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NBL 2017-18 season preview: Sydney Kings

Sydney Kings coach Andrew Gaze. (AAP Image/Sydney Kings)
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26th September, 2017
3

The Sydney Kings were almost the NBL’s most disappointing club in 2016-17, the men in purple and gold finishing seventh after widely being tipped as grand finalists. Improvement in the new season looks a long way off as well, despite personnel changes.

After a stunning start, the Kings were on cruise control and destined to be in the battle for the minor premiership as the season neared Christmas. That’s where the fun ended, losing nine of their last 12.

Their final match of the season, an absolute shellacking in Perth, summed things up. Sydney went down by 27 points and without Brad Newley and Kevin Lisch, it would have been more.

There were plenty of glaring issues. Injuries played their part, as did a lack of chemistry, with multiple imports coming and going.

It might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but signing former Los Angeles Lakers player Steve Blake was the beginning of the end. Their offence lost its mojo, Blake never found his shooting range, and things went from bad to worse before he left after just a handful of games.

Sydney Kings point guard Steve Blake

(Image: Noah Salzman CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Kings never recovered. No matter what Kevin Lisch and MVP-candidate Brad Newley were able to do, they struggled for size up front and their attacking structure – the old Andrew Gaze shuffle – simply didn’t work in a league where defences adapted quickly.

Where Sydney finished wasn’t good enough. They shelled out for big guns, had one of Australia’s most successful players as coach and simply couldn’t get it done.

Off court, promotion was fantastic, crowds were up and, especially in the first half of the season, things were rosy. Another bad season though and the Kings will start to lose the faith of Sydneysiders. This is a fickle city and the pressure on the players from the organisation will be immense.

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Unfortunately, there are similar issues coming into the season. They still have one of the best frontcourts in the league, but when the going got tough, the Kings failed last year.

Can they turn it around this year?

Team roster and depth chart

Squad
Kevin Lisch (captain), Jason Cadee, Sam Daly (development), Travis Leslie (import), Todd Blanchfield, Adam Thoseby,
Brad Newley, Tom Garlepp, Perry Ellis (import), Dane Pineau, Darcy Malone (development), Isaac Humphries, Amritpal Singh (import), Deng Acouth (development)

In: Travis Leslie, Todd Blanchfield, Adam Thoseby, Perry Ellis, Dane Pineau, Isaac Humphries, Amritpal Singh
Out: Julian Kazzouh, Jeromie Hill, Michael Bryson, Greg Whittington, Steve Blake, Josh Powell, Alexs Maric
Coach: Andrew Gaze

Starter Interchange 1 Interchange 2
Point guard Kevin Lisch Jason Cadee Sam Daly (dev)
Shooting guard Travis Leslie Todd Blanchfield Adam Thoseby
Small forward Brad Newley Tom Garlepp
Power forward Perry Ellis Dane Pineau Darcy Malone (dev)
Centre Isaac Humphries Amritpal Singh Deng Acouth (dev)

The immediate observation is they are very light on up front.

It was a problem last year – not that it was supposed to be. Julian Kazzouh was injured, Alexs Maric didn’t live up to his reputation, and import Josh Powell was inconsistent.

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This year, Isaac Humphries will lead the charge. The 19-year-old went undrafted in the NBA after cutting his stuttering college run short, and now has an opportunity to play full-time in his home city.

While the seven-foot centre has been strong during the pre-season, getting into the regular season grind will be a completely different prospect, and the support around him leaves a lot to be desired.

Indian team captain Amritpal Singh has been signed and is likely to come off the bench, but how he stacks up in the competitive NBL is anyone’s guess. He will have to play plenty of minutes from the pine, while his combination with Perry Ellis – who went undrafted last year and is likely to start at the four – will be crucial.

While veteran Tom Garlepp is listed to play at the three, behind Brad Newley, on the depth chart above, the likelihood is he will spend a lot of time at the four, as he did two seasons ago, to beef up the Kings’ inside presence.

Garlepp will pump out consistent performances no matter where he plays, and was one of the side’s best during their disappointing second half of 2016-17.

While the frontcourt is a problem, the backcourt sure isn’t. Kevin Lisch and former Los Angeles Clipper Travis Leslie will start in the guard spots, with sharp-shooting Jason Cadee looking for another good season, this time likely from the bench.

Todd Blanchfield has also been signed, and when the former United player is coming from the bench, you know there is plenty of depth.

Key questions

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Can the backcourt counter the frontcourt?
The frontcourt depth is a major issue and whether Lisch, Cadee, Leslie, Newley and Blanchfield can cover that is up for serious debate.

While ball movement was a big part of the Kings’ offence last year, those inside the paint may not be able to finish off moves on a consistent basis, because it’s impossible to tell if Humphries is going to excel in his first professional gig.

For that reason, the Kings could make a considerable shift to outside shooting. Lisch, Cadee and Newley are among the best in the league from outside the arc, and Blanchfield showed what he could do last season, sinking seven on a Sunday afternoon against Illawarra.

Leslie and Lisch are both good ball-movers, but it may be in a different sort of setup. The shuffle offence Andrew Gaze employed and failed with last year must almost certainly be scrapped, with Lisch and Leslie running a more conventional offence.

