Tag: cameron oliver

NBL Free Agency update: 36ers, Bullets and Taipans

IN the first of a three-part series this week, Draft Central looks at the Adelaide 36ers, Brisbane Bullets and Cairns Taipans Free Agency moves thus far ahead of the delayed 2020/21 National Basketball League (NBL) season.

ADELAIDE 36ERS:

Adelaide is certainly undergoing a change after a tough end to the season saw coach Conner Henry replacing the controversial Joey Wright. Immediately they picked up one of Australia’s brightest talents in Josh Giddey, who at 17-years-old will be a valuable guard for the side as he eyes of an NBA career in the future. In what could be one of the most potent four-five combinations, Daniel Johnson re-signed with the club, and Isaac Humphries came on board after languishing in the G-League. A former NBL Rookie of the Year with the Sydney Kings, Humphries was on the roster for Atlanta Hawks, took part in the NBA Summer League for the Los Angeles Clippers and then signed with the Orlando Magic, but after being waived opted to return back to Australia.

Humphries will replace the outgoing Harry Froling who has headed to Brisbane, with two-way player Anthony Drmic also headed north. The inclusion of former Illawarra Hawks’ guard Sunday Dech will help soften the blow of Drmic leaving while 25-year-old Keanu Pinder returns home after completing his college at Arizona and then spending a couple of seasons in Poland with Legia Warszawa. The 36ers were looking at including Tall Blacks talent Jack Salt, and returning shooting machine Jerome Randle, but unfortunately both suffered long-term injuries with Randle suffering an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.

Contracted:

Jack McVeigh
Daniel Dillon
Alex Mudronja
Obi Kyei

Re-signed:

Daniel Johnson

Signed:

Josh Giddey (NBA Global Academy)
Isaac Humphries (Lakeland Magic G-League)
Sunday Dech (Illawarra Hawks)
Keanu Pinder (Legia Warszawa Poland)

 

BRISBANE BULLETS:

The Bullets had a breakout year in the 2019/20 and were always going to gamble on whether they could retain their bigs in Will Magnay and Lamar Patterson. Magnay re-signed, while Patterson is still a work in progress with the hope that he returns to Brisbane. They were quick to re-sign Jason Cadee, Nathan Sobey and Tyrell Harrison, with Matt Hodgson initially exploring his options then re-signing to negotiate a better deal than the COVID-19 pay cut, much like many of the NBL biggest and best talents. They also have only lost the two players thus far, with Cam Gliddon and Reuben Te Rangi both heading south for the summer.

Gliddon had an inconsistent year in 2019/20 and was viewed as better to have a clean run somewhere else, whilst Te Rangi has been keeping in form representing the Canterbury Rams in the second half of the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) season. While they both could be big talents on their day, the ins are certainly valuable ones and make Brisbane a genuine contender in 2020/21. Anthony Drmic and Harry Froling have jumped ship from the 36ers, whilst Tanner Krebs has returned after finishing his college years at St Mary’s. The 198cm shooting guard will replace Gliddon, whilst NBA Global Academy talent, Tamuri Wigness will slot into the other guard spot and no doubt have some court time next season. If they can re-sign Patterson, then watch out for how damaging this side could be.

Contracted:

Jason Cadee
Nathan Sobey
Tyrell Harrison
Matt Hodgson

Re-signed:

Will Magnay

Signed:

Anthony Drmic and Harry Froling (Adelaide 36ers)
Tanner Krebs (Saint Mary’s NCAA)
Tamuri Wigness (NBA Global Academy)

 

CAIRNS TAIPANS:

A major question mark still hangs over a number of Taipans players, with the club relatively quiet thus far over the Free Agency period. Re-signing Scott Machado and Nathan Jawai was important for he club, whilst a host of others opted to remain at the club in guards, Mirko Djeric and Fabijan Krslovic, and forwards, Majok Deng and Kouat Noi. All up they already have seven players on the list for next season when counting in Mojave King, an NBA Global Academy talent. The 195cm shooting guard is one who who no doubt learn off the likes of Machado who was one of the best players in the competition last season.

The question marks remain over un-signed Free Agents, Sam Froling, Cameron Oliver and DJ Newbill who all remain yet to to put pen to paper. Froling and in particular Oliver have other suitors, and the way they opt to go could determine how deep the Taipans go in season 2020/21. Newbill looks likely to re-sign, whilst a couple of Tall Blacks in Jarrod Kenny and Tai Wynyard are also among those left un-signed at this stage. Kenny had a strong season in the NZNBL, but has no officially signed anywhere in the NBL as of yet, the same as Wynyard who was one of the more impressive fives in the NZNBL.

Contracted:

Majok Deng
Mirko Djeric
Kouat Noi
Fabijan Krslovic

Re-signed:

Scott Machado
Nathan Jawai

Signed:

Mojave King (NBA Global Academy)

Young Guns in the NBL: Cameron Oliver

IF you had to pick one player under 25 to be a bona fide superstar in the National Basketball League (NBL), not based just on natural talent or an impressive rookie year, but based on what they are producing right now and their projection, Cameron Oliver would definitely be up there.

