The Roar
The Roar


NBL 2015-16: Team-by-team preview and predictions

Melbourne United, with Cedric Jackson take on the New Zealand Breakers. (Image: AAP, Travis Anderson)
6th October, 2015
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The NBL has had its most productive and innovative off-season in recent memory and with a new TV deal, new ownership willing to make some bold moves and an influx of stars all signs are pointing to the most exciting season this century.

The future of the NBL was far from clear at the end of last season with the status of the Wollongong Hawks and Townsville Crocodiles in jeopardy, and the league not having a television deal with the five-year agreement with Network 10 coming to an end.

However, the news has only been encouraging in recent months starting with the Hawks (now named Illawarra) and the Crocs securing their place in the league, and more recently the Brisbane Bullets being guaranteed to return next season.

Then there is the league’s best ever television deal that will see every game broadcast live on Fox Sports from Wednesday to Sunday every week. It opens up the league to potentially thrive with a deal similar to what has helped significantly the A-League, Super Rugby and ANZ Championship.

New majority owner Larry Kestelman has proven willing to make things happen in a bid to grow the status of the league, and everything coming into the season on and off the court appears to have been successful.

There is great excitement heading into the new season with greater care and foresight being put into partnerships between the NBL and companies such as Alcatel OneTouch, Europcar, Telstra, Virgin, Champion, Chemist Warehouse and Wilson.

Then on the court, Josh Childress is joined by fellow NBA star Hakim Warrick along with Markel Starks, Stephen Holt, Casey Prather and Marcus Thornton.

Former NBL MVP winners Kirk Penney and Kevin Lisch return from Europe as do Chris Goulding, Ebi Ere, AJ Ogilvy, Nathan Jawai and Julian Khazzouh.


A strong case can be made for all eight teams to be playoff contenders with the signings made by the Illawarra Hawks and Melbourne United making them standouts, but the perennial contenders Perth Wildcats and New Zealand Breakers can never be overlooked.

Adelaide 36ers

Last season’s finish: 17-11, losing semi-finalist
Predicted 2015-16 finish: Eighth
Season opener: Wednesday October 7 versus New Zealand Breakers at Adelaide Arena

Coach: Joey Wright
Roster: Mitch Creek, Ebi Ere, Adam Gibson, Matt Hodgson, Daniel Johnson, Kenyon McNeail, Anthony Petrie, Nathan Sobey, Brendan Teys, Lucas Walker

Arrivals: Ebi Ere (Puerto Rico), Matt Hodgson (Melbourne United), Kenyon McNeail (Portugal), Nathan Sobey (Cairns Taipans), Lucas Walker (Melbourne United)
Departures: Peter Crawford, Luke Schenscher, Jamar Wilson, Brock Motum

The 36ers became the form team of the second half of last season to storm into the playoffs before falling foul of the Breakers, but Brock Motum and Jamar Wilson were a key part of that charge, and their hopes in the 2015-16 likely hinge on how their replacements stand up.

The Sixers had a horror start to last season, but some brave coaching by Joey Wright changed things up and they made a scorching run into the playoffs. They just couldn’t keep it going in the semi-finals against eventual champions New Zealand.


The experienced leadership of Adam Gibson and Anthony Petrie remains, Lucas Walker arrives and will look for a greater role than he had with Melbourne last season and if Ebi Ere is anything near the player he was in his last stint in the league, then the 36ers will again be in the playoff hunt.

It is a deep looking roster as well with Brendan Teys one of the most improved players in the NBL. Daniel Johnson will now be on board from the start of this season after being a late arrival last campaign and Mitch Creek has the tools to be one of the best local players in the league once he overcomes elbow surgery.

Cairns Taipans

Last season’s finish: 21-7, losing grand-finalist
Predicted 2015-16 finish: Third
Season opener: Thursday October 8 versus Illawarra Hawks at Cairns Convention Centre

Coach: Aaron Fearne
Roster: Shaun Bruce, Matt Burston, Torrey Craig, Cameron Gliddon, Damon Heuir, Alex Loughton, Markel Starks, Cam Tragardh, Stephen Weigh, Mark Worthington

Arrivals: Damon Heuir (Cairns Marlins), Markel Starks (Italy), Mark Worthington (Melbourne United)
Departures: Corey Maynard, Scott Wilbekin, Mitch Young, Nathan Sobey

Swap Markel Starks for Scottie Wilbekin, add Mark Worthington and it’s virtually the same Cairns Taipans group that made history last season going all the way to the grand final. There’s no reason to say they won’t be again a contender in the 2015-16 campaign.


