IN light of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the Ballarat Miners will not be competing in the National Basketball League (NBL)1 South Conference this year. As such, while Draft Central intended to do a preview on all teams leading up to the delayed start, for those that have chosen not to participate due to the threat, we will instead complete a team summary from last season and what they might look to improve on for 2021.
2019 in Review:
Finished: 1st (Lost in Preliminary Finals)
What went right:
- The regular season
- Jerry Evans Jr making All-Star Five
- Disciplined (ranked number one for least personal fouls per game, 15.5)
- Blocking (ranked number one with 5.0 per game)
- Shared approach with scoring
Whilst the win-loss tally heading into finals might have seen the Miners sit at 16 wins from 20 games, they eased up in the final two matches, dropping them both to Melbourne Tigers and Waverley Falcons at home, meaning technically they were 7-1 at home and 9-1 away prior to those last two games. It was an unusual fixture for the Miners, playing their last eight games at home – including both finals – after spending plenty of time on the road prior to that. There was plenty that went right for the minor premiers throughout the season, looking dominant and the clear team to beat in 2019, ranking first in blocks, as well as least personal fouls per game – and both comfortably too. The Miners committed an average of 15.5 personal fouls per game, and blocked opponent five times thanks to their talls, often denying opponents high scores whilst ranking sixth for points themselves. With six players averaging 10 points or more per game, it was incredibly hard for opposition defenders to try and stop the Miners in the forward half. Leading the way of court was All-Star Five member, Jerry Evans Jr who finished the season with a team-high 18.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
What went wrong:
- Assists (ranked 15th with 15.3)
- Preliminary Final first quarter
If the Miners could have one wish from 2019, it would be to start that Preliminary Final again. A disastrous first term at home after a week off saw them sluggish out of the blocks against a Nunawading Spectres side that had to go the long way to the eventual NBL1 Men’s title. The Spectres were just too strong and opened up an eight-point lead at the Miner Dome to stun the home fans, with the likes of Dain Swetalla (27 points, 10 rebounds) and Tom Wright (16 points, seven rebounds) putting on clinics for the Spectres. The Miners were able to arrest the momentum in the second term onwards, but the sides were so evenly matched across the court, the Miners could not bridge the gap and fell seven points short. Their other glaring improvement was their assist category, with just 10 in the final – five of which came from Sam Short. They ranked 15th in the statistic for the season, and had half the assists the Spectres had in that game. While the players often went it alone on the transition, having a playmaker who could set up the plays for teammates would certainly have helped.
Jerry Evans Jr
The oldest member of the team led by example last season, playing in every match and being a scoring machine for the Miners. He averaged the 18.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, shooting at 40.7 per cent from the field. His free-throw shooting was solid with 71.8 per cent, while he sank a third of his three-point attempts. He was not so much a playmaker as he was a proficient scorer, as the forward had less than two assists per game, but had almost two steals per game, showing how he could be damaging if an opposition guard lost concentration on the 208cm giant.
The man who did all he could in Ballarat’s losing preliminary final, Fox teamed up well with Evans Jr as a starting forward, and recorded a team-high 9.2 rebounds to go with his 11.3 points per game. He also shot at a higher 46.7 field goal percentage, but rarely attempted three-pointers with just 29 per cent of his 31 long-range attempts going in. In the disappointing final, Fox was the top player with 22 points, five rebounds and two assists, shooting at 58.3 per cent from the field and nailing all five of his crucial free-throw attempts.
Working well with Short up the other end of the court, the South Sudanese talent was the most deadly from the field. While his volume was slightly lower than some of his teammates, Kuany still put up a healthy 15.8 points per game, as well as 4.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.1 steals. He averaged almost 50 per cent efficiency from the field, and a solid 36.2 per cent from long range. Kuany finished the season with the fourth highest efficiency rating on the team, and was a crucial member in that starting lineup, playing 21 of a possible 22 games.
Hard to believe Short was just 21 to start the season, with the 196cm guard being the key playmaker for the side. He averaged far and away the most assists of any player in the side, posting 4.5 per game – as shown in the preliminary final – as well as 11.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game. He has a lot of time left to develop his game, but Short just ticked a lot of boxes in 2019, and while others might have got the accolades, he showed a real evenness about his game to contribute in multiple ways without going too far.
Christmas list for 2021:
Ballarat Miners would love to add another key playmaker who can set up scoring options in transition. The Miners clearly had no trouble getting to the basket and getting wins, but if there was one thing to learn from the Nunawading loss that was clear, Ballarat could have done with an extra player leading the offensive plays, even if they were not involved in the finishing product. They have the core group to build around, and an extra player who can link the guards and forwards would be the icing on the cake.
The Ballarat Miners finished minor premiers. for a reason. They got the job done at home or away, and with the top spot sealed off in the weeks leading up to the finals, could manage their players accordingly and it mattered little that they dropped their last two games. Whether or not the management and thus additional break during the second week of finals impacted the top side is hard to conclude, but the slow start against the Spectres certainly cost them a chance at the title. They will be better for the inaugural season, and while they will not take the court in 2020, will regroup and look to be stronger in 2021.