Tag: Casper Ware

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: Seeds 10-6

FOLLOWING an incredible season in the National Basketball League (NBL), Draft Central has compiled a list of ten exemplary individuals that performed at an elite level consistently throughout the 20 rounds of NBL20. Here are the first half of our selections, with the final five still to come.

10. Will Magnay

It is rather rare for a player as young as 21-year-old Will Magnay to crack any top 10 in a professional league of any sport. Yet Magnay has turned countless heads this season, which in turn has drastically developed the young centre’s prospects. When one looks at Magnay’s season statistics, nothing pops out instantly when it comes to the youngster’s offensive numbers. But defensively, it’s an entirely different ballgame, as Brisbane’s big man would go on to rank amongst the league’s top 20 in rebounds (six rebounds per game) and lead the competition in shot blocking by more than half a block (2.15 per game). On only three occasions throughout the NBL 20 season, would the 208cm Magnay go an entire game without a swat, also he would amount three blocks or more in seven different contests in what was a dominant season for the five man. Lastly, he would also collect an almost unprecedented seven blocks against the Phoenix, in the side’s final push to the finals and break an NBL record for most blocks in a two-game span with 13. But, for Magnay he would also be recognised for his season efforts as he was awarded at this season’s NBL Awards as the League’s Most Improved Player. More importantly though, Magnay would rank second in the competition’s Defensive Player of the Year Award, trailing only Dj Newbill in the votes tally. An impactful and surprising season by the Bullet was enough to crack this season’s top 10.

9. Nick Kay

The NBL 2020 Champion Perth Wildcats had many cogs in the machine that helped secure their fourth title in five years and fifth in seven. But, for the last two seasons in particular, Kay, has been the backbone for Perth’s play at both ends of the court. While Kay does not impose any ridiculous athleticism compared to other frontcourt players, the man’s diligence and effectiveness for 40 straight minutes is almost unparalleled, as Kay would again shoot over 50 per cent from the field for his fifth consecutive season. In addition, the 206cm big would average an all-around 15-point, three-assist and seven and a half-rebound stat-line for 2020, showcasing his ability to produce in all facets of a game. The Boomer selectee would obtain seven double-doubles throughout the season, including three straight games in early-December securing over ten points and ten rebounds. Although Kay would perform at an elite level, this run of form would carry over into the playoffs, with the Wildcats starter averaging 19 points per game in their semi-final series against the Taipans, and 20.3 points in the grand final series against the Kings. All in all, the 27-year-old would put away another productive season under the guidance of Trevor Gleeson, earning himself a second All-NBL First Team selection (second straight year) and earning the ninth seed in Draft Central‘s top 10.

8. Jerome Randle

One of the NBL’s greatest scoring guards, Jerome Randle continued his legacy of producing points at an exemplary level. Finishing fifth amongst the league leaders in scoring and averaging 19.75 points per contest, Randle took the majority of the 36ers offensive attempts through 20 rounds and for good reason, as the fifth-year Chicagoan import was good for 45 per cent of his shots. With Randle being aided by the likes of Daniel Johnson and Eric Griffin, he would also facilitate 4.5 assists every outing. Randle’s hustle also ventured outside his usual roles as point guard averaging more than three rebounds a game, was up there with the season’s best rebounding point men.  Randle went 26 games with double-digit performances until the 27th game where he would manage only nine points against the Taipans, which was followed by seven against the Wildcats the next time out to end the season. While Randle would not be selected to either of the All-NBL Teams to encapsulate the season, he would crack 20 points in 15 different encounters which puts him in this season’s eighth slot. But with Adelaide turning over a new chapter with the resignation of Joey Wright, the 36ers new identity come 2021 may prove fruitful for Randle and his team.

7. Shawn Long

Perhaps the NBL’s most dominant force and most powerful individual across all nine sides, Shawn Long sampled why he is known as “Mr. Double-Double”. From the get-go, Long earned six double-doubles in his first seven match-ups, but results were not falling Melbourne United’s way early on. But following a 1-4 start, United strung together six straight victories to become a title contender towards the end of the year. With Long’s numbers coming in droves, the Louisiana-born centre accumulated 14 double-doubles to conclude the season, securing himself as the league’s leading rebounder with an average of 9.43. Despite United’s eventual series loss to the Kings in the semis, Long continued to average high numbers, averaging 22 points and 10.3 rebounds through the three games. With these kinds of performances at such a consistent rate for such a long period of time, it is hard to fathom the 27-year-old was not recognised more for his efforts this season. Nevertheless, he makes the cut for seventh on our list.

