Cairns Taipans Season Review

WITH the National Basketball League (NBL) season done and dusted we take a look at the performance of each team and how they fared in season 2021. The first team under the microscope is the last placed Cairns Taipans.

Season Summary:  

Season 2020/21 will be one to forget for Mike Kelly and the Cairns Taipans. Following a strong campaign last season that saw the Taipans eliminated by eventual champions Perth, in the first week of finals, the team struggled to regain the same form, seeing them slide down to last position on the ladder.

The departure of reigning Defensive Player of the Year DJ Newbill to Japan, key injuries to Majok Deng and Kouat Noi during the season, and the early departure of Cameron Oliver meant the Taipans could only manage eight wins for the season. A disaster season ended with the board electing to part ways with Kelly, just one season after he was announced the leagues coach of the year award.

How It unfolded:

The Taipans started the year with a one-point victory against last season’s grand finalists, the Sydney Kings, before it all went downhill. A couple of straight wins against the Breakers and the Hawks was a relief for fans after six straight losses followed the Round 1 victory, but the next month did not get any better with Deng suffering a partial tear to his MCL in Round 6 and Noi going down with a season ending PCL injury in Round 10.

From this point, the team limped to just four more wins for the season, as Oliver was also finished for the year having made a return home to the United States for family reasons, after Round 14. A 28 loss season resulted in Cairns’ last place finish- the worse result for the club since the 2008/09 season.

What Worked Well:

There were a few highlights in what was a tough season for the Taipans. Oliver averaged (17.3 points, 10 rebounds, 1.42 blocks) and Scott Machado (15.6 points, 7 assists, 1.0 steal) had good individual seasons ranking 10th and 15th respectively for points per game in the league. While Machado was ranked second in assists, Oliver ranked second in rebounds, while also making the top five for blocks per game.

On the offensive end, the team performed quite well from beyond the arc, with a three-point shooting percentage of 34.8 per cent (ranked fourth) for an average of 10.2 threes a game, second only to champions Melbourne United.

Oliver and Venky Jois both averaged above two offensive boards a game contributing to the team’s 10 per game (fourth in the league), allowing shooters the second chance at points. Defensively, the Taipans were average in steals and blocks, with Oliver, Deng and Nathan Jawai doing most of the shot stopping, while Machado led with 1.03 steals per game.

What Went Wrong: 

Quite frankly there was a lot that went wrong for the Taipans this season. The team averaged 81.7 points per game, only more than the Breakers and the Hawks. They were also third last for field goals made (30.2) and their field goal percentage (43.7 per cent). The Hawks struggled to get to the free throw line as well, averaging only 11.1 free throws made.

On the defensive end, it was evident the Taipans missed the defensive presence of Newbill, as they leaked the second most points in the league (89.1 per game) and were last in rebounds with 33.7 per game, despite Oliver averaging 10 himself.

While they did well in offensive rebounds themselves, it was second chance points that often hurt them on the defensive end, allowing opposition big men to take advantage.

MVP Conversation:

The Taipans MVP race looks like a clear one-on-one battle between Oliver and Machado. Oliver statistically looks like the front runner, leading the team in key categories like points, rebounds, and blocks. He was a threat at both ends of the court, with his ability to finish off plays and keep them alive with his offensive rebounding, and defensively he was strong and showed off his great shot blocking ability.

The experienced Machado had another solid season after being crowned last seasons MVP. The Brazilian once again showed off his talents with good dribbling and passing skills and providing a scoring threat  by driving to the basket as well as shooting well from range.

This one could go either way.

Roster News:

Cairns will enter the 2021 Free Agency period with seven players contracted for next season, including star players Oliver and Machado who will both enter the second year of their two-year contracts. Mirko Djeric and Noi have both signed new contract agreements.

Looking Towards Next Season:

With the departure of head coach Mike Kelly, the Taipans will enter next season under the guidance of Adam Forde. Forde has been coaching in the NBL since 2011, with assistant roles at both Perth and Sydney. He is a respected member in Australian basketball, and he will be hoping to return the team to more of their form shown last season. Forde has some positives to work with, as mentioned Oliver and Machado are contracted for another season, while there is still room for improvement in young players like Deng, Djeric and Noi. If Forde can get these guys to work together, and hopefully stay fit, then expect the Taipans to be back on the rise again next season.

Photo credit: NBL

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