NBL Winners and Losers: Round 9
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.
The Taipans' dynamic duo, finally fit
Every team in the NBL has had injury adversity to overcome in this first half of the season, but there hasn't been much recognition of the challenges faced by the Taipans in the early rounds.
They started the season without Nate Jawai as he recovered from a preseason finger injury. Although he only missed one game, it clearly took a few games for him to work his way into match fitness and form.
Meanwhile, import point guard Travis Trice missed five preseason games with a knee injury, which, he admitted, continued to bother him early in the regular season. Just when he and Nate were starting to find their feet, Trice fell awkwardly on his hip against the Hawks in Round 4, sidelining him for four games.
It's only in the last three games that Jawai and Trice have been in the lineup together at close to full fitness, and their impact on the Cairns offence has been huge. In those three games, the Taipans have an offensive rating of 114.6 points per 100 possessions. That's up from 108.3 across the entire season, and better than Sydney's league-leading 111.9.
Cairns runs a motion offence that relies on player and ball movement. At times, the men in orange weave around the half-court in perfect harmony. But every now and then, it stagnates.
In the second half on Saturday, the Bullets went to a zone and threw the Taipans offence completely out of whack. In the blink of an eye, Brisbane cut a 21-point margin to one point. That's where Nate and Trav come in.
In Jawai and Trice, the Taipans have two players with the ability to attack one-on-one when the offence breaks down. Against the Bullets, they combined for 11 of the last 15 Taipans points to steady the ship and carry the team across the line.
Melbourne's perennially underrated defence
Melbourne stormed out of the blocks last season and most of the attention was on their offensive firepower. But just quietly, their defence played a major part in their run to the minor premiership. They finished second only to New Zealand in opponent true shooting percentage* (51.9%).
This season, despite their injury struggles, they again find themselves in second position in that metric (53.8%).
Against New Zealand on Sunday, they did a great job of contesting shots and making life difficult for the Breakers' potent offensive weapons. They restricted the Breakers to 29-69 (42%) from the field and just 5-26 (19%) from outside the arc.
They even won the rebound count 47-40, often their Achilles heel on the defensive end, holding the visitors to eight second chance points to run away with a comfortable win.
*True shooting percentage is a metric that combines two-point field goal, three-point field goal and free throw percentage.
In the four games Rotnei Clarke has been coming off the bench for Illawarra, he has put up 23.7 points per game, leading the scoring in every one. He is shooting 55.5% from the field and a simply outrageous 54.8% from the perimeter.
Over those four games, the Hawks have outscored opponents by 58 points with Clarke on the floor. They've been outscored by 35 without him. Looking at that on a per 36-minute basis, the Hawks are plus-20.6 points with Clarke and minus-13.9 without him.
There's not really much else to say. The man is on fire.
The Breakers' backcourt defence
The New Zealand Breakers led the NBL in defensive rating the last two seasons. As of right now, they find themselves with the second-worst defence in the league, conceding 110.9 points per 100 possessions.
In Round 9, the defence was especially leaky as they allowed 118.4 points per 100 possessions across a pair of losses to Illawarra and Melbourne.
One of the keys for the Breakers' defence in past seasons was their perimeter defence. Last season, they allowed the fewest opponent three-point attempts (21 per game) while holding opponents to the worst three-point shooting percentage (31.1%).
This season, they've done a good job of limiting attempts (a league-lowest 19.3 per game) but they're conceding a league-worst 39.7%. In Round 9, they did neither well as the Hawks and United dropped a combined 20-46 from deep (43.5%). Guards Rotnei Clarke and Casper Ware lit the Breakers up for 22 and 26 points respectively.
Granted, opponent three-point percentage is not always something you can control. Sometimes, players just hit tough shots.
Still, it's a challenge for coach Paul Henare, as the defensive talent at his disposal is primarily concentrated in the frontcourt. He needs to find ways to use the length and athleticism of Thomas Abercrombie and Akil Mitchell to cover the deficiencies of an undersized David Stockton, or an ageing Kirk Penney.
The fear is all too real for the Red Army right now. Their team has lost four games in a row for the first time in over a decade. The push for a 31st consecutive NBL finals appearance is truly in jeopardy.
Karma for Wortho
The basketball gods made Wortho pay for this one. When you throw the ball in your opponent's face...
You must pay with the embarrassment of blowing a wide open fast break dunk.