Replacing Wilbekin, who won the league’s MVP award last season, won’t be an easy task. But based on his form at the pre-season Blitz there’s every reason to suggest that Starks is going to be more than capable of coming close to replicating what the NBA-bound guard was able to produce.

Cairns won its most games in history last season, claimed the minor premiership for the first time and took part in a competitive grand final series against the New Zealand Breakers.

The other main change to the squad is the arrival of Worthington with fringe player Mitch Young the big man to make room for him.

That is a significant upgrade for the Snakes and they do appear to have the deepest, and best-balanced roster in the league. With Worthington, Matt Burston, Alex Loughton and Cam Tragardh inside, no other team can match that experience and depth perhaps except Perth.

Stephen Weigh and Torrey Craig will again share the three-man spot, and then there’s captain Cameron Gliddon, Starks, Shaun Bruce and new arrival Damon Heuir in the back court. It’s a group that will take some stopping.

Illawarra Hawks

Last season’s finish: 6-22, last
Predicted 2015-16 finish: Second
Season opener: Thursday October 8 versus Cairns Taipans at Cairns Convention Centre


Coach: Rob Beveridge
Roster: Tim Coenraad, Larry Davidson, Tyson Demos, Cody Ellis, Oscar Forman, Kevin Lisch, Rhys Martin, AJ Ogilvy, Kirk Penney, Kevin White

Arrivals: Cody Ellis (Sydney Kings), Kevin Lisch (Spain), AJ Ogilvy (Spain), Kirk Penney (Spain), Kevin White (Sydney Kings)
Departures: Jahii Carson, Gary Ervin, Luke Nevill, Adam Ballinger, Brad Hill

The Hawks have perhaps overachieved on a limited budget and resources in Gordie McLeod’s time as coach, but now 2010 championship-winning coach from the Perth Wildcats Rob Beveridge is at the helm. For the first time in years Illawarra is able to pay the full salary cap.

The change in name from Wollongong to Illawarra looks set to usher in a new era under Beveridge and the players have signed on. Former NBL MVP winners Kevin Lisch and Kirk Penney have returned from Spain, while AJ Ogilvy is back in the league and has the ability to dominate inside.

Tim Coenraad, Oscar Forman, Larry Davidson and Rhys Martin have been relied on to be match-winners in recent seasons for the Hawks, but they all remain and become strong role players behind the stars in Lisch, Penney and Ogilvy.

That should only help those players keep delivering without being the target of opposition defence. Lisch’s ability to be a stifling defender on the other team’s best guard, and to hit big shots, drive to the basket and run the offence makes him an instant key playmaker for the Hawks.

Then if Penney is at full health, he has the ability to lead the league in scoring and to be the best shooter in the competition. With Penney, Forman and Lisch hitting from the outside, the inside will open up for the likes of Ogilvy and Davidson, and it all points to a monster season for the Hawks.


Melbourne United

Last season’s finish: 13-15, fifth
Predicted 2015-16 finish: First
Season opener: Friday October 9 versus Townsville Crocodiles at Townsville Entertainment Centre

Coach: Dean Demopoulos
Roster: David Barlow, Todd Blanchfield, Chris Goulding, Igor Hadziomerovic, Stephen Holt, Daniel Kickert, Majok Majok, Chris Patton, Nate Tomlinson, Hakim Warrick

Arrivals: Todd Blanchfield (Townsville Crocodiles), Chris Goulding (Spain), Igor Hadziomerovic (Boise State University), Stephen Holt (Canton Charge), Majok Majok (Slovenia), Hakim Warrick (NBA)
Departures: Stephen Dennis, Daryl Corletto, Lucas Walker, Mark Worthington, Auryn MacMillan, Jordan McRae

Melbourne United might very well have had the most talent in the NBL last season, but the group never clicked and missed the playoffs. Again they might be the most talented group, albeit with a completely new roster led by Stephen Holt, Hakim Warrick, Chris Goulding and Todd Blanchfield.

Provided new coach Dean Demopoulos can get them all to click together, there is every chance that Melbourne become the team to beat and their potential firepower on offence defies belief coming into the new season.

