Don’t forget Andrew Steel – plus other NBL1 playoff team notes

Andrew Steel isn’t normally at the top of the scouting report, let alone after logging less than 200 minutes this season due to injury and 3x3 commitments, but his play has the ability to push Nunawading from a title contender to a championship winner.

Steel is somewhat of the forgotten man on the Spectres with new fans of the league likely unaware that he hit 42% of his near 300 three-point attempts in 2017-18.

One of the most prolific three-point shooters at this level for his position, Steel is also a player who has improved his off the dribble aggression, but essentially, he is the prototypical ‘three-and-D’ wing who finds his role between the team’s play-making guards and physical bigs.

After a team-high 35 minutes last weekend, it appears that both Steel and Nunawading have signaled their move into playoff mode after a season which has featured little stability in their roster at times – an atypical trait for a team that would list continuity as a strength.

A lineup featuring Shane McDonald, Tom Wright, Steel, Dain Swetalla and Simon Conn – a well balanced group that likely starts or finishers in a playoff game – has seen the floor together in just 24 minutes this season (per HoopsDB). Sub Lucas Walker in for Dain Swetalla and that number drops to below double-digits.

The level of concern regarding this for a team with the experience of Nunawading isn’t overly high however, but it certainly is symbolic of the type of season that they have had.

Can it all come together perfectly at the right time of year – that’s a question that some other teams are also asking of themselves right now.

THE REST OF THE PLAYOFF PICTURE

Statistics via HoopsDB

BALLARAT MINERS

Context: Ballarat are the best performed team this season – it hasn’t been particularly close. The Miners boast both the best offensive and best defensive ratings in the league after winning 16 of their first 18 games to lock up first place. They use their team’s strengths to put a lot of pressure on the rim offensively and their length and athleticism to disrupt the opposition on defense.

Stat: 22.8 minutes – the time that a lineup of Sam Short, Marqueze Coleman, Kuany Kuany, Jerry Evans and Deng Acuoth has played together this season. This five-man group perhaps has the biggest upside offensively but, with Coleman’s spotty availability, there hasn’t been much opportunity (or need) for Brendan Joyce to find a way to play it all that often. With the opposition defense cranked up a notch in the playoffs, this could be a group that sees the floor and breaks open a key game late, with one of the non-shooting bigs taken out of their most regular group for the dynamic Coleman.

Likely playoff ceiling: Championship.

BENDIGO BRAVES

Context: The Braves have put together a slightly above-average season on both ends of the floor, but are also a team that has cycled through numerous different starting lineups as they search for a formula to find that next level. Ray Turner has been the constant key cog on both ends, but it’s Deonte Burton’s form that might encapsulate the team’s season the most.

Stat: 19.8% - Deonte Burton’s somewhat surprisingly low usage-rate. Burton gets to the free-throw line, he finds his teammates and he flashes plays that are as good as any other guard in the league, but the idea of him hasn’t been met with consistent elite production yet. Perhaps the playoffs can bring out the best in him.

Likely playoff ceiling: Semi-Final.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBiUuAwnOJc

DANDENONG RANGERS

Context: The only team that qualified for the playoffs without the services of an import. Offensively, they are well balanced with their personnel, and their roles appear very clear. This end hasn’t been an issue all season though, despite their college guys departing and their fringe NBL talent coming in and out of the lineup.

Stat: 8th – the team’s rank in defensive rating amongst playoff teams. The loss of Keli Leaupepe hurts here as his physicality at forward would have given them another high-minute defensive option. If their bigs can avoid foul trouble, and they get high minutes into the rest of their top guys, then Dandenong can be good enough on this end to outperform their ladder position.

Likely playoff ceiling: Preliminary Final.

FRANKSTON BLUES

Context: The off-season recruitment signalled that a change was on the way and, with the team’s current form, the memory of past losing seasons has certainly been erased for now. Frankston have possibly the best offensive player in the league in Damon Bozeman but also have a spread of different options inside and outside. They can create good shots, get to the free-throw line, and defensively they have found their mix and rebound better than any team on the defensive glass.

Stat: +15 – the team’s net rating from games 6-20. Frankston have found their groove at the right time with their level of play matching Ballarat’s for the final three-quarters of the season.

Likely playoff ceiling: Championship.

GEELONG SUPERCATS

Context: This team does a lot of things right, with their elite defense and an ability to limit their turnovers on offense, but their most notable weakness is meaningful. Geelong lack a high-level shooter in their main rotation and have posted the second lowest three-point rate in the league, whilst only hitting a quarter of their attempts. Lewis Thomas’ efficiency inside has been impacted by the lack of spacing and in a playoff environment, where opposition coaches have scouted even harder, scoring won’t get any easier. The Supercats defense will need to be at it’s best.

Stat: 44 – Nathan Herbert’s three-point makes last season. Even in an 'off' season, Herbert still had considerably more 3PM than any Geelong player this season, and more than double the amount of every player excluding Anthony Williams.

Likely playoff ceiling: Semi-Final.

KILSYTH COBRAS

Context: The Cobras began as favourites but have been stuck in a grind for the final two-thirds of the regular season with patchy form. Offense has been where most of the struggles have occurred with key personnel either down on form or forced out of the lineup with injury. Tohi Smith-Milner has been the constant shining light, elevating his game into ‘All-NBL1 team’ territory, but his August National Team commitments mean that this weekend Kilsyth must shoot their best shot.

Stat: -25.1% – the combined drop-off in True-Shooting Percentage for Felix Von Hofe and Isaac Turner when comparing 2019 to 2018. Turner can be one of the best all-round scorers in the league at his best, whilst Von Hofe is a three-point bomber capable of taking a game away from the opposition.

Likely playoff ceiling: Preliminary Final.

MELBOURNE TIGERS

Context: Dane Pineau has his fingerprints all over this team, with his impactful defense and dominant offensive rebounding being clear strengths. The remainder of the roster, led by Nic Pozogolou (a likely ‘All-NBL1 team’ selection), has taken shape and competed in their own right as well though. Melbourne have enough defensive toughness, speed, and athleticism across the floor to scramble, force turnovers and keep games close. As flagged earlier in the season, if Jack Purchase can give them that extra level to go to on offense then they could make some noise.

Stat: 23 – the average age of the Tigers top seven players. This team is certainly young but it’s a team that found an identity in the middle part of the season and hasn’t looked back.

Likely playoff ceiling: Preliminary Final.