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Brisbane Bullets Season Preview
The Bullets have marked their return to the national league with a group of core signings that already have experience at this level, including their two imports. It’s a somewhat safe approach that may not have the upside of some others around the league, but it does give them a clearer picture of what their floor could be. Cameron Bairstow is the exciting signing, as he makes his first professional appearance outside of the NBA, whilst young wings Matt Kenyon and Reuben Te Rangi add an unproven element to the roster. Brisbane will certainly be competitive game by game and have a head coach in Andrej Lemanis that is coming off a sensational Olympic campaign where he had total buy in and a group that produced beautiful ball movement.
Adam Gibson is coming off ankle surgery and an up and down tenure in Adelaide. The fresh start in Brisbane comes with a significant role, given the young guards on the bench, and he will have the chance to play more as the primary ball handler than last season. He and Jermaine Beal should form a fine two-way backcourt with the ability for both to play either point or shooting guard on either end of the floor.
Shaun Bruce is the slighter sized backup and joins Brisbane after crossing over from Cairns where he found himself in a decent sized fourth quarter role last season despite playing behind an import. Markel Starks struggled at times and Aaron Fearne turned the offense over to Bruce who had some nice moments and showed himself to be an improved player again. Overall though, he definitely has his limitations and will find it hard to be a positive contributor if he shoots in the mid-twenties from deep like he did in 2015-16.
Jermaine Beal is a high volume three point guy, either off the dribble or off the catch, he can run a pick and roll, and he has some strength and defensive ability to work in different line-ups. Beal’s debut season and shooting numbers haven’t been matched in his play since but his ceiling still remains high. He and Gibson are somewhat similar in that they can float in and out of games or quarters and, given the makeup of this roster, both will need to find a more consistent high level of play for them to reach the playoffs.
Over two seasons in Cairns, Torrey Craig played thirty minutes or more just seven times and Lemanis will be expecting the flashes of good play to turn into more in an expanded role. Craig is a fine athlete who can defend most positions on the floor and he can help cover certain weaknesses of others with his elite rebounding and shot blocking for his position (#1 among wings for TREB% and BLK% in 2015-16 per RealGM). Offensively, he was right near the top of the league as a finisher at the rim for his position, and he's a streaky outside shooter that (like Bruce) will be happy to get out of Cairns where their dismal outside shooting seemed contagious at times last season.
Reuben Te Rangi had a brutal time of it in 2015-16 as he posted some bottom of the league type shooting numbers, hit just seven free throws, and dished only eight assists in 445 minutes. Despite the poor season, there’s still optimism around Te Rangi and that’s probably for good reason if he can find some middle ground with his shooting numbers. He’s still young, has hit shots in the past (1.44 points per shot in 2013-14) and he has a decent combination of size, athleticism, speed and opportunity in Brisbane. He’s definitely a small forward at the moment but he will get some shooting guard minutes with Matt Kenyon being so young. His ball-handling still needs tightening up (as evidenced by some shaky play in the UCLA preseason game) but he has displayed some signs in that area in the past.
Matt Kenyon is the final wing and, at just 18 years of age, the need for Te Rangi to semi-breakout starts to become more obvious. Kenyon has an exciting future and actually has a real chance to log some minutes this season after the team elected to select an extra big, rather than an extra guard. He’s got some length for a shooting guard but he will have his challenges on the defensive end to start with. His preseason debut showed real promise playing off the ball and he’ll be hoping to score some points as an opportunist in transition, as a cutter and as a three point shooter.
After only logging around 600 minutes for Chicago (at any level) over the past two seasons, Cameron Bairstow’s return home seems like an easy decision to understand. An injury at the Olympics is somewhat cruel but, providing he gets back up to speed quickly, he’ll enjoy a significant role alongside a number of different frontcourt partners who each have a very different skill-set. His body strength and decent touch will net him plenty of scores out of the post and from the free throw line, whilst his jumpshot when fading out of the post, spotting up, picking and popping (hopefully he also continues to work on his threes) will make him a tough cover. Bairstow isn’t an overly impressive athlete but that’ll be less of a factor at this level although his pairing with Daniel Kickert will be an interesting one to track on defense.
Kickert is a tremendously efficient scorer and it all starts with his almost unmatched three point shooting whilst, as I wrote last season, he also has a nifty post up game where he can create his own shot effectively. His limitations are clear with a lack of rebounding and athleticism but the signing of Torrey Craig helps adds extra tools to help the frontcourt out, and then there's Tom Jervis and Anthony Petrie who have helped cover the defensive deficiencies of Nate Jawai and Daniel Johnson in the past.
Jervis was sensational in his role off the bench last season as a rim protector and a pick and roll defensive upgrade over Jawai. He's a legitimate sized center and will rebound at a high rate and finish at an OK enough level on offense. Petrie is a power forward who has a unique combination of versatility and toughness. He can bang bodies, slide his feet, handle the ball a little and knock down a jumper to a level where he can be a fine role player and fill the gaps where needed (he even saw time playing small forward on Lonzo Ball in the preseason).
Mitch Young is the final piece in the frontcourt and he is best known for his hard play. He still has a lot to do to prove that he’s up to this level and appears to be a center in a power forwards body. He’s been a below average finisher around the basket and a non floor spacer which makes for a negative impact player on the offensive end of the floor. He needs be active with his hands and feet on defense, crash the boards at both ends and finish better than last season to earn some minutes.
There’s legitimate questions surrounding their guard or wing depth and also the reliance and need for bounce back or breakout seasons from a combination of players. Throw in the fact that it’s an entirely new group, the potential for a slow start from Bairstow, Petrie and Kickert’s age, plus a lack of a truly high end import talent and you probably have enough questions to leave them out of the playoff picture. The Bullets will be competitive on a game by game basis but matching the win-loss column of teams with a higher talent level and continuity over the course of a full season will be difficult despite a smart year one plan.