NBL: Offense the new defence as teams hunt for title
“Offense wins games, defence wins championships”.
For years, that saying has ruled basketball and, in fact, the sports world.
Now, it seems, the game of basketball is moving in a different direction that is making that unwritten requirement for championship glory redundant.
The days of the defensive, bogged down contests of the old NBL look to be a thing of the past, with a number of teams already this season scoring up around the 90-point mark and beyond, and while this is in part due to a conscious effort by the league to make the games more free-flowing and fan-friendly, it is also simply the way the game is moving, both in Australia and across the globe.
While still a critical component, a championship run is no longer built on a foundation of defence alone.
Reigning NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors, led by league MVP Steph Curry, are the most recent and most glaringly obvious example of the new game.
The Warriors play a fast-paced brand of ball, rarely using more than three-quarters of their shot clock and relying heavily on the three-point shot – and it works.
While they still hold their opponents to a field goal percentage that ranks among the best in the NBA, playing fast means they, more often than not, give up plenty of points.
They are not afraid to give up 100 points, or more, in a game as long as they are able to outscore their opponents, and it seems that numerous NBL clubs have taken to the ‘Golden State model’ in season 2015/16.
Melbourne (9-0, first), Adelaide (4-4, fourth) and Illawarra (4-4, fifth) are three sides which seem to have adopted the Warriors brand of basketball and, so far, executed it to great effect.
United are scoring at an NBL-best 91.2ppg during their undefeated start to the season, with their 40% shooting from beyond the arc tied for the best mark in the league, whilst giving up 79.7ppg (2nd best) at the other end.
The Hawks are scoring at 88ppg (2nd) and sit right in the mix for a finals berth, shooting at 40% from the arc (tied-best with United) and 44% from the field – good for a share of second-best in the competition.
Despite giving up a league-worst 88.3ppg at the defensive end, the Hawks have been in every contest so far this season on the back of their ability to score points in a hurry on the back of quick possessions and a run-and-gun style of play.
The Sixers have emerged as a genuine finals threat since acquiring Jerome Randle less than a month ago, upping the ante on offense to now be scoring at 87.3ppg (3rd) and, like the Hawks, their ability to score points in a hurry has meant they are seldom out of contests.
All three clubs enjoyed comeback victories in round five, with Melbourne edging New Zealand after trailing late for almost the entire afternoon, Illawarra erasing a six-point halftime deficit to see off Cairns, and Adelaide coming from a massive 18-points down at three-quarter time to edge the Kings by a point in one of the games of the decade.
It is no coincidence that these three sides are leading the league offensively and that all three are firmly in title contention at this stage of the season.
The Hawks managed to score a whopping 40 points in the third term against the Taipans to turn a deficit into a match-winning lead by three-quarter time, while the Sixers had 32 points in the final term against the Kings to snatch the most unlikely of victories – that win coming despite giving up 39 points themselves in the first quarter.
Melbourne, meanwhile, has only scored less than 80 once this season, against second-placed Perth, and that only came due to a stretch of six scoreless minutes to open the fourth quarter.
All three clubs have the ability to open up defences and place constant scoreboard pressure on their opponents, just as the Warriors do.
Players like Chris Goulding, Todd Blanchfield, Kirk Penney and Jerome Randle, just to name a few, are all able to catch fire and break a contest open within minutes, just as Steph Curry and Klay Thompson have done for the Warriors on so many occasions in the last couple of seasons.
Defence is not a lost art and has played a crucial role in Melbourne’s unbeaten start, and it is what separates United from the Hawks and Sixers at this stage.
However, building a team brimming with numerous offensive weapons capable of lighting up at any moment is the new route to dominance.
There is another old adage that has never been more relevant in basketball as it is right now.
“Sometimes good offense beats good defence”.
The Warriors proved it, and now there are some NBL sides with championship ambitions subscribing to the same mentality.