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NBL Plus Minus - Round Two
As Daniel Johnson and the Adelaide 36ers would tell you, sometimes you’re on a roll; sometimes you can’t get anything to go.
Such was the tale of two games for the Sixers this week; and for the NBL, the story of two very different rounds.
The NBL’s season opened with a bang that couldn’t be faulted for much more than a few teams working out some early kinks. A few days later, and the negatives piled up in a forgettable round that hardly resembled the first.
Unlike the second half of most games this week, this edition of NBL Plus Minus is short and sweet.
Thank you to the teams in Auckland for trying to keep the spirit of Round 1 alive this weekend.
Sydney’s comeback in the fourth set up some last-second heroics from the Breakers’ DJ Newbill’s in what was an otherwise lop-sided round of games in the league.
After a series of nail-biting finishes in Round 1, the average margin of victory soared to nearly 15 points this weekend.
A rematch between Adelaide and Melbourne saw United win in a twenty-point blowout one week after the two teams went down to the wire. This followed a round-opening 96-to-70 thrashing of the Cairns Taipans for the Sixers, who at one point were up by 32 points.
The Perth Wildcats went to work against the Illawarra Hawks, turning a tight first half into a slow suffocation of the visiting side Friday night.
Their methodical offense did damage in the half court working through Angus Brandt, while staunch team defense allowed only seven points in the entire third quarter.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, their second game didn’t go any better as they went down 87-103 to the Kings.
This was probably an uncharacteristic week in such a tight, competitive league.
Every team has either won or fought to the very end in defeat, so count on more memorable finishes in the seven games ahead this week.
Hope for Round 3: The first game between Perth and Melbourne, and a rematch between the Kings and Breakers are just two of the seven close games this week.
Jean-Pierre and Demitrius Host a Block Party (Plus)
This was bound to happen after Demitrius Conger and JP Tokoto’s season openers.
Two of the NBL’s most athletic players went all out in the Hawks’ game in Perth, creating a frenzy in the first half that continued after halftime.
Tokoto brought his fan-favourite sideline defense for a second week in a row, and both had sensational finishes at the rim.
Tokoto was active on both ends, disrupting shots from start to finish. In addition to his two blocks, he tallied 14 point, 5 boards, 3 assists and 2 steals on the night.
While it was the Wildcats who came away with the victory, nothing stood out more than this play from Demitrius Conger.
Hope for Round 3: A healthy Casey Prather goes toe-to-toe with JP Tokoto.
Sixth Man Support (Plus)
Some nights, the starters just don’t have it. Other times, reserves like Rotnei Clarke are just waiting to spark their team with instant offense.
For Perth guard Dexter Kernich-Drew, Friday’s game was a bit of both.
On a night where star Bryce Cotton was off to the tune of 3 turnovers, 4 fouls and just 3 points, in stepped the second-year guard who scored 11 points in 10 minutes after not even playing in the Wildcats’ first game.
Damon Heuir scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds in Cairns’ loss to Adelaide.
New to the reserve role, Kirk Penney led a huge outing for the Breakers’ backcourt. He shot six-of-nine from three and scored 25 points.
Kyle Adnam had 23 points and 3 assists for Melbourne in a cruisy victory against Adelaide.
As Melbourne United coach Dean Vickerman put it, “You love as a coach when different people step up.”
Be ready, you never know when your number might be called.
Hope for Round 3: Rotnei Clarke comes off the bench to lead the Hawks to their first victory.
Man Down! (Minus)
You never want the outcome of a game, much less a season, to be impacted by injury.
Although Melbourne have lived up to preseason expectations despite being without star Chris Goulding, Sydney have yet to find their form under coach Andrew Gaze and are now without former MVP Kevin Lisch who sustained a calf injury Sunday.
Added to the list of NBL casualties is recently signed 36er Alan Wiggins, who suffered a broken arm whilst taking a charge against United and will be out indefinitely.