What Oliver has accomplished this past season is special. At 203cm Oliver is on the shorter side for a forward, but still managed to drag down over nine rebounds per game making him second in the league for rebounds. This is all the proof needed to show just how much heart Oliver possesses – and he does this while averaging over 17 points a game. A player that small going up against guys that big should not be getting those numbers. But that is why fans love to watch the Cairns Taipans, so they can watch something that is not supposed to be happening.  

Which is why it is painful to hear that Oliver is leaving the NBL for his new chapter in the Israel Basketball Premier League. The 23 year old played just one season in the NBL, but it was one to remember. He made the All-NBL Second Team, and alongside DJ Newbill, won 16 games – the third most in the NBL. They battled heroically against the Perth Wildcats, losing the first game by a single point, winning the next by 11 then losing the next by 11. Perth went on to win the championship but some argue that the Taipans’ series was the real final.

The 2019/20 season proved to be the emergence of Oliver with the 23-year-old coming along in leaps and bounds and helping his team to success. His addition along with a few others proved to be the spark the Taipans needed, rapidly rising up the ladder from last to third this season. It is fair to say that Oliver was a key cog in the Cairns line-up with his impressive on-court skill and ability to both hit the scoreboard and do the defensive things well. 

NBL Free Agency – May: How each team stands after contract opt-outs

LAST month the National Basketball League (NBL) announced it would need to reduce player payments across the board, slashing contracts by up to 50 per cent and reducing the maximum amount of imports to two per club. This had a ripple effect on the clubs and we take a look at who has fared best and who is not looking so good as of May 4 – the close of contract-opt outs. The information has been compiled thanks to Aussie Hoopla’s NBL free agent tracker and recent announcements by the clubs and league.

Note: The below rankings are not saying this is the ladder positions, but more how they have fared in terms of the quality lost or uncertainty over the lists for next season. The least impacted to the hardest hit.

#1 South East Melbourne Phoenix

There is not much more you could ask of the Phoenix thus far, having re-signed their star player in Mitch Creek and the bulk of the list being retained thus far. A perfect off-season would be retaining John Roberson and then seeing if they could snatch a third big name such as Terrico White. There is not much to write other than the Phoenix are in a good spot thus far coming into season two.

#2 New Zealand Breakers

With more players linked to the Breakers than departing, the New Zealand-based side could take advantage of a number of the Australian teams losing quality imports. The Breakers have been rumoured to consider an All-New Zealand side which would be an interesting move, but one that could help in terms of long-term success and continuity. The experienced Tom Abercrombie, as well as Corey Webster, Jarrad Weeks and Finn Delany are all signed up for next year, and a lot will depend on what happens with Scotty Hopson, but the Breakers are looking alright.

#3 Cairns Taipans

If there is a side that would be nervous about the unknown of the pandemic, it would have to be the Taipans. They got their act together on court this season, largely thanks to the likes of Scott Machado and Cameron Oliver doing their thing up either end of the court. While both have either agreed or are expected to return, there would be a question mark over them given the current circumstances. If they re-sign them, Cairns could be title favourites with the sides above them all having players opting out of contracts.

#4 Illawarra Hawks

As it stands, the 2019/20 wooden spooners at least will have continuity in their list for next season. While LaMelo Ball is obviously a huge – but expected loss – the starting line-up that carried the team through the second half of the season remains intact. They have likely lost Daniel Grida due to an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, and are waiting to see what happens with a number of uncontracted players. The only way is up for the Hawks next season and perhaps having continuity in the side will help.

#5 Adelaide 36ers

While the 36ers might have lost a coach over the off-season, they have replaced Joey Wright with Connor Henry who signed a three-year deal for the club. Everything looked good for the next season until Jerome Randle devastatingly did his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in Europe. With him all but certain to miss next season and doubts on Eric Griffin as well in terms of re-signing, the 36ers will put plenty of weight on the younger brigade such as incoming recruit Josh Giddey and the ever-improving Harry Froling. Had Randle stayed fit, the 36ers would be in the top four at this point of the untouched preseason, but the injury hurt them badly.

#6 Brisbane Bullets

On face value, the Bullets have signed up most of their quality starters. But there is a Lamar Patterson-sized question mark over their list for the 2020/21 season. Patterson was expected to re-sign for another season prior to the pandemic, but like many it is unknown what impact the contract reductions and restrictions will have on the imports. If he signs, they could easily fly into the top four, if he does not, then they lack that dominant big man. Especially with Matt Hodgson opting out of his contract.

#7 Melbourne United

United have been able to re-sign those players who had multiple-year deals which is the first step towards season 2020/21. The reason they are lower down on the list is two of their best players are either departing or are expected to depart in Shawn Long (South Korea) and Melo Trimble (one-year deal). They missed out on Giddey and could be losing veteran Chris Goulding in a year. Basically, United will look to try and sign up a few more names to give some certainty about the look of their roster next season.