6. Jae’Sean Tate

To round out the first half of Draft Central’s Top 10, number six is credited to the Sydney Kings’ most consistent producer throughout the entire season, Jae’Sean Tate. In his debut season in the NBL, following a brief stint in Belgium, Tate made it known that he could run with the big boys, and standing at 193cm and weighing 104kg, he certainly looked the part. Maintaining a high level of production in any league is an arduous task for most seasoned veterans, but Tate took the responsibility head on, as he scored double digits in 27 of his 28 games. This proved beneficial to the Kings, when their marquee point guard Casper Ware could not find his shooting stroke. Tate’s 16.4 points per game was a benchmark that he would constantly find a way to match, as his side would go from Round 1 to 20 at the top of the standings, the first time in NBL history for a team to do so. Given his 66 per cent shooting from the field during the regular season, the small forward from Ohio was pulling out all the stops in his quest for some championship hardware, averaging 18.6 points in the playoffs alongside five and half rebounds to match it. With the Kings going down in the finals to the Wildcats, it was not all doom and gloom for Tate, as he would earn an All-NBL First Team selection in his first year of play down-under. A task that very few have been able to complete, thus earning him the sixth spot of the top 10.

Draft Central’s Top 10 2019/20 NBL memorable moments: #6 – Casper Ware torches former team in regular season

WHEN you go up against your former team, former friends and most importantly against your replacement, it is not just another game in a long season. Instead it is an opportunity; a chance to prove to your old fans and new fans what you bring to the table away from the system that fostered your talent. Away from the coaching staff and teammates that helped put your career in a position to succeed. It is either a win or lose situation, and is similar to going all-in on the roulette table. If you do well, you are praised and admired by peers and fans, but if you go poorly, your value plummets, as all your past accomplishments get washed out by a singular event. For Casper Ware, his first meeting against Melbourne United as a rival Sydney Kings player came in early November. He was met with loud boos and would walk out defeated, losing the game by just three points. Disappointing as it was, the real day of reckoning would arrive in the next few clashes as Sydney would down Melbourne for the remainder of the regular season, coming off insanely prolific performances from Ware. 

Playing great against your former team is memorable. Doing it back-to-back is incredible. Being by far the best player on the court for three consecutive wins is spectacular. But when you do it four times running, it goes beyond epic, it is a statement. United fans must bitterly regret ever booing Ware in that preseason game, because for whatever reason, that lit a match in Ware that would set fire to United all season long. It’s not just that he was a part of the winning team, it’s that he was the reason the team won in the first place. But in every single match. After coming out of the gates with 34 points, then 27, then 28, the narrative of Ware torching his old team grew stronger and stronger all year. So when the two teams, both confident that they would be seeing each other in the finals, faced each other for the last game of the series, Melbourne knew a victory was essential.

If Ware was able to come into the arena where his NBL career started, in front of the loudest, most heckling crowd in the NBL and win the fourth game of the regular season, it would cement his legacy in Sydney. That’s when Ware had one of the most efficient nights of his career, setting a career-high eight three-pointers, to end the contest with 26 points in a blow out 106-88 win.

Top 10 NBL 2019/20 moments countdown so far:

#10 Phoenix upstage United in opening round
#9 Scotty Hopson’s consecutive buzzer beaters
#8 Bryce Cotton drops 39 points in grand final preview
#7 Bryce Cotton hits game winner in grand final rematch
#6 Casper Ware torches former team in regular season

Draft Central’s Top 10 2019/20 NBL memorable moments: #8 – Bryce Cotton drops 39 points in grand final preview

IT was a game that everyone had circled on their calendar. Two juggernaut teams going at it, in what most assumed was as a preview for the grand final. But what made it iconic was just how insanely similar this game was compared to what transpired in the grand final. Well, except for the presence of actual fans, but tune in for that moment in the coming week. Looking back at this game in retrospect, it was like looking through magic crystals, we were staring right into the future but at the time we didn’t know it. Watching how Casper Ware would be nowhere to be seen on defence. Or how the Kings were so dependent on scoring in the paint that the lack of versatility led to their eventual demise. But most importantly, how Bryce Cotton would dominate the Kings with crafty jump shots and second chance points.

That was the main takeaway leaving this game, a reminder of just how remarkably talented Cotton really is, scoring a casual 39 points on one of the best defences in the league, 18 of which came in the fourth quarter as Cotton led the charge for a double-digit lead. Just to add to all of that, he also set a then career-high eight three-pointers in the 98-85 victory over the Kings. He left the game leading the league in points and steals, while becoming the first player in NBL history to drop 200 points on the same team in the same season – technically he dropped 222, but who is counting? He also left the game as the indisputable best player in the league, killing off any debates between him and fellow contemporaries. Clearly Sydney coach, Will Weaver just could not find an answer for him all season. But the funny thing is that there really should not be blame put on the Kings’ coaching staff for failing to contain Cotton, because the fact is no one in the league can stop him. He is just in a tier all of his own. 

