NBL Winners and Losers: Round 3

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.


Sydney's sizzling defence

The Sydney Kings hype train has well and truly left the station. Sitting pretty at the top of the ladder on the back of a four-game winning streak, with NBA veteran Steve Blake set to join the team this week, the Kings have roared into championship favouritism.

When Kings coach Andrew Gaze was asked whether he was concerned about his players getting caught up in the hype, he replied, "Fortunately, we've got some veterans in our group that understand what is the sausage and what is the sizzle."

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Well, in Round 3, the sausage was Sydney's disruptive defence. It started in Auckland, forcing the Breakers into 17 turnovers as Brad Newley and Greg Whittington racked up 3 steals apiece. They took it up a notch on Monday night, scoring 28 points directly from 21 calamitous Hawks turnovers. Newley and Whittington were active again with 4 and 3 steals respectively, while Kevin Lisch joined the party with a staggering 6 steals.

The Kings are doing a remarkable job of pressuring the ball, denying passes, getting deflections, and pushing teams out of their offence by defending high on the perimeter. Lisch, Newley and Whittington are leading the charge, but the whole team is buying in and it's leading to easy transitions buckets.


Oh yeah, and if that's the sausage, here's the sizzle...


The Adelaide 36ers, who did their homework

Adelaide coach Joey Wright was asked whether he was happy to let the Taipans attempt over 40 three-pointers in their Friday night game at Titanium Security Arena. He tried to be diplomatic, but the answer was pretty clear. "It just really depends. You take a team like, you know, Wollongong, you don't want them getting 40 threes off. They got a bunch of guys who can shoot it."

The Taipans, on the other hand, were the worst perimeter shooting team in the league last season at 30.2%. They rolled into Adelaide on Friday night having shot 25.9% from deep over their first two games, and didn't the 36ers know it. They suckered Cairns into a three-point bombing frenzy, snapped up the long defensive boards and ran it back down the Taipans' collective throat.

Nathan Sobey, who basically has the NBL's Most Improved Player trophy locked up after three rounds, was often the instigator with nine defensive boards. When he wasn't starting the break, he was finishing it.


The Brisbane Bullets' free throw shooting coach

The Bullets piled in 43-51 (84.3%) from the free throw line over two games in Round 3. So not only did they get to the line a ton, but they made teams pay when they got there. As a team, they lead the league in free throw shooting percentage at 85.3%. Sure, it's a small sample size, but here's a breakdown of the individual improvement of their players that were in the NBL last season.

[table id=134 /]

I hope you're getting some extra reps up after practice, Peach, because you're letting the team down.


The bottom three

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The Breakers, Hawks and Taipans occupy the bottom three rungs of the ladder after Round 3. They're an obvious target, but the honeymoon period is officially over for these three teams. From here on in, they risk digging themselves into holes from which they can't escape.

For New Zealand, the defensive end must be coach Paul Henare's biggest cause for concern. Defence has traditionally been the Breakers' calling card, but they conceded 90 ppg in their two Round 3 losses. They were regularly caught out of position, sending their opposition to the free throw line 27 times in each game.

It's hard to know where to start with Illawarra. Rebounding, their Achilles heel in 2015/16, continues to haunt them. A turnover-filled 25-6 third quarter, described as 'diabolical' and 'embarrassing' by coach Rob Beveridge, did the damage in a blowout loss to the Kings. Marvelle Harris, formerly of MVP-type buzz, took the weekend off, with just 7 ppg at 33 per cent. Bevo is still experimenting with starting lineups and rotations. He needs to find the right combinations, and fast.

The Taipans were actually fine before Round 3. Road losses in Perth and Sydney are not reasons for alarm bells from what we've seen so far this season. But the way they lost in Adelaide was worrying. Offensively, they looked like a team lacking direction and purpose. Coach Aaron Fearne didn't single any one player out for blame, but noted the importance of point guard Travis Trice finding his feet, and soon.

"It's his first taste of international basketball and it's going to take him a little bit of time getting used to that but it has to happen pretty quickly."

Casey Prather, the hardest working man in the NBL

Perth held on for a gutsy road win over Melbourne on Sunday despite a rapidly deteriorating guard rotation. They lost Jarrod Kenny to a groin injury in the first quarter. Then, in the first play of the second half, a Majok Majok screen sent Damian Martin to the bench for treatment. He returned, only to see Andre Ingram foul out with five minutes remaining. All the while, Casey Prather was receiving constant attention from Wildcats physio Dave Philpot to try to revive his, as Casey described it, "dead left leg". On top of all that, they were missing Greg Hire (not really a guard but sometimes asked by Trevor Gleeson to pretend to be one), who stayed in Perth for the birth of his first child. And in a decision the Wildcats surely regret, they flew forward Rhys Vague over to cover for Hire, while point guard development player Corban Wroe watched helplessly from his couch in Perth. Embed from Getty Images

When news emerged that Kenny will miss 3-5 weeks with a groin strain, it was not a shock. The accompanying diagnosis of a fractured jaw and two weeks out for Damian Martin was less anticipated. And now, in a stunning turn of events, Andre Ingram has been granted a release, citing mental health reasons. In a matter of days, the 'Cats have lost three of their four rostered guards. That's a problem.

Perth will look to Wroe to step up, and they'll be hustling to find a long-term replacement for Ingram as well as a temporary injury replacement for some extra depth. But for the most part, the burden is going to fall on Prather.

Prather, the primary wing defender on his team, who was suffering cramp over the weekend due to his heavy workload, and who leads the NBL in usage rate by a country mile (38.4%, per RealGM, ahead of Jerome Randle on 29.9%), is going to be asked to do more. It hardly seems fair.


Mika Vukona's 300th game party

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Referees Vaughan Mayberry, Jon Chapman and Toni Caldwell didn't get the memo, as Mika spent most of his milestone night in foul trouble. He was restricted to only 12:35 on court and held scoreless as his Breakers slumped to a 78-92 home loss to the Kings. You'd think five NBL championships might earn you a little preferential treatment on such an occasion. Apparently not.