Tag: Miles Plumlee

NBL21 Round 2 preview: Rematches galore, while Breakers and Wildcats enter the fray

ROUND 2 of the National Basketball League (NBL) tips off tonight, with several games rematches of Round 1 contests throughout the week. With one game on every night, basketball fans will be treated to some high-class matches, and it all begins back in Adelaide with the 36ers and Phoenix locking horns.

Adelaide 36ers vs. South East Melbourne Phoenix
Wednesday, January 20 @ 7.30pm
Adelaide Entertainment Centre

Tipping off Round 2 of action is a sense of déjà vu with Adelaide 36ers and South East Melbourne Phoenix going head-to-head at Adelaide Entertainment Centre tonight. Just four days earlier, the 36ers took care of business in the game of Round 1, managing to overcome the Phoenix 116-108 in double overtime. Daniel Johnson won Player of the Match honours thanks to 33 points at a deadly 78 per cent from the field, but it was Next Star young gun Josh Giddey who caught all the attention on his way to a double-double of 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in just his second game of NBL.

Luckily for the Phoenix, Giddey is unavailable for their rematch, and coach Simon Mitchell described his team’s performance as a “rough one” because the Phoenix “looked a little rusty, particularly at the offensive end”. He will no doubt be searching for a response from his side, though one could hardly fault captain Mitch Creek who put up 30 points, eight rebounds and six assists, whilst the import duo of Yannick Wetzell (24 points, 11 rebounds and three steals) and Keifer Sykes (18 points, 11 assists and six rebounds) both made sensational debuts.

The sense post-game was that Adelaide’s mid-range shooting was sublime, with 64 per cent from two-point range, compared to the Phoenix’s 48 per cent. Protecting the perimeter well, the Phoenix only conceded three triples, whilst nailing eight themselves, though Cameron Gliddon‘s three of 13 showed the former Brisbane Bullet guard could find his range better in this match. The depth of the 36ers was also much better on the night, with Isaac Humphries (14 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks) having an underrated role off the bench.

Many would argue without Giddey in the first game, the Phoenix would have won, and therefore are the tip in this game. In saying that, Adelaide improved well from game one to game two, and now coming into game three – with no travel involved in between – it will be fascinating to see what Conner Henry‘s side can produce tonight.

Brisbane Bullets vs. The Hawks
Thursday, January 21 @ 7.30pm
Nissan Arena

By the time you scroll to the second game of the round, you could be forgiven thinking that you had accidentally clicked on the Round 1 fixture. Not only do the 36ers and Phoenix battle for the second time in less than a week at the same venue, but Brisbane Bullets and The Hawks do as well. These two sides took to the court last Saturday, with Brian Goorjian making his return to the league, and managing to gel a team that was vastly unfamiliar with each other, and getting early points on the board. Never mind it was on the road, the 90-84 win was a statement to the rest of the competition.

In that match, it was a real team effort, as import Justin Simon came off the bench for 13 points, eight rebounds and five steals in a starring role on debut. He was one of four Hawks to hit double-figure points, with Sam Froling (19 points, four rebounds) – getting one up on his brother Harry (10 points, 12 rebounds and four assists) in the match – Emmett Naar (17 points, five rebounds and four assists) and Tyler Harvey (16 points, three rebounds) all sharing the points around.

The rebound and assist counts were identical, showing just how even these teams were during the six-point victory, but it was just some crucial moments for The Hawks that got them the win. The Bullets can take plenty out of the performance, having lost a number of key talents over the off-season, thought still had a number of double-digit shooters. Nathan Sobey predictably led the way with 19 points, while Victor Law (17 points, nine rebounds) and Jason Cadee (12 points, five rebounds) both came in and had a say on proceedings.

In the end there had to be a winner, and The Hawks emerged victorious. It will be interesting to see what the teams took from that game to bring into this match, with free throw shooting not a highlight for the Bullets – just 57 per cent – whilst The Hawks will want to continue their heavy rotations, as they recorded 39 points off the bench compared to 24. The Hawks will be favourites in this game, but Brisbane will be hungry to turn the tables on them.

Adelaide 36ers vs. New Zealand Breakers
Friday, January 22 @ 7.30pm
Adelaide Entertainment Centre

Adelaide 36ers have had quite a busy start to the 2021 NBL season, and are piling on a heap of early games thanks to South Australia’s controlled COVID-19 pandemic situation. The 36ers will enter Friday night’s game playing their fourth match of the season. Their opponents New Zealand Breakers? They will be entering the court for the first time. It has been a long way for the Breakers who will have a point to prove after missing out on finals last season, but have gained of the league’s best players – and lost another – in what will no doubt provide some tactical changes for the coaching staff.

