The NBL wishlist: In 2019 I will...
2019 is here, and the new year is a time for new beginnings and new goals. Here are some New Year resolutions for each of our NBL teams, on what can be bettered in the remaining days of the 2018/19 season.
Adelaide 36ers: Play defence
The 36ers are a team of polar extremes. They are the best at scoring, while simultaneously being the worst defensive squad. Adelaide’s defensive execution is dragging them down, the same way an anchor is weighing a ship out at sea.
This focus on offence at the expense of defence has been Adelaide's theme since the 2013/14 season. For the previous five seasons, the 36ers have had the worst or second worst defence, paired with the best or second best offence. In those seasons they have been Grand Final runner-ups twice, semi-finalists twice, and missed the playoffs once. Whichever way you look at it, they have fallen short.
2019 should be the year when the 36ers overcome their pattern of defensive negligence. The 36ers are a terrific team, but their defence has consistently been an Achilles heel. For the rest of the season, Adelaide should aim to lower their points allowed per game stat, from 94.2 to 90. This may come at the cost of their signature high-tempo game style, but their future success might depend on it.
Brisbane Bullets: Sign Patterson to a long-term extension
In the space of a year, the Bullets have gone from wooden spooners to legitimate playoff contenders. If they want to maintain their upward trajectory they need to keep this year’s core together.
A lot of their big additions, such as Cam Gliddon, Matt Hodgson, Cameron Bairstow and Jason Cadee have signed to the Bullets for the next two to three seasons. One person that remains an uncertainty is their best player, American import Lamar Patterson.
Joining the club on October 31 as Alonzo Gee's replacement for Alonzo Gee, Patterson only committed for the remainder of the 2018/19 season. In his short time wearing the blue and yellow, the American has been a revelation for the Bullets. He leads them in points and is their second-best rebounder and playmaker.
It should be a top priority to secure his signature for next season. The Bullets have a good thing going right now, and Patterson is a big contributor to that.
Cairns Taipans: Get a win against a contender
Sitting at the bottom of the ladder, the Taipans are looking for a silver lining and some hope at optimism. Eleven games remain on their schedule, and stealing a win against a top Finals contender would have bring extra significance.
Both of the Snakes' two wins have been against the Bullets, who are no slouches. Nevertheless, a win against one of the Grand Final favourites would be even sweeter.
On Monday night they came within 4 points of Sydney, and forced overtime against Perth in round 6 only to fall by 5 points. Cairns certainly has it in them to cause an upset.
The Taipans have four more chances to steal a win against one of the big three teams. They have two more games against Melbourne, and one more against Perth and Sydney. It should be the Snakes' goal to catch one of them sleeping.
Illawarra Hawks: Win a season series
It has not been an easy season for the Hawks. Illawarra is still technically in the hunt for this year’s championship, but it’s highly unlikely they’ll be hoisting anything resembling a championship banner aloft, when March comes around.
They have a losing record against most teams. The only teams the Hawks have a chance of winning a series against are Cairns (currently 2-0), New Zealand (0-1) and Adelaide (2-1). The rest will be, at best, draws, or in the worst case, losses.
The Hawks should be expected to get one more victory against the Snakes and lock a series win up. New Zealand will be a bigger challenge. In their first meeting, the Breakers soundly beat Illawarra by 17 points, but a series victory still isn’t out of the question.
A more ambitious New Year’s resolution will be to win their final game against the 36ers on January 10. A 3-1 series victory against last year’s Grand Finalists would be a terrific achievement for the beleaguered Illawarra Hawks.
Melbourne United: Win season series again Perth and Sydney
As the reigning NBL champions, it’s clear United's number one goal is to defend their title. Although things are still in motion, Melbourne has a good chance to make the Grand Final and execute their season’s mission.
Between now and the playoffs ,United’s resolution should be to dominate their closest rivals in the regular season: Sydney and Perth. Against Sydney, United is 3-0. The series concludes February 8 in Sydney, and it should be a point of emphasis to secure the clean sweep over their northern rival.
Perth is another series that Melbourne should have marked on their calendar. Right now, the series is split one game apiece, with two games left. A series win would be another chance to gain a mental edge over a team they are likely to meet in the playoffs.
Not all regular season games are created equal. Closing out these series in style will give Melbourne strong momentum heading into the pointy end of the season.
New Zealand Breakers: Make Spark Arena a fortress again.
Along with the Wildcats, the Breakers have the most isolated home court in the NBL. In their glorious past, Spark Arena was an impregnable island fortress. This season, it has been slightly less so, and more like a sporadically defended foxhole.
The Breakers' home record is currently 4-5. While not a terrible ratio, New Zealand is one of only two teams with a record weighted in the wrong direction. The other team? The struggling Taipans. They aren’t exactly in illustrious company.
The best teams, in any league, make it a point to defend their territory. Between now and the end of the year, it should be New Zealand’s mission to commence the rebranding of Spark Arena back into the stronghold it once was.
They have only three more home games left on their schedule, and all three need to be victories if they want a more flattering record at home. Those three games are against Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide; all challenging opponents. It won’t be easy to get all three of the necessary wins, but it will be a big step toward becoming a top-four team again.
Perth Wildcats: Regain the ladder's number one spot
For the Wildcats, a championship is the only measure of success that truly matters.
The remainder of the season should be about getting an unassailable home court advantage for the postseason. Up until Round 10, they had held the number one spot on the ladder all year. Their New Year’s resolution should be to regain, and hold, the prime position.
This is, of course, easier said than done. This season the NBL ladder is very top heavy, with three teams – Sydney, Melbourne and Perth – virtually neck to neck, with Brisbane loudly banging on the door.
Success in the next nine games will be very important for Perth. Five of them are against adversaries Sydney and Melbourne. Victories against the Kings and United will have the added bonus of hurting their rivals' hopes for the number one spot while boosting their own.
As an honourable mention, Perth should also make it a point of emphasis to improve their three-point shooting. Currently, they are the worst three-point shooting team in the competition, with an accuracy of 32%.
Sydney Kings: Boost offensive production
With Bogut acting as the defensive bedrock, Sydney has become a terrific team that's allowing the fewest points in the league.
Offensively, it’s a different story. They don’t come close to generating the level of points their closest competitors do - only Cairns puts up fewer points than Sydney’s 84.7 ppg.
It seems clear that the Kings have formed an identity as a defensive team. Yet, Sydney has the weapons to be a better offensive team than they have shown themselves to be.
The Kings shoot the second fewest free throws, with 18 attempts per game right now. There's a need to focus on upping their point production before the playoffs. With the strength and skill of their roster, Sydney could easily remedy this deficiency at the charity stripe. They have world-class slashers and drivers, the likes of Randle, Lisch, and Newley, who can pressure interior defences.
With more free throw attempts --and obviously free throw makes-- the Kings could significantly raise their point output, and match up with their competitors.