#8 Sydney Kings

The Kings have lost Casper Ware and Xavier Cooks at this stage, with both players opting out of their contracts and looking elsewhere. Andrew Bogut and Jae’Sean Tate are among those out of contract and of course Didi Louzada is headed for the NBA. Just a lot of question marks over what their 2020/21 roster could look like at this point in time. After a huge season and showing what the Kings were capable of a mix of bigs and smalls, the grand finalists will have some work to do in order to get back to the pointy end of the season.

#9 Perth Wildcats

It has been a real gut-wrenching period for the Wildcats thus far, losing their two best players in Bryce Cotton and Nick Kay who have opted out of their contracts and look at other opportunities for the 2020/21 season. With White also rumoured to be considering a move to Victoria, the Wildcats unbelievable reign in the NBL finals could be in danger. But we know how well the organisation is run, and with more space opening up, expect them to poke the eyes out of quality local talent.

Draft Central’s NBL 2020 Top 10 #2: Scott Machado

THIS season’s main facilitator and the second Cairns Taipans player in Draft Central’s top 10, Scott Machado takes out second spot on the countdown after an impressive 2019/20 campaign. His journey goes all the way back prior to the season’s opening tip, following the signing of Cameron Oliver to bolster the Taipans’ frontcourt. Mike Kelly and his coaching staff were in need of someone to control the flow of games and elevate the offensive performances of those on the floor at any given time. The decision was Machado, who was signed with the Los Angeles Lakers G-League affiliate, the South Bay Lakers at the time. The signing would strengthen Cairns’ backcourt, as Machado would go shoulder-to-shoulder with DJ Newbill, who was a part of the Cairns’ side that went 6-22 the season prior and was eager to make this time round a very different story.

Despite Cairns’ good intentions, they lost their opening three encounters, but a hard fought 99-76 blowout win against the Wildcats got the ball rolling for the Taipans. Machado’s 18 points, seven assists and five rebounds were a significant factor in that game. Falling to 2-6 after a debilitating loss to the Illawarra Hawks in Round 6, the Taipans faced a crossroads on whether this season would turn out similar to last, or if they were to change the way they conducted themselves on the court and start to climb the standings. They chose the latter.

Led by Machado, the Taipans won five of their next six contests with their point guard obtaining two double-digit assist games over this period. It was rather a big shock to the Taipans faithful when they had back-to-back losses handed to them in Round 11, falling to the Wildcats and the Phoenix, but the way Cairns bounced back would define their season. In their remaining 12 outings, the Taipans would go on streaks of five and four games, losing once to the Kings and twice to finish their season, with the third seed already locked up by that stage.

Machado averaged an elite level 16.4 points, 6.7 assists and 3.9 rebounds in his side’s monumental run to the finals, helping Cairns secure a 16 win and 12 loss record at the end of the season, locking up a matchup with the Wildcats and MVP Bryce Cotton. Game One would prove to be massive for Machado, as he would shoot a massive 61 per cent from the field, whilst collecting 31 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in 39 minutes of play, arguably his best individual performance all season. Machado would continue to put up solid numbers for his team in Games Two and Three, averaging 16 points per contest. But, Trevor Gleeson’s side had too much depth, as they snatched Game Three and moved on to the Grand Final Series to face the Kings and defend their title.

To encapsulate Machado’s breakout season, he was awarded some consolation as the NBL Fans’ MVP, averaging 16.1 points per game in NBL 2020, as he led the league in assists with 7.9 dimes being dished out every time out for the 29-year-old. He also earned himself a spot in the NBL’s All-NBL First Team and runners-up in the MVP votes count behind Cotton. Whether the “big-three” returns again next season for the Taipans or not, it is without a doubt Machado was to be ranked second in Draft Central‘s top 10, if not first, had he edged out the Wildcats in the semi-finals.

Draft Central’s NBL 2020 Top 10: Seeds 5-4

AS we move higher up the list of Draft Central‘s National Basketball League (NBL) Top 10, we delve into the league’s top five. Here we look at two of the NBL’s most productive big-men and two of the biggest figures in the Queensland basketball scene, showcasing why both these players had seasons deserving of a First Team selection.

5. Cameron Oliver

Alongside Shawn Long, Cameron Oliver sits at the top of the NBL’s most athletic big men, known for his high-flying plays and a powerful style of basketball. Coming into the league for his first season, coach Mike Kelly was eager to bolster up his frontcourt presence, with Oliver seeming to fit the bill, working with the likes of Nathan Jawai and Kouat Noi. The 23-year-old also possessed a rather unique skill amongst bigs, which was the ability to shoot the ball from range. This ability to knock down the odd three-pointer would create havoc and confusion on the defensive end for opposition teams. From the outset, the Oakland native was able to make valuable contributions on the scoreboard, however he would only amass a single double-double in his first ten games. Following a 10 point and 10 rebound performance against the Illawarra Hawks in Round 8, Oliver started to grow into the efficient inside presence that he has presently. Further down the track in Round 11, the Taipans big-man secured a season-high 17 rebounds alongside 21 points against the eventual NBL Champion Perth Wildcats, thereby staking his claim as one of the league’s most imposing figures. Oliver’s second half of the season would be substantially better than his first, given that he averaged a double-double in his last 14 games on the court, putting up 17.6 points and 10.4 rebounds each time out leading up to the finals. Oliver would kick his play into next gear, when the semi-finals came around against the Wildcats, opening up his Game 1 performance with a phenomenal 19 points and 18 rebounds (a new season high). Another switch was clicked, as Oliver produced at an unprecedented level following a 22 point and 19 rebound Game 2 demolition job of the Wildcats at home to tie up the series. While his play would not hold up through Game 3, Oliver capped off his NBL 2020 season with a top-tier level of play (averaging 17 points and 9.1 rebounds), earning himself an All-NBL Second Team selection and the fifth seed in Draft Central’s top 10.