Having not played a game, the Breakers will have had plenty of time to study up on the 36ers and have enough data to take into the match ready to limit their opposition’s offensive rhythm. Daniel Johnson is a key player for the 36ers, though with ex-Bullet Lamar Patterson making his way to the Breakers, New Zealand has the answer and would not be afraid to go head-to-head in that potential heavy-scoring battle. The other key player to watch for the Breakers is import Colton Iverson who arrives as a starting five, and provide depth to the position alongside Rob Loe.

Isaac Humphries has been a key player for the 36ers coming off the bench, and teaming up Keanu Pinder, they will have their hands full. Without Giddey at the three spot, experienced Tom Abercrombie will look to run the floor and guide the team, working with the younger Finn Delany. Whilst only development players, one can only hope the likes of Taine Murray and Isaac Davidson can get some minutes as up-and-coming young stars with long-range shooting and highlight-reel worthy potential.

At the start of the season, New Zealand would have been declared heavy favourites for this game, though with what we have seen from Adelaide, it appears the game will be a lot closer, particularly in South Australia. The Breakers should still win and bank their first points, but how much will the extended break impact on the side compared to the match-fit (but perhaps tiring) 36ers outfit?

Cairns Taipans vs. Sydney Kings
Saturday, January 23 @ 8pm
Cairns Pop Up Arena

If you have not had a sense of déjà vu yet, then this might tip you over the edge, with a rematch of the one-point Round 1 thriller between Cairns Taipans and Sydney Kings taking place at Cairns Pop Up Arena on Saturday night. In their opening round encounter, the Taipans won 87-86, with some late long-range misses from the Kings seeing them fall short in heartbreaking style. Last year’s grand finalists showed enough to suggest they will be better for the run, but the Taipans were switched on, and after a slow opening term, hit their straps.

Cameron OIiver showed he had not missed a beat over the off-season, collecting a double-double in his first game back, putting up 12 points and 11 rebounds, as well as denying the opposition time and time again with six blocks. He and his partner-in-crime, Scott Machado (17 points, seven rebounds) caused all sorts of headaches for a Sydney Kings outfit that relied a lot on Casper Ware (18 points, three assists). Mojave King made his much-anticipated debut, and while it was not quite what many had expected the young gun to produce, he still had 14 minutes and put up seven points and grabbed three rebounds in that time.

His limited minutes were mostly due to the fact the Taipans had no passengers in the starting five. Aside from the two superstars of the competition, Mirko Djeric (15 points, four rebounds and two assists), Kouat Noi (12 points, four rebounds and two assists) and Majok Deng (13 points, six rebounds) all played their part. Compare that to Sydney, who outside of Ware’s 18 points, had an additional 23 points from their starters. The positive was the likes of Dejan Vasiljevic (15 points, four rebounds) who had a real impact off the bench, as did Brad Newley (14 points, six rebounds and two assists) and Jarell Martin (11 points, eight rebounds).

If the Kings are going to turn the tables on the Taipans, their starters will need to produce more, with the talented Didi Louzada registering just seven points, and then Craig Moller (four) and Shaun Bruce (three) in about 20 minutes of action each. Cairns was nowhere near the standard in the second game against The Hawks, and they will also be seething from the defeat, so expect the Taipans to come out hard. Both teams will be seeking their own redemption in a way, which makes for an entertaining contest.

Perth Wildcats vs. South East Melbourne Phoenix
Sunday, January 24, 5pm
RAC Arena

There would be few things hungrier than a reigning premier many have written off, having the longest break to prepare and prove the critics wrong. Back-to-back premiers and the greatest team of the past decade, Perth Wildcats prepare to mount their assault on NBL21 with a different looking side to the one that brought the team so much success in recent times. The Wildcats have lost a couple of crucial cogs such as Terrico White, Nick Kay, Damian Martin and Miles Plumlee who made up four of the starting five.

Luckily Most Valuable Player (MVP) Bryce Cotton remains, but effectively he will be running with a different looking starting five. Todd Blanchfield has come into the side, with John Mooney coming in as the second import alongside Cotton to replace Plumlee at the five spot. Blanchfield departed Illawarra to slot into the three role left by White, while Mitch Norton is expected to fill the shoes of Martin, who he would have shadowed not only on the court but in practice learning all the tricks of the trade. In short, we do not know what to expect from the Wildcats this season, but with Trevor Gleeson at the helm, anything is possible.

Their opponents in the Sunday evening encounter are South East Melbourne Phoenix, who will finally get to leave Adelaide after back-to-back games against the 36ers. Having lost their Round 1 encounter, the Phoenix will be hoping to head into this game with momentum and confidence after reversing the result from their Wednesday night rematch. It is no surprise that without his experienced teammates, Cotton would be the name not only bolded on the Phoenix’s whiteboard, but underlined and circled to drive home the point.

