NBL Winners and Losers: Round 8
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.
Adelaide's strength in numbers
The 36ers entered Round 8 at the bottom of the ladder, with a brutal Brisbane-Sydney road double looming. I'll be honest, I thought this weekend would probably spell the end of any realistic 36ers' finals aspirations. I could not have been more wrong.
They set the tone for the round by absolutely lighting the Bullets up 36-18 in the first quarter of their Thursday night clash. Eight 36ers hit the scoreboard in the first period, and all ten had scored by the final buzzer.
Against the Kings, a gallant effort looked destined to fall just short until the game swung thanks to a 20-8 36ers run either side of three-quarter time, with a bench unit comprised of Adam Doyle, Nathan Sobey, Anthony Drmic, Majok Deng and a mix of Daniel Johnson and Matt Hodgson. Again, all ten players made their mark on the scoresheet.
Prior to Round 8, the 36ers had been leaning too heavily on Jerome Randle and Sobey for buckets. The pair had combined for a whopping 43% of Adelaide's points. In their two wins over the weekend, they got a whole lot more help. DJ stepped up with an efficient 20 ppg, and the bench contributed 28 points in each game.
Randle and Sobey's heroics might steal the odd upset, but it's not a sustainable formula for success. These two all-in wins will be the blueprint going forward, as coach Joey Wright acknowledged after the win in Sydney. "For me, I can go back and say (to the team), 'see, this is a video where we didn't do, here's two videos where we did do... and you beat two top four teams'."
Casper Ware, who knows no fear
Casper had the perfect start to his NBL career back in Round 7, draining a three-pointer with his very first possession.
In the 55 minutes and 33 seconds he spent on court following that shot, he went 4-of-20 from beyond the arc. That's a whole lot of shots, and a whole lot of misses.
It takes remarkable confidence and resilience for a player to keep firing away through all those misses. When you've parachuted into a new team mid-season, that's requires a whole other level of fearlessness.
So here's Casper at Hisense Arena on Saturday night, 55 minutes and 33 seconds and 16 failed three-point attempts later, with Melbourne United's game, and arguably, season, on the line. Without fear, without hesitation, he delivers the dagger.
The drought-breaking Hawks
When you break a 25-game curse, you earn a spot in the winners list. Embed from Getty Images
Illawarra gifted the Wildcats a 22-8 lead within the first five minutes in the Jungle on Sunday. From that point on, it was like the teams had sneaked out to the locker rooms and quickly switched jerseys.
The Hawks, worst rebounding team in the NBL, destroyed Perth 40-29 on the glass. They restricted the Wildcats to grabbing 29.6% of available offensive rebounds, well below Perth's league-leading 37.7%. All the more impressive is that they managed to do this while playing a zone defence for most of the game, which generally makes defensive rebounding more difficult compared to man-to-man defence because boxing out assignments are less clear.
It was refreshing to hear Rob Beveridge's candour about the significance of the win. He didn't offer any 'every win is important' clichés. He spoke of what it meant to him personally, saying his emotional attachment to Perth, as an ex-Wildcats coach, made it 'unbelievably special'.
He also spoke of the importance of breaking the curse for the playing group. "From Rhys (Martin), who's been in the league for nine years now and he's never won in Perth. So I think that, particularly, for our players that have been long-term members of the club, it's just special for them."
Sydney's tight rotations
Andrew Gaze has been running the shortest rotation of any NBL coach this season, basically relying on eight players most nights. In Kevin Lisch, Brad Newley, Greg Whittington and Jason Cadee, Sydney have four of the top eleven players in the league in minutes per game. Meanwhile, players like Jeromie Hill and Dion Prewster have barely sniffed the court.
It's tough to be critical; after all, the Kings are in top spot halfway through their season. However, they dropped two games over the weekend so it's worth consideration.
The Kings have had a nasty schedule over the last few weeks. They've played eight games, including five on the road, in 24 days, and dropped three of the last four in that period. Gaze admitted after the loss to the 36ers, "It's no excuse, but certainly, fatigue kicked in for us." He pointed to players taking possessions off, and lapses in concentration. The question has to be asked, would the story have been different if the minutes were spread out a bit more?
Another issue for Gaze's tight rotations is management of his foul-prone big men. Whittington, Josh Powell and Aleks Maric sit 4th, 5th and 6th respectively in fouls per game. Each of them were sitting precariously on four fouls in the loss to Melbourne, while Powell fouled out in a tick over 15 minutes against the 36ers. At times, the foul situation is taking precedence over strategy. It probably won't matter once Julian Khazzouh returns, but for now, it's another minor headache for Drewy.
Brisbane's defensive intensity
With their loss to Adelaide, Brisbane became the first team this season to lose both home games against the same opponent. For those with short memories, the 36ers snatched a dramatic comeback 96-93 win in overtime at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre in Round 2.
In Thursday night's grudge match, Brisbane's defensive intensity was sadly lacking and Adelaide punished them for it. The Bullets let the 36ers do as they please, conceding 60% field goal shooting. While they allowed Adelaide to get uncharacteristically hot from the perimeter (9-19, 47%), Brisbane's interior defence was even more concerning. Through the first three quarters, Adelaide were 14-17 (82.4%) from inside the paint, up from their season average of 54.4%, per crunchtimeshots.com.
Here's an example of the kind of miscommunication that was happening (not that anyone was paying attention to the defence on this play):
Delaying the game
Melbourne United picked up a couple of technical fouls for touching the ball after they scored against Sydney. If things had gone a little differently down the stretch, they might have looked back at those technicals with much regret. As it turned out, they were inconsequential, but next time, they might not be so lucky.
The second one, called on Casper Ware in the final quarter, drew the ire of commentator Shane Heal. "I don't like that call. I know the rule, black and white, not allowed to touch the ball, but he was actually doing the Kings a favour throwing it back to them."
Seriously, Shane? A favour? The referees spend the whole game making tough judgment calls. This is a rare scenario where we can make it very simple, or 'black and white' as you put it. There's no reason for a player to touch the ball after it goes through the rim when their team scores. Just don't do it. Nobody wants to see a game decided by a soft tech, but it's up to the players to follow the rules.