4. Lamar Patterson

Continuously touted as the “workhorse” of the NBL, Lamar Patterson further validated this moniker throughout the NBL 2020 season, as he almost single-handedly carried his team to a postseason appearance, after leading his side in almost all major statistical categories. Throughout all 28 games of Patterson’s season, he consistently put up extraordinary numbers in helping his team. The second year forward, would score 20 points or more in his first five contests, quickly establishing himself as the team’s main producer. While Brisbane did not have any individuals that would consistently pull down 10 rebounds or more, Patterson would do his part on the glass. Next to teammates like Will Magnay and Matthew Hodgson, Patterson’s consistent demeanour on the basketball court, saw him grab four, five or six rebounds per game every time out. Despite the absence of large numbers on a consistent basis, Patterson would still collect a couple huge games, namely a 36-point, four rebound and six assist barrage against the New Zealand Breakers in Round 10, and two 35-point nights against Melbourne United and the Perth Wildcats in Rounds 13 and 14. Following their 36-point rout of the Cairns Taipans to finish off their 2020 season, just missing out on a postseason birth via percentage, Patterson finished as the team’s season leader in points (21.4), assists (4.5) and steals (1.1), as well as second in rebounds (6.0). As a result of Patterson’s exemplary season, he collected 43 All-NBL First Team selection votes to claim his second nomination in a row and came in third for this season’s MVP Award with 73 votes. A fitting end for the Pennsylvanian and a suitable seed in Draft Central’s top 10.

2019/20 NBL season review: Perth Wildcats

IN the final instalment of the NBL season reviews by Draft Central, we look at the journey of the Perth Wildcats’ 2020 season and the rather unfortunate way that they would secure their fourth title in five seasons and their fifth in seven.

Here we go again

From the beginning, the kitchen sink was thrown at the Wildcats as they faced the team they beat in last season’s Grand Final series, Melbourne United. In what was the perfect way to kick off the 2020 season in front of packed RAC Arena, both teams were ready to get their seasons off on the right foot.

With both Bryce Cotton and Melo Trimble claiming their stake as two of the best guards in the league, they would lead their squads through four quarters of tightly contested basketball. But, thanks to a strong final quarter by the Wildcats, a single point would be all that separated the two sides on the day, as the Wildcats would squeeze by with a 94-93 victory starting off their campaign with a favourable result. Trevor Gleeson’s team would continue their good run of form with four victories in their next five contests, with their first blunder of the season being against a new and improved Cairns Taipans, that was getting ready to take the competition by storm.

Around came November, where Perth would struggle throughout a week and a half losing two out of three contests, going down to Brisbane at the Armoury and getting routed by 19 points away in Sydney, the only loss the Wildcats would endure from the Kings throughout the whole season. Reaching the halfway point of the season with a record of nine wins and five losses, the Wildcats sat rather contently in second place, as it was clear that they remained one of the top two contenders in the League. Nonetheless, the Wildcats needed to avoid getting complacent, as just below them a major storm was brewing in the mid-table logjam, as six different clubs were all vying for a postseason berth, with just a game and a half separating third and eighth position in the standings.

While Perth never really produced any substantial winning streaks on their way past Round 20, it was their ability to keep their losses to a minimal over the span of the entire season. During the second half of Perth’s season, they would string together three victories in a row on three different occasions, keeping them out of reach of the jostling teams below. After finishing one win better than compared to last season, Perth had established itself as one of the League’s best offensive sides, averaging more than 90 points per contest, led by their superior backcourt and solid front court. So, it was only fitting that they would square off with the Taipans in the semi-final round of the playoffs, given they were a very similar style of team.

MVP vs MVP

Following the regular season, it was announced that Bryce Cotton of the Wildcats would be awarded the NBL’s Most Valuable Player with Cairns’ guard Scott Machado falling eight votes short of Cotton. It wasn’t all doom and gloom for Machado, as he would be awarded the title of Fans’ MVP. But individual accolades for these players pale in comparison in what is the ultimate goal for any team sport, that being the championship. While Cotton had already received two titles in his time at Perth, Machado was looking to earn his first in his debut season.

Game One was as expected for those who attended. An offensive showdown would go down at RAC Arena with both teams blowing each other out of the water in each of the opening two quarters. With the second half being a much closer affair, Cotton would undertake most of his side’s scoring duties as he would have a career best night, piling it on for 42 points and six assists in an overtime classic and breaking the hearts of Taipans fans looking to wrap up the series in two games.