He must be stopped at all costs, and while Mitch Creek can match him in scoring prowess, it will likely be Cameron Gliddon given the job to match him at the two spot. Given Gliddon struggled with his range in game one, he could easily focus defensively to nullify Cotton, whilst Creek and the likes to Yannick Wetzell and Kyle Adnam took care of the scoring. It is a tough match to pick a winner with so many unknowns about the Wildcats, but at home they are always tough to knock over, and the Phoenix will be wanting to have a better week this week to come away with two wins.

Cairns Taipans vs. Melbourne United
Monday, January 25, 7.30pm
Cairns Pop Up Arena

The final game of the round is the fourth at Cairns Pop Up Arena, as the Taipans take on Melbourne United. This will be the Taipans’ biggest challenge thus far, having split their Round 1 games with a one-point thrilling win over the Kings before a disappointing 16-point loss to The Hawks. The Taipans will have a second crack at the Kings a couple of days earlier, so could be 3-1 by the end of Monday night’s game. However in saying that, United seem the team to beat, and quite literally destroyed Adelaide 36ers in a 24-point beatdown on the NBL’s opening night.

Forget the fact it was on the road and after a tentative first half, United clicked into gear. Coach Dean Vickerman said they had to sort out their defensive mindset after the first term, and they did that to then take control and run out the game in dominant fashion. Scoring double the opposition (52-26), they completely took the 36ers out of the game. What impressed the most was the fact that star recruit Scotty Hopson only picked up four points and four assists and largely had limited impact on the contest.

Instead, it was Chris Goulding (16 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals) and Jo Lual-Acuil (16 ponts, 12 rebounds and two steals) who did the bulk of the damage, while recruits Jock Landale (10 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two blocks) and Yudai Baba (10 points, three rebounds) slotted in seamlessly. Shea Ili earned Player of the Match honours with his deadly shooting display of 13 points, three rebounds and two steals, shooting at 71 per cent from inside the arc and nailing all three free-throws.

Landale will have a big task up against Cameron Oliver in the battle of the two best fives in the competition, while Mitch McCarron will have his hands full trying to limit Scott Machado’s influence. If United play like they did on night one, they will win, but it will be a question of whether or not the second half United comes out, or the first half United. The Taipans have had similar inconsistencies from game to game, but the depth of both sides – and the ability to share the ball around to hit jumpers – makes it a fascinating contest and what some believe to be a potential grand final preview.

Picture credit: Getty Images

NBL21 season previews: Perth Wildcats

REIGNING back-to-back champions and the greatest team of the past decade – winning five of seven titles – Perth Wildcats face one of their biggest challenges this season. They have been the benchmark team for many years, but now the gap has firmly closed over the off-season, with a number of big names heading to other clubs, and a couple of crucial cogs departing the Wildcats over the break.

Six-time NBL champion and Defensive Player of the Year, Damian Martin called it quits after a decade-long career with the Perth-based side, and then Nick Kay opted out of his contract, and Terrico White left for overseas. A trio of starting talents all out of the squad, and at one point it looked like Most Valuable Player (MVP) Bryce Cotton might test his value elsewhere. Luckily for Perth, Cotton re-signed but it meant the Wildcats had to get creative with their signings if they were to compete again.

Firstly they managed to re-sign some strong rotation options in Clint Steindl, Mitch Norton and Jesse Wagstaff, as well as Majok Majok who will have further responsibility with ex-NBA talent Miles Plumlee also departing the club. Then the signings began to come in, including a number of talents from other NBL clubs.

Jarred Bairstow headed west from the Brisbane Capitals – having been a Brisbane Bullets developing player a few years back – joined by Todd Blanchfield who departed Illawarra Hawks, while Kevin White found a new home following a much-talked about departure from the Adelaide 36ers. Already the Wildcats were beginning to build up their experience base again.

College graduate John Mooney crossed from Notre Dame following missing out on the NBA Draft, with the 206cm power forward averaging an impressive 16.2 points and 12.7 rebounds in his 31 games last season. He will add X-factor to the side in the position and replace outgoing Kay and Rhys Vague who rolled through the four spot.

Also gaining size in the front court were Corey Shervill and Luke Travers who came out of the state league, whilst development guard Taylor Britt re-signed following a strong campaign with Canterbury Wildcats in the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL). Towering center Andrew Ferguson also signed on as a development player, with the Perth native returning from college to play professional ball.

