NBL Plus/Minus - Round 12
|Alexander Robins||Jan 3, 2018|
In basketball there are big moments: unique games, monster halves (and forgettable ones), cameo quarters and alpha-dog performances. Here are five that represent the state of the game in the League, not all of them good.
Basketball, Top Back (Plus, Plus, Plus)
You simply can’t top what the NBL and the city of Melbourne were able to pull off in their open-air classic.
The magic of professionals playing outdoor basketball can actually be dated back to moments like the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns facing off in a Puerto Rican baseball stadium in 1972. This doesn’t really count because drones didn’t exist back then and no one has posted any photos!
Much like the position of the NBL in Australia’s sporting climate, NBA franchises were once pulling out all the stops to bring attention to the game.
Fortunately, Tuesday drew a perfect night of basketball free from swaying backboards, harsh weather or inconvenient birds.
My favourite part was Bullets’ sixth-man, Reuben Te Rangi, taking it all in.
Travis Trice: Hot & Cold (Minus)
It was under Melbourne’s perfect night sky that Travis Trice missed what felt like his only errant shot in weeks.
I’m aware that he chose to shoot a three, and that there was a breeze (maybe). I’m aware that he missed that three, and that he failed to sell a call against Casper Ware on the follow through.
I am also aware that Trice’s biggest moments this season have come in the closing seconds, sniping the likes of Cairns and Sydney with clutch baskets.
Those are the shots we remember, and rightly so.
Yet, as I watched Illawarra close out another loss for the Bullets I tried to remember a basket from Trice’s career-night (32 pts.) that hadn’t been foiled by Rotnei Clarke. Some will remember the restricted area injustice; most, like me, will recall a blazing first half.
Turns out Trice is just streaky – streaky as they come – there one moment, gone the next.
In his last three outings, Trice has starred in ‘MVP to MIA: the perplexing tale of two halves’, repeat performances of a forty-minute rendition of Derrick Rose’s career arc in arenas across the country.
Act 1: It’s Round 11 and Trice is treating the Sydney Kings the way everyone treats the Sydney Kings, he’s running them off the court in a first half performance that sees him go 6-of-8 from the field with multiple splashes from deep.
Against Melbourne a few nights later, Trice has the Bullets on a roll again, this time lighting it up in the open air going 3-for-6 in the first half.
On the last night of the calendar year, Trice delivers his greatest performance, going 8-for-10 in the first half while also having to defend the entire Hawks team in transition because no one else is getting back (ok, that part doesn’t really work out).
“LIFE IS GREAT! LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL! THIS IS LIFE’S SPRINGTIME!”
Act 2: Trice has gone back to the locker-room and re-emerges as what appears to be the same man, wearing the same uniform and operating in the same headspace as before.
But summer has turned to winter, teams have made adjustments and the same hoop that once looked open seems to have shrunk.
On his home floor in Brisbane, an 18-point lead implodes at the hands of Jerome Randle in a 6-point loss that sees Trice go 2-of-6 in the second half. The other twenty minutes to a basketball game in both Melbourne and Wollongong – the half where things are decided – go no better.
Trice not only goes 1-for-5 in a tight battle with United, but also fails to carry the team with leading scorer Perrin Buford out, as the Hawks run away with things later that week.
“UGH, THIS WINTER OF DISCONTENT...HAVE THEY SWAPPED OUT THE GAME BALL? WHAT AM I EVEN DOING HERE?”
This isn’t just the basketball equivalent of Derrick Rose’s legs, it’s Darren Aronofsky level (see: Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan or just about any other film the guy’s made) ultra-high to ultra-ultra-low.
The Oscar 500 Show (Plus)
Speaking of hot quarters, Oscar Forman made sure to come out blazing in Game 500 this week.
When you’re halfway to four digits in the games played column you’ve earned the right to bunker down, take a round off and then gasp your way to three bombs from deep.
Congrats on the milestone and one incredibly honest halftime interview, Oscar!
The Ghost of David Andersen (Minus)
Here we are again discussing Dean Vickerman rotations: they’re bad.
A season as inconsistent as Melbourne United’s is a cry for help when you don’t get results from the talent on paper, and while I’m glad they’ve been able to get wins against Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide (barely) I’m still waiting to see who United truly are.
For all the questions surrounding Melbourne’s identity (further complicated now by hot takes about the team being somehow better without Casey Prather), there is one player who is no question mark.
Yes, David Andersen is old, but he is a proven performer.
If a trip to Oklahoma in the NBA preseason meant Dean Vickerman was going to base Andersen’s role this season off of Nick Collison’s duties for the Thunder, the club need not have signed him to the roster.
The team has too many ‘leaders’ already: Prather and Josh Boone certainly top the list for their on-court presence, Tai Wesley is a vocal heart and soul for the team and their backcourt isn’t exactly a young and inexperienced duo in need of mentorship.
In the month of December, Andersen had been taking just three shots in ten minutes of action per game before he seized his moment against the Brisbane Bullets in Round 12.
A glorious reminder that the man is, in fact, alive.
Demitrius Conger, tough guy (Plus)
The NBL is full of ‘tough guys’: players who will flex on one play then flop on the very next trip up the court.
Demitrius Conger, however, is no cupcake.
There was a moment in Illawarra’s game against Brisbane on Sunday (yeah, I’m just going to keep picking on them) where everyone thought Shaun Bruce was selling the offensive foul as Conger tossed him aside with a two-handed swipe with the ball.
It was no flop – the man throws down.
On the season, Conger is beasting at a rate of 19.5 points, 5.8 boards and a steal per game.
The terror in opponents’ eyes that has grown with every passing game has left Conger to orchestrate the field, setting up a cast of hawks at the rate of 3.4 assists per 36 minutes (fourth amongst forwards).
Two defenders feign interest in stopping the ball in transition – you have to love the reach of half-hearted hope that ends up taking your teammate out of the play – and Conger whips around the obstacle before dishing it to the cutting Clarke.
On defence, Conger closes daylight at the top of the Hawks’ impressive iteration of the 1-3-1 zone, and only Bullet’s forward Perrin Buford has rivalled him in the big blocks category this season.
When Buford heard Conger was waiting for him after that brutal defeat to Melbourne, his legs buckled like a newborn foal and he was unable to go against Illawarra (this actually happens every week to Buford during warm-ups or relentless play, but this was the first time the man in short-shorts hit the floor over a scouting report).
Michael Carrera – Conger’s only rival for top dog – went down and skipped town leaving the Hawk’s forward last man standing for All-NBL Tough Guy.