Keen to force a Game Three, Cairns’ head coach Mike Kelly made a point of limiting Perth’s weapons. Cotton and Nicholas Kay, the Wildcats’ two leading point-getters were held to just 21 points. Meanwhile the Taipans’ ‘big three’ made an impact in front of their home crowd accounting for 41 of Cairns’ 85 points, as they went on to tie the series up winning by 11 on the night. With Cairns tying the series up for a deciding Game Three, the more than 10,000 people that witnessed the match held a slight nervousness as Gleeson and his coaching staff had yet to find a way to weaken the combo of Machado, Dj Newbill and Cameron Oliver.

With both sides neck and neck for every quarter, the contest remained one that could have gone either way at any stage, but Perth had figured out a way to limit the production of Newbill as he would only manage six points on the night. However, it was Cotton that wasn’t making his usual impact either, which meant someone needed to step up when it counted. Terrico White, the second part of Perth’s backcourt made his statement game in the series, racking up 26 points and four rebounds. Further aided by Kay’s 24 points, the Wildcats would squeeze out a semi-final clinching Game Three triumph by 11 points once again, 93-82 and the right to defend their title against the Sydney Kings.

Cementing the Wildcats dynasty

The Kings were for the first time in a Grand Final series since the 2008 NBL season and had not won a series since 2005, which made home-court advantage much more important. However, history was made that was not in control of either of the teams, therefore cutting short a series that was destined for at least a Game Four.

With more that 11,500 people packed into Qudos Bank Arena, Game One was fully loaded to be a big game. Both sides trading quarters seemed to be the trend of the opening contest of the series and most people knew that the game wouldn’t be decided until the final stages of regulation. This would come to fruition, as with only a couple minutes remaining, a massive three-point bomb by Damian Martin would put the Wildcats up by three, which was followed up by Cotton’s two made free throws. These actions would prove to be enough, as the Wildcats would steal Game One on the road.

It was Game Two that the new COVID-19 restrictions had been enforced and this seemed to influence the concept of home court advantage, as Sydney came out strong in front of a silent RAC Arena, winning three out of four quarters in a bid to tie the series up. While Cotton’s 27 points was valuable, it was not enough to get the Wildcats over the line, as they went down 83-97 and were now heading back to Sydney.

Both teams prepared themselves for any other series game not knowing that it would be the deciding game, as following Game Three, the NBL and both teams would decide to finish the series and end the season following this contest. Nevertheless, Game Three would go ahead as Perth would explode out of the gate with a barrage of opening quarter points, getting out ahead 29-18 after ten minutes of play. This would allow Perth to keep Sydney at arm’s length as they would secure a relatively convincing 111-96 victory, putting them up 2-1 in the series.

While the series would be cut short and the Wildcats would collect their fourth title in five years and cement themselves as one of the greatest franchises ever, there’s perhaps no other team more disappointed than Perth at how this season ended, so perhaps another title run next season would convince the franchise.

The pride of WA

Bryce Cotton

Up there with amongst the best point guards in the League’s history, Bryce Cotton further added to that as he would lead his side to yet another NBL title. In the process he would also collect a third title of his own, a second NBL finals MVP, a second league MVP, a third All-NBL First Team selection and a third scoring title. On the season he would average 22.5 points, 3.7 assists and almost four rebounds a game shooting at 42 per cent from the field. However, the 27-year-old will look to make another title run next season given the circumstances surrounding this season’s end.

Nick Kay

Completing his second season, Nick Kay proved his mettle once again providing lots of production in numerous statistical categories. This would secure him a second title and a second All-NBL First-Team selection, alongside Cotton as he remained the Wildcats’ constant in their long and arduous 2020 season. Kay would finish the season with a steady 15 points per game while facilitating three assists every time out on the offensive end. Meanwhile, he would gather an awesome 7.6 rebounds every contest which paved the way for numerous double doubles throughout the season.

The Coach’s corner: Trevor Gleeson

Like his counterpart Will Weaver, Gleeson was devastated by the series ending in the fashion that it did, but he still remains extremely proud of the efforts his side made during the season, as he reflected in a statement by the Wildcats.

“It’s extremely disappointing, but I’m proud of the way we represented the red jersey, our city, and our amazing fans. “I’m proud of the way we handled ourselves in a challenging environment and the way we prepared and played,” said Gleeson.

“We worked hard for this moment, earned this moment, and to have the opportunity torn away from us is really disappointing. “We were the best team throughout the Grand Final Series.”

2019/20 NBL season review: Cairns Taipans

PRIOR to the start of the 2020 season, the Taipans had finished either last, or one position above that in their previous two campaigns. Cairns would also accumulate an abysmal 6-22 record in their 2018-19 season, six wins lower than Illawarra who finished seventh. Given this, not many would have guessed how much of a turnaround Mike Kelly and his men would have made just a season later.

A major face-lift

It is safe to say that Kelly’s first season at the helm was a major failure, leading his team to one of the franchise’s worst records in the club’s history. It was therefore apparent that a major upheaval was needed to move his squad in the right direction. With signings like imports Scott Machado, who would prove to be one of the League’s most dominant performers, and big-man Cameron Oliver owning the boards, the Taipans already had the weapons needed to be serious contenders.