Wani Swaka Lo Buluk added to the back court to round out what is still a very solid list. Whilst the Wildcats have lost some key pieces over the off-season, they have been able to add a mix of experience and upside for the NBL21 season, which makes them an interesting team to watch.

One could never doubt coach Trevor Gleeson, so while on paper the Wildcats might not look as formidable as in past years, the development program in place, along with Cotton who can do unbelievable things, means you can never discount the Wildcats from challenging if everything can align in the 2021 season.

Picture credit: Paul Kane/Getty Images

Draft Central’s Top 10 2019/20 NBL memorable moments: #1 – The entire NBL Grand Final Series

EVERY sports league for every season is structured for one particular moment. To see which group of individuals were talented and cohesive enough to hold up a certain trophy high above their heads. A symbolic gesture of rising above the rest. Sure, the seasonal stories are entertaining, and learning about new or transforming players is fascinating but at the end of the day, they are all just subplots. Subplots consisting of factors and details that our sports brains have naturally laid out on a timeline that ends and begins with the labelling of champions. Everything in sports leads to that ultimate prize. Which is why it was so unlike any other year that in the middle of a highly anticipated grand final, the Sydney Kings pulled out due to a fear of a new and deadly virus.

The first game of the NBL Grand Final Series between the Kings and the Perth Wildcats went exactly as expected. The game was high paced at a high intensity as the Wildcats crawled out of Sydney victorious by a singular basket. Fans had set a high bar of expectation for the rest of the series, but news quickly emerged that they would not be able to attend Game Two. With the ever increasing fear and spread of COVID-19, the two juggernauts of Australia basketball were forced to play the most awaited game all the season by the fans, without a fan in attendance.

From the very first tip off, it just never felt right. Sydney tied the series with a 97-83 demolition. But without the screaming supporters, the constant distracting chants, and the atmosphere created only when thousands of people react to the same thing at the same time as passionate as they possibly can. Personally, it looked kind of uncomfortable. Perth would go on to win Game Three, but that feeling fans would get watching Miles Plumlee slam it down on two defenders to only hear the bench and a few coaches cheer, would not go away.

But at least the fans were not too furious. At the end of the day, sports is not everything. But when the Sydney Kings pulled out of the grand final all together, the fans were a little less accepting. Questions like do we reschedule the remaining games? Is this it? Are Perth now champions? Flooded every fan’s minds simultaneously. Not even the Wildcats were sure what happened. Everyone had been working for a common goal for 12 months, and were this close to seeing it through and then, it just stopped. After a stage of unprecedented confusion, Perth was awarded champions and Bryce Cotton would take home finals MVP. The series would always be remembered as the craziest moment in not just the season, but in the history of the NBL.

Opinion: What would happen if five Australians returned home to play in the NBL?

WHAT would happen in a reality where five of the best Australian NBA players returned to their home towns to play basketball in the NBL? Why? Maybe the NBA gets shut down because of the coronavirus, maybe they all just consequently and simultaneously become so patriotic for Australia that they take their talent to the Aussie leagues. It may sound silly, but Troy Hanning explains what it could mean for the NBL.

1 Ben Simmons (South East Melbourne Phoenix)

If you put Ben Simmons on the Melbourne Phoenix, it is a guaranteed championship. It is that simple. The only thing Simmons cannot do is hit a jumper from 10 feet away from the basket. 

But in a league where defenders are just a little slower to react and maybe a little shorter at the rim, Ben would average 40,15 and 10 by driving down to the rim and either dunking it or dishing it off to open cutters. Ben’s number one asset is that he is a point guard in a small forward’s body. He can dribble and dish at an elite level, and to add onto that, is 6’8″. That’s like being the most skilled driver in a race, and having the best car. If Ben was not 6’8″, with his elite dribbling skills and ability to find the open men, Ben would still be an elite point guard. Although his inability or insecurity to shoot long range jump shots is sometimes comical, the best of the best defenders have all taken a step back, anticipating the drive and still got scored on. So it is not like this limitation impedes on his impact on the game. 

Simmons clearly has confidence issues because it is not that he cannot shoot, it is that he choose not to. There are plenty of videos showing Simmons hitting threes at training or at a pre-game warm-up, efficiently. In fact his shot is actually pretty nice, but he has refused to shoot every year, which only adds to the pressure to shoot more. But when he comes to the NBL, he will have a little less media coverage and a little less attention. Maybe that lack of pressure serves to help Simmons’ shot. But even if he never gets better at shooting, or even never gets better at basketball, he is already a top 20 player on the planet, at only 23-years-old. So his biggest concern should not be his shooting, but his teammates, and that’s why South East Melbourne Phoenix is a perfect destination for the star. Simmons could have just as easily been signed by Melbourne United in this reality, but the temptation imagining him playing alongside John Roberson and Mitchell Creek, two men feared for their long range abilities, was just too much. 

