatedly stated that no team wants to play Brisbane in the playoffs, with multiple guards shooting consistently from three and a forward playing at an MVP level. Accompanied by big men who provide rim protection and multiple bench players who can score in a hurry, alongside an experienced coach who has won three NBL championships, this team could be genuine title contenders. It's time to be excited about the potential of the Brisbane Bullets, who should return to the postseason for a second straight year and possibly compete for a championship.
*All statistics extracted from the NBL website.