The rest of the competition had other ideas however, as the Taipans would begin their season the same way they did in 2018, losing their opening three contests against the Kings, Bullets and the Hawks in what was a nail-biting one-point loss away at Wollongong. While the core Taipans group was putting up substantial numbers, it was Cairns’ secondary unit that needed to pull its weight.

It was early on in the season that the likes of Mirko Djeric, Kouat Noi, Majok Deng and future hall of famer Nathan Jawai would begin to click with their side’s offence. The Taipans would go on to win seven out of the next eleven fixtures to level out their season record at .500. As this record was neither impressive nor disappointing, their seven wins they had collected at the mid-way point of the season was already higher than their win total for their entire previous season (six), which was accomplishment in itself. They also sat fourth in the standings at this stage, as more and more basketball fans started to see the Taipans as a serious threat in the NBL.

As the race of the finals started to pick up for the mid-table teams, it was Cairns that began the second half of the season slowly, dropping two games to the Wildcats and a crucial loss to the Phoenix. Knowing full well that losing games late in the regular season in a league like the NBL was almost suicidal for a team’s ambitions, a sense of urgency would kick the Taipans into a higher gear as they would pull together their longest and perhaps most important winning streak of the season. Their five consecutive victories would represent the best basketball played by the ‘Snakes’ all season as they would knock over all five of the other teams in the newly coined ‘Logjam’, taking a commanding lead in third position.

With a slight bump in the road losing out to the eventual minor premier Kings 83-92, four more victories would follow for a team that would secure a finals slot with two games remaining and cap off a dream run of nine wins in ten appearances. The Taipans’ 16-12 record would be their best season performance since the 2014-15 competition, stirring up a fervour and hype that hasn’t been seen in Northern Queensland in a very long time leading into the postseason.

A venomous task

Out of all the seasons for a team to regain exemplary form, this one matched the Taipans up with the reigning champion Wildcats in their semi-final series, providing the most difficult task Cairns had to face up with all season. Despite the monstrous task that was bestowed upon the third placed seed, Game One would come to fruition as a contest for the ages at RAC Arena.Perth would explode out of the block in front of their fans, outscoring Cairns 29-20 in the opening ten minutes. But the visiting side would hit back even harder, erasing the deficit and flipping the margin leading by nine at halftime.

Despite trailing, newly crowned League MVP Bryce Cotton would put his team on his back, leading to a career defining postseason performance and pulling his side together forcing overtime in Game One scoring 43 alone. Trading buckets in what was a back and forth five minutes of post-regulation play, long-time NBL veteran Jesse Wagstaff would knock down two imperative free-throws to put his side up by three with eleven seconds remaining. With two seconds left, Machado would hoist up a three-pointer to tie the game, but instead would put back his miss for just two points, leading to a nail-biting opening game win for the Wildcats, 108-107.

Returning back home with a sense of anger due to the fact they couldn’t get the job done in WA, the Taipans would make it clear early that would fight another day. A dominating 30-16 opening quarter and subsequently a 16-point half-time lead for the Taipans would set the tone for the rest of the game. The Wildcats would attempt a third quarter comeback, however a 22 point and 19 rebound performance by Cameron Oliver would quickly quell any remaining doubts from both sides, setting the series up for Game Three back in Perth with a desperately earned 85-74 triumph.

The deciding game would be a battle of wills as both sides would go neck and neck for every individual quarter. But unfortunately for the Taipans, they would lose by the narrowest of margins in every period throughout the game. This would lead to an eleven-point defeat (82-93) in front of more than 10,000 strong in the Red Army, as the Wildcats would earn their right to defend their title against the Kings and end the Taipans’ comeback season.

The NBL’s ‘big three’

Scott Machado

The backbone and commander of the Cairns Taipans, Scott Machado made minced meat of the majority of the competition in his debut season in the NBL. It was Machado’s vision and ability to spread the floor that made his team around him abundantly more cohesive, which in turn created a more efficient offense. He would often do this directly as Machado would lead the League in assists, averaging 7.9 assists per game.

Machado would also do his part on the scoring sheet putting up 16.1 points per contest and hustle for 3.6 rebounds an outing as well. Despite this, it would not be enough to earn himself a league MVP award, however he would settle for an All-NBL First Team selection. Even though Machado has spoken frequently about the positives of living in Australia’s far north, the import has not yet confirmed if he is to stay for another season.

 Dj Newbill

The second of Cairns’ three imports, Dj Newbill solidified himself as one of the League’s elite defenders, following being awarded the NBL Defensive Player of the Year Award and an All-NBL Second Team nomination. Having gone through the struggles of last season, Newbill needed to serve the team as the emotional backbone and would do this with more than just defense. Offensively, Newbill would crack the top ten in scoring averaging 18.8 a game. Defensively he would rank fourth in steals per game with 1.3 and average three rebounds. Much like Machado, Newbill is yet to confirm his intention for the upcoming NBL 2021 season, but if the Taipans administration can lock down the backcourt duo, it would definitely smell of a championship recipe.

