NBL Winners and Losers: Round 16
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…
The minor premiers
It's official. The Adelaide 36ers, tipped by most (including yours truly) to finish on the lower rungs of the ladder, are your NBL 2016/17 minor premiers.
Image Credit: NBL
Of greatest concern to the rest of the league is the 36ers' rising defence, which started the new year in last place but has quickly pushed up to third in the league.
In Round 16, they restricted Brisbane and Sydney to 68 and 73 points respectively. Admittedly, those are two teams struggling for offensive cohesion right now, but it bodes well for Adelaide's hopes of translating a dominant regular season into finals success.
New Zealand, the three-point specialists
Last week, I wrote about Dexter Kernich-Drew being Perth's only perimeter shooter knocking threes down at better than 33%. The Breakers have no such issues.
In Kirk Penney, Paul Carter, Kevin Dillard, Rob Loe, and the soon to return Thomas Abercrombie, the Breakers have five high-volume perimeter threats currently rolling at 36.5% or better. And that's not even counting their most accurate long-range sniper - Akil Mitchell, of course, a lazy 2-3 for 66.7% on the season. Hell, even Finn Delany's at 50%, and if you ignore Shea Ili's 0-9 start to the season, he's at 44.4%.
Dillard's ability to pull up off the bounce is causing teams nightmares, while Kirk Penney has been a little more aggressive looking for his shot of late. Give that man a millimetre of space and he is letting it fly.
New Zealand torched the Hawks for 15-32 (46.9%) from deep in their 95-86 road win on Friday. Perth did a better job of limiting perimeter opportunities on Sunday, but the Breakers were still able to make an efficient 7-14 (50%) from beyond the arc.
Last season's grand finalists, who were all but gone a fortnight ago, suddenly look like Adelaide's biggest threat.
The return of the upset
A byproduct of one of the most evenly contested seasons in NBL history has been the rarity of the upset. When anyone is capable of beating anyone on any given night, there are no overwhelming favourites and, consequently, no shocking results.
So when Melbourne rolled into Brisbane on Saturday night to face a Bullets squad as decimated as anything we've seen this season, it must've felt strange for United to feel an overwhelming expectation to win. The Bullets, already missing Cam Bairstow, Adam Gibson and Anthony Petrie, announced the release of Jermaine Beal on the day of the game. They had just been smashed by the ruthless 36ers in Adelaide, and had no business competing with a Melbourne team battling for a top four spot.
Credit to the Bullets, who played inspired basketball, but when all is said and done this season, there's a real possibility that Round 16 will be Melbourne's "what if?" moment.
The free throw that wouldn't miss
Mitch McCarron tried to do the right thing. Leading 71-70 with a couple of seconds on the clock, he hurled his second free throw at the rim in an attempt to ensure the Wildcats didn't have an opportunity to call a timeout and advance the ball for a game-saving play.
In a crazy twist of fate, the shot cannoned off the backboard and straight into the hoop, leaving Perth with a chance to steal a game from the Taipans for the second time at Perth Arena in season 2016/17.
The Hawks, digging holes
Twice in one round, the Hawks let their opponents get away from them after the half time break. On Friday in Wollongong, they let the Breakers take control of the game with a 26-14 third term. Then, on the road in Cairns, a 15-1 Taipans run to start the second half put the Hawks in a hole from which they couldn't recover. At least, that's how A.J. Ogilvy saw it.
"Defensively and offensively, we were just lacklustre in the third quarter. We were down at half time, but it was that third quarter that put us in a hole. Same as against New Zealand, you know, we came out the other night in the third quarter and dug ourselves a hole and fought hard to try and get back but just left it too late and same thing today, you know, we can't keep digging ourselves holes and trying to get out of it, it's wearing us down."
The crunch time chaos in Auckland
In theory, the final quarter of Sunday's Breakers vs Wildcats clash sounds fun. The teams piled on 67 points between them. Perth closed the deficit from 11 points with 2:54 remaining to 5 points with just under a minute to go. Exciting stuff, right? Embed from Getty Images
In a way, it was. In another way, it was excruciating. The Breakers had a staggering 11 turnovers in the final quarter, including two rare eight-second violations. While Perth's defensive pressure was something to behold, even during their 6-0 run to close the gap, they only shot 1-5 (20%) from the field.
It was a microcosm of the challenges these two teams have faced all season long. For New Zealand, their league-worst 18.1% turnover rate could be the only thing standing between them and a late charge for a top two spot. Perth, meanwhile, must find a way to improve their horrendous shooting (47.3 effective field goal percentage, well and truly worst in the NBL) if they want to secure a finals berth.