The NBL is back and is currently producing some of the best basketball nationally the league has seen in decades. This season has had it all so far and has had many highlights causing the future of the NBL to look incredibly bright indeed.
In part two of this season review, we’ll have a brief look at the major story of the current eight teams, how the playoff race is shaping up, who’s got what it takes to take out the championship and who’s in the box seat in the future to join the returning Brisbane Bullets and return to an expanded NBL.
Adelaide 36ers – You Can’t Handle the Randle
When Import Guard Kenyon McNeil went down, many thought the 36ers would struggle to even make it off the bottom of the ladder, enter Jerome “Handles” Randle. From his very first game the 175cm guard showed to quote Yoda from Star Wars that “size matters not.” Averaging 24.8pts and 5.2 assists per game, he has been arguabaly the most breath-taking and skillful import the club has had since Willie Farley. The #9 has each game become a clutch man in the fourth quarter and was the main reason the 36ers have gone on a six game winning streak through January. He alone is a reason to catch a game before their season ends and a recent tweet suggests that he’s very keen to stay for many more seasons to come.
Cairns Taipans – Torrey tears it up
Whilst this season has not gone the way last season’s Grand Finallists would’ve hoped, the improvement and atheletic ability of Torrey Craig continues to impress. Highlighted by many athletic dunks and stepping into coach Fearne’s starting five, Craig has upped his average contribution to 11.5pts and 6.2 rebs per game. No doubt the highlight of the season which even made #1 on ESPN’s top ten highlights of the week, was an athletic catch, spin and shoot from the half court to bank home a buzzer beating three pointer.
Melbourne United – Demolitions lead by Demopoulos
The new Brian Goorjan has well and truly arrived in American NBA Assistant Dean Demopoulos. Demopoulos has brought an attacking falir and all out offensive game-plan shown in the team averages of 38% in 3pt baskets and 86.8pts per game. This has been produced on the back of scoring machines Chris Goulding, Stephen Holt and Daniel Kickert, particularly Kickert who is backing up last seasons high percentage of 3pts at 48% per game. Demopoulos is aiming to win the championship in his debut season in the league and his trademark “Awight” is already drawing comparisons to the aforementioned Goorjan.
Perth Wildcats – Casey who?
When James Ennis stayed in the NBA, it seemed that Casey Prather all of sudden just emerged out of no where. In Perth’s game against the Adelaide 36ers in the space of 90 seconds, he threw down two alleyoop jams and has been setting alight the Perth Arena becoming a new fan favourite. His average of 16.6pts per game has him as now the leading scorer in the team ahead of fellow import Jermaine Beal and hardman Matty Knight. Prather has made the Wildcats a genuine threat once again and are charging towards their 30th straight finals appearance which will beat the record in international sport held by the Boston Bruins.
Illawara Hawks – Agent 97
The feelgood story of the NBL season started sourly when Guard Rhys Martin went down with a long term injury. Former Sydney Kings and NSW league player Jarrad Weeks was given a four week contract as an injury replacement. What he brought to the Gong was energy, flair and plenty of buckets, much more than the general basketball public expected. What surprised most however was his athleticism in the form of particularly a reserve spin two handed throwdown. He earned the nickname of Agent 97 due to his rookie jersey being one of the spare ones the Hawks had and now it has stuck. It looks like now with Tyson Demos sidelined for the season, Weeks will remain in the Hawks team and play a vital role in the depth of their already potent lineup for the playoffs.
Sydney Kings – When Big Al came to town
When import Josh Childress went down with injury in the first half of the season, the import pulled out his proverbial cellphone and dialed a ring-in, not just any ring-in but 981 NBA game veteran Al Harrington. Harrington took some time to settle into the Kings but in his brief stint he showed us exactly what he was well known for in the NBA. Hi baseline spin moves couldn;t be guarded by any NBL forward and once he got his eye in on the three point shots, he would light up and won the Kings a few of their five wins this season off his own hand. It was just the shot in the arm and media coverage the league needed in the first half of the season to gain the public’s sporting attention.
