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NBL Plus Minus - Round One
In the first edition of this weekly feature on the Pick and Roll, we dive straight into what positively and negatively impacted a thrilling first round of the NBL season.
Point Guard Battles (Plus)
Across Round one action we witnessed how much talent there is at the point guard position. Whether it was Bryce Cotton against Travis Trice; Casper Ware on Shannon Shorter (or Russell Westbrook) or Scoochie Smith against Édgar Sosa, these matchups all had stars pushing each other to new levels.
It didn’t get much better than the pre-season's most valuable player Travis Trice trying to keep up with the best hesitation moves in the league from last year's grand final MVP Bryce Cotton, then coming right back on the other end with tight-angled lay-ups of his own.
A bit of layup magic (Tony Parker angles at 0:20) from Travis Trice:
It’s hard to argue that Casper Ware’s outing against Shannon Shorter and the Sixers was the strongest performance of Round one. Ware was too much for Adelaide on both ends of the floor, putting together a stat-line of 23 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and a blocked shot.
If Ware is open, he’ll make you pay:
Ware might be less than his dominant self after putting up 20 points, six boards, three assists and a steal against the Oklahoma City Thunder in-between back to back flights across the Pacific.
If he is in top form, watch for a great rematch with Shorter who will no doubt get better looks within Adelaide’s offence second time around and keep things up-tempo on the break.
Guard Showdowns in Round 2
Scoochie Smith vs. Shannon Shorter
In the third game for both roster additions, look for Smith and Shorter to be more settled into their new offence's while pushing the pace and getting out on the break.
Bryce Cotton vs. Rotnei Clarke
If this one stays close, Clarke will surely look to match Cotton’s instant-offense by putting the ball on the floor and letting it fly from deep. At the very least, this should be a first half shootout.
Rotnei Clarke’s Golden State of Mind (Plus)
We hate to make comparisons, so we’ll ask a question instead: is Rotnei Clarke the biggest Golden State Warriors fan in the NBL? From a philosophical standpoint it appears so.
It was last season that Clarke sat down with head coach, Rob Beveridge, and agreed to take on a reserve role despite being a primary scoring threat.
Fast-forward to the first quarter of the Hawks’ opener against Cairns Friday night, and there he was, on cue, draining a three with his first touch of the game. He followed that up with two more splashes from deep, before an inevitable heat-check.
By the time the first quarter was drawing to a close, Clarke was able to finish a beautiful drive to his right against a Taipans defence now forced to close out on him.
Second half? Same story. Midway through the third, Clarke got right back to a steady barrage of threes, as well as finding open teammates off the dribble. When all was said and done, Clarke finished the night with a game-high 22 points on 6 of 8 shooting from deep in a disappointing loss.
With all the excitement around NBLxNBA, it’s only right to be thinking like this. What's next for Clarke? A rat’s tail? Maybe a mouthguard to chew on? Fake twitter accounts?
We’d settle for late-game heroics.
Bryce Cotton (Plus)
It’s one game and it already looks unfair. Bryce Cotton had Brisbane’s defence on skates, backpedalling the entire night and unable to contain the guard off the dribble.
Cotton seems to be in a league of his own, set to reign terror for an entire season after dominating last season’s grand final. From the opening tip, Cotton was in control and amassed a line of 24 points, four rebounds and three assists in a comfortable win over the Bullets.
As the Wildcats find their form after an offseason full of changes, we should be ready to see Cotton’s constant ability to break down an entire team’s defence open the floor up. Jesse Wagstaff and co. should be ready to find themselves wide open and ready to shoot as the rest of the league collapses under Cotton’s brilliance in the half-court.
The Paint is Open in Sydney and Cairns (Minus)
The 2-0 Taipans don’t get a break on this one just because they played the Breakers after having defeated a Hawks side whose offence fell out-of-sync, and essentially collapsed in the second half of their season-opener.
Head coach Aaron Fearne cannot be pleased with how his team has controlled the paint so far this season. After giving up either dunks or layups on four of the Hawks first five field goal attempts of the game, the Taipans started the second half in the same fashion.
The lane was open early and often for Illawarra, who were able to attack the rim regularly and secured six more offensive rebounds than Cairns. The Taipans were also out rebounded by 10 in the game.