To be that good against a team that obtained the most wins all season is simply unbelievable, so it is no speculation to suggest that when these two teams faced each other in the grand final, Cotton and the Wildcats had a certain edge over their adversary. A mental imprint, stamped on each player from the Kings with highlights of this night, as the 39-point performance sunk overwhelming fear and anxiety into their hearts. This is the effect of legends, and after this season and postseason, Cotton should be remembered as a NBL legend. Just like how this one night forecasted how the NBL finals would play out, this season might act as an early prediction of what the next five years of the NBL have in store.

Top 10 NBL 2019/20 moments countdown so far:

#10 Phoenix upstage United in opening round
#9 Scotty Hopson’s consecutive buzzer beaters
#8 Bryce Cotton drops 39 points in grand final preview

2019/20 season review: Sydney Kings

THE Sydney Kings were one of the three teams that tied for first position in 2018-19 alongside the Perth Wildcats and Melbourne United. Unfortunately, due to percentage the Kings would have to settle for third position and relinquish home court advantage, and they would lose their semi-final series to United 2-0.

This season, however, Will Weaver’s side would take no luxuries, as for the first time in NBL history, a single team would remain at the top of the League’s standings from the first round to the last.

From start to finish

Sydney Kings would begin their season from the get-go, as they would fight hard for an eight-point away win against the Taipans. Following this, a convincing 22-point demolition of the 36ers would quickly establish the Kings as the League’s benchmark and the team to beat throughout the season. It would not all come so easily to the Kings, which was evidenced by their back-to-back series against the Breakers. A team that would finish the season in sixth would push Sydney to the limit across eight quarters. Nevertheless, the Purple and Gold would prevail in both contests, extending their unbeaten start to the season to four.

Sydney’s first downfall came from an old foe, as once again United would come out on top as a result of a 107-104 battle down at Melbourne Arena, reminding the Kings of the pain they endured in last season’s semi-finals. Not only was Sydney’s win percentage throughout the season impressive, it was their ability to bounce back from a loss and stick to their guns. This was evident following their first loss of the season. Firstly, a 10-point win over the Bullets would provide valuable momentum to the Kings as they would face the second of the League’s best two sides two days later.

The first contest between the Kings and Wildcats was a close affair at first with Sydney up by just three points. But thanks to rookie Brazilian, Didi Louzada (28 points and six rebounds), an exemplary second half from the Kings would ensue, as they outscored Perth 55-39 in the last two periods, solidifying themselves as the League’s top dogs. Another three contests would be won in a row to cap off one of the best starts in the NBL’s history, holding a record of 11 wins and one loss after 12 games.

Over the next two games for Sydney, however, would not be so kind due to losing back-to-back games to the Taipans and the Wildcats in their rematch at RAC Arena, which started to bring up questions of whether the Kings could hold their own against the other top teams in the finals conversation. Sitting atop of the standings with an 11-3 record, the two-horse race between themselves and the defending champions from WA had started to heat up, as for the rest of the regular season, the Kings would have the Wildcats nipping at their heels week after week.

A 2-3 start to the second half of the season would make things a little harder for the Kings, going down to the Wildcats again (bringing their season series to 1-2), the Bullets and the bottom-seeded Hawks in a game that fell through their grasp like wet sand. If the Kings were to secure the top-seed and earn home-court advantage through the playoffs, a strong push would be needed for their remaining five matchups and one factor remained a constant on the route to the top-spot.

Sydney’s ability to win on their home floor would provide much needed leeway in the standings because the Kings’ road record was not impressive. At 8-6 away from home, Sydney’s home record was what separated themselves from the Wildcats, losing just twice at Qudos Bank Arena through the 28 games. Their home record would come up big for them once again through their final nine games as they would win all five home encounters in the final stretch, which coupled with two away victories to help Weaver’s team secure the League’s number one seed with a season record of 20 wins and eight losses.

Run it back

For the second straight season the Kings would matchup with Melbourne United in this season’s NBL semi-finals, but this time it would be the Kings that would hold the home-court advantage.

Following a slow first three quarters where United would limit almost all of Sydney’s major weapons, whether it would Casper Ware’s shooting efficiency, Andrew Bogut’s inside presence or Jae’Sean Tate’s effectiveness from the wing. Despite this, the Kings would pull off one of the biggest comeback efforts in front of more than 13,000 people at Qudos bank Arena. One of Will Weaver’s strengths when it comes to his sides, is their massive amount of depth across the roster, and Game One of the series would prove this once again, as standout performances would come out of Xavier Cooks (13 points, nine rebounds and four assists), Brad Newley (17 points and five rebounds) and Didi Louzada (eight points in 16 minutes) who would come up big down the stretch. While Tate did find his stroke late in the game with 23 points and five boards, without the help of their secondary unit United certainly would have taken Game One.