Cameron Oliver

One of the League’s marquee centers, Cameron Oliver was an absolute monster at various moments during his 28 games, captivating spectators and flashing his athleticism on numerous highlight reels with rim-rocking slam dunks. But Oliver’s grind on the scoreboard and rebounds was second-to-one (Shawn Long), as he posed as the Taipans defensive protector.

Averaging 17 points and shooting 54 per cent from the field, scoring was almost guaranteed when Oliver had the ball near the rim. On the other end, he would also rank second amongst the League Leaders in rebounds and blocks averaging 9.1 and 1.6 respectively earning himself an All-NBL Second Team spot next to teammate Dj Newbill.

If Cairns can lock down Oliver for next season, then we can all expect similar numbers next season as the 23-year-old has plenty of time to refine his game.

The Coach’s corner – Mike Kelly

As mentioned earlier, this season’s Cairns group has been hailed as the League’s biggest success story. Following Game Three against the Wildcats, Kelly would once again praise the club and what this season’s playing group did for the franchise.

“I think when I look back I’m gonna be able to reflect and see the big picture of what this group did led by these two,” as he pointed to Newbill and Jawai who were seated next to him, “and how special the season was while it was still going.”

Wildcats charm Taipans, look for fourth title in five years

PERTH Wildcats’ remarkable post-season run continued in the third and defining semi-final clash against Cairns Taipans. Whilst last year’s wooden spooners had improved out of sight in 2019/20, it was the class and home court advantage of the Wildcats that saw them get home 93-82 and book yet another National Basketball League (NBL) Grand Final appearance. Perth will vie for its fourth title in five years and 10th overall if it can succeed against the Kings, but for now the Wildcats will enjoy making it to the last series once again with the big win over the Taipans.

Both teams showed they were up for the fight in the opening term with Perth taking a narrow one-point lead into quarter time, before blowing away the Taipans in the second quarter, much to the delight of the home crowd. The Wildcats scored 27-20 in the quarter to extend the advantage out to eight, and while they did end up winning every quarter, it was the second term that gave the home team some breathing space. The third was once again tight with Perth winning it marginally 24-22, and then again in the fourth with a 17-16 final term. Despite the Taipans’ best efforts, the Wildcats were just that bit cleaner and  what made the win even more remarkable – or possibly scary if you are a Sydney Kings fan – is the fact that 2019/20 Most Valuable Player (MVP), Bryce Cotton only put up five points.

Cotton did however help in other ways with four rebounds and eight assists, but his shooting game was way off on the night, with just two successful field goals from 16 attempts, including one from seven outside the arc. Those who did step up was his partner-in-crime Terrico White with the guard going nuts with 26 points, four rebounds and two assists, only bettered on the night by Nick Kay who continued his superb form with another double-double playing a crucial role to out-perform Taipans’ gun, Cameron Oliver. Kay had 24 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two steals to his name, marginally ahead of Oliver who finished with 20 points, eight rebounds, two steals and two blocks on the night. Other Wildcats who looked good were Clint Steindl off the bench with an 80 per cent efficiency from the field on his way to 11 points and two assists, while Mitch Norton picked up 10 points and six rebounds for his troubles. Miles Plumlee only had three attempts attacking the basket but delivered all three times, with six points to accompany six rebounds.

For the losing side, it was a brave season that ultimately fell short, though not without a typical performance from Oliver and Scott Machado. The latter has been a huge performer all season, and finished his year with another 19 points, five rebounds, six assists and two steals to lead from the front. Mirko Djeric also reached double-figure points with 12, as well as three rebounds, while D.J. Newbill shot an inaccurate two from 12 from the field for six points, as well as four rebounds. Center, Nathan Jawai was the other notable player with five rebounds and six points coming off the bench, teaming up well with other big, Majok Deng (nine points, three rebounds.

Perth moves onto the final test for the year, going into a best-of-five series against Sydney Kings, with the first match on the road at Qudos Bank Arena on Sunday.

2019/20 NBL Semi-final 3 preview: Perth Wildcats vs. Cairns Taipans

WITH the series at one game apiece for two of the highest scoring offences in the league, Game 3 of the Wildcats/Taipans series goes back to RAC Arena on Thursday night and the Cotton/Machado MVP conversation can finally be laid to rest for this season.

The opening game of the series went Perth’s way by a single point off the back of a 43-point exhibition provided by Bryce Cotton, in front of more than 13,000 screaming fans layered in red clothing. The following game at the Cairns Convention Centre, however, was one that was efficiently and diligently handled by the Taipans, as a 30-16 first quarter by the home side, was enough to keep the Wildcats at bay for the remaining three quarters, leading to an 11 point victory for the Snakes.

With the result of this series to be determined later tonight, there are a number of things each side needs to do if they are to gain any significant edge throughout the 40 minutes of basketball.

If we look at the Wildcats first, the main factor in anything the defending champions do, is decided by the performance of their league MVP in Cotton. Their star import guard shot the lights out in Game 1, going 14 of 25 from the field, while also accumulating 10 made three-pointers in the process. The fact that the Wildcats live and die by Cotton’s sword was further proven in Game 2 up in Cairns, where Cotton’s stat line was a complete shell of his previous game’s, going five from 12 from the field, resulting in only 11 points. This stark contrast in points and performances outlines that Perth’s number one concern going into the deciding game of the series, will be their reliance on Cotton.

