Tag: Kevin Lisch

NBL21 season previews: Sydney Kings

ARGUABLY the best performing side during the 2019/20 regular season, the Sydney Kings have perhaps the biggest level of motivation going into NBL21, despite not finding championship glory in last year’s Grand Final series.

Finishing a game above the eventual reigning champion Perth Wildcats after 28 regular season outings and a record of 20 wins and eight losses, many had the Kings as heavy-handed favourites given their form heading into finals. Unfortunately, this was not the case for former gaffer Will Weaver’s playing list. Later on, some key departures during the Free Agency period have made Sydney’s plans to work their way back to the top-four slightly more difficult.

With Australian basketball legend Andrew Bogut announcing his retirement recently, the Kings will be without a key component in the frontcourt and on the defensive end. Furthermore, the omission of Kevin Lisch from this season’s roster will also mean a major hit to the team’s leadership structure, but not necessarily for the worse, as many more returning players will look to step it up into more prominent roles.

Key pickups for Sydney in the offseason domestically came by way of two up and coming prospects ready to hit the ground running. 23-year-old Dejan Vasiljevic has made his return back home to Australia after a successful collegiate career at the University of Miami, while 22-year-old Angus Glover has made a less sizeable move from Illawarra to the big city.

In what will be his fifth season in the NBL and his second campaign in Sydney, Casper Ware returns as an import for last season’s runners-ups after leading the team in points (19.7 per game) and assists (3.7 per game) and being selected to the league’s All-NBL Second Team at the conclusion of the fixture in 2020. The second of the Kings’ two imports is Louisiana native Jarell Martin, a former member of the Memphis Grizzlies and the Orlando Magic (192 games and 40 starts) in the NBA.

Other internationals to arrive to Sydney this season include the returning Next Stars nominee Didi Louzada, who averaged a respectable 10.3 points per contest in NBL20 and contributed a substantial amount to last season’s outfit in his rookie year, and reigning NZNBL MVP and member of the Manawatu Jets, Thomas Vodanovich, who transfers from the New Zealand Breakers for his sophomore season in the Australian counterpart of New Zealand’s top league.

Familiar faces predominantly round out the remainder of new head coach Adam Forde’s side. Brad Newley prepares for his fifth season at the Kings, veteran Daniel Kickert arrives for his third fixture with the side and Shaun Bruce gets ready to undertake his seventh NBL season (second at Sydney). Additional individuals to return to the franchise such as Jordan Hunter, Craig Moller and Xavier Cooks will also wear the Purple and Gold in NBL21.

Harbouring an abundance of coaching experience, Forde certainly knows the formula to winning NBL titles after playing a pivotal role within the coaching staff during the Wildcats’ 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2019 championships. However, only time will tell if the squad he has assembled this time around holds that “special” combination of physical and mental talent.

NBL21 Round 1 preview: Taipans, Hawks and 36ers to double up in opening round

A FIVE-game opening round which features seven of the nine teams was eventually indicative of what became of the 2020 season. Just when it looked like 2021 was going to be a better version on its predecessor, the global pandemic reared its head once again, and the National Basketball League (NBL) was forced to make multiple changes in a week after finalising the first few rounds last month.

The NBL cancelled the all-Melbourne showdown between Melbourne United and South East Melbourne Phoenix, and then created two smaller hubs in Adelaide and Queensland to avoid the New South Wales and Victorian COVID-19 clusters. Whilst Brisbane then fell into a short state of panic with a three-day lockdown, the most recent NBL21 opening round fixture appears set after much conjecture.

The most notable features include three of the nine teams playing two games, and two sides playing no games, with New Zealand Breakers and Perth Wildcats now sitting out the first round which tips off Friday. Instead, Adelaide 36ers will now open the season against Melbourne United, playing a home game before a 40-hour break to welcoming the Phoenix on Sunday afternoon.

Queensland hosts the remaining three games as Brisbane Bullets – who only found out their opponent earlier in the week – take on The Hawks in Brian Goorjian‘s return game, before Cairns Taipans host a double-header in North Queensland. The Taipans take on last year’s grand finalists Sydney Kings on Saturday night, before hosting a standalone game two days later against The Hawks in what should be an entertaining contest.