Game Two was an entirely different story, however, as Melbourne was more than a little angry, due to the 16-point lead they blew two days earlier and they were itching to make amends. While the game would seem innocent after ten minutes of play, United would turn on the gas over the next two quarters scoring 77 points in the next 20 minutes. As a result, Melbourne would score 38 straight points at one stage of their run, as well as being in front by as many as 58 points, therefore quashing any possibility of a late comeback, as United would take out the debilitating contest 125-80.

But once again, Sydney’s ability to fight back on their home floor would be on display, as Game Three returned back to New South Wales for the deciding game. With both sides winning quarters leading into the main break. United had the slight edge as they led by five following a strong second quarter and it was well documented that marquee Guard and ex-Melbourne United player, Casper Ware, was not performing at his usual rate up until Game Three. But the import would pick up his game with 15 points and four rebounds, which was further aided by Tate’s 20 points which proved to be important late in the game. The Kings would tie up the contest by the end of the third quarter, setting the crowd up for a Win or Go Home final quarter. With defence being the major talking point all game, one of the teams had to break away, and with Tate once again proving to be the factor by making a jump shot with 84 seconds left in the game to put the Kings up by four, it turned out to be enough to get Sydney over the line against their long-time rivals. They would hold on to win the nail-biter 89-87 and move on to the Grand Final series to face the Wildcats.

False Kings

Even though the Kings had proven on numerous occasions that they were the best performing team in the competition following the 20 rounds, not everyone was convinced that the Kings could topple the reigning champs. Throughout the four encounters of these two teams, Sydney had only defeated Perth on one occasion, which sparked an abundance of doubt from punters and spectators alike. Nevertheless, the spectacle of game One proved to be a treat for all that attended as they observed a highly competitive contest.

With both teams trading quarters and leads, it was only three points the difference at the end of the first half, with the Wildcats just holding their noses in front. However, the Kings would hit back hard with a strong third quarter leading by five with ten minutes remaining. But behind their MVP, the Wildcats would have the last run of the game, outscoring the Kings 20-13 in the last quarter, taking Game One on the road by 88-86. Bryce Cotton’s 32 points, six rebounds and four assists would set the tone for a stellar series individually.

Following new COVID-19 restrictions, the dynamic of home court advantage would change as a minimal amount of people would attend games, and given the result of Game Two, this became very relevant as strong first and fourth quarters saw the Kings tie up the series 1-1 in a very quiet RAC Arena, as Bogut, Tate and Kevin Lisch combined for 58 points in Sydney’s 97-83 win leading into Game Three. With the new restrictions, they would soon giveth and taketh away as the lack of supporters would also work in favour of the Wildcats, following a 29-18 opening period, which seemingly deflated the Kings from the beginning. Because of this, 61 points from Cotton and Nick Kay would beat down on the Kings’ defence earning them the easy 2-1 series lead.

As the NBL would decide to anti-climactically end the series due to the newly introduced lockdown restrictions after three games instead of the conventional five games, and much deliberation, by default the Wildcats were awarded their second title in a row ending the Kings seemingly unstoppable campaign.

What next?

Casper Ware

 For many occasions, Casper Ware was the reason for a lot of Sydney’s success. However, when it came to moments at the tail end of the regular season, Ware would appear absent in times that mattered. This became apparent in the semi-final series against Melbourne United, as shooting became seemingly difficult for the star Guard. This would also carry over into the Grand Final series against Perth, as Cotton found the freedom to explode onto the scoreboard compared to his opponent.

Nevertheless, Ware’s numbers remained impressive as he positioned himself sixth amongst the League’s leading scorers averaging 19.7 points a game, alongside almost four assists a game. These efforts would earn him another All-NBL Team nomination putting him in good stead for the upcoming season.

Jae’Sean Tate

On the many occasions Ware has been absent from the floor, Jae’Sean Tate has made a name for himself this season as one of the NBL’s premiere wing players through his athleticism and accuracy. Shooting at a remarkable 66 per cent from the field and averaging 16.4 points per contest, Tate’s offensive prowess was almost unmatched amongst other players in his position. He also made himself known on the glass grabbing 5.8 rebounds per encounter. For a debut season earning an All-NBL First Team selection, he may very well have a stellar career in Australia’s top-flight should he choose to sign an extension with a club that is hungrier than ever for championship success.

Andrew Bogut

Coming off an MVP season in 2018-19, it was going to be hard for Andrew Bogut to improve his game. The 35-year-old took some of the load off himself in NBL 2020, shaving off minutes and points as a result. While Bogut’s numbers might have dwindled, his efficiency remained high, as his field goal percentage went up to 59 from 56 the previous season. He would also go on to average 8.8 rebounds a game, remaining a dominant force in that category and average a modest 8.2 points too.

