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Re-evaluating each NBL team after Rounds 1-7
The 36ers are once again leading the league in pace of play with their attacking style resulting in some strong numbers near the rim – first in paint FG%, first for the percentage of total team points scored via the paint, and second for percentage of total team points via free throws.
Mitch Creek is the leader of this style after clearly taking a step forward in his game to be in All-NBL consideration. He is a star role player who can defend most players from one through five and someone who plays completely to his strengths on offense - 84% of his FGA come in the paint - which has resulted in a ridiculously high FG%.
The Adelaide defense is solid and they are likely a touch better than their record suggests with their offense just a shade behind where it probably should be (right on league average at the moment). There’s room to grow with Matt Hodgson and Nathan Sobey down on expectations with inconsistency in their play, whilst the Josh Childress signing needs some time as they figure out how to best use a very deep wing rotation.
An above average offense and a bottom two defense fits in with the make-up of the roster and places them almost exactly where I had them in my season preview - a team that will likely not feature in playoff action. Travis Trice still hasn’t convinced me that he’s a top tier guard, Stephon Holt has mostly been a role player, and the lack of athleticism and defensive weapons up front especially has been an issue.
Tom Jervis has been the plus-minus king of the league in the early part (the only Bullet in the positive) but he isn’t playing massive minutes as he leads the team in fouls. The defense hasn’t forced enough misses or turnovers and could do with some prime Adam Gibson grunt to give the team more options - Gibson has played only ~107 minutes thus far.
Most of the damage Brisbane has done from a scoring perspective has been inside the arc with Perrin Buford (who has been as good as you could hope as a ‘late’ signing) and Tom Jervis at the rim, Trice from the mid-range and free throw line, and Daniel Kickert still hitting his all-round shooting splits.
Aaron Fearne has this group overachieving with a strong system and culture evident. To put together five wins already amidst injuries to key personnel, and some inconsistent play from their starting guards, is impressive.
The offense has mostly been a real struggle (they're ranked dead last in offensive efficiency overall) as Scoochie Smith and Cameron Gliddon have been sporadic in their play, and Michael Carrera and Nate Jawai's injuries have limited their shot-creation options and presence in the paint (8th for percentage of total team points in the paint).
The defense however has been league leading and Jawai’s presence has likely assisted that and asked more of others. Cairns have forced the highest opposition turnover percentage in the competition, Mitch McCarron has stepped up to lead the team in minutes, and the duo of Alex Loughton and Stephen Weigh has given as much as you could hope for in testing times for a thin front-court rotation.
A road-heavy schedule to start the season, together with some productive recent form, signals that Illawarra could also likely be a little better than their record shows. Coach Beveridge has discussed his change in strategy on defense with the high pressure system that he is known for largely out the window (the team is just 7th for opponent TOV% this season). The offense however is where most of the intrigue and upside is with this squad.
Demitrius Conger and Rotnei Clarke have been largely outstanding and only need some more consistency from A.J. Ogilvy and Nick Kay (plus the bench) for this offense to creep back over league average. Beveridge will be optimistic that there is plenty to build on with that side of the floor as they’ve shared the ball and scored from the free throw line at league leading rates.
Deep rotations have been part of Bevo’s style in the past so Cody Ellis’ disappearance has been noteworthy and has got plenty of commentary.
The gap between the best and worst performances from this team is as big as any in the league. The defense has been adequate however, as they’ve nabbed rebounds and forced misses at an elite rate, but it’s the offense that has plenty of room to grow if they are to capture their title favourite status again.
The offense does rely on the three-ball but importantly they do have an improved inside presence this season (3rd for percentage of total team points via the paint). This hasn’t translated to free throw production though (dead last for percentage of total team points via FTM) and their last place rank in AST% has Coach Vickerman talking about selfish play.
The power forward spot is one where it seems is a constant battle to find whose usage rate fits where, whilst at center Josh Boone is playing at an elite level running hard both ways – the fact that he has played only ~55 minutes more than Kyle Adnam says a bit about a number of things and players though.
With Casey Prather and Boone’s production mostly predictable, the season prospects sit on Casper Ware and Chris Goulding’s shoulders as they have clearly under-performed. Ware plays both ends but he hasn’t been the complete package that he was last season as he’s moved his offense away from scoring inside or at the free throw line – aside from the occasional floater. Goulding on the other hand looks to be lacking some zip in his movement with the ball in hand and is playing as if he has lost confidence. These two are the class of their positions in the league however and have some time on their side to make adjustments.
The Breakers being above .500 is not surprising, but to have only lost one game to this point is beyond even the one-eyed fans wildest dreams. The team has mostly used a nine man rotation and put together a decent defense as expected but it is the offense which is humming and the reason for the ‘surprise’ or ‘over-achieving’.
Not even a reduction in Kirk Penney’s minutes has stopped this offense from rising all the way to second best in the league. The backcourt has been immensely productive with Shea Ili establishing himself as a borderline starter at NBL level and his improvement on the offensive end of the floor has been one of the catalysts to their form. Edgar Sosa, D.J. Newbill and Ili form a three-man ball-handling trio that has helped solve their turnover issues of the past and, with Penney and Tom Abercrombie dialled in from deep, they are getting elite results from three-point-range.
Up front I had questions heading into the season (especially offensively) and whilst they aren’t scoring much in the paint, they are crashing the offensive glass. Is the Breakers offense sustainable at this level for the entire season? I have my doubts, but they’ve shown themselves to have more on that end than most thought and have almost already booked a playoff spot.
A top two defensive squad and a bunch of offensive rebounds sounds about the norm for Perth but there are some interesting and more unpredictable team notes with their offense and personnel issues.
Bryce Cotton has led the Cats to the number one offensive rank in the league, a rank that I wouldn't have predicted to be quite as high before the season, with the team committing few turnovers and shooting the ball well from everywhere.
Clint Steindl now joins the squad to further move the needle (tip of the hat to the great Matt Knight) whilst comeback player of the year Lucas Walker and the improved Angus Brandt have produced up front.
Import Derek Cooke is where the pressure is and where a playoff series might be won or lost. His slow start was expected (given his preseason) and he has appeared raw and inconsistent. His athletic attributes are something that not a lot of other bigs have in the league though and he will be needed when Brandt finds himself in foul trouble. Opportunity is there for Cooke to be a difference maker if he can play with more and more smarts as the season progresses.
The front office has rightly copped a lot of criticism from the public with the Kings season almost certainly over in terms of making the playoffs. The initial roster imbalance was incredibly obvious and it is no surprise that a team with no proven legitimate size up front ranks dead last in defensive efficiency and rebounding. In hindsight I gave them too much credit in thinking that they would swiftly bring in a difference making import big in the first few rounds.
Travis Leslie was simply a victim of the front office debacle as he was recruited to a position where there was little need and genuine overlap for his skill-set. His production was fine but the recruiting errors had to eventually be corrected.
The Jerome Randle signing is a good one in a vacuum and should lead to an improved offense with Kevin Lisch back and Todd Blanchfield surely finding his shooting stroke. Given their current record though, and how far back they are on defense, the Kings can only aim to play an attractive style and be the spoiler to teams trying to bank enough wins for the playoffs.
Jeremy Tyler also joins the team and will be slotted alongside Perry Ellis who will continue to compete and score well. The Kings appear to have plenty of work to do with Tyler as they battle to manage his foul trouble and demeanour. Elsewhere, Isaac Humphries has defended like a rookie (surprise, surprise… although he should continue to log good minutes for obvious reasons), Tom Garlepp has been in the dog house, and Amritpal Singh has logged more minutes than his foot speed deserves.