The NBL Half Time Roundtable (Part I)
When you're ten (of 19) rounds deep into an NBL season, questions are always flying around in terms of what's going to take place at the end of the year. Who's winning this, isn't this guy the best player in the league, what have you thought about X so far?
Well, at The Pick and Roll, six of our expert writers took a moment to breathe from what's been an incredible season of hoops thus far.
What has been the biggest surprise so far this NBL season?
Steve Chalmers: The competition’s competitiveness! With the removal of the Player Points System, teams now had the ability to search far and wide to secure players under what’s now determined as a ‘soft cap’. In turn, it not only has created a talent labeled national league, it’s made it the most tightened season in forever. As the table stands prior to round 10, just 2.5 games separates first from last, with every team registering at least six losses in their opening 14 encounters. Incredible!
Luke Sicari: I think I have to echo Steve’s comments here and say how close the league is. Coming into the season, it was tough to rank the teams one-through-eight, and at the midway point, it’s even harder. Look at the ladder (as of December 9th) and the Perth Wildcats are last. The Wildcats! Last! But yet, who’s game enough to write them off? Once Damian Martin and Matty Knight return, there’s no reason why they can’t make the playoffs for the millionth season in a row. The champs are a microcosm of how great the competitiveness of the league is.
Warren Yiu: The ageless Mika-Freaking-Vukona. This was meant to be the year when the New Zealand legend would finally slow down, but at age 34, the incorrigible power forward’s do-it-all versatility is still on full display. He’s clowning fools in the low block with that patented spin and reverse layup, and acting as an offensive fulcrum in the half-court -- facilitating from the elbows, and setting mean-spirited screens. Oh, and he’s still the Breakers’ best defender; he’s never late on rotations and Paul Henare still throws him at the opposition’s best big man. He’s been a godsend for a side that leaks points at an alarming rate. Dude is flat-out incredible.
Jordan MC: The way the Jaron Johnson situation played out. Trevor Gleeson was very clear in his comments when cutting Johnson that he believed his skill-set wasn't the right fit and that he had to be moved on from for them to find a championship level roster. Perth then went in a completely different direction by adding Andre Ingram before he too had to depart. Rather than looking for another new import, the Wildcats then went against everything they had said just days earlier and bizarrely endorsed Jaron Johnson to fill the role for the remainder of the season.
Joshua Barrett: The Jaron Johnson-Andre Ingram-Jaron Johnson rollercoaster in Perth was wild, but I’m going to go with those precocious Adelaide 36ers. Coming into the season, I gave each of the other seven teams a chance of playing finals. But I thought Adelaide were a bit young and inexperienced to win consistently enough to keep pace with the competition. When Mitch Creek went down with a stress fracture in Round 2, I thought that would surely be too big a hurdle for them to overcome. At the halfway mark, I’ll happily admit that I underestimated them.
Matthew L Smith: To this point, from top to bottom, it's the most wide open season I can recall. There is no standout best team at the halfway mark and there are no really bad teams emitting foul odours with their play either. Amazingly, any team can win this and each one should still have aspirations to raising the championship trophy at season's end. When have we ever been able to say that after Rd 10? Between Rd 7- 9, something like 11 straight 'underdogs' won the game. Pure madness! Strap in for a wild ride to the finish. As a side note: The unexpected and brilliant play of Nathan Sobey, has been most pleasant also.
What has been the biggest disappointment so far this NBL season?
SC: Injuries. Unfortunately they happen in every sport and in every league. But some of these injuries in the NBL this year have just been downright depressing. From seeing Julian Khazzouh miss the entire season thus far; Mitch Creek going down in round two; and the ever-loved Damian Martin suffering once again for an extended period of time (plus the other merry-go-round of injuries in Perth this season), the league deserves to see the best players on the court battling it out for supremacy. Embed from Getty Images
LS: Cam Gliddon’s play in Cairns has underwhelmed. After a stellar preseason campaign, where he won MVP honours, Gliddon was pinned to be the Taipans’ offensive weapon. However, entering Round 10, the 27-year-old is averaging 11.1 points and shooting a paltry 39.6 percent and 30.8 percent from the three-point line. The Taipans are one of the league’s sleepers, but after Travis Trice, they don’t have any offensive playmakers. Gliddon filled that role in the off-season and needs to do so in the second half of the season.
