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"Chop wood, carry water": Mitch Creek on early Phoenix success and the process of winning
The South East Melbourne Phoenix have enjoyed a strong start to their NBL season. After ten games, the Phoenix are on track for a finals berth, currently sitting fourth on the ladder. If you ask Mitch Creek though, he wouldn't even know.
"The results are what they are - I'm never going to be satisfied being whatever the **** we are at the moment."
Being their inaugural season, it's all about the building process for the fledgling Phoenix, as they strive towards organisational excellence - not just within the playing group, but on every other aspect of the new infrastructure. As Creek outlines, it's about optimising the process - from the coaches, to the physiotherapists, to game day prep, and more.
"How can we make things more efficient, work smoother, work at a higher rate? How can we get as much output as possible every single day? My expectations are process-driven," Creek said. "I've got it tatted on me - 'chop wood, carry water', and if you know anything about that old saying, it's all about the process. I'm always going to be particular about 'how did we win that game', 'how did we finish out that quarter', 'how did we finish out this possession on defence', 'how can we get better today?'
"As long as we're making strides in that direction, then for me everything else is going to follow suit, and the results will come at the end of the day. For me, I've been really proud about how the club has been willing to take on information - been very receptive to its players and its staff and its coaching core that we have."
It's clear for Creek and the Phoenix that building the culture is a valuable priority. Having been signed early as their first roster acquisition, Mitch clarifies that he was asked on team building moves by Phoenix GM Tommy Greer and head coach Simon Mitchell, but didn't go so far as to put his GM hat on and dictate signings.
"I just sat there and [Mitchell, Greer would] call me and say 'look, we're looking at talking to these guys - what's your take on them, how do you feel', and I have my input. Now whether that was any kind of assistance or help that's not for me to really be known, I'm a player first and foremost and that's where I try and leave it.
"Realistically, I'm proud of who we've gone and got. I'm proud of how the guys play, so for me it's not about how they've gone and picked up guys or how I've gone and helped, for me it's more about the quality of men we have on our team. [It] speaks about our culture, the things we have in place to make each individual and each person at the club great. That for me, is the most important thing."
Creek cites a big part to the Phoenix's early season success to head coach Simon Mitchell, and how he's kept communication open.
"[Mitchell is] very relatable to players. He's very smart, very understanding of what's going on around him, and he's open to suggestions - he wants us to be able to speak to him and come to him with certain things and we've done a great job of correlating ourselves together and trying to find a really happy medium where we are right now. I think we're doing a great job as a unified front, so it's something that I'm very fortunate to have."
On his MVP season so far
For Creek individually, he's stepped his game up to new heights, registering career highs across the board, and planting himself firmly into MVP conversations. Compared to his career best season in Adelaide in 2017-2018, Creek has enjoyed a step up in points per game (from 16.3 to 21.8), assists (2.5 now up to 4.3), rebounds (6.8 to 7.5), free throw percentage (77.3% to 82.5%), free throw attempts (5.0 to 6.3), and 3 point percentage (32.4% to 36.7%, up from 1.1 attempts to 3.4 per game).
Creek's perceived Achilles' heel, shooting, has been at a career-best rate so far this season. There's no doubt on his confidence level going forward, even if he's still not chucking them up at a prolific volume, as Creek expressed to Warren Yiu earlier in October this year.
“I’m not shy to shoot it. I’m not shy to take ****ing 20 shots now. I don’t care if I go 0-of-20, I’m going to keep shooting that thing. I’m going to keep playing defence. I’m going to keep talking and leading my team.”
It's more than just shooting the shot, but rather understanding the situation and finding the right opportunity.
“If I see that we’ve had five bad shots in a row, I’m not going to ****ing shoot it," Creek continued. "I will think that we need a better shot. I can shoot it, but I won’t because we can get a better shot. What’s the shot clock? What’s the lineup? What’s the backside defence? I will drive and then maybe initiate a second side kick and drive etc."
Most importantly, Creek isn't afraid to try, regardless of the consequences.
“I’m not afraid to fail.”
After eight successful years with the NBL's Adelaide 36ers, Mitch Creek broke new ground over the last year or so, playing with BG Göttingen of the German Bundesliga, the G League's Long Island Nets, as well as the NBA's Brooklyn Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves. He went from uber-efficient role player to number one option at the NBL level, and is unsurprisingly leading the league in scoring (discounting the two game cameo from Glen Rice Jr). According to him, a number of factors led to this breakout.
"I think it's a bit of everything honestly. My confidence, my skillset, my ability to score the ball, to handle the ball and make decisions under pressure, to make basketball plays on both ends of the court - those are things I've spent a lot of time and effort into, so for me it's more about what kind of effort am I giving on every single possession.
"Right now I'm in very good physical shape. I try and go about it the right way and approach things in the right manner, I'm just trying to be that guy that gives everything on every possession. Now being physically capable to do that, with the right skillset, you tag that along with having a coach and a group of guys that are wanting me to be more aggressive and wanting me to put pressure on the rim and on the defensive end, as well as helping spark and ignite the defensive side of things as well, that gives me even more confidence, so even what I had initially is now being built up on even more.
"[That's] just something I'm trying to give back to my guys - they are absolutely amazing. This team that we have is so selfless and so hardworking that I want them to be just as successful as they can be every single day."
Creek also sees his time spent in the NBA, be it on the sidelines or playing, as valuable little nuggets of basketball wisdom he can share with his teammates, and how it translates to the only thing that matters - to him, at least.
"It's not about the numbers for me. The only number I care about is at the end of the year - did we win it or did we not?
"And along the way, it's all about how can we get better today, how can we get the most out of this single moment, which then [you continue on to the] next one, next one, next one. It just builds up over time and that's all I'm looking at - how can we get the highest percentage look on the offensive end and give them the lowest percentage look on the defensive end.
"If we align those two together - we get the best one and we give them the worst one - the numbers say, the analytics of basketball says, that we should probably ****ing win the game, so that's all I'm trying to get out of it."