His signing isn’t one that will move the needle in the NBL title race – the odds are against it even being a factor in the playoff race – but Cairns securing the signature of 21-year old Kouat Noi is exactly what the club was calling out for.
After a season of just six wins, coupled with the fact that the Taipans roster was lacking young high-upside talent, Noi offers the team an extra layer and a development piece to point to should things again go pear-shaped in the win-loss column.
Last season, the ceiling for their veteran players was largely known, whilst Noi’s potential is the exciting unknown. He has the talent and intrigue to stimulate interest amongst fans, even in losses.
Considering the current construction of the Cairns roster, Noi finds himself as the best small-forward option at the coaching staff’s disposal and this has him set to push his case for rookie of the year.
It’s an award that he has stated he will win, along with the idea that he is the best newcomer to the league since Joe Ingles.
Noi also commented that this season would help “put Cairns back on the map”, which is an apt statement considering 2018-19 was somewhat of a lost season.
THE AARON FEARNE ERA
One significant challenge for the club was the departure of long-time coach Aaron Fearne, and if we’ve learnt anything from last season, it’s that the Fearne era was perhaps taken for granted.
Fearne had some critics at times but, looking back, there was clear rationale behind his team’s slower and more methodical style of play.
The aim was to control the number of possessions and keep games close, therefore limiting what was often a disadvantage in pure talent, before then aiming to execute better than their opponents down the stretch of fourth quarters.
This absolutely isn’t to say that Mike Kelly can’t find his own formula and too have success, rather, it’s acknowledging that Fearne was a superb coach for the Cairns environment, and immediately replacing that was a difficult challenge in year one for whoever landed the job.
Kelly will be better positioned to leave his mark on the club in the 2019-20 season.
THE KOUAT NOI SCOUT
After playing some power-forward minutes in college, small-forward is where Noi will almost exclusively play with Cairns this season.
At 6’7”, athletic, and a confident high-volume three-point shooter, Noi has the outline of a game that will fill his team’s needs in the NBL, and one that could fit the NBA ‘three-and-D’ mould in the future.
With 98.6% of his three-point makes being assisted last season (per Hoop-Math), Noi’s jump-shot doesn’t have the versatility of other legitimate pro wings yet.
His three-point success in college was almost exclusively as a spot-up or pick and pop three-point shooter, rather than pulling up off the dribble or sprinting off screens.
This is all fine though, as he still slots into a role easily with that current skill-set, and he certainly has time on his side to expand his game if he intends to be more of a creator. Note that Noi did dabble in creating more for himself from two-point range in 2018-19 compared to 2017-18.
Noi’s role this season on offense will be to continue to spot-up with confidence, run the floor, show promise as a cutter, and to get on the rim with aggression when an open lane presents itself.
Don’t be surprised to see him finish a couple of nasty put-back dunks when his opponent fails to box him out on the perimeter.
Considering the quality of wings that Noi will be challenged with guarding each night, the chance to learn and prove himself on the defensive end will be an enormous development opportunity. He’ll need to show off a high-motor night after night.
THE COMPETITION FOR MINUTES
Barring an impact ‘Next Stars’ addition on the wing, the Taipans will be leaning on Noi to start and play majority of the small-forward minutes.
Other options would be to slide their import shooting-guard – D.J. Newbill or a similar type – up a position whilst bringing in the pesky Mirko Djeric or Jarrod Kenny to play in some three-guard lineups.
Elsewhere, if they’re looking to go big rather than small, these possibilities present some more worrying questions.
George Blagojevic’s move from his more naturally suited power-forward spot to small-forward would appear to go against current trends and be a difficult challenge on both ends of the floor, especially as a rookie.
He hasn’t shown the shooting stroke to space the floor like Noi, nor does he necessarily have the speed or pop athletically to guard a quicker and more agile position with regularity.
College career Three-point shooting Free-throw shooting George Blagojevic 25.1% 59.6% Kouat Noi 38.7% 69.7%
Free-throw shooting is an extra tool to use to help evaluate a players potential to improve their jump-shot - stats per RealGM.
The coaching staff have made it clear that they see the perimeter as Blagojevic’s fit.
“For a bigger player, he moves really well,” said Mike Kelly after his signing.
“We see him as a three man, who in college was playing the four [position]. That’s his future – playing at the three, defending the three and being a perimeter player for us on offense.”
Majok Deng’s addition to this roster really is a fantastic signing. In limited minutes, Adelaide have performed better with Deng on the floor than off the floor over each of the past two seasons.
His talent as a scorer is unquestionable and the Taipans taking a chance on him to flourish with more responsibility is a worthwhile route to explore.
In reference to logging small-forward minutes though, there’s good reason why Deng played almost 100% of his time at power-forward last season. He will be a productive player for them at that spot.
Deng is light, but stands 6’10”, and he hasn’t shown that he can move his feet laterally or change direction quick enough to keep in front of wings.
He has the length to potentially disrupt opponents, or be an asset as a help defender, but there’s more questions than answers for him defensively so far in his NBL career.
THE END RESULT
Often when a college player returns from overseas to the NBL, they take on a smaller role with their pro team. This may not be the case for Noi to the same extent as others though, as he will be required to log solid minutes and take on meaningful responsibility.
Are Cairns going to be better than they were in 2018-19? – You would think so, but with just three players who were in an NBL rotation last season, it’s a roster that has a lot to prove from top to bottom.
D.J. Newbill, if indeed signed, would take that above number up to four, and if they can get savvy with their development player additions, or even a ‘Next Star’ addition, then this team will have undeniably upgraded from last season in terms of intrigue.