The NBL Halftime Roundtable (Part II)

When you’ve passed the halfway mark of an NBL season, questions are always flying around in terms of what could happen to finish the year. In Part II of The Pick and Roll Roundtable series, our expert writers give their thought’s on: future league expansion, go out on a limb and give likely finals combatants and who wins it all, share a bold prediction for the second part of the season and give a little insight into which player has impressed them the most. For those that missed Part I, you can catch up here.

Buckle up, as Steve Chalmers, Luke Sicari, Warren Yiu, Jordan MC, Joshua Barrett and Matthew L Smith are here to provide their first half views on #yourgame.

Which player has impressed you the most so far this season?

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Steve Chalmers: Nathan Sobey. Easy question to kick off Part 2 of this Roundtable. Fortunately, I had the pleasure of watching him go at it over the off-season with his hometown Warrnambool Seahawks en-route to a Big V Division One Men’s championship. Sobey led the league in points AND assists; he was set up for a massive boost in the NBL and credit must be given to his desire to become a force in the national competition.

Warren Yiu: Nathan Sobey. A clear breakout candidate, he has delivered some unforseen offensive explosions that have kept Adelaide bench units afloat when Jerome Randle sits.

Sobey has improved in every statistical category and developed into a genuine third banana to complement Randle and Daniel Johnson.

Luke Sicari: Nathan Sobey has been sensational and is the clear Most Improved Player winner right now. However, I’ve been taken aback by how Mark Worthington keeps playing this well at his age.

How can this guy retire with the season he is having? The 33-year-old is 19th in the league in scoring, while averaging 5.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists. We have seen Worthington go on scoring sprees this season, ones that I thought weren’t possible at this stage of his career.

Worthington is one of the NBL’s true heroes, who has seen the best and worst of the league. To see him having such a good campaign at 33 is awesome.

Jordan MC: Nathan Sobey. The athleticism and talent have been evident before, especially in his last two pre-seasons, but what he has now become is a legitimate two-way NBL starter. Sobey would previously fly around the floor and make the occasional brilliant move or impose his energy in a positive manner, but he wasn’t someone who played in control for consistent minutes just yet. Now he plays with a lot more poise and he knows how to use his strengths to contribute to winning.

Sobey is incredible in the open floor (and also capable in the half-court) driving to the rim where he forms a devastating duo with Jerome Randle in a creative and speedy backcourt. Mitch Creek’s injury was supposed to cripple a young Adelaide roster but Sobey’s rise has been the perfect tonic to help curb that loss.

Joshua Barrett: For the sake of variety, I’ll overlook Nathan Sobey’s phenomenal improvement and pick Sydney’s Brad Newley. Stashed away in Europe for so many years, out of sight and mind, his return to the NBL has blown me away. When he missed out on the Rio Olympic team, I figured the Boomers coaching staff must have seen a slight drop from him coming.

With what I know now, that seems impossible. Above all, what stands out is the sheer physical force with which he attacks the game at both ends. When he catches the ball on the wing and rips straight through to attack the rim, it’s borderline unstoppable.

Matthew L Smith: What's that? Enough about Sobey? Ok. He has stood out though. Early on, I was impressed with Michael Holyfield and thought he could be a dub-dub machine. I thought Marvelle Harris would light up the league also. Cadee and Blanchfield started out absolutely scorching the net, whilst Prather taking it to the rack early and often was a good sign too.

Most impressive though? I'm sorry, it has to be Nathan Sobey. He has the athletic bounce of peak Sam McKinnon and reminds me a lot of Jason Smith. What a great combo.

In five words, who makes the playoffs and who wins the championship?

SC: Playoffs - Sydney, Brisbane, Cairns, Illawarra. Title - Brisbane.

WY: Playoffs - Sydney Kings, Perth Wildcats, Brisbane Bullets, Illawarra Hawks. Title - Kings. That’s more than five words.

LS: Playoffs - Sydney, Adelaide, Cairns, Melbourne. Title - Cairns.

JMC: Playoffs - Sydney, Adelaide, Illawarra, Melbourne. Title - Sydney.

JB: I. HAVE. NO. FREAKING. CLUE. There you go, five words. Do I really have to? Ok. Here goes nothing.

Top four: Sydney, Illawarra, Perth, Cairns. Champs: Sydney

MLS: Playoffs - Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne. Title - Sydney Kings (from last to first)

Share a bold prediction for 2nd half of the NBL season.

SC: I go on to win the NBL Dream Team championship in first place. Yeah, no. A more serious answer, my bold prediction is that Perth bring back Damian Martin from injury, yet continue to struggle - putting the spotlight on Trevor Gleeson as the ‘Cats are in serious danger of breaking the 30 year playoff streak.

With Perth fans confused not knowing how to feel after such a long period of success, they call for Gleeson’s head however Marvin and co. re-sign Gleeson showing their support and the organisation’s strength - a big reason why they’re so successful.

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WY: The Breakers will miss the playoffs. It’s rough to discount any team for the playoffs, particularly when NBL media have taken it upon themselves to drill the evenness of the competition into the public conscience every freakin’ chance that they get (yeah, we get it already!).

But the Breakers have glaring issues. Their defence, historically a major strength, has been awful for most of the year. Blown rotations, spaced out help defenders, and a general lack of urgency are worrying signs.

On offence, there’s an uncomfortable reliance on pindowns for a 35 year-old Kirk Penney, and difficult, off-the-bounce jumpers from Corey Webster.

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LS: Travis Trice leads the league in scoring in the second half of the season.

