The Roar
The Roar


Sixers attempt to buck history by building NBL success

Adelaide 36ers have continued a successful rebuilding phase in the NBL. Image: Chris Pike
21st November, 2016

We didn’t learn a lot in Round 7 of the NBL with the Sydney Kings, Perth Wildcats, Illawarra Hawks and New Zealand Breakers holding home court. But we did see that the Adelaide 36ers are not playoff contenders.

That raises the question that the 36ers are going to put to the test and that is if it’s possible to build a team for the future in the win-now culture of basketball.

If you look the NBA and the NBL, there are rare cases of clubs who have gone the rebuilding route and backed in youth for the long haul and had the patience to stick with it going through short-term pain with the goal of long-term, sustained success.

It is commonplace in the AFL where clubs regularly go the path of going back to the draft and it’s not uncommon for a team to be given up to a five-year breathing space to try and again become a contender – see the Western Bulldogs, St Kilda and Melbourne as recent examples.

But that has not been the culture in the history of the NBL or basketball in general, including the NBA. While clubs might tank for a lottery pick, generally they don’t have the patience to not look for quick fixes before seeing that plan of banking on youth through.

Both through necessity of not having to match most other clubs financially and a decision made my club management, the Adelaide 36ers of 2016-17 have made a concerted effort to go young with a team built around superstar point guard Jerome Randle.

The 36ers team with young captain Mitch Creek, emerging star Nathan Sobey, big man Matt Hodgson and Australian rookies Majok Deng and Anthony Drmic could well form the core of a successful team. But not now, not yet.

However, the Sixers have put their faith in that group and coach Joey Wright who remains contracted for the next two seasons.


It has been bad luck that Creek has been sidelined the last six games with a broken leg and he will be for a while longer. But Sobey has stepped up to average 19.6 points since Creek went down.

While Sobey still at times plays too much on impulse with a degree of over-confidence, he is exciting and as pure a natural talent that there is in the NBL.

Hodgson is proving a solid big man and while Drmic and Deng haven’t set the world on fire to start their professional careers, there’s every reason to expect in two years’ time they will be at their peak and that’s when this Adelaide core will be.

The thing stopping them from being a playoff contender right now isn’t that group of young locals. Because that is showing a clear vision for the future and it could well pay off down the track for Adelaide.

Adelaide 36ers have continued a successful rebuilding phase in the NBL. Image: Chris Pike

But the 36ers’ most seasoned NBL player is big man Daniel Johnson who has 203 games of experience. While capable of a big double-double any given night like his 20 points and 12 rebounds in Saturday’s home loss to Brisbane, he far too often goes missing. Compared to the leadership rival big men Anthony Petrie, Matt Knight, Mika Vukona and Mark Worthington provide, Johnson doesn’t give enough of that to a Sixers team crying out for an example setter.

Then there is the three imports. Firstly, Terrance Ferguson and Eric Jacobsen who are also rookies when perhaps it might have been advisable for Adelaide to go for a little more experience with such a youthful group of locals if they wanted to be a chance at immediate success.


Jacobsen has been solid enough as a big man with 8.8 points and 7.9 rebounds, but the experiment so far of Ferguson has been a disaster for player and team. Rather than spend a year in college, the 18-year-old decided to have a year playing in Australia before going on to be an expected top ten NBA draft pick.

The problem is, every game that he plays now in the NBL his stock is rapidly dropping. It likely won’t have any long-term impact on his career as long as he ends up being a first round draft pick next year and earns a guaranteed contract. But he is a waste of a roster spot right now when the 36ers could dearly love someone who can provide not only points, but a bit of everything.

There is then the best individual player in the NBL, Randle. On any given night, the little man can catch fire and be unstoppable. He can hit shots from anywhere, he can get to the rim and finish among the giants and when he has his swagger going, he can take Adelaide to wins all on his own.

That’s all well and good. And he will win games for Adelaide but it’s hardly the recipe for any significant team success. He also appears to be growing frustrated with his time in Adelaide and at least during games, his demeanour and interaction with coach Wright hardly sets a glowing example for his teammates.

On Saturday night against Brisbane, Randle was guarded by Torrey Craig and held to seven points. You can accept that. But he was shown up defensively by Craig at times embarrassingly.

When Wright called him out for that, Randle argued back at his coach and acted with petulance. On a team with so many rookies or those not far from it, their star performer and match-winner can’t act like that, especially with a team that has been built with the future in mind.

If Randle continues to act like that, it stifles the development of the group and it could very well quickly undo any long-term vision the club has every intention of sticking to.


No matter what happens, there does appear to be some guarantees with this Adelaide team. They won’t make the playoffs this season. But it’s a core that could be built for success with faith from management and better import decisions next season and beyond.

The Sixers get a return clash with the Bullets in Brisbane this Thursday with added interest sparked after Daniel Kickert was cited for a head-butt on Drmic, before Kickert and Wright let their feelings known on Twitter and were subsequently fined by the NBL respectively.

That’s all well and good and might give the 36ers some added motivation for a one-off game on Thursday. But the fact remains it’s a team built for the future and it could prove a fascinating NBL test case if it’s possible to do such a thing.

Round 7 NBL results

Perth Wildcats 93 beat Sydney Kings 80

New Zealand Breakers 100 beat Illawarra Hawks 85
Melbourne United 84 beat Cairns Taipans 79

Adelaide 36ers 87 lost to Brisbane Bullets 105
Sydney Kings 83 beat Perth Wildcats 72

Illawarra Hawks 109 beat New Zealand Breakers 78