Is Goulding the cause of Melbourne United’s offensive woes?
It’s probably the most shocking revelation from round one of the new NBL season.
Melbourne United's offence promised to be deadly, proficient and electric, but splatted instead. Not only does United need to bounce back from a bumpy 0-2 start - in contrast to last season's 9-0 start - they need to do so with an offence that all of a sudden, looks out of whack.
Melbourne only scored 71 points in their loss to the New Zealand Breakers, the second-worst in round one. In their subsequent loss to the Adelaide 36ers, United shot at a horrific 37.2 per cent clip, the second-worst shooting percentage in round one.
Incredibly, it’s Chris Goulding, one of the NBL’s most accomplished scorers, who has been at the forefront of United’s offensive struggles.
In the opening two games, Goulding shot just 6-of-28 from the field, and a horrible 3-of-19 from beyond the three-point line.
Despite this, coach Dean Demopoulos remains confident in his shooting guard.
“We are going to roll with him, for sure,” Demopoulos said of Goulding, after the loss to Adelaide.
“He can be zero-for-Sunday, and he is still going to get shots and I want him to take the next one.”
While a coach needs to show faith in his star player, it’s doubtful Demopoulos would have been happy with some of Goulding’s shots against the 36ers.
On this possession, Goulding receives the ball from Cedric Jackson. Majok Majok sets a good screen on Brendan Teys, while Eric Jacobsen is caught out of possession.
Look at the options Goulding has here. He has room to drive to the basket, Majok has beaten Jacobsen and is diving towards the rim, David Andersen has space at the elbow and Todd Blanchfield is wide open in the weak side corner. Instead, Goulding settles for a contested pull-up three-pointer, which misses.
On this play, Goulding receives an inbounds pass in the corner. He immediately goes into a post-up against Teys, who had done a terrific job at containing him up until that stage.
Once again, Goulding has a number of options here. Ramone Moore has loads of space up top to work with, while Jackson is open on the wing, after a pair of off-ball screens from Majok and Andersen.
However, instead of hitting a teammate when he has the chance, Goulding decides to take a contested fade-away jumper. The help defence from Matt Hodgson is excellent, but it is another forced shot from Goulding, one that didn’t need to be taken.
This begs the question – when is enough, enough? While Goulding is a game-changer, he still hasn’t found the balance between being aggressive on offence, and also picking his spots.
When the shot isn’t falling, Goulding must defer to his teammates. Let Jackson handle the ball and use his offensive intelligence to create scoring opportunities. Allow Blanchfield, who has been demoted to a glorified spot-up three-point shooter, to take on a larger role. Get Andersen, who has a polished face-up game, more touches. Goulding's constant attempts to get himself back on the offensive track, contributed to the demise of United's offensive efficiency.
Goulding is a blessing and a curse. There is no other player you’d rather have with the ball in their hands when he is on. His proficient shot-making ability makes him unstoppable when he is feeling it. On the flip side, though, Goulding is almost a liability when that magical offensive spark diminishes.
Despite his beautiful shooting stroke, Goulding has yet to develop into a catch and shoot threat from beyond the arc. Goulding's off-ball work isn't great; he doesn't slash towards the basket, and isn't much of a screen setter.
Goulding’s defensive shortcomings are well publicised. He struggles to stay in front of his man and often looks lost defending off the ball. When he can't get his offence to overshadow the defensive mishaps, Goulding’s deficiencies become amplified.
The frustrating part is, Goulding doesn’t need to force the issue on a squad that is this stacked.
United has an embarrassment of riches on the offensive end. Jackson is a maestro with the ball in his hands, Blanchfield won the league’s Most Improved Player award just two seasons ago and Andersen is back home after a long stint in Europe. Even one of Melbourne’s new imports, Moore, has been celebrated across the world for his scoring ability.
However, Melbourne’s biggest strength is also a weakness. It’s all good and well to have numerous offensive playmakers, but it’s going to take time for this new group to gel. Goulding, Jackson, Blanchfield, Andersen and Moore all need the ball in their hands to play at their best.
During his tenure as United coach, Demopoulos has yet to implement a sophisticated offensive system. It’s predicated on a free flowing, isolation heavy approach, which is proven to win regular season games. In the playoffs, though, when defences become tighter and possessions more important, more creativity is needed out of United. It was a deficiency in last season’s playoff exit against New Zealand and a similar result beckons if they fail to correct it.
“You have to go look at the tape and see the shots we got,” Demopoulos said, when asked whether he was happy with how the offence looked against Adelaide.
“We got 12 more shots than they did. We took 38 threes and made a very small percentage of them. There were only a handful of them that I didn’t like.
"I disagree we had a lack of execution and a lack of movement. If you look at the tape and you see all the shots we got, I’d take those shots again most of the time and I hope we get them again the next time we play.
“A coach's life is dependent on whether the shot goes in or out.”
Therein lies another potential roadblock in United’s title hopes. If the squad is trained to play the offence they showed over the first two games, Melbourne will struggle to go all the way.
Throughout the regular season, Melbourne’s offence will be better than what it was in round one. They have too much talent and the law of averages will eventually work the way of Goulding and the rest of the squad.
However, Goulding needs to be smarter with his decision-making if United wishes to go all the way this season. Goulding is an Olympian and one of Melbourne's leaders. The rest of the squad often follows his lead, so Goulding must start making better decisions when he has the ball, or else United will fall victim to their poor offence once again.