NBL21 ROUND 1 FIXTURE:

Friday, January 15:

Adelaide 36ers vs. Melbourne United @ Adelaide Entertainment Centre

Saturday, January 16:

Brisbane Bullets vs. The Hawks @ Nissan Arena
Cairns Taipans vs. Sydney Kings @ Cairns Pop Up Arena

Sunday, January 17:

Adelaide 36ers vs. South East Melbourne Phoenix

Monday, January 18:

Cairns Taipans vs. The Hawks

 

PRESEASON:

In terms of preseason form, Adelaide 36ers had two good wins over Brisbane Bullets early in the off-season, before going down to Cairns Taipans in the last match of the season. Melbourne United won its only game against the Taipans on New Years Eve, meaning the Taipans head into the first round with a 1-1 record prior to the season. The Hawks split their games with Perth Wildcats 1-1 over in Western Australia, before losing to Sydney Kings in late December. In the other two games, Brisbane Bullets accounted for South East Melbourne Phoenix on the Gold Coast in thrilling contests, which meant the Bullets went 2-2 throughout the preseason.

Melbourne United are considered title favourites, coming in against one of the up-and-coming outsiders of the competition in Adelaide 36ers. The 36ers have few admirers, but can head into the season underrated with some good young talent – led by Josh Giddey – coming through the ranks. The 36ers will be hoping to score a win against South East Melbourne Phoenix, though both teams will have faith in taking home the points.

Cairns has been installed as second favourite to United, and will hope to establish themselves with games against the New South Wales sides at home. Two wins sets them on the right paths, especially against sides that are considered lower down the order in favouritism. The Hawks and Brisbane Bullets will be the interesting match of the round, with both having points to prove following mixed preseasons.

 

Adelaide 36ers vs. Melbourne United

The key to Adelaide’s success is hitting the triple-figures, winning all eight matches last season at home where they scored at least 100 points, whilst losing all matches that were in double-digits. Many will hope it is a repeat of the season opener from the 2017-18 season where United got up by just two points, 99-97 which resulted in the sides going all the way to the NBL Grand Final.

Dean Vickerman will coach his 100th game as United coach tonight, which was fitting considering his first match was that season opener, and has since won two NBL Coach of the Year awards and the championship in his debut season. For Adelaide, Donald Sloan celebrates his 33rd birthday on debut tonight, while fellow import Tony Crocker will do so on Sunday when the 36ers take on the Phoenix.

The keys to success for Melbourne lies in big man Jock Landale who has proved hard to stop over the preseason, with he and Jack White being welcome inclusions. Scotty Hopson has a lot more known about his ability having dominated for the Breakers in recent times. The 36ers have had a lot more change outside of their imports and young gun Giddey, with Isaac Humphries and Keanu Pinder returning, Sunday Dech crossing from the Hawks, and Conner Henry stepping to ex-coach Joey Wright‘s shoes.

Brisbane Bullets vs. The Hawks

The first match up in Queensland is as much about the men off the court as the ones on it, with legendary leader Brian Goorjian returning to the league having won more matches in it than any other. He steps up to take The Hawks role, and will face off against a former player of his in Andrej Lemanis. Both coaches are the only ones in history to lead their sides to three-peats, albeit with other teams in the New Zealand Breakers (2011-2013 for Lemanis) and Sydney Kings (2003-2005). As it stands in the head-to-heads, Goorjian leads 10-2 and will be hoping to build on that record that ended 12 years ago.

Brisbane have been hit badly losing their two biggest names in Lamar Patterson and Will Magnay. Whilst the Bullets had a promising season last season, they will be hoping new imports, Orlando Johnson and Vic Law can have an equal impact. Harry Froling and Anthony Drmic had good seasons in the Queensland State League (QSL) since crossing from the 36ers, as did Tanner Krebs a young player with plenty of potential. Nathan Sobey is always a crucial play and will look to team up with Jason Cadee in creating up the court.

By comparison though, The Hawks have overhauled their list as part of the rebrand, looking to get off the bottom of the ladder. Goorjian replaced outgoing coach Matt Flinn, whilst the likes of Next Star Justinian Jessup, and imports Tyler Harvey and Justin Simon lead the list of inclusions. They should provide the depth in the back court, whilst Cameron Bairstow and Deng Adel round out the front court. Sam Froling will lock horns with his brother, and as potentially the only starter who was at The Hawks last season.

Cairns Taipans vs. Sydney Kings

In the battle of two finalists, Cairns Taipans will be keen to go better than their semi-final exit last season, whilst Sydney Kings fell at the final hurdle in an interrupted COVID-19 Grand Final series. These teams faced off last season in Round 1, with the Kings getting up by eight points, in what was the North Queensland’s side’s first ever Round 1 loss at home. The Taipans strength at home was notable though, winning every match there in the 2020 calendar year.

The Taipans have relatively stayed the same with DJ Newbill and Anthony Fisher the key outs, while Next Star Mojave King and New Zealand Breakers talent Jordan Ngatai lead the inclusions. King is the second youngest contracted player in the NBL this year behind Giddey and becomes the second youngest ever to play for the Taipans. With crucial re-signings in Cameron Oliver and Scott Machado working their magic, and having depth like Jarrod Kenny and Nathan Jawai coming off the bench in those spots, the Taipans look to be one of the teams to beat.