Townsville Crocodiles – Baby crocs snap down league leaders
They are one of the only clubs to own their series against the Wildcats, beaten United and Breakers away and at home, we are talking about a finals contender right? No the seventh placed Crocs won’t contend for a finals position but they are proving to be the giant killers of the season. Consistently they have reigned in teams on average fifteen points down in the fourth quarter to produce some miraculous wins. The movement of the expereiced former league MVP Brian Conkilin for Omar Samhan has proved to be winner with the crocs embracing their young, aggressive never say die attitude. They are winning fans back to the swamp and no doubt Shawn Dennis‘s men over the last few games are building for the future.
New Zealand Breakers – Has the break finally come?
Marked by two players experiencing fatherhood, a change of coach for next season before the current one is finished and still in playoff contention and a rumoured internal breakdown between players, the Breakers dynasty appears to be ending. Only a few weeks ago, they were entrenched in the top four but a string of five losses and the end could come unexpectedly and suddenly. Thomas Abercrombie who normally scores heavily registered a donut the other night, Pledger can’t get his body right, Cedric Jackson looks slow all of a sudden and second guessing himself and Mika Vukona isn’t the sprng chicken he once was. Compound this with their free throw shooting a league worst 61% and the Breakers may go straight from champions to bust.
NBL – Kestelman’s Knights to the rescue
Larry Kestelman and his team of businessman including Jeffrey Loeniger have been a highlight of their own pulling many sponsorships for the league and clubs most notably helping the 36ers long term sustainability with acquiring Wilson Security. Through their Fox Sports deal they have uncovered some new blood in basketball commentary in Dwayne Russell, Matt Russell, Andrew Voss, Derek Rucker and the polarising Corey “Homicide” Williams whilst mixing them with the experience of Andrew Gaze, Shane Heal and Anthony Hudson. They have made the NBL a very marketable and watchable product and have solidified the future of the game moving forward.
The Run to the playoffs
Melbourne, and Perth will get there no problems whilst the final positions will be battled out between Illawara, Adelaide and New Zealand. Much of the positioning of the final two will come down to the series between the 36ers and the Hawks with the 36ers holding a five point advantage with two games to play. The Hawks hold their advantage in their series with the Breakers with the 36ers dropping crucial series wins to New Zealand and the out of contention Cairns Taipans meaning that unless the Hawks lose both, its down to Adelaide and New Zealand. Adelaide will be hoping that Randle’s knee strain will be ready to go through the rigours of two intense matches with a nasty away double of the Hawks and Wildcats to finish the season whilst New Zealand meet top of the table Melbourne United twice. Its going to come down to the final four hours of the NBL regular season to work out the playoff contenders in the most exciting finish we could have.
You’d still think Melbourne and Perth are likely to win the Championship but any of this seasons final four will be capable.
So who’s going to join the NBL in 2016 and beyond,
Potential Venues: Brisbane Convention Centre, Brisbane Entertainment Centre or/and Auchenflower Stadium
Key Stakeholders: Larry Senstock, Brian Kerle, Leroy Loggins
Coaching Options: Andrej Lemanis (Current Signed Coach and Current Australian Coach), Cal Bruton Jnr (Son of a legend, signed as an assistant coach and stakeholder), Marty Clarke (Development coach with NBL experience),
2016/17 Roster Targets: Adam Gibson (36ers), Chris Goulding (United), Brock Motum (36ers/Jazz), Steven Markovic (Kings), Owen Odigie (United), Daniel Dillon, Corey Maynard (Crocodiles), Martin Iti (Spartans), Scott Kenny (Spartans), Dean Brebner (Spartans).
The Bullets have been officially reinstated back into the NBL next season and they have the means to become a successful reborn franchise. They will chase the signatures of Adam Gibson, Brock Motum and other Queensland based talent to reform their identity. A couple of long shots would be Chris Goulding and Corey Maynard but they seem pretty settled at their current clubs, although Maynard’s Crocodiles could possibly still fold and therefore open the door for Lemanis and Bruton Jnr to pounce. The one two punch of these two coaches should give the Bullets depending on their list a solid chance at competing for playoffs first season back.