Individually, Goulding, Holt and Warrick would be capable of taking out the MVP award as the best player in the league but together there is every chance they will pull together to be an unstoppable force.


Holt looks capable of playing in the NBA in the future, Goulding has come close to doing that before, spending last season in Europe, and now Warrick arrives as a late signing bringing with him 532 games of NBA experience.

That is the best trio of signings any club has ever made and it leaves the arrival of Blanchfield from the Crocs as almost an afterthought, but he too can be among the most valuable players in the league.

None of that takes into account that Daniel Kickert remains and that Majok Majok could be a breakout star, and based purely talent it’s hard to see United not being the championship favourites.

New Zealand Breakers

Last season’s finish: 19-9, champions
Predicted 2015-16 finish: Fifth
Season opener: Wednesday October 7 versus Adelaide 36ers at Adelaide Arena

Coach: Dean Vickerman
Roster: Tom Abercrombie, Duane Bailey, Everard Bartlett, Cedric Jackson, Charles Jackson, Shane McDonald, Alex Pledger, Rueben Te Rangi, Tai Wesley, Mika Vukona

Arrivals: Everard Bartlett (Ballarat Miners), Charles Jackson (Tennessee Tech University), Shane McDonald (Nunawading Spectres)
Departures: Corey Webster, Rhys Carter, Ekene Ibekwe


It’s difficult to make a case for the Breakers to not again be a contender having won four of the last five championships with Cedric Jackson running their ship. But if Corey Webster doesn’t return from his NBA tilt then it could dent their scoring prowess.

The simple fact that Jackson has played three seasons in the NBL and the Breakers have won a championship on all three occasions is enough to suggest New Zealand is again a force to be reckoned with even before considering what will be around him.

Webster, Rhys Carter and Ekene Ibekwe were all significant factors in last season’s championship win with Webster having a breakout season that now sees him on the verge of earning an NBA contract. Carter provided veteran guard leadership and Ibekwe had a huge influence as the big man at both ends of the floor, even hitting the championship-winner in the grand final against the Taipans.

There remains a chance that Webster still returns at some point this season, but right now it appears he is close to earning a contract for the New Orleans Pelicans, and his scoring punch won’t be easy to replace.

Charles Jackson looks a good signing to replace Ibekwe while Alex Pledger should be like a new recruit too after battling through injury all of last season. Everard Bartlett and Shane McDonald are solid guards who can run the offence, hit shots and make the right plays.

Tai Wesley and Reuben Te Rangi will be given every chance to break out with more opportunity, and if they deliver the Breakers certainly have enough championship experience and quality to be a chance winning a fifth title in six years.

Perth Wildcats


Last season’s finish: 16-12, losing semi-finalist
Predicted 2015-16 finish: Fourth
Season opener: Saturday October 10 versus Perth Wildcats at Adelaide Arena

Coach: Trevor Gleeson
Roster: Jermaine Beal, Greg Hire, Nathan Jawai, Tom Jervis, Jarrod Kenny, Matt Knight, Damian Martin, Casey Prather, Shawn Redhage, Jesse Wagstaff

Arrivals: Nathan Jawai (Spain), Jarrod Kenny (Hawkes Bay Hawks), Casey Prather (Bakersfield Jam)
Departures: DeAndre Daniels, Earnest Ross, Luke Martin, Drake U’u

The arrival of Casey Prather and Nathan Jawai does appear to have strengthened a Wildcats roster that came up short against the Cairns Taipans in the playoffs last season.

While the loss of Hugh Greenwood will hurt, if Damian Martin overcomes his injury troubles it would be a brave soul to predict they will miss the finals for the first time in 30 years.

The addition of Greenwood looked set to give the Wildcats potentially the best back court in the league alongside Martin, Jermaine Beal and Casey Prather who can play either the two or three spot in the NBL.

However, when Greenwood decided to give up his three-year Wildcats contract to follow his AFL dream at the Adelaide Crows, it threw Perth into a tail-spin.


The result was the signing of Jawai, who significantly strengthens the Wildcats’ front court alongside Matt Knight, Tom Jervis, Shawn Redhage and Jesse Wagstaff, but it does appear to leave them top heavy.