Because of Bogut’s injury woes this season, the club forced him to manage his output and court-time. This has led the veteran to consider what his future does look like, as he has stated how difficult this season has been on him physically and mentally, so we will have to wait and see what the big man does leading into next season.

The Coach’s corner: Will Weaver

As a result of their disappointing yet necessary series defeat following Game Three, Weaver spoke at length at Triple M on behalf of his side thanking the city, and how lucky he felt to be a part of the process, despite the way the season had ended.

“Thank you guys so much for your support throughout the season and I’m so proud of the city of Sydney and to be a part of this city being embraced the way that we are, and by people that haven’t been a part of our program previously,” he said.

2019/20 NBL season review: Melbourne United

HAVING made the postseason the last two seasons, Dean Vickerman’s Melbourne United was keen to make it three in a row, especially after finishing runners-up to the Perth Wildcats in 2019. But United lacked the pieces to really make a hard championship push throughout the NBL 2020 season, despite ultimately making the final four. Although for some, it was the unlikely heroes that provided the biggest sparks to a team that was quite lucky to make the postseason.

By the skin of their teeth

It was evident that United needed to make their presence known, as they were matched up with league newcomers, the South East Melbourne Phoenix. It was apparent early that the League’s new kids on the block were keen to make waves in the big leagues, as the Phoenix put on a scoring masterclass in the first ever ‘Throwdown’, knocking off United with a hard-fought three-point victory at Melbourne Arena. The misstep of game one of the season kicked off the slowest start to a United campaign in almost a decade, as Melbourne would lose back-to-back games to the reigning premiers and old foes, Perth Wildcats.

Melbourne’s first victory of the 2020 season wouldn’t come until game four, as they edged out a resurging Breakers side thanks to United’s Chris Goulding, Melo Trimble and Shawn Long’s 24 points each in a dominant performance from the trio. United’s 1-4 start to the season was one of the NBL’s biggest talking points in terms of performances, as many basketball punters picked United to be a top two or three team by season’s end.

Following the realisation of their team’s performance, the Black and White would start to pick up steam, kicking off a sizeable six-game winning streak, thereby erasing their horrifying start to the regular season, sitting with a record of seven wins and four losses prior to their eventual loss to the Taipans five days later. An 8-6 record would be the summary of United’s tumultuous first half of the season, in what was starting to be an exciting finish and the start of what would become known as the ‘mid-table logjam’.

Like many other mid-standings teams, Melbourne would undergo both winning and losing streaks in what would be a slow second half of the season, much like their first with a five win and seven loss start with the final round of the season still to play. For United to make the final four, they needed to win both of their remaining games with both contests being at Melbourne Arena.

The first of their two games were against the Taipans, a team that had made dramatic improvements since their previous season, and was also already locked in to finish third, following the remaining games of the season. After a runaway 31-16 fourth quarter and a 5-12 night from behind the arc from Goulding (23 points and four assists), Melbourne would take out the contest 99-83, setting the team up for a must-win final game three days later against the Phoenix.

With the Bullets and the Breakers a win ahead of United, but with Melbourne having a higher percentage, a victory was all that was needed for Vickerman’s men, and unlike their first matchup in the ‘Throwdown’, United would stick to their strengths. Thanks to four players scoring 18 or more points, strong first and last quarters would help United dominate their final game of the season, toppling the Phoenix 109-90, and earning Melbourne their third straight finals appearance.

Buyer Be-WARE

All season long, Sydney’s Casper Ware had been relentless against his old club, controlling the floor at both ends of the floor against Melbourne. However, United would buck that trend as they would inject tactics to limit Ware’s output in their semi-final series against the Kings, as evidenced in Game One. Ware would go 3-14 from the field scoring a mere seven points. But, Will Weaver’s guys would share the load as Jae’Sean Tate, Xavier Cooks and Brad Newley would combine for 53 points, stealing the opening game of the series, 86-80.

When it comes to a three-game series, losing that first game can be exponentially demoralising, as it means it’s a team’s final chance until they are eliminated. But no one expected Melbourne United to do what they would do in their Game Two outing. Over the second and third quarters of Game Two, a 38-0 scoring run would ensue for Melbourne, ultimately leading to an astonishing 50-point lead at one stage. This, coupled with six different individuals reaching double-digit scoring totals and Shawn Long’s impressive 26 point and 11 rebound double-double, would lead to a 125-80 demolition job of this season’s minor premiers, setting the series up for a decisive Game Three back in Sydney.