The Kings have lost a lot of quality over the offseason, with Jae’Sean Tate and Deshon Taylor out, the former heading to the Houston Rockets. Andrew Bogut called it a day, as did Kevin Lisch, with Lucas Walker also out of the side. They managed to pick up another import in Jarrell Martin, while Tom Vodanovich and Angus Glover joined from other NBL clubs. Martin is the only starting inclusion though, with the Kings picking up depth for roster rotation, and will again look to Casper Ware and Didi Louzada as the creators.

In the remainder of the round, the Taipans will go head-to-head with The Hawks as both sides double up, whilst Adelaide 36ers will take on a fresh South East Melbourne Phoenix in a standalone game on Sunday. Having covered the 36ers above, the Phoenix are a side that is hopeful of moving up the NBL table, having retained the crucial signature of Mitch Creek, and then brought in a number of starters who improve various positions.

Imports Keifer Sykes and Ben Moore will step into the side and provide experience at both ends, with Sykes able to replace the outgoing talent that was John Roberson. Moore can play that five role with great success, while fellow inclusions Cam Gliddon and Reuben Te Rangi have joined the Phoenix from the Bullets. They have more depth and top-end strength than season one, and while Roberson will be a loss – particularly from outside the arc – they seem to have a more balanced and all-round settled outfit.

NBL Free Agency Update: Kings, Phoenix and Wildcats

TO wrap up Draft Central’s National Basketball League (NBL) Free Agency updates to this point, we delve into the moves made by the reigning premiers, the Perth Wildcats, and last season’s runners-up Sydney Kings. We also look deeper into how the NBL’s newest team, South East Melbourne Phoenix, is shaping up for their second season in the country’s top basketball competition.

SYDNEY KINGS

Even though the Kings have made minimal changes to their line-up for NBL21, last season’s minor premiers have still made some noteworthy signings for the upcoming campaign. Firstly, for Sydney, it was their decision to re-sign Craig Moller on the NBL’s newly introduced club option rule. Moller’s re-signing got the Kings going in regard to outlining what their squad would start to look like, currently holding Brad Newley and Jordan Hunter under contract. To help bolster their side with young and exciting faces, the Kings re-acquired one of the biggest surprises of last season, Shaun Bruce, as well as fully recovered Xavier Cooks to the fold.

With the retirement of potential Hall of Famer, Kevin Lisch, and the future of Andrew Bogut unknown, the allowance of new signings for the Kings has also increased. The poaching of another sought after NCAA graduate from the United States took place, as former Miami Hurricane, Dejan Vasiljevic, made his way down-under to continue his successful basketball career. The three-year-deal between the Kings and Vasiljevic embodies the next few years of transition that the purple and gold will undertake, as they start to bring in new talent. Furthermore, 21-year-old Angus Glover will make the hour and a half drive northbound to Sydney, after putting pen to paper on another three-year contact under Will Weaver. Having served as a key part of Matt Flinn’s rotation last season with the Hawks, Glover would average a modest 5.2 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game.

Contracted:

Brad Newley
Jordan Hunter

Re-signed:

Shaun Bruce
Xavier Cooks
Craig Moller (Club Option)

Signed:

Angus Glover (The Hawks)
Dejan Vasiljevic (Miami Hurricanes)

 

SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX

Following the retirement announcements of two of their most senior players and leaders in Tai Wesley and Ben Madgen, head coach Simon Mitchell now has his hands full to try and re-shuffle his squad for the NBL21 season. The additional losses of star shooter John Roberson to Spanish side Estudiantes and Dan Trist to the New Zealand Breakers, as well as promising young prospect Yanni Wetzell due to his European opt-out clause, does not make life easier for the Phoenix.

While the losses to this point have been sizeable, the Phoenix administration have made headway in reconciling this dilemma. The re-signings of Chicago-native Kendall Stephens and pivotal power-forward Dane Pineau, both of whom were members of the Phoenix’s inaugural season, will look to suit up in the green for at least one more fixture.

In terms of new additions, two members of the Brisbane Bullets can now look forward to some less consistent weather, as both Cam Gliddon and Reuben Te Rangi announced their intentions to move South. Gliddon, an Australian Boomer, has represented his country on numerous occasions, having served the green and gold at both the 2017/2018 FIBA Asia and World Cups. Linking back up with teammate Mitchell Creek will be an added bonus to the team’s morale when the season’s preparations start to ramp up. Te Rangi, who was a late inclusion in this year’s NZNBL representing the Canterbury Rams, looks to continue his rapid development in Australia’s top-flight. Te Rangi helped the Rams to an unexpected title run, which saw the team make it all the way to the competition’s semi-finals, despite finishing the regular season with a 4-10 record and finishing at the bottom of the standings.

