Deciding which type of improvement is the most significant (e.g. star to MVP conversation, or bench warmer to rotation player), and understanding the context to a player’s statistical jump is a tough task, but regardless, here are my most improved players with one round left to play in the 2015-16 regular season.
Jarrad Weeks Agent 97’s rise has been incredible. Looking back, maybe we should have been paying more attention to his 15 point game against Ben Simmons’ LSU in the preseason that included a sick dunk and block. Weeks was making up the numbers for Sydney in that game, having played sparingly for them in the past (he averaged under a point per game in his last NBL season), but fast forward to now and he’s a genuine rotation player on a playoff team after earning a spot with the Hawks as an injury replacement.
Weeks is a freak athlete and he’s used this bounce and speed to turn himself into a spark plug off the bench that can pressure the ball, create for himself off the dribble (just 4.2% of his two point baskets have been assisted), make highlight plays, and also space the floor with his outside shot that he's hitting at 41.3%.
Clint Steindl With Todd Blanchfield departing in the off-season, and Townsville moving forward with an inexperienced roster, Steindl has had more touches and worked to round out his offensive game that has previously almost solely been based on his elite three point shooting.
Steindl has doubled last season's total for made shots at the rim (he'd be ahead in the dunk count as well) and he's worked his way up to almost one mid-range make per game, an area where he's improved to now shoot over 40%.
He still isn’t a strong play-maker, but he has certainly shown more offense off the dribble, had more success as a cutter, increased his free throw attempts, and he's shot more threes.
Corey Webster At the start of the season I wrote about how Webster was likely to have a Chris Goulding 2013-14 type of season thanks to what looked like some natural progression and a bigger role in the offense, and despite having Cedric Jackson next to him, he’s managed to post a Goulding-esque 29.3 USG%.
The role increase has been obvious as he’s turned himself into one of the league’s top players thanks to that sweet jump shot, as well as a small increase in his attempts inside the paint and at the line. His play-making as a backup PG together with his overall defense has also been solid. He announced himself as a star last season but put himself into MVP conversations at times this season with a scoring increase of six points per game.
Jason Cadee The opportunity to be a starter once again enabled Cadee to get extra minutes and have the ball in his hands for longer periods. It was a tough year for Sydney with so many personnel changes each week but Cadee made a step.
His play-making numbers increased (15.1 to 19.0 AST%), whilst his ability to get to the free throw line (2.2 to 3.7 FTA), finish inside the paint with a layup or floater (55.7 paint FG%), as well as shoot the three off the dribble was on full display.
Tai Wesley After a strong back-end to his debut season in the league, Wesley had an interrupted time of it this season with availability due to a number of issues. Given his age and experience, his second year was always going to see him display his quality even more.
His role in the offense increased (24.4 USG%), even to the point where he was attempting to be a floor spacing big out to the three point line with mixed success (27.3%). He loves working in the low post and his passing and turnover numbers also took a turn for the positive (+2.2 AST% and -2.6 TNV%). He’s clearly one of the best bigs off the bench in the league.
Corey Maynard Shaun Bruce held him out of the rotation for the most part last season and an injury handed his spot to Nathan Sobey (which he did not win back). Maynard got his first crack as a regular rotation player in Townsville and showed some nice signs.
He proved to be a solid shooter (right around the league average in the paint, from mid-range and from three), he defended, and certainly played with plenty of emotion, whether that was when frustrated in a timeout or after hitting a huge shot at a critical moment.
Everard Bartlett Bartlett’s chances of getting a return shot at the league appeared to be fading before the Breakers came calling with Webster’s NBA try out opening up a roster spot. Bartlett’s last NBL stint had been with Perth, where his numbers were that of an inefficient chucker (6.4 FGA in 17 minutes at 28.3% FG), but after working on his game in the NZ NBL and the SEABL (as well as with the national team), he was ready.
He didn’t just come in and fill a small role, he was thrust into the starting line-up where he valiantly filled the role of one of the main scoring options. The result was some scorching long range shooting numbers leading to a full time roster spot, before settling into a bench role as a spot up shooter when Webster returned (he's at 42.2% from three on the season).
Mitch Norton Another year as a starter for Norton and another season where he showed some natural progression without having a huge breakout. His minutes increased, but due to having an import guard alongside him (rather than the two imports of 2014-15), his usage dropped by 2.8% and his assist rate dipped by 4.9%.
He flashed some more potential as a driver, using his speed to get inside the paint and to the free throw line, and his better turnover numbers (down 8.5%) reflected his greater control. He competes hard on defense but still has room to grow with his outside shot to round out his game (2.5 3PA over both of his last two seasons).
AJ Ogilvy A former ‘First Team All NBL’ player in the Most Improved section? Weird, I know. Ogilvy’s had a larger and more consistent role (+4.9 USG%, +2.6 FGA, +1.4 FTA) on offense during his Illawarra stint, and despite the increased usage, his turnover rate has decreased by 5%.
Compared with his season in Sydney, he’s on track to finish with twice as many makes at the rim, as well as double the amount of makes on that slightly awkward (but effective at 42.9%) mid-range jump shot, and hell, he’s even tested out his three point range (not that I’m expecting him to get that stretchy). All this whilst still causing havoc in the passing lanes, protecting the paint, or knocking that ball off the rim (which he has perfected).
Others Cam Gliddon continues to play like a veteran but he had more of a bounce back shooting year than an overall improvement. Nathan Sobey showed flashes with his athleticism but his numbers aren't there yet. Shaun Bruce had a bigger role but his shooting and play-making numbers were down on his breakout year of last season. Angus Brandt showed some range on his shot and small improvements elsewhere, whilst Tom Garlepp followed up his impressive 2014-15 with better shooting numbers. Mitch Young played more and blocked some shots as a starter for a stretch. Mirko Djeric looked more comfortable and hit some big shots but is still a ways off. Cody Ellis had a strong second half of the season but his poor start and overall rebounding, block and finishing numbers were down. Kevin White worked his way into the starting line-up for a playoff team and even tried to throw down a random dunk..