Melo Trimble is as good of a talent replacement for Casper Ware as Melbourne could have wished for but, given their different skill-sets (most notably with reference to defense), the way in which the remainder of the Melbourne roster was filled out was still a point of interest.
Shea Ili is the piece of the puzzle that makes the Trimble signing even better as he compliments the back-court tremendously with his defensive capabilities. This is sharp recruiting from a team that has found a recipe for success at the highest level in the Dean Vickerman era.
Trimble was unquestionably a special offensive player last season as he used his shiftiness and creativity with the ball in hand, as well as his elite body control, to knock down an abundance of layups, free-throws, and threes off the dribble.
He was seemingly unflappable, an elite scorer who rarely got overly animated despite his incredible play, and he will now have the chance to get easier looks on a much stronger Melbourne team.
Melo’s cool and calm demeanour certainly didn’t hamper his play on offense but these traits didn’t help Cairns get maximum output from him defensively.
The load he shouldered on offense as a Taipan was large for sure, but his lack of intent to consistently be in a good defensive stance, get through screens, or to quickly find the best defensive position in transition was noticeable.
Vickerman and his coaching group will be expecting to obtain a little more from Trimble in this area but, if there is still an issue in certain playoff match-ups, having one of the best defensive point-guards in the league in Ili will prove significant.
“I think he’s an absolutely elite full-court defender, and certainly in the half-court as well as he has the ability to bust through screens,” said Vickerman after the announcement of Ili’s signing.
Shea is a great athlete, dubbed by Paul Henare as one of the best to ever come through the Breakers, and with his role now more easily defined, he should be at his lock-down best.
After incremental progression and impressive skill development over the past few years, 2018-19 saw Ili log the most minutes of any guard on the Breakers roster but his season included just 15 three-point makes and less than three assists per game.
For all the negativity with regards to Ili being a starter last season though, to label his form as the primary reason the Breakers season went off track is misguided.
The Breakers, even with Ili taking a step back offensively, still produced the league’s best offensive rating. The team’s problem was that they couldn’t stop anyone as they ranked eighth in points allowed per possession.
Shea’s mere presence didn’t ensure that they were a strong defensive team but he did still own the Breakers best on-off defensive rating – the team was 9.3 points better on defense per 100 possessions with him on the floor per HoopsDB.
Front-court defense is arguably more important than point-guard defense though, and with that (plus New Zealand’s struggles) in mind, it’s Shawn Long who gets a lot of the attention here as he was brought in to anchor the team on both ends.
Long was able to break out in ultra-impressive fashion on offense in the second half of the season, leading the Breakers high-scoring play whilst providing numerous highlights, but there was very little meaningful impact from him on defense.
Foul trouble early in the season, an inability to play in a conventional scheme, to moving to a zone defense for more minutes, meant that the team’s ceiling was limited and their playoff chances were slashed.
The defense even produced a worse result in the second half of the season, giving up an extra six points per 100 possessions.
Melbourne’s coaching group will again be betting that they can get more out of a player on defense in their environment and more out of Long than Kevin Braswell managed to.
Long has the physical tools to be a good defender if he can find the right mind-set, and he will certainly give Melbourne an extra element on offense where he proved he could be dominant last season.
The final Melbourne roster pieces are still to be announced, which means we don’t have the complete front-court picture yet, but the back-court has an excellent mix of shot-creation, shooting, play-making and defense.
The quality of this guard group will certainly see them play with three of Trimble, Ili, Chris Goulding and Mitch McCarron on the floor at the same time for extended periods.
This is something that, because of McCarron being able to defend a range of different player-types, Melbourne will be able to do at a high-level.
In 2018-19, a line-up featuring Ware, Goulding and McCarron posted a net-rating of +17.9 in almost 400 minutes together per HoopsDB. This included both elite offensive and defensive marks – a positive sign for this new group.
Melbourne were lit up on defense last season when players outside of their top six were on the floor so the Ili signing should at least stretch that high-level rotation to an extra player deep.
With all that in mind, Shea appears to have found a perfect landing spot on a team that needs his strengths and will give him the platform to succeed and contribute in the title chase.