WY: Off the court? Kudos to the league for providing never-before-seen access to NBL fans. Pundits can access every single game for every round via NBL TV, as well as replays and classic games, surely raising the league’s profile. Yet it’s undeniable that the app has been buggy, unreliable and urgently needs enhancements regarding the user experience. On the court, the biggest disappointment has to be the dastard luck bestowed upon the Perth Wildcats. The ‘Cats have missed their talismanic leader, Damian Martin, for the entire season thus far, and Matty Knight, their other pillar, seems to pick up a new injury on a weekly basis. Internally within the locker room, Knight is seen as indispensable. He's the glue within that flex offence, and when it gunks up, he offers the 'Cats a genuine post threat. Knight is also their backline rock on defence, and always in position with his quick feet. He’s their vocal leader; according to Martin, nobody calls out screens and enemy plays better. The ‘Cats also told me in the preseason that they wanted to play faster but that largely hasn’t materialised, a by-product of…well…the injuries. Here’s hoping good health to both Damo and Matt Knight.
JMC: The first thing that sprung to mind was a bunch of injuries, but putting that aside (as well as the stats section of the league’s website), I've been shocked with how few three-point attempts Daniel Kickert has taken. Whilst he’s been Mr. Efficient in the post, destroying all different match-ups, he’s a player who has been beyond elite from three point range over his career but now doesn't seem to have the right balance in his shot attempts. If his role was duplicated on the roster I could understand, but Tom Jervis, Cam Bairstow, Mitch Young and Anthony Petrie aren't stealing that full-time stretch-big role.
JB: The quality of the basketball this season makes finding a disappointment very difficult. So I’m taking the easy way out, and going with a couple of big injuries. Watching Damian Martin play defence is truly special, and it’s a shame we’ve been deprived of it for most of the season as his terrible injury luck has continued. The impact his absence has on the Wildcats cannot be overstated. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Mitch Creek looked set for a breakout season before his foot injury sidelined him for nine games. It’s exciting to have him back on the court.
MLS: The rollercoaster of drama for the Perth Wildcats, officially became a free-falling nightmare when the 'Cats lost 4 straight heading into Rd 10. An important piece has been on the sideline every week with injury, but somehow, they pulled themselves off the ropes against Melbourne. It was a timely reminder that whilst wounded, they're still the defending champs. The JJ-AI-JJ import merry-go-round (debacle?) earlier in the year, showed shades of panic and a lack of due diligence. There's an old saying - "you don't know what you've got, till it's gone". What the Wildcats desperately need is a Jermaine Beal type, they should be disappointed they let "the real" Jermaine go.
Who is the MVP of the league right now (as of Round 10)?
SC: Torrey Craig. I tossed this question up for what felt like forever, because there is just so much elite talent rising to the top right now that it’s nearly impossible to pick. Craig has flourished under Andrej Lemanis and in my opinion is finally showing the untapped potential that Cairns had at their fingertips. Two impressive NZ NBL seasons with Wellington had him cherry ripe to take the NBL by storm in season 2016/17.
LS: Ahh, this is tough, but I’m going to have to say Kevin Lisch. The Kings’ point man has been sensational, ranking fourth in the league for points with 18.5. Not only that, Lisch has put Sydney on his back numerous times and led them to victories, with his offensive outbursts being one of the NBL’s most entertaining aspects. Furthermore, his defence is suffocating, as Lisch is first in the league for steals. Lisch’s league-leading 22.9 player efficiency rating is also another selling point on his MVP resume.
WY: Kevin Lisch. Is it possible for a reigning MVP to be underrated? Pundits and talking heads alike have jumped on the Brad Newley bandwagon, and it’s undeniable that the Kings’ swingman has had a stellar season. But the impact of just having Kevin Lisch on the floor is almost lost in the shuffle (pun intended). Lisch has a gravitational pull that opens creases for other Kings to attack. Defences are just so keyed in to his whereabouts at all times. And when the Kings need a bucket, who do they invariably go to? It’s Kevin Lisch, hands down. He’s also been the Kings’ best defender and most tenacious rebounder (for his size), a sore point for the team that struggles to close out defensive possessions. He’s the best player on the best team (to date) in the competition. That’s your MVP right there.
JMC: Jerome Randle gets the nod here, but only just. He's been even better than last season posting some gaudy offensive numbers that have Adelaide more than competitive whenever he is on the court. His shooting numbers are surely unsustainable as he's been truly unstoppable either nailing his mid-ranger or slicing his way to the rim and finishing at an incredible rate for his size. He doesn't defend like some of the other MVP contenders but his offense has been so good and his value so obvious that he’s still my pick in a tight race right now.