With Cadee and Newley shooting out of the corners, the work of Humphries and Ellis off the ball, dragging defenders, will be crucial to open up shots.

So the backcourt can cover the frontcourt if they get the gameplan right, but there are plenty of ifs in the equation.

Andrew Gaze looking on for the Kings

(AAP Image/Sydney Kings)

Pressure on a youngster: But will Isaac Humphries rise or fall?
The signing of Humphries has been met with excitement by fans, but there is some concern the club hasn’t signed a quality American or European centre. With only Singh behind him, and Ellis alongside in the frontcourt, the pressure on the pair will be immense.

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Humphries and Ellis are inexperienced, and Humphries is going to be expected to play a role AJ Ogilvy has filled at the Illawarra Hawks over the years – the man who does everything in the paint, from rebounding to scoring and blocking to off-ball work.

It’s going to be an uphill battle for Humphries which, will hand him plenty of experience, but as we saw last year when Terrence Ferguson took more than half a year to get going at the Adelaide 36ers, this league is not one that you can just throw youngsters into anymore.

If he succeeds though, Humphries takes the Kings a long way towards the finals.

Was Todd Blanchfield a good signing?
Absolutely.

Blanchfield has had an inconsistent 24 months, but when he is on his game, he tends to be one of the better small forwards in the competition. His versatility means he can also play at the two and four, something the Kings will love coming off the bench.

The former United player is a cagey defender, which Sydney need, having lost plenty on that side of the coin. He and former captain Tom Garlepp will provide a strong combination off the bench – nothing special, but they can turn games simply through effort.

Team fixtures

Round Date Time (AEDT) Opponent Venue
1 Sat Oct 7 5:30 PM Adelaide 36ers Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
2 Fri Oct 13 5:30 PM New Zealand Breakers Spark Arena, Auckland
2 Sun Oct 15 3:00 PM Illawarra Hawks Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
3 Thu Oct 19 5:30 PM New Zealand Breakers Spark Arena, Auckland
3 Sat Oct 21 5:30 PM Adelaide 36ers Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide
4 Sun Oct 29 3:00 PM Illawarra Hawks WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong
5 Fri Nov 3 9:30 PM Perth Wildcats Perth Arena
5 Sun Nov 5 3:00 PM Illawarra Hawks Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
6 Sat Nov 11 5:30 PM Melbourne United Hisense Arena, Melbourne
7 Thu Nov 16 7:30 PM Illawarra Hawks WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong
7 Sat Nov 18 5:30 PM Adelaide 36ers Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide
8 Thu Nov 30 7:30 PM Cairns Taipans Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
8 Sat Dec 2 5:30 PM Cairns Taipans Cairns Convention Centre
9 Sat Dec 9 5:30 PM Brisbane Bullets Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
9 Mon Dec 11 7:30 PM Melbourne United Hisense Arena, Melbourne
10 Sun Dec 17 3:00 PM Cairns Taipans Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
11 Thu Dec 21 7:30 PM New Zealand Breakers Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
11 Sat Dec 23 5:30 PM Brisbane Bullets Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
12 Sat Dec 30 5:30 PM Melbourne United Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
13 Sat Jan 6 5:30 PM Perth Wildcats Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
14 Sat Jan 13 5:30 PM Adelaide 36ers Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
15 Fri Jan 19 9:30 PM Perth Wildcats Perth Arena
15 Sun Jan 21 3:00 PM Perth Wildcats Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
16 Sun Jan 28 3:00 PM Melbourne United Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
17 Sat Feb 3 7:30 PM Cairns Taipans Cairns Convention Centre
18 Sat Feb 10 5:30 PM Brisbane Bullets Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
19 Thu Feb 15 7:30 PM Brisbane Bullets Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
19 Sun Feb 18 TBC New Zealand Breakers Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney
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The Kings draw for the season ahead is split into two distinguishable parts, but if they don’t manage to come out of the first with an even record, momentum will be away from them and possibly unrecoverable.

They start the season with two of three at home, but play just one of their next eight in the Harbour City. Two trips to New Zealand and one to Perth also appear in their horror run.

If the travel catches up with them, there’s a very real threat the Kings could only get a couple of wins from their first 11 games.

They then go home-away-home-away, before spending most of December and January on their home floor. It’ll be a chance for the Kings to build momentum heading into the playoffs, playing nine of their final 13 games at home.

If Sydney make the playoffs, it’s going to be a big second-half run and they could well be the in-form team when we get there.

Prediction

Despite a back-loaded schedule, the Kings don’t have the depth up front to go with the big teams.

There are plenty of questions over what sort of offence they are going to run after a disappointing 2016-17, but it won’t matter if they can’t defend and score in the paint.

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Humpries is a talent, but he can’t do it all on his own. The Sydney backcourt mean they win enough games to be competitive, but I can’t see them making the playoffs. There is too much talent ahead of them.

Andrew Gaze’s job might be up for grabs at the end of the year with another finals miss, and that’s where I reckon the Kings will be.

Fifth.

On Thursday, we move into the top four in this preview series.