Because for as great as Simmons is, we have never really seen him play in a system built to maximise his abilities. Which is honestly a compliment to Ben because he has been this good with teammates that constantly clog up the middle of the floor. If Ben was put in a team surrounded by four knock down shooters, the potential would be unlimited. Not to mention having the best shooter in the league in Roberson by your side, is a great way to start.

2 Dante Exum (Melbourne United)

In this reality, not only does Dante Exum sign with Melbourne United, but he also gets a completely new makeover, jumping from the point to the small forward. Do not get me wrong, Exum is a good point guard, but after contemplating every scenario of Exum at the one, the consensus was that the team is just too built around the backcourt of Shawn Long and Melo Trimble, to alter anything there. But surprisingly, this really works. Exum would be replacing Mitch McCarron’s spot in the rotation, who, while is a fairly decent scorer for the team, is just the one to make way in the starting five. Exum, who is a 6’6″ guard with a 6’9″ wingspan, would be used as a versatile small ball three who can make plays and defend nearly anyone on the court. World renowned as a phenomenal defender, who is athletic, long and quick, capable of shutting down anyone in front of him. It is fair to say that United would be lucky to have him in their arsenal. 

Although whenever anyone talks about Exum, it is never about what he’s done in the pros, but about his potential. But to be fair, he has never been put in a position to succeed. When he was drafted to the Utah Jazz, they already had point guard Trey Burke, so immediately Exum was coming off the bench. And once Burke left, the Jazz, while also prompted by the starting of Rudy Gobert, became one of the best defensive teams in the league. But that progress was stunted with an unfortunate torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). He then was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers who are simply a poorly run organisation, especially for a young player. That’s why in this reality, Exum can get as far away from Cleveland as possible, and be put on a team where he is given more attention, hopefully elevating his growth. With Melbourne United, Exum will be for the first time in his career, put on a team that highlights his strengths. 

Because the potential of Exum is a real thing. His performance in the FIBA Under 19s Championships where he led the Emus to the semi-finals is evident. Along with him finishing second in the lane ability drill at the NBA Draft Combine, literally a test to see how quickly you can sprint, shuffle and back pedal around the key. In United, with Trimble, Long and Chris Goulding all averaging over 17 points a game, Exum just needs to be reliant on defence. This role would suit his playing style almost perfectly, as by being the leader of the defence, he is contributing to the teams success immediately while being able to take his time to work on the offensive fundamentals patiently. The upside of this reality is endless, but even if Exum can never quite find his groove offensively, every team wants a ‘stopper’, who can lock up anyone, and Exum just fits this role naturally.

3 Aron Baynes (New Zealand Breakers)

With lineups getting smaller and smaller every year, and bigs becoming less relevant from one generation to the next, some people are beginning to question whether a team centred around a big, can still be a serious contender. The answer is that the evolution of the game has not led to the extinction of a valuable big man. Rather, it has fostered a period of evolution. Luckily for New Zealand, Aaron Baynes is the poster boy of a big man that has evolved successfully with the changing times. From attempting a combined seven threes in his first five seasons to 168 this season, the progression is evident. That’s a 2400% difference, keep in mind the season ended prematurely. A lot of the time bigs who can shoot are lanky, awkward ‘athletes’ who can’t hold their own with the physicality and toughness required in the paint. That is not Baynes. If coach Shamir wants a player to protect the paint, grab boards, then either hit an open three or bully his way to a bucket. That is Baynes. 

You can already picture it, Baynes setting a brick wall screen for Corey Webster, faking the roll, getting it and splashing it from the top of the three. The only real knock on Baynes (and nearly every other big man), is that he cannot create his own shot. Lucky for Baynes, the Breakers are full of selfless playmakers like Scotty Hopson and Sek Henry. But what stands to benefit the Breakers more than anything is Baynes’ esteemed experience. How often do you sign an upstanding veteran, whose played on four incredibly different teams with different expectations. From playing in two NBA finals to tanking, Baynes has seen it all, and has gathered a squeaky clean reputation. Nothing is worse than when you make a big free agent signing and the guy rolls in thinking the team revolves around him just to quickly become dismissive and deterred when things do not go his way. But Baynes’ teammates have had nothing but praise for the big man in each one of his stops, leading us to believe that his induction and progression with the Breakers would be more the same. If only this signing happened one year earlier, who knows, maybe RJ Hampton would stay another year. Baynes provides a similar physical presence to the likes of Andrew Bogut, and that guy has a pretty successful resume in the NBL. Just a classic bruiser in the paint who can attack the basket, hit a mid range and be a defensive nightmare for slashing guards.