While Cotton is Perth’s number one producer on the floor, it is also important to remember that another member on the Wildcats’ squad is a member of this season’s All-NBL First Team. This individual being Nick Kay. Kay, averaged over 15 points, 7.6 rebounds and more than three assists throughout the NBL season, has often been touted as the league’s most productive work horse. Kay’s output come Game 3, will decide how effective Cotton can perform, which in turn would affect the entire squad as a result.

Looking to the team that has its mind set on spoiling the party for all of Western Australia, the Cairns Taipans are starting to hone in on their franchise’s first NBL title, and with one more win, they could have one hand on this year’s hardware.

In terms of what the Taipans need to do to make an away win at RAC Arena a reality, does not rely on the performance of a single player. Mike Kelly’s playmaking schemes throughout the season have been based on a five-man offence and defence. With this style of play by the Taipans, the majority of their ball flow goes through their star guard in Scott Machado. Machado who has proven himself one of the league’s top play makers given he averages 16 points and 7.9 assists per game following the regular season, the way he controls the game’s tempo sets him apart from his peers in the competition. However, while Machado’s numbers were high in their Game 1 loss and low in his team’s Game 2 win, his ability to move the ball on offence on a consistent basis makes his weapons around him more effective against an inconsistent Wildcats defence as shown in Game 2.

While players like Marco Djeric, Nathan Jawai, Kouat Noi and Jarrod Kenny are all able to be utilised in their own ways against Perth’s defence, the most impact for the Taipans depends on the outputs of Dj Newbill (18.8 points, 3.1 assists and 3 rebounds) and Cameron Oliver (17 points and 9.1 rebounds). It can be assured that both these stars will look to make an impact on Thursday night, but will the size of Perth’s front-court be too much for Cairns’ “big three”.

2019/20 NBL Semi-final 1 preview: Perth Wildcats vs. Cairns Taipans

TO tip off the NBL 2020 semi-finals, the Perth Wildcats face off with the Cairns Taipans in what will be a thrilling back and forth. The Wildcats who are ranked second with a 19 and nine record, have the Taipans (16-12) to thank for two of those losses, although the Wildcats eventually took down the Taipans in a nail-biter 88-84 victory for Perth.

Although their last duel was in early December of last year, Cairns’ turnovers cost them the game, as they doubled the Wildcats’ column with 10. It seems the Taipan’s ability to control the ball has still not been fixed as they had a whopping 17 turnovers in their last game. Similarly, Perth’s Bryce Cotton torched the Taipans with 24 in their previous match, and all signs are looking like we might see something similar in this game as he is coming off a casual 25 point performance shooting 50 per cent from three-point range. However Cotton will be going up against Scott Machado, one of the best perimeter defenders in the entire league. When the two undisputed best point guards in the league go at it, you can assure a stellar performance from both athletes.

This is a strongly assembled Wildcats team this season led by the league’s scoring champion and MVP Cotton. As previously stated, the Taipans have difficulties turning the ball over, so going up against the league’s stealing champion in Cotton is not an ideal situation for them. Along with Cotton, the Wildcats have one of the best two way bigs in their disposal in Nick Kay. Kay’s defensive presence in the key means the Taipans are going to have to shoot more 3 pointers, a definite weakness in their skill set. Wildcats have also added Miles Plumlee, an 11-year NBA veteran who played in the most popular hence scrutinised league in the world. His immense experience in dealing with pressure and playing in big games will relieve some nervousness in the Wildcats’ locker room, especially with the younger players. 

Cairns Taipans, led by Coach of the Year Mike Kelly, are one of the best defensive teams in the NBL, and are a team no one wants to meet in a playoff series. Ran by their franchise player, Machado who was the runner up for the MVP and will be going face to face with the winner of the award, Cotton. Playing with a chip on his shoulder, fans should expect a memorable performance from the league’s leading assist champion. If he can clamp up Cotton, which we all know he is capable of doing, the Wildcats might have to rely more on their secondary scorers, Terrico White and Kay. Cameron Oliver will have to play exceptional for the Taipans to get over the line, as one of the most efficient big men in the league shooting over 54 per cent, the Wildcats are more than capable of sending big bodies at Oliver, with Plumlee and Kay both almost seven foot. Oliver who is averaging 17 points and more than nine rebounds a game, might need to push for 20 and 10 as the Taipans must attack on the Wildcats’ very few limitations, one being their interior defence. Conversely, a question to look out for is if Oliver can give maximum effort on the other end when guarding the very athletic Plumlee. 

A second seed against third seed match up never disappoints, and this looks like it will be no different. The biggest attraction will be Cotton (MVP) vs Machado (runner up for MVP), however Perth’s home court advantage might be the deciding factor considering they are excellent at home, having only three losses coming at home. Perth are also on a little hot streak winning four of their last five games while the Taipans have lost their last two games. Lastly Cairns while savvy and tough, are a fairly inexperienced group, while the Wildcats won the grand final last year.