NBL Winners & Losers: Round 1
After each round of the NBL season, I’ll be taking a look at three ‘winners’ and three ‘losers’ from the events of the preceding week. Anyone, or anything, is eligible; from individual players to entire teams, coaches to mascots, on-court strategies to off-court distractions and more.
1. Those record-breaking Hawks
Some of us felt sorry for the Hawks during the offseason, when their big three was reduced to one by the departures of Kevin Lisch and Kirk Penney. On Friday night, they made it quite clear that our pity is wasted on them.
We should've clued on that something special was on the cards at the Sandpit during the quarter time break, when Luke Pople of the Wollongong Roller Hawks drained a three-pointer to win $3,000 in the Chemist Warehouse Sharp Shot competition.
Adelaide captain Mitch Creek threatened to derail proceedings in the second quarter, as he exploded for 19 points in the period to give the 36ers a 56-55 lead at the main break.
Illawarra's second half, though, was something to behold. A 67-32 demolition job quickly went from thrilling to history-making as the records tumbled: biggest opening round win for the franchise (34 points); most assists by any NBL team in the 40-minute era (36); and, last but not least...
As Boti Nagy was quick to point out, that 122 is the highest since the NBL returned to the 40-minute era in 2010, but was edged a few times in the early 40-minute era back in the 1980s. Nonetheless, it was a stunning offensive display.
Despite significant roster changes, Bevo's squad looks likely to defend its status as the most entertaining team to watch in 2016/17.
2. The redemption of Johnson & Johnson
Jaron and Daniel Johnson shared more than a surname over the course of Round One. They both opened the season with games they would rather forget. Jaron appeared tentative in his NBL debut against Brisbane, going 2-6 from the field and attempting just two three-pointers as Perth's offence ground to a halt.
DJ was similarly absent in the 36ers' opener against the Hawks, contributing 1-5 from the field and a team-worst minus-31 in 24 minutes on the floor. He turned it around in decisive fashion against Melbourne on Sunday, as he found his stroke from deep. Three second-quarter triples from the sweet-shooting big man sparked his team to a double-digit lead, which ultimately proved insurmountable for United as Adelaide held on for a crucial bounce back win. DJ finished with 17 points and 7 rebounds, the kind of performance this young team will need from him consistently in 2016/17.
Jaron, in his second game of the round, redeemed himself in somewhat more dramatic fashion.
3. Winning ugly
Round One was a strong reminder that early in the season, it can be more about the result than the process. Teams that are successful generally save their peak form for when it matters, but grind out early wins to position themselves for a top four spot. Unsurprisingly, perennial championship contenders Perth and New Zealand notched up ugly wins over the weekend. But nobody did it better than Brisbane, with a couple of gritty, important victories to announce their return to the league. Those kind of wins are exactly the reason the Bullets went out and signed proven, experienced NBL veterans. It bodes well for an instant return to postseason action for the revived franchise.
1. The championship favourites
Things did not go to plan for Melbourne United in Round One. They struggled offensively, shooting a miserly 39% (57-146) from the field across their two losses. Coach Dean Demopoulos has his work cut out for him this week, with no shortage of room for improvement.
How do they better integrate David Andersen into the offence? He was 6-9 (67%) from two-point range across the round. His deadly efficiency from the post is no secret; they must do a better job of getting him more opportunities.
How do they get CG43 going? Put simply, his opening round was a train wreck. Shooting 6-28 (21%) from the field and attempting only two free throws, he looked extremely frustrated at times. Goulding can run hot and cold, but United need to find a better balance so they don't fall apart when their superstar struggles.
How do they defend Jerome Randle in the pick and roll? They were powerless to stop him on Sunday, and Joey Wright perceptively instructed his 36ers to exploit it all game long. With a return bout in Adelaide on Friday night, Coach Demopoulos doesn't have long to find a solution.
With Friday's trip to Adelaide followed by three straight home games, Melbourne urgently need to figure out answers to these questions. Failure to protect home court early in the season could prove very costly down the road.
2. NBL TV
There's a hell of a lot to like about the potential of NBL TV, with a hopefully ever-expanding catalogue of classic games to accompany the current season's content. And you can't fault the value for money, at $5 per month or free for Telstra customers and season members.
However, arriving at Tuesday morning with replays of only two of the six games from the opening round available is a major disappointment. Fingers crossed this issue is resolved for Round Two.
3. Ramone Moore
He was actually one of Melbourne United's better performers over the weekend, but this was nasty.