Game Three of the Kings/United semi-final series would reach its summit in an exciting deciding third game. A strong finish to the first half would have United up by five at the main break. The Kings, however, would crawl back into the fold, going basket for basket with last year’s runners-up until the final two minutes, as Kings’ captain and leader Kevin Lisch would nail a dagger from deep to put the Kings up by two with two minutes remaining. Following Lisch’s three, Tate would drive down the lane to extend his side’s lead by four with a minute and a half left, allowing the Kings to hold on by two (89-87) and end Melbourne’s title run at the end of an enduring series.

Sydney would go onto their team’s first Grand Final appearance since 2008.

United to the end

Chris Goulding

Many had thought that the peak of Chris Goulding’s career had finished three seasons ago when he last averaged 17 points per game. The following two seasons, Goulding had averaged just over 14 points per game which left many fans in limbo, as to whether or not the 31-year-old would remain an integral part of the Melbourne United basketball club.

He would go on to make a statement in regard to this point, averaging more than 17 and a half points per game (the most productive he has been since the 2015-16 NBL season). He would also undertake 31.5 minute per game, a three-and-a-half-minute increase compared to last season. Due to these facts, it is safe to say that the Boomer selectee might still be one of the League’s best shooters, and one that a team could still be based around.

Melo Trimble

When ex-Taipans guard Melo Trimble made his way down to Victoria, Melbourne had that key piece in their backcourt that they needed due to the missing Casey Prather. Trimble for the most part, was consistently putting up 20-point games and a boatload of assists to come along with it. Despite that statistical impact, Trimble would go through struggling times late in the season going through a string of games without making double-digits. Nevertheless, Trimble would regain his form late in the season finishing his second season in the NBL on a high note. He would go on to average 19.4 points per game along with 4.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds.

Shawn Long

While United had plenty of weapons in their backcourt, there remained few in their frontcourt. This meant that the load Shawn Long had to carry was immense throughout the whole season. Long would take on the task with tremendous consistency, earning himself the title ‘Mr. Double-Double’, for his statistical dominance on the scoreboard and the glass. Long would secure 18.1 points per game, finishing amongst the League’s top twenty. He would also claim the rebounding title for the season, leading the entire League in rebounds, with 9.4 per game.

The Coach’s Corner: Dean Vickerman

Despite being rather fragmented as a group for the majority of the season, Vickerman has stated how proud he was of his group and the way they came together, especially in the last portion of their 2020 journey.

Following their elimination, Vickerman voiced his commendation of his group post-game and their resilience in the face of adversity.

“I’m really proud of our group over the last month, and the way that we came together. “We kind of looked at yesterday and said that this was our seventh elimination game and we won five of them,” talking back to their run to the final late in the season. “I loved our mindset and the way we stuck together really well and yeah I’m really proud of them.”

2019/20 NBL title decision: Who should win?

THE National Basketball League (NBL) championship is yet to be decided with the Grand Final Series being abandoned with two games to spare given the coronavirus outbreak. With player welfare at the forefront of the mind, the Sydney Kings decided to call it quits on the remainder of the series and despite the Perth Wildcats leading 2-1 over minor premiers Sydney, the result is yet to be determined. Arguments can be made for both sides in regards to which team should walk away with the title given their impressive seasons. We take a look at the options.

Sydney Kings:

There is no denying that the Kings were the front runners throughout the season, kick-starting their campaign with a seven game winning streak and only dropping a mere eight games for the whole season. They seemed to have all the answers time and time again, with their home court Qudos Bank Arena becoming a real fortress winning a staggering 12 out of 14 games there. Led by big man Andrew Bogut with an average of 8.80 rebounds per game the Kings proved to be too strong with teammate Xavier Cooks also chiming in off the boards to record an average of 9.07 rebounds a game. When it came to scoring, Casper Ware was the go to man, able to hit the scoreboard with ease whether it be from within the paint or beyond the arc with an average of 19.68 points while Jae’Sean Tate also came into his own throughout the season.

Despite their impressive form throughout the home and away season, the Kings looked a bit worse for wear in snippets during the finals, getting smashed by Melbourne United in what was a history making performance by United. While the Kings recovered, ultimately downing their interstate rivals and moving through to the Grand Final Series they have not been able to recapture their signature pressure and winning ways. Ware lost his scoring mojo unable to have his usual influence and while the likes of Kevin Lisch and Brad Newley have stepped up it has not been enough to generate a match winning total.

Perth Wildcats:

Up 2-1 in the Grand Final Series it is almost impossible to rip the trophy away from the reigning premiers who are looking for back-to-back NBL titles. The Wildcats have been red-hot premiership contenders throughout the season pushing teams to their limits and notching up key wins against fellow top four sides. The Wildcats have a wealth of key players but none bigger than powerhouse Bryce Cotton. After playing 27 games throughout the 2019/20 season Cotton was second in the league for points per game with a whopping 22.48 something that he well and truly brought into his finals campaign with the dynamo constantly lighting up the scoreboard. While Terrico White had a quiet year in comparison to his previous ones, the likes of Nick Kay stood up to shoulder the load while recruit Miles Plumlee showed his worth off the backboard.

