The Illawarra Hawks haven't caught a break so far this NBL season. After a slow start to the season, sitting bottom of the ladder at one win and six losses after three rounds of play, Hawks fans likely felt that the only way was up.
Bye to Brooks
Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse yesterday. It was announced that guard Aaron Brooks tore his left Achilles during Sunday's game against the Wildcats - ending the star import's season (and by the tone of his statement put out today, likely his professional basketball career).
Not only is this development devastating news for Brooks, it's also left the Hawks in quite a predicament. The Hawks, already struggling mightily, have been the least efficient offensive team in the competition, with a league low 50.1% True Shooting Percentage, as well as a league low 106.6 Offensive Rating.
Take that, then minus Brooks - a top 10 scorer in the competition at 19.7 points per game on a highly efficient 58.4% True Shooting Percentage, and it's hard to figure just how Illawarra are going to put points on the board without him.
The Brooks injury also coincided with speculation from Shane Heal that Josh Boone - so far ineffective and currently resting - may not return to the lineup this season.
Boone has certainly been an impact player in the NBL over recent years, but his last season with United was underwhelming, and in his five games so far with the Hawks, he's looked like a shell of his former self - averaging 3.4 points and 4.0 rebounds in 13.7 minutes per game. He's been an absolute non-factor, and at 34, it would be best for Illawarra not to give him the benefit of the doubt, especially when such immediate help is needed.
Assuming Boone is also on the way out, it should afford Illawarra ample flexibility, both positionally and financially, to find suitable replacements. In fact, it may be imperative for the Hawks to nail their import replacements, or else they may finish with a worse record than the Taipans' 6-22 effort last season.
Where to from here?
Positionally, the clear priority is replacing the lost scoring production in the backcourt, and it would appear likely that the Hawks will seek a replacement shooting guard to answer this need.
Beyond that, the potential to replace Josh Boone with a different import has the potential to go a number of different ways. While they could make a 1:1 replacement and find another import centre, they might be best served to mix things up. Going for an import forward who can play the 4 position would allow Illawarra to target someone with more scoring and shot creation abilities, and will allow Illawarra's previously more underutilized big men more burn.
AJ Ogilvy has been solidly manning the middle as a starter in Boone's absence, and 6'11 Sam Froling, currently playing 11.9 minutes per game, is begging for more minutes, averaging 19.6 points per 36 (3rd highest rate on the team) on a field goal percentage of 50%, along with 11.1 rebounds per 36 (highest rate on the team) and two assists per 36.
Between these two, Illawarra have more than enough to get by at centre. Stylistically, both imports will need to be able to put points on the board, but if possible, finding athletes that can play both ends of the floor may really open up Illawarra's pace, transition play, and finishing.
The pool of import targets is always so vast, that it's incredibly hard to point to specific players as potential signees. High profile veteran names like Jamal Crawford and Carmelo Anthony are often the first to be brought up by NBL fans, but it's not often we see players of this calibre make their way to the league (Aaron Brooks being a notable exception).
To narrow the discussion down, there are two guys we've recently seen in NBL uniforms happen to fit the criteria quite nicely - Melbourne United replacement imports Anthony Brown and Quincy Miller.
Anthony Brown was a second round pick in the 2015 NBA draft, and is a big shooting guard at 6'7 who has shot a career G League mark of 39.8% from 3 over 4 seasons. A smooth athlete with defensive tools, a high level shot and some passing feel could provide the Hawks with a scorer and ancillery facilitator to LaMelo in the back-court.
Quincy Miller was a second round pick in the 2012 NBA draft, and is a long, lanky and athletic forward with two-way tools, some grab and go ability, and a solid outside shot. He was a prolific scorer in prior G-League stints (16.8 points per game in 26 minutes), and has proven success internationally, including an All-Euroleague Second Team selection and championships in the Adriatic, Serbian and Israeli leagues.
These names may not necessarily be those we see signed to the Hawks in coming weeks, but they do represent two quality, international imports, at positions of need, that are currently available. Their shot making and defensive tools could transform the Hawks' identity overnight. All with the third import slot up their sleeves, too.
It's make or break time for the Hawks right now. If the organization want to salvage this season, it will be essential they find some quality replacement imports.