Seven Seconds or Less: The postseason chase ends here
1. The finals dream is over
They were barely hanging on by a thread, but another two losses ended the South East Melbourne Phoenix's finals hopes. A strong preseason set expectations unreasonably high, and a fast start to the regular season only built on that. They've certainly come crashing back to earth since, losing 13 of their past 17 including their last four straight.
It's hard not to feel a little underwhelmed, but it's still been a remarkable debut season. There will be plenty of pride to play for over the last three rounds, as well as the opportunity to play spoiler to rival teams.
2. Defence is (still) the downfall
In both round 17 games, South East Melbourne scored over 100 points. In both games, they still managed to lose. It was the perfect microcosm of their whole season, as they've built an identity as an explosive offensive team while struggling mightily defensively.
According to Spatial Jam, the Phoenix have the second best offensive record in the NBL (119.4 points per 100 possessions) by a fair margin. Problem is, their defensive rating (122.1 points allowed per 100 possessions) is dead last in the league, also by a sizeable margin. Basketball is a two-way game, and the Phoenix are learning that you lose as many shootouts as you win.
3. John Roberson makes history
It's been clear for a long time that John Roberson is one of the best shooters the NBL has ever seen. Now, his name is in the record books as indelible proof. Roberson moved past former MVP Rotnei Clarke for three pointers made in a season during the 40 minute era, and with four games still to play he should built an impressive lead.
The more you dig, the more remarkable his achievement becomes. According to NBLFacts, Roberson is the first player to average more than four made threes per game in the 40 minute era. 18 players did so in 48 minute games, but even among them, Roberson has the highest three-point percentage (45.5%).
4. Mitch Creek is back to his best
It's been a tough month for Mitch Creek, as he has played through achilles soreness and struggled mightily. Before Sunday's matchup with the Taipans, he was averaging 11.3 points over his last six games while shooting just 33.3% from the field. That ended abruptly with a masterful performance against Cairns, where he finally looked like the player that dominated the first half of the season. His 32 points were a career-high, and he also ripped down ten rebounds for good measure.
Best of all, he finally looked healthy. At his best, Creek is able to rip down rebounds and push the ball in transition himself, either driving hard through contact or simply beating the defence down the floor. That was on display for the first time in weeks, and it was a joy to watch.
5. Trist the Process
Now through almost two NBL seasons, Dan Trist is yet to really find his footing. After putting up double figure scoring averages in his four professional seasons overseas, his career NBL mark of 2.5 points per game is a little underwhelming. Round 17, though, was a huge step in the right direction. The big man set a career high with 11 points against the Bullets, then topped that three days later with 16 points against the Taipans.
They weren't all gimmes around the basket either. With soft touch on his jump shot and an array of post moves and spins, Trist looked the part of a player that could stick around in the league. With his contract expiring at the end of the year, he may be timing his run just right.
6. Decision time looming for key players
With their finals hopes gone but still four games left to play, it might be time for the Phoenix to start planning for next season. Trist and fellow youngster Kendall Stephens are both out of contract, and while both have been in the rotation they have been inconsistent at times. It would be wise for coach Simon Mitchell to give them plenty of burn, and maybe even test the largely untried Deng Acouth, to see what they have for the future.
Imports John Roberson and Devondrick Walker are also out of contract, while there is a team option on Ben Madgen's contract. Walker is the biggest question mark here, as he has only been with the team for a short time. Again, if the Phoenix have even an inkling that he could be one of their imports next season, they need to find out what he can do over these next four games.
7. Phoenix leaves their mark on the South East
While the Phoenix would be disappointed with the close loss to Cairns, they must have surely been thrilled to play in front of a sellout crowd at the State Basketball Centre. With both of their games in the state's south east sold out in advance, the team has certainly made an impact in the region during their first season. With that base established and a strong culture already developing, there's plenty to be optimistic about despite their recent form.