Jarrod Kenny arrived as a back-up guard, but the pressure in the back court falls on to Martin and Beal, with the latter now having recurring calf troubles and the latter a better shooter than ball carrier.

Prather will be asked to play more of the two spot than three as a result while Redhage and Wagstaff might both have to find a way to play out of position as small forward.

The equation appears simple. If Martin remains fit, the Wildcats are a title contender. If he doesn’t, a 30th straight playoff appearances appears unlikely.

Sydney Kings

Last season’s finish: 9-19, seventh
Predicted 2015-16 finish: Sixth
Season opener: Saturday October 10 versus Cairns Taipans at Qantas Credit Union Arena

Coach: Damian Cotter
Roster: Angus Brandt, Jason Cadee, Rhys Carter, Josh Childress, Tom Garlepp, Jerome Hill, Julian Khazzouh, Steve Markovic, Dion Prewster, Marcus Thornton


Arrivals: Rhys Carter (New Zealand Breakers), Jerome Hill (University of Texas), Julian Khazzouh (Lebanon), Steve Markovic (Townsville Crocodiles), Dion Prewster (Wellington Saints), Marcus Thornton (NBA)
Departures: Ben Madgen, Kendrick Perry, Daniel Joyce, Josh Duinker, Kevin White, Cody Ellis

Having Josh Childress for a full season will instantly make the Kings playoff contenders. With the addition of Marcus Thornton, return of Julian Khazzouh and arrival of veteran guards Steve Markovic and Rhys Carter they very well could turn into a championship contender.

Until he got injured last season, Childress backed up being the best credentialed NBL recruit in history by proving to be the best player in the league with no other club having answers for him.

However, when he got hurt and missed the rest of the season the Kings fell out of playoff contention.

Once Childress agreed to return for a second season, it was up to the Kings to provide him with more help if they were to be a playoff threat, and that certainly appears to have happened.

The return of centre Khazzouh will give Sydney a strong inside presence with help from Angus Brandt and with Tom Garlepp having dramatically improved in the last two years.

Aside from the loss of Ben Madgen, the additions are significantly better than the departures. Jerome Hill and Thornton arrive with a point to prove that they can be stars at this level while Carter and Markovic offer plenty in terms of leadership, shooting and play-making abilities.


Win or lose, it could very well be the most exciting team to watch in the league and that can only be good for all concerned. There is a very good chance of big crowds in Sydney coming out for the pleasure of watching Childress, Thornton, Hill, Khazzouh and company in action.

Townsville Crocodiles

Last season’s finish: 11-17, sixth
Predicted 2015-16 finish: Seventh
Season opener: Friday October 9 versus Melbourne United at Townsville Entertainment Centre

Coach: Shawn Dennis
Roster: Brian Conklin, Mirko Djeric, Leon Henry, Jordair Jett, Nick Kay, Corey Maynard, Mitch Norton, Luke Schenscher, Clint Steindl, Mitch Young

Arrivals: Jordair Jett (Saint Louis University), Nick Kay (Metro State University), Corey Maynard (Cairns Taipans), Luke Schenscher (Adelaide 36ers), Mitch Young (Cairns Taipans)
Departures: Steve Markovic, Todd Blanchfield, Greg Vanderjagt, Jacob Holmes, Mickell Gladness

Retaining the services of MVP Brian Conklin was a massive coup for the Crocodiles and while they don’t have the superstars of others, what they will do is play as a strong unit, and be competitive right to the final buzzer meaning they will win more than many expect.

The Crocs made themselves tough to beat last season with a young team last season and they played some exciting basketball led by Conklin and Todd Blanchfield. Blanchfield has since departed for Melbourne in a blow, but retaining Conklin was massive for coach Shawn Dennis.


The team can now be built around the power forward and the Crocs have added some depth up front in the addition of Luke Schenscher and Mitch Young.

Whether or not they are able to become playoff contenders could depend on how good import Jordair Jett and young Australian Nick Kay perform, but again the Crocs and Dennis will be putting plenty of faith in youth.

Clint Steindl, Mitch Norton, Mirko Djeric and Corey Maynard will have big roles to play in the back court, and continuing to back in and provide experience to young Australians will only benefit the Crocs and Australian basketball going forward.

Townsville will now be spurred on by witnessing the North Queensland Cowboys win the NRL premiership and don’t be surprised to see them win more than people think in the NBL.