4 Joe Ingles (Adelaide 36ers)

Having been born in the suburbs of Adelaide, the 36ers are the lucky team to sign Jinglin’ Joe Ingles. The former NBL Rookie of the Year left the league in 2009, and with his recent decline in minutes and his move to a bench role in the NBA, a return to the NBL might be more imminent than some believe. Ingles would be an asset to any team he plays on, because fortunate for Ingles, his skill set mixed with his size is exactly what every team in the modern NBL or NBA is looking for. A 6’8″ small forward who can be a team’s best playmaker while also shooting a career 40% from three. That’s because every value Ingles possesses, is transitional to any team or league Ingles is on. So when he joins the 36ers, he will still be an elite shooter, who can run an offence while also rebounding well, hence he will make the team better. Because of this versatility, he would also be the focal point of the offence, an important label every team needs yet the 36ers struggle to have, as the top three scorers of the team are all within five points difference of each other. Clearly Adelaide has the talent, but when you finish seventh in a nine team league, the roster just needs a superstar, a guy who can be the best player on a championship team in the NBL, that is Joe Ingles. 

What is crazy is that Ingles might actually be getting better. While the 32-year-old’s stats might only show a steady pace, Ingles limited experience in the NBA hints he still has more to learn, especially compared to other similarly aged athletes in the league. A great example of this development is in how he has been getting his three point shot off. In his first five seasons, 85 per cent of his threes came off assists, where Ingles would be waiting patiently somewhere on the three point arc for a driving cutter or fellow wing to whip him the ball, giving Joe an open shot. However this year, we have seen the Aussie begin to actually dribble into three-point attempts, coming down the court in transition or around a screen. This added element has not only expanded Ingles’ offensive skill set, making him a more lethal shooter from outside, but is evidence that Ingles still wants to grow as a basketball player. That desire to improve at his age, where he has already reached the NBA, and is already famous, and already has a bountiful salary, is a much less rare commodity then people would believe. That attitude is contagious and would really benefit a player like Harry Froling, who like Ingles, won the Rookie of the Year in 2019, and might have aspirations to one day play in the NBA. Coming from similar backgrounds, Ingles’ mere presence on the team might keep the future centrepiece satisfied and in 36ers jersey for a long time. 

5 Thon Maker (Perth Wildcats)

While Maker was born in South Sudan, he and his family moved to Perth at the age of five. He already has experience on the international scene for the Boomers and has an Australian passport. For this experiment given his hometown, Maker would qualify to play for the Wildcats. Maker is listed at seven feet and has a career accuracy of 32 per cent from three-point range. If that is not all you need to know about Maker before understanding how valuable a player like he is, he also possesses great leaping ability to go with his super-elite reach and wingspan. He can also run the floor, showing good ball-handling, passing, and shooting tools.

For other teams, there might be a little friction when a NBA player comes in and takes your spot, but this is one of the rare occasions where the team and the player just fit perfectly. In terms of dropping Maker at the five, it would look like the Perth Wildcats would have two options about how to execute it. First is to put Miles Plumlee at the four, accompanied by Maker at the five. This twin tower dynamic would wreak havoc in the paint. Just imagine Bryce Cotton sliding through massive screens to get a shot off, confident that one of the two giants will get the offensive rebound. Or if Cotten cannot get the shot off, since they are screen heavy, one of the two will likely have a mismatch they can exploit in the low post. However, having two slow centers risks the team being a liability when opponents inevitably try and switch the big fellas on the quicker guard. 

Although another plan of attack would be to just throw Plumlee on the bench. This is not an insulting adjustment because Plumlee has now more responsibility than ever. He is now the leader of the second unit and as a veteran with lots to contribute, he would thrive in this role.  When he subs in, there are going to be mismatches everywhere for the Wildcats to capitalise on. Since every contending team has at least one person sacrificing their talent for the better of the team, Plumlee would have to take the step back in order to win.

No matter how it happens, this team is much better with Maker than without. One of the Wildcats’ few flaws is their rebounding, so having a seven-footer who despite lacking strength, does not shy away from contact, is a clear advantage. The little to big dynamic of Cotton and Maker would sell out arenas, not just because it is an entertaining novelty, but there really is no ceiling to how good they can be. If they could master the pick and pop, they would be unstoppable. That is not an exaggeration, it would nearly be impossible to get over a screen from Maker fast enough to deflect him getting it and then trying to disturb the seven-footer shooting a jump shot. Maker and Cotton would be the evolution of the pick and roll. For him to ever reach this ceiling, it would take an incredible work ethic, which by all accounts Makers has, and a surge of confidence, which a league like the NBL can help foster.

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.

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.

