Five things we can expect from NBL season 2013/14

photo credit: MR FOOJI via photopin cc

As the pre-season comes to a close and the real stuff gets ready to tip-off, we go into one of the most eagerly anticipated NBL seasons in years, knowing just a little bit more about what’s to come than we did in July. What have we learnt over the pre-season and the Blitz about the upcoming season, and what can we expect to see between now and March?

Faster pace, higher scores and more entertainment

The league has taken measures to ensure the entertainment factor is returned to the NBL ahead of season 2013/14. As far as pre-season goes, they seem to have got it right. Teams are flying over the 100 point barrier this year, which has almost been unheard of in recent years since the league reduced the quarters to the 4x10 minute format. During the Blitz weekend, we saw four scores break the 100 point barrier and seven more reach the 90 point mark. To put that in perspective, we only saw the 100 point mark toppled once during season 2012/13. One downside has been the heavily criticised refereeing, which saw a massive spike in fouls and free throws throughout in an attempt to rid the game of sluggish defence and physicality and open it up for dunks and athleticism. If the players adjust to the referees’ agenda early, we could be in for one hell of a season.

Huge individual numbers

The new game style could see some huge individual numbers throughout the season as well, particularly in terms of offensive statistics like points and assists. We only need to look back as far as Brad Hill’s 42 point effort against Cairns on the last day of the Blitz for evidence of that. Throw in 30 point games from the likes of New Zealand’s Kerron Johnson and Melbourne’s Stephen Dennis and a host of players finishing mid-20’s and the stage is set for a massive increase over the 17.7ppg that won Ben Madgen the scoring title in season 2012/13. This is very possible, especially when a number of players this season have already shown that they are more than capable of averaging over 20ppg. While Al Green’s 1984 NBL record of 71 points in a single game may be a little over the top, the coveted 50 point threshold may well be challenged a few times over the course of the campaign.

Massive talent and deep rosters

Almost every team this season has improved on their depth as well as adding some extra firepower to their starting line-ups, making for an entertaining season. With imports in the way of James Ennis, Kerron Johnson, Stephen Dennis and Josh Pace already making a big splash in the pre-season, as well as Aussie stars Mark Worthington and AJ Ogilvy returning from international stints, the league has more than made up for the losses of stars such as Cedric Jackson and Johnny Flynn from last season. Add the returning big names in the way of Gary Ervin, Jamar Wilson, Daniel Johnson and Shawn Redhage to the booming pool of youngsters like Chris Goulding, Cameron Gliddon and Jason Cadee, and it’s difficult to find weaknesses in most of the rosters across the league. The early losses of injured stars Peter Crawford (Townsville), Ben Madgen (Sydney) and Goulding (Melbourne) will cause a mere ripple given the talent that now surrounds them, which is great for their clubs, the fans and the league.

Evenly matched competition

Last season the league was destined for a Perth and New Zealand grand final series, with everyone else barely making up the numbers. The story is a lot different this season, however, with many of the teams difficult to split in what promises to be one of the most even seasons in the league’s history. You only need to look back as far as the recent pre-season matches and the Blitz tournament to see how difficult it will be to pick a winner this summer. Powerhouses New Zealand, gunning for their fourth straight title, went winless through four games prior to the Blitz before going 0-3 during the tournament as well to finish in last place. Melbourne, on the other hand, had won every game before coming into the Blitz and winning just once and losing twice for a 6th place finish. In fact, title favourites Perth won the Blitz with a 2-1 record, while Wollongong finished second last with a 1-2 record over the tournament. If the competition is anything like this, we are sure to see a grandstand finish to the season heading into the playoffs.

Perth looks like the team to beat

While it won’t be easy on what we’ve seen in the pre-season, the Perth Wildcats look like the team to beat this season after two near misses in 2011/12 and 2012/13. An impressive pre-season, which was capped by winning the Loggins-Bruton Cup at the Blitz tournament, has seen Perth take the early billing for title favourite. Their roster goes deep and is the most talented in the league at this stage, with two very good imports in James Ennis and Jermaine Beal to add strike power to a ball club which sees most of the roster returning from last season. Big man Shawn Redhage and swingman Ennis look to be the two biggest pieces of the ‘Cats puzzle and will most likely lead the club throughout the campaign, with Ennis also the early favourite for league MVP following a stellar display in the pre-season. In an ominous sign to their seven rivals, Perth won the Blitz without injured star centre Matthew Knight.

What else lies ahead in the new season? Are you equally excited for NBL season tipoff?