Things didn’t improve much in the Taipans second game, giving up the first two points to Breaker Mika Vukona on one of the game’s several uncontested layups. New Zealand outrebounded the Taipans 46-to-40 and held the team to just three second-chance points in the loss.
This trend will surely impact the Taipans’ winning ways in later rounds, particularly with the injury to centre Nathan Jawai if Nnanna Egwu can’t log major minutes for Fearne in the post.
Meanwhile, the Kings were having troubles of their own, seemingly unable to transition from a spread offense to a defence that controls the middle.
The Kings looked exposed on defence, with Adelaide easily drawing Perry Ellis and Isaac Humphries out of the paint with no help behind them. Points in the paint were a lopsided 48-to-28 in Adelaide’s favour.
Sydney didn’t have much rim protection last week against the likes of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert in Utah either (but then again, who does have an answer for the ‘New Lob City’?).
Sobey Having Fun (Plus)
Nathan Sobey looks primed to have another big season for Adelaide.
In their season opener, Sobey reeled off team highs of 22 points, nine rebounds and four assists against Melbourne, before delivering another sound performance in the 36ers victory over the Kings.
The veteran Scottie Pippen antics was the best part.
Demitrius Conger (Plus)
Coaches and scouts are going to be scrambling to figure out what to do with Demitrius Conger this season. After missing a breathtaking dunk early, he never looked back, maintaining a relentless attack on the Taipans in his NBL debut.
For Illawarra, this is their athletic guy; the import player who entirely shifts the scope of what coach Rob Beveridge gets to do with his rotations. Conger filled the stat sheet in his first game (17 pts, 4 reb, 3 ast), highlighted by a vicious block and several dunks.
With Conger on board, the Hawks should be able to look past their offensive miscues late in the game Friday. Between his shooting and ability to push the pace, Conger should be a big part of Illawarra playing at full potential.
Melbourne United won their opening game of the season before jetting off the the U.S of A. However, the fact that they played two great games this week (despite a dismal first half and poor free throw shooting against the Sixers and a predictable final play against the Oklahoma City Thunder) means so much more than it does to the eye. Based on the one round of action we’ve been treated to, United has shown us the best team basketball in the league. As Melbourne look to make a run at Perth in season 2017/18, Casper Ware is also making an early statement that he is ready for the task of taking on Bryce Cotton in Round three.
Most importantly, the ball is moving for Melbourne and roles in the team are emerging. Rebounding big Majok Majok played valuable minutes against Adelaide, taking over for Josh Boone who was out of rhythm and in foul-trouble. Majok’s presence helped to jumpstart what would become a 40-point third period for Melbourne.
Tai Wesley, who’s looked much more comfortable with the ball in his hands than Majok, has shown that he will keep teams from being able to constantly double Ware or Prather. This younger duo seems ready to take on meaningful minutes down low in United’s quest for a title, particularly with Wesley’s post-play and passing.
Veteran bigs Josh Boone and David Andersen are filling the roles that kept them in a United uniform. In addition to being part of a frontcourt that moves the ball very well, making extra passes for great shots rather than good shots, the two have been getting it done on both ends. Melbourne look like a well-coached defensive team with strong habits and sound communication. For Andersen, a steady diet of threes, excellent screens and an amusing up and under in Oklahoma City, has complimented textbook stay-at-home defence. Meanwhile, Boone has run the pick and roll well with Ware, cleaning up the glass and posting up when the opportunity presents itself.
That said, it is early days and it will not all be smooth sailing for the team in the competition with the biggest target on their backs. Early issues with health have already made an impact, leaving us wondering what could have been for Chris Goulding against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
We’ll see how they deal with jet lag and a second dose of the 36ers in Round 2.
JP Tokoto (Plus)
If you haven’t had a chance to see this guy’s hops just yet, there is no doubt that a viral clip will be in your feed soon.
In his debut for the Wildcats, Tokoto put his athleticism on full display. Filling passing lanes (or inbounders’ entire field of vision), contesting shots and guards in the backcourt while trying to pack the ball in the hoop at every chance.
Tokoto’s aggressive play and high energy are just what Perth were after in replacing Casey Prather. One game in and his place in the line-up looks like he’ll be a difference maker in close games as well as the Wildcats’ almost certain finals appearance.
If he had signed with a non-contender, we would surely be treated to a year of big shots and internet stopping dunks. As a member of the Wildcats we’re in for so much more.
We should have all seen this coming.