Potential Venues: Derwent Entertainment Centre, Action Packed Stadium
Key Stakeholders: Anthony Stewart, Mark Nash, David Stiff, Darren Smith, TAS Government
Coaching Options: Brendan Joyce (Experienced coach, currently senior Australian Opals team), Ben Rush (Current Men’s Hobart Chargers), Mark Nash (Former Women’s Hobart Chargers), Phil Thomas (NW Tasmania Thunder Head Coach)
Roster Targets: Adam Gibson (36ers), Dave Andersen (Europe), Brad Hill (United), Kevin White (Hawks), Stephen Weigh (Taipans), Jarrad Weeks (Hawks), Tiri Masunda (Hobart Chargers), Tom Wright (Chargers), Nathan Wilson (Thunder), Brad Simpson (Thunder), Kyle Clarke (Thunder), Garrett Jackson (United)
The Devils coming back to the NBL has been rumoured for many seasons. Reliable sources stated that a push for an NBL side nearly got off the ground with some final details difficult to sort. With the help of the Tasmanian Govenment, plenty of the adovacating stakeholders including Stewart and Nash along with former player contirbutions from the likes of Stiff and Smith can give the NBL a reason to recross to the Apple Isle. The key will be attracting a set of star players, Gibson if he stays with Adelaide for a few more seasons could find his way home to captain the side, Andersen may be nearing his last days in Europe and finish his career as a franchise player in the NBL, whilst some of the talent looking to branch out into starting roles in Weigh, Hill. White and Weeks could find themselves in dark green, red and gold again.
Potential Venues: State Netball and Hockey Centre
Key Stakeholders: Andrew Gaze, Lindsay Gaze, Warrick Giddey, Tommy Greer, Lanard Copeland
Coaching Options: Darryl McDonald (Former Melbourne United Coach), Guy Molloy (Academy of Basketball Coach), Andrew Gaze (Former Melbourne Tiger and legendary NBL basketballer, son of former coach Lindsay Gaze)
Roster Targets: Andrew Bogut (Golden State Warriors), Patrick Mills (San Antonio Spurs), Igor Hazermiedrovic (United), Deba George (Albury), Everard Bartlett (Breakers), Lucas Walker (36ers), Tim Lang (Kilsyth Cobras), Kyle Adnam (United), Adrian Sturt, Charles Long (Dandenong Rangers), Andrew Fisher (Taipans), Jack Gaze (Frankston)
The Tigers are making a long track back to the NBL by restarting in the SEABL, but if they can sort out the licensing issues then there is no reason they can’t become Victoria’s 2nd NBL team again. Many are still hurt by the sudden changover from Tigers/United franchise but the ownership’s need to bring basketball back to the general public seems to haev paid off. The Tigers could not do better than to relaunch their franchise in the NBL with someone like Bogut or Mills. Bogut has previously expressed great interest in joining even supporting financially a Melbourne NBL franchise at the end of his NBA career, throw in some past NBL rookie talent from the local competition like George, Adnam, Fisher and add a few talented excitement machines like Charles “Chuck” Long and Jack “SOG” Gaze and the Tigers will soon be roaring again.
Potential Venues: TSB Bank Arena
Key Stakeholders: Pero Cameron, Nick Mills, Fran Schoey
Coaching Options: Pero Cameron (Current Head Coach of Saints), Judd Flavell (Breakers Assistant Coach), Dean Vickermann (Current Head Coach of NZ Breakers)
Roster Targets: Kirk Penney (Hawks), Isaac Fotu (NZ Tall Blacks), Brendon Polybank, Dion Prewster (Kings), Damien Ekenasio, Hugh Quinlivan, Izayah Mauriohooho-Le`afa, Jordan Mills, Leon Henry (Crocodiles), Lindsay Tait (All current Saints players)
According to many reliable sources, the Saints have for many years looked like the most likely franchise to be the 10th team to join the NBL as New Zealand’s 2nd team. That would cause the Breakers to adopt Auckland and create a classic North versus South rivalry that could be sparked by a former Breaker returning to home to lead the frnachise in Kirk Penney. Adding further intrigue would be the appointment of Dean Vickermann who’s chair will be fillled by assistant Paul Henare at the Breakers beyond this season. With a current roster of established players in a tough domestic competition, don’t expect to see too much change but maybe a couple of Breakers might move south to make things interesting.
Written By Tristan Prentice