JB: There are five guys in the conversation at the moment – Jerome Randle, Kevin Lisch, Casey Prather, Brad Newley and Torrey Craig. They would all be worthy winners. For now, I give the nod to Randle by a whisker. His outrageous offensive efficiency is hard to fathom, especially for someone with such a high usage rate. At the time of writing, he has a true shooting percentage of 63.4%. That’s the kind of number usually reserved for dunking bigs, not undersized point guards. And he’s not just getting his own – he’s done an excellent job of creating for his teammates, with 4.5 assists per game.
MLS: Kevin Lisch. If he had a video game bio, it would state: 'cold-blooded assassin'. I felt giddy in Rd 2, when the Illawarra crowd thought it would be smart to taunt and rile him up a bit. He responded as Mamba would, with a devastating veracity we don't often see here. It was a thing of beauty, a scorching 5-minute burst that reminded Rob and crowd, exactly what they would miss this year. Those outbursts are becoming more regular too. There is the game winning buzzer beater against Cairns in Rd 5. The last minute steal and bucket, against Adelaide in Rd 8, that sealed another Sydney victory. He is league leader in minutes played, PER, steals and composure under pressure. Kevin, has a knack for the knockout blow and has now reached the point where: when its crunch time, with ball in hand, you know he will do something special. A consummate professional who rarely disappoints. Just a sensational player.
Your All-NBL team right now?
SC: Torrey Craig, Kevin Lisch, Brad Newley, Casey Prather and Jerome Randle (is that allowed? Craig can play the five right?). I tossed up between Randle and Greg Whittington for the final spot, while I believe Travis Trice will deserve a look in later in the season. Watch for Casper Ware to make his mark later on as well.
LS: Lisch, Jerome Randle, Torrey Craig, Brad Newley and Casey Prather. Honorable mentions: Greg Whittington, Casper Ware, Trice, Nathan Sobey and Rotnei Clarke, the sixth man version.
WY: Jerome Randle, Kevin Lisch, Casey Prather, Brad Newley and A.J. Ogilvy. Sincere apologies to Torrey Craig who is having a statistically dominant season, but it was too tough to omit either Prather and Newley. Both Prather and Newley exhibit a higher degree of difficulty in creating their own offence, something Craig isn’t tasked with in the Bullets’ ecosystem. I’ve also stuck with a traditional big to round out the team (despite no big truly standing out thus far). A.J. Ogilvy has been inconsistent, but he’s still the best all-round big man in the competition.
JMC: Jerome Randle, Kevin Lisch, Casey Prather, Torrey Craig and Greg Whittington. If you sub Brad Newley in for Whittington then you would have the five best players in the competition but the league’s selection criteria prevents that from happening (All-NBL is made up of two inside and three outside players). Due to injuries, form, or a lack of minutes from others, Whittington has been the best front-court producer in the league thus far with his versatility and ability to contribute in a number of ways, making him a plus-minus King in the league’s top team. Craig has played little to no power forward minutes this season but, as the league’s leading rebounder, I can possibly get away with bending the rules on this one (otherwise it’s someone like a less than his best AJ Ogilvy).
JB: I think the best five players through the first half of season 2016/17 are pretty clear, and they’re my five MVP candidates from the previous question: Randle, Lisch, Prather, Newley and Craig. It doesn’t quite make for the most balanced All-NBL team, but if you squint hard enough, I think you can get away with classifying Newley and Craig as ‘inside’ players, as per the All-NBL team criteria. Right? If I’m pushed to get a real big man in there, a desperately unlucky Prather makes way for Cam Bairstow.
MLS: At this point of the season, it's fairly obvious who the standout performer's have been. I think most can agree - Kevin Lisch, Casey Prather and Jerome Randle have to be on the team. In a backcourt dominated league, to round out my mid-season team, i'm going with Torrey Craig and the underrated Daniel Johnson in the frontcourt. Apologies to Brad Newley and Nathan Sobey who have both been phenomenal all year. Honourable mentions go to Greg Whittington and Rotnei Clarke. Mark Worthington, has taken it upon himself to plug whatever gap needs filling that night and he too, deserves mention.
Be ready for Part 2 of The Pick and Roll's 'Half Time Roundtable' next week.
Our stable of dedicated and knowledgeable writer's will give their thought's on: future league expansion, go out on a limb and give likely finals combatants and champions, share a bold prediction for the second part of the season and give a little insight into which player has impressed them the most.