2019/20 NBL Grand Final Game 2 preview: Perth Wildcats vs. Sydney Kings

GAME 1 of this epic clash lived up to all the hype and then some. Sydney’s mere two point loss to Perth was soul crushing, yet extremely exciting. Coming off another two-point nail-biter in their victory against Melbourne the week before, the Kings would be mentally exhausted, as the Wildcats won by the skin of their teeth. Game 1 has set a high bar for fans expectations for Game 2, where Perth has a chance to take a 2-0 lead in the series.

Perth’s win on the road against Sydney was monumental for the traveling side considering the Kings have only lost two games at home all season. It was Bryce Cotton’s game from start to finish proving exactly why he is the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the league capturing a jaw dropping 32 points. Perth got the majority of their buckets from the mid-range, exploiting Sydney’s drop coverage. Although Sydney held a narrow five point lead at the end of the third, they simply could not put their foot on the throat. But after some crafty three pointers, Perth were right back into it, and eventually came out on top highlighting their grit and determination. If this is even a little glimpse into how Game 2 will play out, the Kings must find a way to lock down Cotton.

Cotton is one of the best scorers in the league, and although the mid-range shot might be the worst analytical shot an opponent can take, Cotton is no ordinary opponent. Sydney must adjust and find a different way to defend that middle pick and roll, or Game 2 could be another long night for the Kings. But losing at home in Game 1 can really damage a team’s confidence heading into the next game away. Especially, when that team was nearly undefeated on their home court. Sydney will be hoping to regroup and address the game plan, starting with Andrew Bogut. The big man whose mere presence spreads fear into opponents struggled to have his usual influence, as Bryce Cotton stockpiled most of his points in the key. But do not be surprised if this actually plays into Sydney’s advantage, as it is widely known Bogut plays best with a chip on his shoulder. The recent ridicule surrounding Bogut’s performance in terms of his aggressiveness and defensive intensity might be the spark the Kings need for Bogut to impose himself once again. But the worst possible thing Sydney could do is let Perth build an early lead. Perth is coming in with the momentum of a victory, which might give them a slight mental edge. If Sydney sees themselves trailing at half, away from home, already a game down, the mental fortitude might just be too much.

Perth holds fortress status heading into the next battle, along with significant veteran leadership. This is something that is highly undervalued but crucial come playoffs. Veterans such as Miles Plumlee, Damian Martin, Jesse Wagstaff know how to rally the troops, and are important pieces built around maximising the most out of Cotten’s abilities. But having the indisputable best player on the court is the best advantage Perth holds over Sydney. While we cannot expect Cotton to have another 32-point night, you can be certain that he will impact the team positively, whether that’s stacking the score sheet or finding open players. If the Kings decide to double team the star, he definitely will find open players.

Sydney Kings’ Casper Ware has struggled to find his rhythm so far in the playoffs, shooting just 1-14 from the field in his recent performance an area he will be hoping to rectify come Game 2.  But if anyone can turn it around it is Ware who has shown before that he can have an immediate impact with his drive to the basket and pressure. With Ware and Cotton going head-to-head in Game 1 the coaches may look to change up the battle in hope to get the best out of their players in particular Ware who struggled to hit the scoreboard. If the Kings can throw Cotton’s game off with their unpredictability it could set them in good stead to claim victory.

Perth might just come out on top, bearing in mind that 26 of the last 28 Game 1 winners have gone on to win the NBL Championship. This should be Perth’s game to win but the defensive settings placed on Cotton and the headspace of Bogut are decisive factors that could swing in any direction. Take in the fact that Perth only won the first match by two, with Ware shooting seven per cent means this game could really go either way.

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.

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

THE wait is over and after a long 2019/20 National Basketball League (NBL) season, the top two teams are preparing for a do-or-die best-of-five NBL Grand Final series. Sydney Kings hold pole position in the league and will host three of the five games at Qudos Bank Arena, with the remaining two games back at RAC Arena where the Wildcats fans will be keen to see more success.

Indeed the Wildcats have hands-down been the top performing team in the post-season series, having won four of the past six titles and making the two grand finals prior to the first of those four titles. Indeed, Perth’s record over the past four seasons has been superb, and they will be looking to win back-to-back titles with a successful series against Sydney Kings over the next fortnight. The challenge the Wildcats face is that all the titles they have won, they were the top ranked side, and in the two where they headed in the underdog – the 2011/12 and 2012/13 seasons – they lost to New Zealand Breakers. In fact Perth has not won a title fro second spot since 1989/1990 when they defeated Brisbane Bullets, 30 years ago.

