The Perth Wildcats have opened the 2018/18 NBL season with two straight wins, seemingly sending a message to the rest of the league in the process. A 40-point winning margin over Illawarra on Sunday added an exclamation mark to what was an impressive round one performance.
While many were quick to point out the Hawks were backing up from a home 4OT loss to Melbourne United and cramped flight west, it has to be asked if a team isn’t fresh at the start of a season, when are they? And those same people playing down Perth’s dominant win have also conveniently overlooked the fact the Wildcats had been on the road for three weeks, having only returned in Perth from their US excursion and opening night trip to Adelaide on Friday.
All points of contention and conjecture aside (for now), here’s five observations from the Cats 101-61 win at Perth Arena.
Terrico White is the real deal and we were told so
Fans and pundits pretty much knew what they were going to get from this Wildcats side heading into the 2018/19 NBL season, with the one unknown hanging over the squad; what would US import Terrico White bring? After just two round one outings, the answer appears to be plenty.
The 28-year-old’s CV showed extensive international experience, having played in America, Russia, Turkey, Serbia and Korea, where he won the Korean Basketball League championship MVP earlier in this year. But the question lingered whether he would gel with his new teammates.
Talked up by Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson as an immense talent, White proved against Adelaide and then Illawarra that he can shoot the three ball exceptionally well, as Gleeson said he would; that he is great in the pick and roll, as Gleeson said he was; and that he is athletic in transition, again, as Gleeson said he would be.
Understandably with an unknown quantity, those around the league took the ‘wait and see’ approach. But what stood out most in round one, especially in Sunday’s win over the Hawks, was not just that he and Bryce Cotton are already scarily on the same wavelength, but his willingness to drop his head and shoulders and drive at the basket when the chance presented.
Back-to-back 20-point outings may just be the start. And, yes, Gleeson told us so.
Ageless Martin still pulls the strings…
A few weeks into last season I started asking myself a question I dare not utter aloud in WA, lest I be set upon by some of Perth’s more rabid faithful. Was Damian Martin losing his touch and were his defensive strengths no longer covering his offensive deficiencies? It’s a topic I’d like to delve further into in future, but given his number 53 shirt is still the most sighted in and around Perth Arena, the question is tantamount to sacrilege.
Suffice to say, by last season’s end the real Damian Martin had returned.
The offensive deficiencies, for want of a better word, are still there. He only scored 3 in Adelaide and didn’t take a single shot against the Hawks – but that’s never been his game. What Martin brings is two attributes that are divergent depending on which end of the court he’s at – an unrelenting tenacity in defence and an almost serene calmness in offence.
The two diametrically opposed Martins set the tone for his side to follow, and that was evident against the Hawks. He nabbed three steals of his own as the Cats stole the rock 14 times, and for all that defensive bulldog his greatest strength is controlling the tempo and team’s demeanour while bringing the ball up the court; whether signalling his teammates to slow down or holding up two or three fingers to set the play.
Deficiencies? What was I thinking?
But it’s all about team for the Wildcats
The most telling stat from Sunday’s win was that no Wildcats player spent more than 30 minutes on the court. White clocked in the most time on the timber with 29.26 as Gleeson ensured all 12 of his squad saw at least two minutes on the floor.
This is a team that doesn’t look like it will rely heavily on any one or two guys throughout the season, which is a big rap for a team with the league’s reigning MVP on its roster. Everyone hit the scoreboard against Adelaide, with Martin the only member of the starting five not to reach double figures, while he and youngster Lachlan Cummings registered the only donuts against the Hawks.
Tom Jervis and Angus Brandt have both excelled in sharing big man duties, Mitch Norton brings a dynamism Martin doesn’t possess, Nick Kay can score and rebound with the best in the league, Jesse Wagstaff is capable of going on a hot scoring run and Greg Hire, like fellow veteran Martin, provides a steady hand. And if White, Cotton and Wagstaff aren’t firing from outside the arc the Cats can call on Clint Steindl.
It’s scary stuff for the rest of the NBL.
Hawks need to get Jackson more of the ball…
Not a lot stood out for the Hawks, at least not in a positive sense. One thing that was glaringly obvious from the nosebleed sections inside Perth Arena was they didn’t get the ball to Cedric Jackson often enough.
The former MVP’s teammates just couldn’t get him into the game, punctuated by him putting up just four shots in nearly 24 minutes on the floor.
…as they can’t rely on Conklin to do it all
The one shining light for the Hawks was the presence of Brian Conklin.
Early on it looked like Conklin was set for a mighty tussle with Kay, Jervis and Brandt as he bossed the key. In fact he led all scorers leading into halftime with 14, but his energy levels dropped off as it became obvious he couldn’t sustain a one-man effort for a full 40 minutes. He finished with 17 points on 58 per cent shooting in a little over 32 minutes, but he’ll need more help from the likes of Jackson and Todd Blanchfield if Illawarra are to pick themselves up after this hammering.