Contracted:

Adam Gibson
Kyle Adnam
Mitchell Creek

Re-signed:

Dane Pineau
Kendall Stephens

Signed:

Cam Gliddon (Brisbane Bullets)
Reuben Te Rangi (Brisbane Bullets)

 

PERTH WILDCATS

After what was a hectic start to their off-season movements, with both Nick Kay and Bryce Cotton opting out of their contracts and then Cotton re-signing for three-years, the defending champion Wildcats have well and truly started to rebuild their squad, as they endeavour on yet another successful NBL season.

The first of many was the Club Option taken on big-man Majok Majok, as the Wildcats look to centre their offseason on obtaining big bodies and after Majok’s contributions last season, one would not argue how valuable he is to Trevor Gleeson’s squad. Next up in the batting order, is fourth-year player Todd Blanchfield, who has transferred to the West Coast after two years with the Hawks, averaging over 13.5 points and 45 per cent shooting from the field during his time in Wollongong.

To help reinforce Perth’s backcourt, 36ers guard Kevin White will help mentor his younger peers in his fourth year of NBL action. The 33-year-old will look to step in where Damian Martin left off after his Hall of Fame career came to a fitting end after winning his sixth NBL Championship and with the re-signing of Taylor Britt and purchase of John Mooney, some fresh legs will look to insert some explosiveness into the depth of Gleeson’s gang.

Contracted:

Clint Steindl
Jesse Wagstaff
Luke Travers
Mitchell Norton
Wani Swaka Lo Buluk

Re-signed:

Bryce Cotton
Majok Majok (Club Option)
Taylor Britt

Signed:

John Mooney (University of Notre Dame)
Kevin White (Adelaide 36ers)
Todd Blanchfield (The Hawks)

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.

Cotton’s 32 stuns Kings, Perth leads GF series 1-0

CLOSE to 12,000 people made their way to Qudos Bank Arena to see the two top teams – Sydney Kings and Perth Wildcats – throughout the regular season, battle it out in Game One of this season’s NBL Finals Series.

It was the Kings that struck first as there would open up the first quarter 7-2, but thanks to the work of their leaders in Nick Kay and league Most Valuable Player (MVP) Bryce Cotton, the Wildcats would only trail by a single basket following 10 minutes of play and an entertaining start to the series.

Good shooting by Sydney’s secondary unit was responsible for their good start in the second period as Daniel Kickert, Didi Louzada and Xavier Cooks were culprits in doing this. But offensively, Perth started to find their stride. Finding their way to the basket across the team, the Wildcats were able to edge themselves in front by a point, off the back of a Kaye layup heading into the break.

The home side composed themselves early on in the second half, stringing together a succession of field goals, including a crown raising one-handed jam by Louzada to put the Kings up by 10 with less than three minutes remaining in the third quarter. However, a massive three-pointer by Terrico White, would cut the Kings’ lead from eight to five with only a couple of seconds remaining, giving the Wildcats a little sniff of hope with the final quarter to come.

With both sides trading buckets, the task of getting his side out from under an efficient shooting Sydney Kings outfit, once again fell to their man. Cotton, who was relatively quiet, turned up the heat significantly, alongside new import big-man Miles Plumlee, as they grinded their way back to a late-game lead. To further add insult to injury, Damian Martin, who had yet to make a single field-goal throughout the entire game, gave his side the lead after knocking down a wing triple.

Despite White’s two missed free throws with 11 seconds remaining, missed three-point attempts to win the game by Shaun Bruce and Casper Ware would give the Wildcats the series lead and shift the focus over to Perth for next Friday.

For the Wildcats, a 32-point, six-rebound and four-assist night is becoming pretty standard for Cotton, as he took out Man of the Match honours by a mile, whereas Kay was the next man up with 14 points, six rebounds and three assists. Plumlee provided substantial numbers too, finishing his night with 10 points and seven rebounds.

While Andrew Bogut made his mark through his four quarters of play (18 points, 12 rebounds), it was Ware that was rather unproductive. Shooting 1-14 and going 0-10 from behind the arc, Ware would finish with five points and four assists, encapsulating one of his worst performances of the season. Nevertheless, three other players would finish in double-digits such as Kevin Lisch (17 points), Jae’Sean Tate (11 points) and Bruce (11 points).

With the Kings set to head to Perth in the coming week, Will Weaver and his staff have some serious tactical meetings ahead as one more loss would put them on the brink of a very anti-climactic end to a somewhat successful season.