After just falling short of the title last season, the Adelaide 36ers are looking to go one better.
With most of their core pieces returning for the 2018/19 season, the 36ers are eager to bring back their high-speed brand of basketball, to once again challenge for the crown. The Grand Final series against Melbourne United confirmed their ability to play fast-paced, high-intensity basketball on the competition’s biggest stage. Now, with their new components in place, last season’s runner-ups are itching to throw their weight around once again.
Adelaide has good reason to be confident. Despite having lost the 2017 league MVP Jerome Randle to the Sydney Kings, the 36ers played their brand of basketball, right up until the final buzzer sounded at end of Game Five of the Grand Final.
“I’m proud what we achieved in getting to the last game and being one win away from a championship,” said Adelaide centre Daniel Johnson. “I think we came a long way as group from the start [of the season], where we were struggling a bit. I’m happy with what we achieved, but obviously looking to go another step this year.” For head coach Joey Wright, it was the squad’s unity that was last season’s biggest victory. “I thought our guys did a great job of just coming together as a team… We played like a team all year and we developed some relationships on and off the court, which was great. The process was right last year. We didn’t get the championship, but we played the [type of] ball that we could play.”
Whilst there were many things the 36ers could be proud of from last year’s campaign, the team is well aware that there is plenty of room for growth and improvement. Last season the 36ers had the most productive offence in the league, scoring an average 94.8 points per game. Their closest offensive competition, the Illawarra Hawks, averaged 88.4. Clearly the 36ers were elite in their ability to score the basketball. However, there was a flip side to this success and strength. On the other end of the court, Adelaide certainly wasn’t as formidable. The 36ers conceded the second-most points in the NBL, averaging 90.3 per game. For Joey Wright, defence is an area of weakness the team is looking to address. “We felt like we let ourselves down defensively last year in some areas. We want to be more proactive on defence and not as reactive on defence.”
Adelaide’s defence may be getting a rework, but on offence they are sticking to their guns. A team coached by Joey Wright is one that is going to get out and run, and that is exactly what Wright is expecting from his group this year. “Our strength is our transition offence… If we’re going to be good, it’s our ability to get up and down the court offensively.” The 36er’s unique pool of talent adds an extra level of difficulty for their opponents to contend with. “Our bigs are mobile [and] can move and shoot. We do shooting competitions, our bigs against guards. Our bigs win most of the time,” said Wright.
For the 212cm Johnson, with his multi-dimensional offensive skill set, it’s all about the team’s ability to force their own pace onto other teams. “Joey’s system is to get out and run, and hopefully run the other teams off the court. And that’s something we’ve tried to do the last couple of years.”
With Johnson, the 36ers don’t have a traditional centre. Johnson is more in the mould of the European centre, famously exemplified by Dirk Nowitzki, with his inside/outside game and mobility. Therefore spacing, in partnership with speed, will once again be integral to Adelaide’s identity. “We’ve had success with [stretching the floor] in the past…We’ve got guys that are good athletes and can run up and down the court, but we don’t really have any bangers and just really big guys. We have to play to our strengths and that’s going to be getting up and down the court,” said Johnson.
The 36ers big man had a solid season last year, averaging 16.2 points, 7 rebounds and 2.7 assists. Wright is confident his big man will be up to task again this year. “In my opinion, [Johnson’s] been the best the most consistent big man over the last five years in the league. Having him has been a key to success over the past five years.”
Along with the returning core of Daniel Johnson, Nathan Sobey, Anthony Drmic and Ramone Moore the 36ers have brought in a number of new pieces from overseas. Amongst the new batch of imports is 34-year-old Dominican guard Adris De Leon. The 2013 NBL Sixth Man of the Year will bring in a new source of leadership for the young team. Having played basketball all around the world, Wright says De Leon will bring a level of composure to the team. “We like to have one veteran guy that’s been through it and done it, and is willing to take that shot. Every team that won a championship in this league has had a guy like [De Leon]… He can talk to the young guys and help direct them, and just be poised under pressure and understand the game and the game plan.”
Wright was also quick to defend the new recruit, calling out those who are critical of De Leon due to his age. “It’s the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard of. You don’t learn the game until you’re 30. Everybody is talking about the fact he’s 34. Josh Childress was 34 and he did a damn good job. [If they’ve] got a name and they’re 34, Australians are ok with it. If they don’t have a big name then everybody goes, ‘what are you doing?’”
With their mix of youth and experience, the Adelaide 36ers are aiming to be a disruptive force in the NBL. If the 36ers play their brand of basketball, and combine it with effort, there’s plenty of confidence on a successful year ahead. For Wright, the new season is all about sticking to who they are.
“It’s a new year [and] we’re a new team. We’re looking to come out and play ball – Adelaide 36ers style.”