Renowned for their ability to win at home, sitting at an 11-3 win-loss record Perth often used the crowd at RAC Arena to create an intense atmosphere many opposition sides were fearful of. Although they had not won a final at the venue so far in the Grand Final Series, a home court advantage in Game 4 could have been enough to give them that winning edge and claim premiership glory for consecutive seasons. They have shown that they can it match with the best travelling to Sydney on two occasions and taking down their opponents by three and 15 points respectively in Game 1 and 3.

Perth takes 2-1 lead in Grand Final Series

PERTH Wildcats proved too strong in Game 3 of the National Basketball League (NBL) Grand Final Series running out convincing 15 point winners  over Sydney Kings. The Wildcats edged one game closer to back-to-back championships with 111-96 victory. It was the first time since 1999 that the first three games in a grand final series were won by the visiting team.

As both sides channelled their inner basketball gym memories thanks to the empty seats due to the coronavirus, it was Perth that edged ahead to begin the game. Following the explosive start from Miles Plumlee, earning himself six points, two assists and a couple of blocks within the opening five minutes, the Wildcats finished the quarter holding the Kings to a mere 18 points as they produced 29 of their own, setting the tone early at Qudos Bank Arena.

The second quarter featured a couple of standout performers for the Kings, as three second quarter three-pointers from Brad Newley kept the home side within striking distance, while Jae’Sean Tate made his mark around the rim. Despite these factors, Sydney’s mission to cut the deficit was becoming futile given they had only outscored the Wildcats by one point in the second period, trailing by 10 at the main break.

However, it was in the opening half of the third quarter that Sydney finally made headway, tying up the game off the back of a pull-up three from Kevin Lisch. Nevertheless, that would be as close as Sydney would get to stealing Game 3 from the defending champions thanks to two big three pointers from Nick Kay, who ultimately set himself up for a night to remember. Stretching their lead back out to 14 with ten minutes remaining in the contest, all Trevor Gleeson’s men had to do was conduct their regular brand of basketball to the end, and following an alley-oop jam for Plumlee four seconds into the fourth quarter, it was safe to say Perth would conduct business as usual.

Good shooting from the starters to the bench for the Wildcats would see out a competitive Game 3 winning the contest 111-96, therefore setting up a bid to win the series back in Perth for Game 4. But, given the fact that the home team in all three games thus far has not won yet, it could mean a potential Game 5 if the Kings can pick themselves up. While four out of Sydney’s starting five amassed double-digit numbers, Will Weaver’s men still could not get the job done. Nevertheless, noticeable performances by Tate (20 points and six rebounds) and Newley (19 points and five rebounds) rounded out the Kings’ stat lines. Lisch also made substantial contributions with 16 points, while Casper Ware again struggled from the field with 11 points, going 5-20 (25 per cent) from the field.

For the Wildcats, it was a two man show once again as their NBL First Team stars were the main culprits. Bryce Cotton who shot close to fifty per cent, finished with 31 points, seven assists and seven rebounds in what was an all-around performance from the MVP.

On the other hand, it was a career-high night for Kay, collecting 30 points, 12 rebounds and four assists as he dominated from start to finish from deep. Alongside his numbers, Kay managed seven threes in a dominant performance offensively further solidifying his spot amongst the NBL’s elite. It is the second time in NBL history (first time since 1986) that two teammates have amounted 30 points each in a Grand Final series game (Cotton, 31 and Kay, 30). Good performances from Plumlee (13 points and seven rebounds) and Terrico White (10 points and four assists) aided the away side, while Clint Steindl made his shots count as he summed up his night with 13 points, going three of four from deep.

With Game 4 scheduled for Friday at RAC Arena, Perth has the chance to retain their championship on their home floor, but whether this kicks the Kings into gear and force a deciding Game 5, we will have to find out later this week.

2019/20 NBL Grand Final Game 3 preview: Sydney Kings vs. Perth Wildcats

WITH the National Basketball League (NBL) Grand Final Series tied at one game apiece, Sydney Kings return home to Qudos Bank Arena to take on Perth Wildcats. The former hopes to take control of the home court advantage unlike in the first game, and put themselves in a good position to take out the 2019/20 title – their first since 2007/08 – and stop the Wildcats making it back-to-back titles and their fourth in five years.

Sydney Kings bounced back from a two-point loss here at Qudos Bank Arena, to comfortably account for the Wildcats at RAC Area, 97-83. Andrew Bogut was the star with 19 points, 13 rebounds and two assists in Friday night’s game, making his average for the series 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists to be the leading Grand Final Most Valuable Player (MVP) candidate if the minor premiers get up.

