NBL Winners and Losers: Round 2
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. Ladies and gentlemen, your Adelaide 36ers
This is Adelaide's season to date:
Go toe-to-toe with the offensive firepower of the Hawks in the Sandpit, then collapse in a heap and concede the most points in a game in the millennial 40-minute era;
Stun the championship favourites on their home floor;
Slide towards a somewhat understandable blowout defeat after losing your captain to injury, trail by 22 in the fourth quarter, then mount a furious 26-9 run to scare the living daylights out of the aforementioned championship favourites;
Fight back from 11 points down with 5:29 remaining against the only undefeated team left in the league, on the road, and pinch a shocking overtime win.
Last season, the young, plucky Townsville Crocodiles captured the imagination of NBL fans with their gutsy attitude and penchant for stunning upsets. They were everyone's second-favourite team.
In 2016/17, that team is the Adelaide 36ers. They have youth and pluck in spades. On top of that, they seem to have a growing flair for the dramatic. But above all, they have Jerome Randle, the most exciting player in the NBL. If the NBL is #yourgame, the Adelaide 36ers are #yourteam.
2. The '91 Aussie Vintage crop
The big city franchises, Melbourne and Sydney, were under pressure after coming up empty in the opening round. All eyes were on their big name offseason acquisitions to turn things around. Instead, a couple of young Aussies stole the spotlight.
For Sydney, it was 25-year-old Jason Cadee earning every cent of his contract, playing 71 minutes to carry his Kings to a couple of important wins. He backed up a 20-point, 7-assist outing in Wollongong with 23 and 5 courtesy of a final quarter eruption to close out the Taipans.
Meanwhile, fellow 91er Todd Blanchfield was not-so-quietly going about his business with a couple of standout performances. 17 points on 5-10 from deep was impressive in United's win over the 36ers, but it was just an entrée to Sunday's main course. His 8-of-9 (89%, not a typo) corner three masterpiece had jaws on the floor all around Hisense Arena.
In a league packed with talented imports and established Aussie/NZ vets, it was exciting to see two young Aussies step up when it counted.
3. The NBL block party
There were some huge rejections over the weekend. Here are three of the best.
1. Import job security
The Perth Wildcats shocked a lot of people when they 'deactivated' Jaron Johnson on Monday. Not many, if any, would have predicted he would be the first import sent home. Despite a tough first seven quarters of the season proper, there was every reason to believe he was capable of more moments like his game-saving, 16-point, fourth quarter explosion against Cairns in Round One.
Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson was the first to concede Johnson has what it takes to succeed in the NBL, stressing the decision was all about fitting the team's needs. "In any other circumstances, he could've been a Wildcat for a number of years."
When pressed as to what those needs are, he unsurprisingly looked to the land of plenty. "Obviously a bit more threat on the perimeter. You know, Jaron shot the ball well, but it wasn't enough. We need help in that area," said Gleeson.
Ironically, Johnson was leading the team in 3pt% at 60% on 6-10 from deep. But take out his snake-charming five-from-six outburst and you can see the cause for concern. Perth desperately need a high volume sniper who will consistently let it fly without a conscience, to create space for Casey Prather to attack the rim. For all but a small portion of his short stint, Johnson seemed reluctant to take those borderline open looks that can pull a help defender another half-step away from the driving lane.
Anyway, what's the upshot of all this? A very good player has been cut because the NBL is so goddamned competitive this season. There are certain imports who have shown far less than Jaron Johnson in the first two rounds. They better find their feet, or they'll find themselves out of a job.
2. Captain Creek, we hardly knew ye
This was meant to be Mitch's season. Handed the responsibility of the captaincy of a young team, there was expectation that the 24-year old was ready to take the leap. His preseason form was exceptional, and amongst the wreckage of Adelaide's Round One demise in Wollongong was Creek's dazzling 19-point second quarter. He overwhelmed opponents with his athleticism, which is not exactly new, but displayed an improved control when finishing at the rim. Perhaps more significantly, he flashed a confident perimeter shot as he went 3-from-4 (75%) from three-point range. There was talk of Creek's 'NBA talent' catching the eye of scouts with the additional exposure that comes from playing alongside Terrance Ferguson.
Unfortunately, all that excitement came crashing to a halt over the weekend, as scans revealed that Creek will miss eight weeks with a stress fracture in his foot. It's devastating news for a player that seemed poised for a breakout season. “It is heart shattering to know that I will miss two months of basketball that I worked nine months for," said Creek.
Fingers crossed for a swift recovery. If there's a silver lining, we'll see more of spark plug Nathan Sobey in Creek's absence. That's not the worst thing in the world.
3. Illawarra's perimeter shooting woes
You have to think this round was an aberration for the Hawks. They were ice cold from deep, shooting 12-from-57 for an abysmal 21% to slump to consecutive losses. This is the same team that torched Adelaide for 16-33 (48%) from downtown in Round One. There's a middle ground there somewhere, and when we see it we'll get a better picture of how good this team actually is.