While I’m not so sure that having Nathan Jawai is the answer to the Taipans early season woes, there’s no question that he and Michael Carrera, who is recovering from knee surgery, are sorely missed in Cairns.
What I am sure about is loose ball frays; where hustle turns to high-risk attempts to make a play for the team, turning into on court nightmares.
This is exactly the kind of chaos and wild diving that leads to Casey Prather getting injured.
Hope for Round 3: Casey Prather is able to play, and Chris Goulding makes his season debut.
Perry Ellis in the Driver’s Seat (Plus)
When the final buzzer sounded the Kings first victory of the season, Perry Ellis walked off the court with 33 points having shot 11-15 from the field, including 4-5 from deep.
Getting one in the win column must have been particularly sweet for Ellis after his game-tying tip against the Breakers two nights earlier failed to cap off a fourth quarter comeback.
Playing the highest level of basketball comes down to showing up night in, night out and the 6’7” Ellis has been a force in the early going for the Kings.
Ellis has consistently looked like the best player on the floor in Sydney’s first three games. He has thrived as an undersized centre who can spread the floor and move with ease against heavier defenders in the King’s offense.
Ellis is shooting the ball well from deep and has averaged nearly 22 points per game this season.
He’s also had his fair share of blocks:
Hope for Round 3: Ellis goes off in his return to New Zealand, then avenges the King’s Round 1 loss to Adelaide.
Overreactions to Early Foul Trouble (Minus)
There are certain unwritten rules of basketball that teams will cling to even when they don’t always make sense in the moment. One of these dogmas is benching a player who picks up two early fouls.
Most of the time, this type of precaution from a coaching staff makes sense. There are forty minutes to play, and when the game is on the line you shouldn’t have your best players stuck on the bench having fouled out.
As with any standard protocols in the game of basketball, there are exceptions to be made when coaches feel that the unconventional will provide an advantage.
From the first two rounds of NBL action, I want to make a case for Bryce Cotton and Scoochie Smith being exceptions to the rule.
In Round 1, Taipans coach Aaron Fearne pulled his point guard at the 4:53 mark of the first quarter after he picked up his second foul against the Hawks. Smith would go on to play just 18 minutes in his debut, scoring only 6 points.
In their second game, Smith stayed out of foul trouble and stayed on the floor until there were just 55 seconds left in the first. He would go on to play twice as many minutes as he did in his first outing, finding his rhythm on 6-of-9 shooting for 18 points.
For Cotton, much was made of his disappearance against Illawarra in Round 2. However, his first rotation on the floor was also cut short by two early fouls.
Cotton played three minutes into the second quarter in Round 1, on his way to 24 points in 33 minutes of action against Brisbane. He was back to the same scoring prowess that earned him Grand Final MVP a season ago.
The flow of the game and his dictating of Perth’s offense came natural to Cotton in Round 1. So it makes sense that benching him seven minutes earlier against Illawarra stopped him from establishing this same rhythm in Round 2.
For the record, the Hawks have yet to win a game this season so let’s not rush to conclusions about their ability to shut down offensive point guards. Don’t count on Cotton going 1-for-5 again any time soon either.
While it’s also not a guarantee that Cotton or Smith would replicate their stronger outings given the chance to play through foul trouble, the point is that they are capable.
Part of being a defensive powerhouse is knowing that your players are going to get stops and do it in the right way because they are coached to play with sound fundamentals.
Fearne has prided himself on leading gritty, defensive Taipans teams to victory for years, and Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson has his team already playing Finals-ready defense.
A coach’s trust in his players to stay home defensively and ‘play like they practice’ is a factor in games, particularly as the season goes on and competition tightens up.
Keeping key scorers in the game and letting them find their rhythm is equally valuable.
After all, the best defense is great offense.
Hope for Round 3: Travis Trice stays in the game despite picking up the inevitable two early fouls against Illawarra.
Also, a bit of more of this.