If the Wildcats win overall, it seems fairly straightforward that 2019/20 MVP Bryce Cotton will take out the medal, having no fear here in Sydney after a phenomenal effort of 32 points, six rebounds, four assists and a steal in Game 1. Returning home, Cotton was almost as strong, picking up 27 points, five rebounds, three assists and one steal for an average of 29.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and one steal across the two games

Other players for the Kings who have been impressive thus far are Kevin Lisch (18.5 points) and Jae’Sean Tate (15.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists), while Nick Kay (15.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists) has been the sole Wildcat really helping Cotton on the scoring front. Miles Plumlee (8.0 points, 7.5 rebounds) has been strong off the boards but ultimately overwhelmed by Bogut.

In terms of players that need to lift, it is hard to look past Casper Ware and Terrico White for their respective sides. Ware has averaged just 6.5 points, 2.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists, shooting at a woeful 16.7 per cent from the field. For Perth, White has just not been able to get his mojo going, averaging 6.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists and also holding a lowly 27.8 per cent shooting efficiency.

Looking at overall team statistics, both sides have managed a remarkable 58 defensive rebounds across the two games, though the Kings are much better at second chance points with 26 offensive rebounds compared to the Wildcats’ 12. The turnovers are fairly even with Sydney having two more than Perth (27-25). The Wildcats’ clear strength is their ability to win the ball back and deny the opposition with 16 steals to seven, and nine blocks to three. The Wildcats have also committed more fouls in trying to do so however, recording 40-33 in this series.

Heading into Game 3, the Kings will be favourites to make it back-to-back wins and bounce back from the initial Game 1 loss last week. If Sydney can win, then it puts title favouritism fairly and squarely in the Kings’ court with a guaranteed third home game on offer even if they lose in Perth. For the Wildcats, a win would be instrumental to Perth’s back-to-back chances, because it means the Wildcats have a home game coming up, whereas a loss means they are on the ropes not only having to win at home, but take out the title in a challenging Game 5 here in Sydney.

Bogut stars as Kings level series in empty jungle

ANDREW Bogut has continued his unbelievable form from the first game of the National Basketball League (NBL) Grand Final series to play a starring role in helping his side level the series at one game apiece. Bogut amassed 19 points and 13 rebounds in Sydney Kings’ 97-83 win over Perth Wildcats at RAC Arena in Perth in front of an empty stadium to ensure the Kings headed back home to Qudos Bank Arena back on level terms.

After Perth upset the minor premiers on the road in Game 1, Sydney needed to conjure something special to level the series in the west, and with the threat of the Coronavirus very real and impacting all sports, the NBL made the decision to close off the stadium – and indeed the stadiums for the remainder of the series – to any fans. It meant the home court advantage was effectively mitigated, with only the travel factor the big difference.

The visitors started the game off on the right note with a 31-27 first term, then extended the lead to six by half-time with a strong opening half. Bogut already had a double-double by that stage, with Kevin Lisch also busy at the half, while Bryce Cotton and Nick Kay were the standouts for the Wildcats by the main break. Unsurprisingly, the Wildcats refused to give in and hit back in the third term with a 22-19 quarter to cut the deficit to three heading into the final term. A superb effort by the Kings in the final stanza saw them out run the home team with a 21-10 quarter to secure the 14-point victory, 97-83.

Bogut was the star with his double-double as well as two assists and one steal, shooting 61.5 per cent from the field. He and Lisch (19 points, two rebounds) combined well to get the team going, while leading scorer, Jae’Sean Tate kept the good times rolling with a team-high 20 points, three rebounds and two assists. Helping Bogut off the boards was Xavier Cooks with 10 rebounds to go with his five points and two assists, while Brad Newley had an underrated game of nine points, five rebounds and five assists. Casper Ware was again quiet for the visitors, having the eight points, one rebound, two assists and one steal in he match and shooting just 30 per cent from the field.

There was never any stopping Cotton with the this season’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) putting up a game-high 27 points, as well as five rebounds, three assists and one steal in the loss. The other two prominent scorers were Kay (17 points, seven rebounds) and Clint Steindl (12 points) with the latter coming off the bench to have an impact. Terrico White was quiet for the home side with just five points, three rebounds, while Miles Plumlee still had an impact off the boards but was overshadowed by fellow NBA player, Bogut, recording eight rebounds and six points.

The result means the series is now tied at 1-1 with the third game at Qudos Bank Arena tomorrow night – which will again be empty – before heading back to Perth for the fourth game. If the Wildcats end up winning a second consecutive road game, then they could celebrate back-to-back titles in heir home town, whereas if the Kings get up, then Sydney could steal the title while in Perth.