If my Cairns to win the title prediction is to become true, Trice has to take over the offensive reigns, something he is more than capable of. The 23-year-old is averaging 14.5 points per game at the moment, only playing 10 matches due to injury. When Trice is on, he can score with the likes of Prather, Ware and Randle.

The Taipans’ offence runs some of the best sets in the league, but is often lacking the polish to finish them. Trice gives them that offensive punch.

JMC: Adelaide won’t win a playoff series. Seven straight wins to catapult themselves to first on the ladder has been an achievement in itself but I’ll play the percentages and say that a team this young won’t be humming along at the same level in the playoffs.

Jerome Randle’s shooting has to come back to earth at least a little bit as he’s been incredible (even for his standards) on shots that are tough for almost every other player in the league. On the other end of the floor, although it’s in some part due to two blowout losses earlier in the season, the 36ers are still 8th in defensive rating and I’m not convinced that that end of the floor will be at the required level on a consistent basis

JB: I just couldn’t bring myself to tip against Perth making a 31st straight finals, so I guess that’s off the table.

I’ll turn my attention to last season’s other grand finalist, the New Zealand Breakers. The defensive end is the major cause for concern, where they’ve fallen off a cliff from best in 2015/16 to second-worst this season (prior to Round 11).

They might have locked down the Wildcats on Thursday, but I think that says more about Perth at the moment. It’s certainly not impossible for them to turn it around, but I’ll go bold and say the Breakers finish last for the first time since 2004/05.

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MLS: Casper Ware is pretty damn good and he will 'boldly' lead Melbourne United to the NBL17 Finals. Andrew Gaze though, will cap a Hollywood scripted start to his coaching career by 'boldly' leading the Sydney Kings from last place to champions.

In a fairytale finish, Kevin Lisch hits the title-winning shot on a scrambling broken play in overtime. The frothing crowd goes ballistic - final score 100-99.

It's a fitting end to the closest season in NBL history and the title recap makes the 6th last page of the West Australian.

Can and/or should the league expand in the next 3-5 years?

SC: Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Don’t go hell for leather. The league’s front office have already made their intentions clear that if the NBL is to be a profitable business, it must venture into the Asian landscape. Sure, they have the money, but do they have what interests the Australian public?

I think the NBL should be thinking about confirming their Summer status in Australian major cities before branching themselves out to Asia and creating a complicated stance in-season with international travel. I’m not saying it won’t work, I just believe if we get it right in-house then we have the potential to tap into the rest of world (or Asia as our closest buddies!).

WY: Depends. There are some league insiders who support expansion, but are queasy about so much change occurring until the current league, as we know it, shows medium-term stability. Remember, the Townsville Crocs folded in the offseason BEFORE the current cap system was introduced which encourages more spending.

The league office wants to develop a global brand and there’s a clear agenda to engage more with the Chinese Basketball Association and the NBA. There are some who see the Philippines, a hotbed of basketball, as the logical step for further engagement in the region.

LS: Expansion is always on the agenda for second-tier Australian pro sport leagues, so I think it’s inevitable it’ll happen in the NBL. However, this isn’t something that should be rushed into.

Before you expand, you must secure the future of your current clubs. Let’s not forget the Townsville Crocodiles folded due to financial pressure this offseason.

Is Asia the way to go? Possibly, but I’d love to hear what the players think about travelling that far for road games. Can’t imagine the logistical costs of having a team in Asia, too.

JMC: Whilst the details of such a move to Asia are still blurry, and can lead to some head-scratching on some mooted ideas, if it can give us the extra revenue stream that we wouldn’t be able to get by staying on our shores, then it’s worth a risk.

I’m nervous about the prospect of another failed local club but if the right people are involved and true due diligence is done then the league can, will, and should expand in this timeframe – we obviously have the playing talent. Losing another small market team when a new big market team enters, i.e. Townsville-Brisbane, would be disappointing of course.

JB: Cue the Singapore Slingers flashbacks, right? I’m all for consolidation of the current teams for now. This is our first season for a long time featuring a team in every mainland Australian state capital city. At a bare minimum, those five teams need to not only exist but thrive. That is the foundation upon which the league must be built. Perth are there, but the rest have plenty of work to do.

Longer term, the money seems to dictate expansion into Asia is inevitable. Rather than Asian-based NBL teams, I’d love to see the NBL come together with other Asian leagues to create a Euroleague-style competition. Whether that’s logistically or financially viable is a whole other matter, but I think it’s the ideal model.

MLS: A wise man once said to me "never go down a dead-end street twice". I am firmly against an expansion team from Asia. Have we learnt nothing? The NBL is Australia's league, it has not worked in the recent past (the Singapore Slingers lasted all of two seasons) and it will not work in the future. For me, it's a moot point and I'm concerned the league is considering that path again.

Now, expansion within Australia? Definitely! It can, should and will happen in the next 2-5 years but don't rush. Instead, 'trust the process'. Any expansion must be done with serious forethought, due diligence of all aspects affected and thorough ownership vetting. A rock-solid plan should be canvassed and discussed with all teams and relevant constituents, before being rubber stamped.

The NBL can't afford another era of roughshod expansion that leads to equally fast, liquidation and dissolution of the team, due to poor management from the league office down to team level. Some recent examples being: the Slingers, Blaze, Dragons, Tigers, Crocodiles, Spirit, Bullets 1.0, Kings 1.0, etcetera.

Sidebar: If the league ever expands into the Northern Territory, I have trademarked and copyrighted the perfect team name for the area and inherent culture: Arnhem Land Warriors. Come see me, with a briefcase of non-sequential $$$ and we'll talk.