WITH the National Basketball League (NBL) season done and dusted we take a look at the performance of each team and how they fared in season 2021. The next team under the microscope is Perth Wildcats who had another outstanding season.
Another great season for the Wildcats as they made the Grand Final for the third successive season and the sixth time in Trevor Gleeson’s eight-year reign as coach. Unfortunately, for the now departing Gleeson (who is set for a coaching role in the NBA) they could not overcome Melbourne United, losing 3-0 in the Grand Final Series.
The Wildcats ended the regular season in second position recording 25 wins and 11 losses in what was another consistent season for the club. Luckily (or unluckily) they were able to maintain a healthy roster for most of the season until an end of season blow, which saw reigning MVP Bryce Cotton year prematurely ended after having surgery to relieve pressure from a haematoma in his left quadriceps.
The injury to Cotton ultimately had a big impact with the rest of the squad unable to overcome United. John Mooney and Todd Blanchfield were left to carry a much bigger load come finals, but it was a bridge too far for the pair and their fellow teammates.
HOW IT UNFOLDED:
The Wildcats started the season losing three of their first five games (twice to SEM Phoenix and once to United), before they got back into their winning rhythm with a five-game streak. After a sole loss, the Wildcats then had an even better run, winning nine straight games. In a 17-game stretch around those streaks, they only lost twice.
The semi-final series against Illawarra was going to be intriguing, a top-quality opposition without their star man, however Trevor Gleeson got his team playing some good quality basketball, and they were too strong defeating the Hawks 2-1 in the series.
When they met Melbourne in the final, unfortunately, the loss of Cotton was too big for the class of the first placed Melbourne outfit. The Wildcats lost twice in Perth, by three points in game one, and nine points in game two, before Melbourne won the final game at John Cain Arena 81-76.
WHAT WORKED WELL:
The combination of Cotton and Mooney this season was fantastic they averaged 23.5 and 17.3 points respectively, while Cotton won the league MVP and led the league in points, it was Mooney who dominated the glass across the NBL (11.4 per game). Both players made the All NBL First Team to cap off a great season. On another individual note, Mitch Norton finished third in the league Defensive Player of the Year Award.
The defence was a strong aspect of the Perth outfit this season, conceding the least points in the league with 2900 for the season (80.6 per game), while they were also ranked fourth in steals (6.3 per game).
Offensively, the team was solid, but not a league leader. They were ranked fifth for points per game (85.3) and were fifth for three pointers made 9.2 per game. From the field they were not great, but they were the league leaders in getting to the free throw line and converting (16.1 per game on 79.7 per cent shooting). They also showed that they were able to create shots for each other with the best assist numbers (18.8 per game) and creating second chance points (11.2 offensive rebounds per game – ranked second). The Wildcats also had the least turnovers out of any team only averaging 10.3 per game.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
As mentioned, the Wildcats did not perform fantastically from the field, they were ranked eighth for field goals made (30.0 per game) and their shooting percentage of 43.4 per cent was also second worst in the NBL. Strangely, they only managed 1.9 blocks per game which was the worst by any team despite conceding the fewest points and having a strong defensive season. Apart from this, there was not a lot that went wrong with the Wildcats season, the Cotton injury was far from ideal, but it was unavoidable.
After winning his third NBL MVP, being selected in the All-NBL First Team for the fourth time and winning the Members MVP (voted by the “Red Army”) for the fourth consecutive season, it would take a brave person to back against Bryce Cotton.
Cotton had another stellar season, but unfortunately missed out on the chance to help his team win the Grand Final Series due to injury. Across 32 games Cotton averaged 23.5 points (up 0.6 compared to last season), 5.7 assists (increase of 1.7 from last season) and 1.5 steals (equal third this season), showing his class on the offensive and defensive ends.
John Mooney was a great asset to Perth this season. The big man was a double-double machine, with his averages of 17.3 points and11.4 rebounds as well as three assists. He shot 55 per cent from the field and was an important part of the teaming making the Grand Final without Cotton in the line-up.
Mooney had a great season but expect Cotton to take home the Gordon Ellis Medal for the fourth straight season.
There’s been plenty happening with the team since the Grand Final defeat with Clint Steindl, Jarred Bairstow, Wani Swaka Lo Buluk all departing, alongside Will Magnay who has signed with new franchise Tasmania JackJumpers.
In a big blow for the team, John Mooney has reportedly signed with the Milwaukee Bucks on a Summer League contract after one season in the NBL.
In better news, league MVP Bryce Cotton remains contracted for next season, with Todd Blanchfield and Luke Travers also locked in. Corey Shervill (two years), Majok Majok (two years), Jesse Wagstaff (one year), and Mitch Norton (three years) have all signed new deals with the club that will see them remain in Perth.
As mentioned, Trevor Gleeson is departing the club after eight successful seasons, joining Jacob Chance as departing coaching staff.
LOOKING TOWARDS NEXT SEASON:
With Gleeson departing, the Wildcats will be on the hunt for a new head coach in the next few weeks, but don’t expect the new boss to have any troubles making the playoffs in their first season. This is a club with a rich history and with guys like Cotton, Blanchfield and Norton already on the list, a couple smart additions could make a championship calibre roster very quickly, if it isn’t already one. Expect Perth to be right up there again regardless of who is in charge.
Picture credit: AAP