Can anybody slow down the Hawks?
The Illawarra Hawks wear red for a reason.
They play fast. Really fast. They make fast things look, well, not fast.
On Friday, the Hawks set a new NBL record for the most points scored in an individual game during the 40 minute era, with their 122-88 dismantling of the Adelaide 36ers in round one.
The depth and firepower of the Hawks was on full display as every single Illawarra player scored, including six in double figures led by Rotnei Clarke with 23.
Incredibly, the Hawks actually trailed by a point at halftime before exploding for 77 points in the second half alone to pull away for the victory.
"They put a show on in the second half, particularly defensively, which allows us to run and shoot with freedom," head coach Rob Beveridge said after the game.
"It's almost like a tsunami when you know it's coming and you can't stop it, and that's what happened in that second half."
Last season, the Hawks led the NBL in scoring with 93 points per contest so the fact they put up large numbers shouldn't come as a surprise. That is, until you consider that the Hawks lost both Kirk Penney and Kevin Lisch to rival clubs during the off-season. Both Penney and Lisch were top five in the league in scoring, posting 20.4 and 19.4 points per game, respectively.
With a combined 39.8 points lost between just two players, the Hawks were faced with the task of reloading the roster in order to play coach Rob Beveridge's uptempo system.
Reload they did.
Illawarra brought back sharpshooter Rotnei Clarke as well as college scoring machine Marvelle Harris.
Clarke was a prolific and efficient scorer during his lone season with the Hawks in 2014, averaging 21.1 points on 45% shooting. While Clarke can score in a multitude of ways, his greatest on court skill is his highly accurate three point shooting. The former league MVP shot an astounding 40% from distance during his first stint in the NBL, and is set to pick up where he left off after draining five three pointers against Adelaide in round one.
New import Marvelle Harris showed he will be a handful for rival teams, as he consistently attacked the basket with blistering speed on his way to 21 points on 45% shooting. He hit three from downtown and got to the line for nine free throws, all of which he was able to convert.
Harris ranked 20th in Division I scoring during his senior year at Fresno State last season, and finished his career as the schools of all time leading scorer.
"I was looking for an import who can flat out score and I believe we have found this player," Beveridge said when the Hawks first signed Harris.
"Marvelle is a player who can also carry the ball, pass, rebound and is also a very good defender”
Harris exploded for a career high 37 points to go along with 9 rebounds and 7 assists in a game against UNLV earlier this year, and the Hawks are hoping he is able to be just as dynamic throughout the season as he was in college.
Illawarra were also one of the biggest winners when it came to snapping up Townsville players after the club dissolved, signing Mitch Norton and Nicholas Kay.
While shooting just 30% from three last season, Kay has the ability to stretch the floor and create room for his guards to penetrate to the rim. He is effective around the basket, and averaged 10.7 points on 52% shooting for Townsville last year. He contributed 11 points in the Hawks win over Adelaide in round one.
Arguably the most impressive aspect of Illawarra's performance, was the fact that the bench contributed 55 of the Hawks' 122 points. Captain Oscar Forman came off the pine to shot 3-4 from distance and import Michael Holyfield scored 14 points in 15 minutes of action. Any team hoping they will get a breather as Clarke and Harris go to the bench, will be greatly mistaken.
This team has so much depth, head coach Rob Beveridge has the enviable problem of trying to find playing time for all of his weapons.
"We've got so much firepower out there and we're so deep. We've got 11 contracted players and it's very difficult to get everybody the minutes they deserve," Beveridge said.
The Hawks put up 122 points despite star player A.J. Ogilvy contributing just 4 points.
With so much firepower, it poses the question; Can anybody slow down the Hawks?
Purposefully, the question isn't, can anybody keep up with the Hawks? Because trying to keep pace with Illawarra is playing into what the team does best. The Hawks want to get out and run, they are comfortable in the chaos.
Opposition clubs will find more success in making Illawarra uncomfortable. They need to control the tempo and slow the pace of the game down. Anybody playing the Hawks this season will be smart to be patient. They must run through their offensive sets, bring the ball up slowly and use the post ad nauseam.
Limiting turnovers is key to winning any game, but against a high pace squad like Illawarra, it is certain death if you allow them to create easy points off of turnovers. Protecting the ball will also be key for any club.
Despite the hot start, Rob Beveridge and the Hawks are aware it is a long season.
"It was our night in the second half but we showed a lot of breakdowns and mistakes there so there is no way we are going to get ahead of ourselves,” Beveridge said.
Illawarra take on NSW rival, the Sydney Kings to open up round two on Thursday.