It is much better news for Sydney Kings based on those stats with 10 of the past 11 champions winning from top spot. Only New Zealand’s upset of Cairns Taipans in 2014/15 broke the logic. However the two previous losses from top spot was the Kings’ last grand finals back in 2005/06 and 2007/08 where they went down to their rivals, Melbourne Tigers. Prior to the first loss, the Kings had enjoyed an era of success with a three peat from 2002/03 through to 2004/05. Having not reached a grand final in 12 years, Sydney will be hoping to start a new era of success in the NBL, and there is plenty of reasons to believe they can follow through with a title. At home in 2019/20 they are 13-2 and hard to stop, while Perth is 8-7 on the road, and while the the Wildcats are equally hard to quell at home (12-3), the fifth deciding game is in the Harbour City which gives the Kings the advantage.

Analysing the 2019/20 season, the teams have played four times with Perth winning three of those – including Qudos Bank Arena. It means that of the two losses at home for the Kings, one was to the Wildcats when they lost by 13 points back on December 28. In that match, Sydney led by six at half-time before Bryce Cotton went berserk shooting 39 points and leading his team to a 98-85 victory on the back of a 54-35 second half. Casper Ware was also a stat-sheet stuffer with 33 points himself, but had little support with only Andrew Bogut (15 points, 12 rebounds) reaching double figures, while Terrico White (24 points, four rebounds) and Nick Kay (10 points, 10 rebounds) also helped out Cotton. In the most recent game at RAC Arena back on February 1, Perth won the first three quarters to lead by as much as 16 at the final break before the Kings turned it on in the last to cut the final deficit back to 10. Cotton stood tall again with 30 points during the 110-110 win, while Kay (21 points, 10 rebounds) picked up another double-double and Clint Steindl (19 points) was promising off the bench. For the Kings, Jae’Sean Tate was sensational picking up 23 points and 12 rebounds, while Brad Newley was also impressive with 17 points and five rebounds.

In Sydney’s win against the Wildcats back on November 10, it was Ware (23 points, three assists) and Didi Louzada (28 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals) who let loose, and the bulk of the work at the Wildcats left up to Cotton (36 points, five rebounds and four assists) and Kay (18 points, seven rebounds). The only other match up between the teams came just under a month later on December 6 when Perth won 96-77 back at home at RAC Arena. Cotton again led the way with 27 points, nine rebounds and four assists, while White (20 points, five rebounds) and Kay (19 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and two steals) were dominant across the court. No Kings player really stood out, with Bogut (12 points, eight rebounds) the best, while Tate (11 points, three rebounds) and Ware (13 points, five rebounds) the other two to contribute solidly.

Most Valuable Player (MVP) winner, Cotton has had a huge season, averaging 23.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists and will be the man to stop from the Kings’ perspective. Moving up into the second most important player on the side, Kay has put together a 15-point, eight-rebound and three-assist season, while White (15 points, four rebounds and two assists) has been solid. Miles Plumlee came into the season late but has played the past nine games and averaged 8.7 points and 6.3 rebounds since joining from the NBA. Last year’s MVP in Bogut has not followed on from last season, but still had some ripping games, averaging eight points, nine rebounds, three assists and one block per game. Ware (19.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists) has been strong since crossing from Melbourne United, while Tate (16/7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 steals) has been the Kings’ best across the season.

Home vs. Away:

Sydney Kings 13-2 / 8-6
Perth Wildcats 12-3 / 8-7

2019/20 Past meetings:

Perth Wildcats lead Sydney Kings 3-1

Perth Wildcats (110) defeated Sydney Kings (100)
Sydney Kings (85) defeated by Perth Wildcats (98)
Perth Wildcats (96) defeated Sydney Kings (77)
Sydney Kings (104) defeated Perth Wildcats (85)

2019/20 NBL Grand Final fixture:

Game 1: Sunday 8 March at Qudos Bank Arena, 5:00pm AEDT
Game 2: Friday 13 March at RAC Arena, 6:30pm local/9:30pm AEDT
Game 3: Sunday 15 March at Qudos Bank Arena, 5:00pm AEDT
Game 4 (if required): Friday 20 March at RAC Arena, 6:30pm local/9:30pm AEDT
Game 5 (if required) : Sunday 22 March at Qudos Bank Arena, 5:00pm AEDT

Tip: Sydney Kings 3-2.

The series is likely to go the full length given both sides’ dominance at home, though Perth would be keen to cause an early upset in the Harbour City, knowing that the Kings are more vulnerable against the Wildcats there than the Wildcats will be against the Kings at RAC Arena. It is hard to see the Wildcats losing either game in Perth, so it will be up to Sydney to follow through and win the trio of matches at home. Melbourne United pushed them in both matches there, so the Wildcats will come in with confidence.