NBL Plus Minus - Round Three
There were a lot of great team victories and individual performances around the league in Round 3. Here are a few of the emerging features impacting a young NBL season.
New Zealand’s Shakers & Breakers (Plus)
I’ll admit that I was one of the people that counted New Zealand amongst the teams too old and orthodox in their approach (great wins, Illawarra and Cairns!) before the team got out to a 3 and 1 start.
What coach Paul Henare has done with a veteran core and a few newly signed guards has seen them get on a hot streak of both closely fought and absolutely dominant victories.
It’s so exciting to watch, and it all starts with the play of their guards.
At this point, it’s fair to start describing the roster depth of Shea Ili, DJ Newbill, Kirk Penney and Édgar Sosa as a four-headed monster.
It comes as no coincidence that a deep backcourt that runs Henare’s offense effectively with no breaks for all 40 minutes has allowed the Breakers to flourish in the early rounds of the season.
Opposing sides have done little to slow their attacking style, with Sosa and Newbill looking smooth in half court sets and on the break. Their ability to change speed and use deadly hesitation moves is complimented by the way they keep the ball moving.
Sosa was dominant over the course of Round 3, posting 19 points, 7 assists and 3 steals against the Kings followed up by 17 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds in an impressive victory over United.
He and Newbill – who posted a line of 15 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists against Melbourne – have been the league’s best backcourt in the early going. The combo have continuously worn down opposing offensive-minded guards, outplaying defenses and making life easy for teammates like Thomas Abercrombie who scored 21 of his own on Sunday.
When those two have been getting rest, it’s been more of the same for the Breakers. Ili has looked great off the dribble, scoring layups and setting up corner threes.
A special mention to Kirk Penney who suited up for 6 points and 6 boards against Sydney to follow up a 6-for-9 three-point assault the week before. Despite initially deciding not to play, Penney took the court after the passing of his father, Paul, earlier in the week.
Perrin Buford (Plus)
Judging by his stat lines and celebrations, Perrin Buford is having a blast playing for Andrej Lemanis’s Bullets.
Having already posted 17 points and 5 rebounds in a Round 1 loss to Perth, Buford showed what he could offer on a nightly basis in Round 3. In Brisbane’s win over Cairns Buford scored 17 again, adding 6 rebounds, before posting season highs of 26 points and 9 rebounds against Illawarra.
On the defensive end, Buford has made an impact with his energy and athleticism. He is averaging over six and a half boards on the season and has had some impressive blocks.
This hustle for the second-chance tip in after making a tough pass off of dribble penetration shows how Buford has been doing a bit of everything this season.
Unsportsmanlike Play (Minus)
I’m not going to celebrate the skirmishes and over-the-top reactions to officials and opponents alike with replays of rugby elbows to the head of a player on the ground or teams swarming around tough-nosed rebounders.
I will say that Round 3 saw an unfortunate rise in player altercations, and that when games start to boil over, we end up seeing players standing around while referees check replay screens instead of watching actual basketball.
Not only are stoppages in play for technical and unsportsmanlike fouls momentum-swinging events with no entertainment value, officials dictating the outcome of games through heavy involvement during play also shouldn’t happen.
Let’s get back to basketball.
Masked McCarron (Plus)
There’s something great about a cold-blooded shooter taking the floor in a black facemask.
Mitch McCarron sustained a nose injury in practice earlier in the week but wasted no time in scoring 13 points in the first half against Brisbane.
Two nights later, he went off in the first half again against Perth on his way to shooting 4-of-7 from deep.
Though he ditched the mask by the second half of the Taipans’ emphatic win over the Wildcats, McCarron didn’t let up, finishing with 18 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists.
Sydney Kings Basketball (Minus)
In his in-depth article on the state of the Kings, Olgun Uluc provides a great description of where things have gone wrong at the top in Sydney.
There is also no shortage of soundbites from coach Andrew Gaze before, during and after his team’s outings this weekend.
I want to keep things on the court.
The Kings gave up an NBL record 69 points in the first twenty minutes of basketball against Adelaide. Then they came out and lost the third quarter, 27-to-11.
That was after being down as many as 31 in a defeat to the Breakers, following a loss at the buzzer there the week before.
Enough has been said about Sydney’s lack of size in the post, and being out-rebounded 49-29 against the Breakers highlighted that issue once again.
The bigger story: these guys just don’t play well together. Their defensive communication and cover in the pick and roll stand out far more than their rim-protection.
Not only that, but their offense is predictable and doesn’t utilise the roster they’ve chosen to stick with.
Even when the Kings get out in transition where they should be a lethal, attacking team the defence is a step ahead.
For a team that starts a 6’7” Perry Ellis at centre and refuses to play Isaac Humphries meaningful minutes, attempting only 11 threes the entire game against New Zealand made no sense.
I don’t question the need for great organisations to start at the top, but these are professional players playing for a coach that claims to have a plan. Problem is; no one’s sure what it is.
Hawks Win! (Plus)
How many highlight reels from Demitrius Conger and Rotnei Clarke did we need to witness before Illawarra got one in the wins column?
Thanks to a 39-to-16 third quarter blitz against the Bullets, Illawarras early-season woes were put on hold in Round 3.
Conger posted another strong outing with a line of 21 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists.
Clarke would finish the night with 26 points and 4 assists. They don’t get much sweeter than this:
Nick Kay also scored 13 huge points and was a game high +25 on the floor.
By the fourth quarter, Brisbane’s defence looked terrified of Clarke. His hot shooting exposed the paint and created second chances as the Bullets struggled to close out on threes or switch efficiently.
We’ll see what coach Rob Beveridge’s rotations look like now that he’s had a taste of Clarke in the starting five and a first victory.
Patient Perth (Plus)
I’ve been wondering all season what it would be like to see the Wildcats pick up the pace, abandoning post-play to unleash the likes of Bryce Cotton. Never did I imagine that would come against the ‘grind you down’ Taipans.
Perth got beat in Cairns on Sunday night, and it didn’t help that they gave up 14 turnovers and lost the free-throw battle 23 to 11.
This was a Wildcats team that left the comforts of the Jungle having defeated Casey Prather and Melbourne United on Friday night.
The difference in that one was Perth sticking with the plan that had them off to an undefeated start to the season, pulling away in a 28-to-19 third quarter.
They played the same way they had all season. Angus Brandt, Lucas Walker and their other bigs getting plenty of touches; keeping defences honest against Bryce Cotton penetration and JP Tokoto’s mid-range pull-ups.
Brandt finished with 16 points (he would score just 6 points in 9 minutes against Cairns) and the methodical Wildcats would shoot 12 more free throws than United.
The heavyweight victory exemplified what Perth has been all about thus far; every player knowing what to do with the ball at all times.
Even when it seems to break down, things just seem to go right.
Don’t get too caught up in Sunday night’s result.