Lauren Nicholson: A defensive maestro turned offensive weapon

Townsville's Lauren Nicholson is proving she is much more than one of the best defenders in the WNBL.

Heading into WNBL 20, there was an air of excitement surrounding the Townsville Fire. While the Southside Flyers may have dominated mainstream headlines with the signing of Liz Cambage, the team up North had quietly put together a modern and forward-thinking roster that had astute WNBL followers sitting up and taking notice.

Head Coach Shannon Seebohm, who was given the top-job late into the off-season of 2019, had the opportunity during the 2020 break to select the players he wanted to implement the brand of basketball he envisioned. High up on his list of off-season targets was Lauren Nicholson, who is now thriving in the Fire’s new system.

Prior to her move to Queensland, Nicholson had already established herself as one of the league’s elite defenders, culminating in her receiving the 2018/19 Defensive Player of the Year award. Over the last two years under Seebohm, the Fire have become known for their aggressive defensive schemes and on-ball pressure, so Nicholson’s appeal to the Fire was apparent. With her speed combined with her 6’0 frame, she is capable of guarding positions 1 through to 3. The shooting guard relentlessly pressures her opponent, sticking tight and fighting through screens to prevent an open shot or a drive to the basket. 

For Townsville, Nicholson is often given the task of matching up against the opponent’s premiere guard, which we saw during the Fire’s 87-75 win over the Boomers where she held Tess Madgen, the WNBL’s third leading scorer with 17.8 points per game, to a season-low of 12 points during her 36 minutes on the floor.

While Nicholson’s defensive prowess has certainly been felt around the league, she has also elevated her offensive output to new levels. In a pre-season interview with The Pick and Roll, Shannon Seebohm alluded to the expanded impact she was going to be having on the scoreboard.

“I know she's already a star in the league, but this could be a big year for Lauren where she could take her game to another level”, he said. “She has the opportunity here to be the go-to player on a team.”

Currently averaging a career high of 15.9 points per game, Nicholson has been all that Seebohm forecasted and more.

The New South Welshman’s scoring ability is highlighted by powerful drives to the basket. She utilises an exciting change of pace and superb upper-body strength to attack lanes and finish at the rim, often through contact. 

A feature of Townsville’s offence is the frequency at which they deploy on-ball screens. Their primary post rotation of Megan McKay and Zitina Aokuso are both excellent screeners and are dangerous when rolling to the basket. Shyla Heal and Nicholson work beautifully in the pick and roll, making it a highly effective action for the Fire. Nicholson is a crafty ball handler and uses the ‘pick’ superbly to create open midrange jump shot opportunities.

Off the ball, Nicholson is one of the most dangerous cutting threats in the WNBL. The Fire are a team that pride themselves on their three-point shooting, using dribble penetration and fast ball movement to create open looks from the perimeter. They rank 2nd in the league in both 3-point shots made per game (8.1) and 3-point percentage (34.9%). As a result of the floor spacing they are able to create, lanes open up for Nicholson to sprint to the basket.

While it is her tough defence and fierce attack on the rim that she is renown for, Nicholson has also proven herself a capable spot-up threat. Her overall 3-point shooting clip of 31% might not jump off the page, however it is worth noting that she has been elevating these numbers throughout the shortened regular season. In the Fire’s opening four games she went 2/11 from deep (18%), but in the last five matches she is 7/18 (39%). If she can continue this shooting form it will be an exciting development for Townsville as they look to maintain their balanced inside/outside offence on the home stretch of the regular season.  

Currently in the midst of a career best year, Nicholson has been lighting it up for Townsville, displaying her trademark tough defence and taking advantage of an expanded offensive role to lead her team through an arduous and unprecedented WNBL season. On a roster filled with both young and established stars, the two-way dynamo is spearheading a rejuvenated Fire squad that looks destined to earn itself a berth in the post-season. They have proven already that they can match it with some of the leagues big dogs and, as this team gains more on-court experience together, they will be a formidable foe for any team in their path.