Mitch McCarron's captain's knock and a dominant second-half performance have guided the Adelaide 36ers to a 83-57 thumping of the Cairns Taipans.
The Adelaide 36ers came up agonisingly short last season after surprising everyone to take the minor premiership and despite losing their biggest star, things are looking up for Joey Wright’s men as the new season begins.
Adelaide were written off by plenty before last season started. The main line of thought was that they didn’t have enough depth, picked an import who had no experience playing professionally and wasn’t even finished college yet, and the pressure on Jerome Randle would be too much to handle.
Given the side missed the playoffs the season before with a relatively similar roster, it didn’t exactly take rocket science to tip the same thing again.
And halfway through the season, most were feeling justified in their prediction. The side simply weren’t hitting their stride. Terrence Ferguson was all over the place, captain Mitch Creek was out injured and their defence was paper-thin.
Then, everything changed. It started with a pair of road wins in Brisbane and Sydney and escalated quickly from there for Joey Wright’s side. They were last place after seven rounds, rose to the top at the end of Round 11 and stayed there for the entire second half of the season.
Jerome Randle dominated, but Ferguson hit his stride and more impressively, their local talent came out to play. Nathan Sobey was superb in the guard rotation, Daniel Johnson and Matt Hodgson went from strength to strength in the paint and Brendan Teys had a breakout season.
They won eight straight to take over at the top of the competition, putting some space between them and the battling pack behind, qualifying for the finals a few weeks from the end of the season.
It was something of an unprecedented run for the 36ers, given their previous form and how close the competition was, but Adelaide made it count. Following their run of eight, they won six of their next seven, making it a total run of 14 from 15, rocketing them away from the pack.
So far in front were Adelaide, they lost their final four games of the regular season and still finished two games ahead at the top. Their loss of momentum bit in the finals though, as they went down in a tough three-game series to the Hawks.
Without a great deal of change, the 36ers are in a position to strike again in 2017-18.
Shannon Shorter (import), Brendan Teys (captain), Adam Doyle, Nathan Sobey, Ramone Moore (import), Mitch Creek, Anthony Drmic, Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (development), Ronald Roberts (import), Majok Deng, Caleb Davis (development), Daniel Johnson, Matt Hodgson
In: Ronald Roberts, Shannon Shorter, Ramone Moore
Out: Jerome Randle, Terrence Ferguson, Eric Jacobsen
Coach: Joey Wright
|Starter||Interchange 1||Interchange 2|
|Point guard||Shannon Shorter||Brendan Teys||Adam Doyle|
|Shooting guard||Nathan Sobey||Ramone Moore|
|Small forward||Mitch Creek||Anthony Drmic||Vishesh Bhriguvanshi (dev)|
|Power forward||Ronald Roberts||Majok Deng||Caleb Davis (dev)|
|Centre||Daniel Johnson||Matt Hodgson|
The notable absence of Jerome Randle is what could affect the 36ers this season. He is nearly impossible to replace in this league. Every game, he could be relied upon to bail Adelaide out of a tough spot – whether it be shooting from the high post, attacking the rim, shooting the three or assisting teammates, he had it all.
In his place is new import Shannon Shorter, who will start at the point among a strong local backcourt for the 36ers.
Much of it is the same as last year, with Nathan Sobey expected to start at the two and Brendan Teys expected to provide support for Shorter from the bench.
The addition is Ramone Moore. While he may not start, the former United import has plenty of versatility and will provide plenty for the 36ers at both ends of the court. There’s more than a little inkling he could turn into the best sixth man in the league, although he will probably be in competition with whoever misses out on the five at United.
Captain Mitch Creek will again start at the three, and after a strong pre-season, which included an NBA summer league opportunity and spot in the Australian team at the FIBA Asia Cup, he will be out to make up for lost time when he was out injured last year.
Their other new import Ronald Roberts is expected to put his athleticism to good use in the four, while Daniel Johnson and Matt Hodgson will again complete the big man rotation, looking to power past their opposition in the paint. Add Majok Deng from the bench, and it’s a pretty well-rounded roster for Adelaide.
Can the 36ers replace Jerome Randle?
This is without a doubt the key question confronting Adelaide this season. Jerome Randle was the MVP last season for a reason – he is a freakish basketball player.
He finished the season in the top five for both points (21.2) and assists (5.3) per game and was always tenacious on the defensive end, making a steal per game.
They are numbers which are going to take more than one player to replace. Shannon Shorter is a capable player and has plenty of experience, given he has been globetrotting for the last six years after going undrafted out of college.
He has come away with some strong numbers during his time, especially during stints in China, but the 6 foot 4 guard has played plenty of time in Europe and has not made a mess of things.
Handed the role to replace Randle is anything but a piece of cake though. The 36ers will need plenty out of him, but they may well be entering a position of extreme depth in the backcourt, considering what Teys, Sobey and even rookie of the year Anthony Drmic were able to serve up during 2016-17.
Drmic could be the interesting one in this equation. While he will spend most of his time backing up Mitch Creek in the three, he has played shooting guard throughout his time, and could alternate roles with Ramone Moore.
So, yes, they can to an extent. But Randle is unreplaceable and it’s going to take a complete group effort to do so.
Is it time for Matt Hodgson to break out?
Hodgson has always had more talent than he has known what to do with. Right from when he burst onto the basketball scene, he has shown glimpses of what he is capable of, but the centre has never been consistent enough.
Despite last year being his best in the league so far, he still only averaged 5.5 points and 5 rebounds a game – which simply isn’t enough. He had nights where he was completely quiet, and others where he threatened a double-double.
Working alongside Daniel Johnson probably had something to do with it, given his minutes were occasionally limited, but Hodgson needs to make the most of the time he gets on court, and there were times in 2016-17 when he didn’t do that.
If he is going to continue building into the new season, he must use his FIBA Asia Cup experience and hit the best form of his career – the 36ers might just be depending on it.
How much will NBA summer league stints help Creek and Sobey?
Mitch Creek spent most of last season injured, while Nathan Sobey spent it breaking out of the shadows. Both ended up in the USA during the pre-season, putting in time during the NBA summer league.
While neither were going to get an NBA contract if we are realistic about it, both would have learnt plenty from their time in the States.
Sobey was selected to the all-NBL second team last year, and with good reason. There were times when he was the star and Jerome Randle took a backseat, but without Randle in the side, it’s time for him to completely take over this year – whether that be scoring or assisting, this is now his team to run, rather than Shorter.
We all know Creek is a brilliant basketballer. His athleticism and never give up attitude is why he is captain in Adelaide. We saw it on display in the FIBA Asia Cup, when he played a starring role to get Australia over the line, and we saw the difference he made when he came back to Adelaide last year after being injured.
If the 36ers are to go places, the pair have huge jobs to do.
What role does Ramone Moore play?
The former United import has jumped ship for 2017-18 over to the 36ers, and isn’t it a buy for Joey Wright. Imaging having someone of the calibre of Moore ready to come from the bench, or potentially move into the starting team if Sobey doesn’t fire.
It’s almost too good to be true. Despite sitting out the second half of last season with injury – when he was replaced by Josh Boone – Moore was one of the best in a struggling United team, averaging ten points, three rebounds and two assists per game.
He also helps with the team balanace in the city of churches, give he could just as easily come on to give Creek a rest at the three, or help the team to play more of a small ball approach – by that, pushing Creek to the four.
Moore has a huge role to play in this team, but you get the feeling he is going to take more of a pass-first approach, helping their scorers Creek, Sobey, Johnson and Roberts to put up big numbers – as the 36ers did all of last season.
|1||Thu Oct 5||7:30 PM||Melbourne United||Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide|
|1||Sat Oct 7||5:30 PM||Sydney Kings||Qudos Bank Arena, Homebush|
|2||Thu Oct 12||7:30 PM||Cairns Taipans||Cairns Convention Centre|
|2||Sat Oct 14||5:30 PM||Melbourne United||Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide|
|3||Sat Oct 21||5:30 PM||Sydney Kings||Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide|
|4||Fri Oct 27||7:30 PM||Cairns Taipans||Cairns Convention Centre|
|5||Thu Nov 2||5:30 PM||New Zealand Breakers||North Shore Events Centre, Auckland|
|5||Sat Nov 4||5:30 PM||Melbourne United||Hisense Arena, Melbourne|
|6||Sat Nov 11||7:30 PM||Illawarra Hawks||Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide|
|7||Sat Nov 18||5:30 PM||Sydney Kings||Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide|
|8||Fri Dec 1||7:30 PM||Brisbane Bullets||Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide|
|9||Fri Dec 8||9:30 PM||Perth Wildcats||Perth Arena|
|9||Sun Dec 10||5:00 PM||New Zealand Breakers||Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide|
|10||Fri Dec 15||5:30 PM||New Zealand Breakers||Spark Arena, Auckland|
|11||Fri Dec 22||7:30 PM||Melbourne United||Hisense Arena, Melbourne|
|11||Sun Dec 24||3:00 PM||Cairns Taipans||Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide|
|12||Fri Dec 29||7:30 PM||New Zealand Breakers||Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide|
|13||Thu Jan 4||7:30 PM||Perth Wildcats||Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide|
|13||Sun Jan 7||3:00 PM||Brisbane Bullets||Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre|
|14||Thu Jan 11||7:30 PM||Cairns Taipans||Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide|
|14||Sat Jan 13||5:30 PM||Sydney Kings||Qudos Bank Arena, Homebush|
|15||Fri Jan 19||7:30 PM||Illawarra Hawks||Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide|
|15||Sun Jan 21||5:00 PM||Illawarra Hawks||WIN Entertainment Centre|
|16||Sat Jan 27||5:30 PM||Brisbane Bullets||Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre|
|17||Fri Feb 2||9:30 PM||Perth Wildcats||Perth Arena|
|17||Sun Feb 4||3:00 PM||Perth Wildcats||Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide|
|18||Sun Feb 11||3:00 PM||Illawarra Hawks||WIN Entertainment Centre|
|19||Sat Feb 17||5:30 PM||Brisbane Bullets||Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide|
In terms of home and away, the 36ers have a balanced schedule. Their longest trip away is just three games, while their longest home stand is three games. That doesn’t allow momentum to be built, but without the long trips, it doesn’t allow it to completely go away either.
Four of their first five are against Melbourne United and the Sydney Kings, so that’ll give us a pretty good idea about where they are at early in the season.
Playing Perth twice in Round 17 won’t be helpful, but the 36ers do play the Illawarra Hawks three times in the final month of action, so that could give them an opportunity to finish the season strongly.
The 36ers have plenty of talent. Creek and Sobey are outstanding players in their own right, Teys showed plenty last season and their imports are promising.
All wrapped together with the Joey Wright factor, it’s going to be another impressive season in the city of churches.
Without the X-Factor of Randle though, it’s hard to see them going any higher than the bottom of the four. There are some very strong teams in this competition, and a semi-final exit for the second straight year probably beckons for the 36ers.
Three teams remain in this preview series, and next it’s the other team who will be faced with an away series in the semi-finals.
In the meantime, be sure to drop a comment below on what you think of the 36ers prospects for the season ahead.