The Cairns Taipans' NBL season is still alive with an important 73-69 win at home over Queensland rivals Brisbane.
The Brisbane Bullets collapsed in their first season back in the NBL with injuries getting the better of them, but the situation is poised to be different in 2017-18.
It was always up in the air how the Bullets were going to go last season. After an almost decade-long hiatus, the franchise returned to the league and put up a solid start to their first season.
The win on opening night against defending champions the Wildcats was memorable, as was a win in Perth later during the season. Highlights after Christmas were few and far between though for the Brisbane-based side, as they fell over to finish at the bottom of the season.
Their imports – in particular Jermaine Beal – didn’t fire in the slightest and they would finish bottom of the table by a considerable distance. So considerable in fact, they were out of the race for the finals with three weeks of the season to go.
Every other team was in the race for the top four into the last round, highlighting exactly how close last season was.
There were plenty of positives the Bullets can afford to draw on as we head into the new season though. Taking a relatively stable roster, their start to the season was excellent. No one exactly knew what was going to happen to the new organisation, but they handled the pressure and fanfare well to be up the top early on.
Andrej Lemanis has proven himself as a good coach at the top level before and did it again last year. He imparted a defence first approach on the Bullets, and it worked reasonably well.
There are plenty of young guys on their roster who played the part, but it was veterans Anthony Petrie and Tom Jervis who were particularly impressive off the bench, while Daniel Kickert had another outstanding season.
As with anything when injuries take over, the Bullets lost their way during the second half of the season, but this is a side who are promising plenty for the season ahead.
Travis Trice (import), Adam Gibson (captain), Shaun Bruce, Stephen Holt (import), Matt Kenyon, Reuben Te Rangi, Perrin Buford (import), Anthony Petrie, Tom Fullarton (development), Cameron Bairstow, Mitchell Young, Daniel Kickert, Tom Jervis, Tyrrell Harrison (development)
In: Travis Trice, Stephen Holt, Perrin Buford
Out: Jermaine Beale, Torrey Craig
Coach: Andrej Lemanis
|Starter||Interchange 1||Interchange 2|
|Point guard||Travis Trice||Adam Gibson||Shaun Bruce|
|Shooting guard||Stephen Holt||Matt Kenyon|
|Small forward||Perrin Buford||Reuben Te Rangi||Tom Fullarton (Dev)|
|Power forward||Daniel Kickert||Anthony Petrie|
|Centre||Tom Jervis||Mitchell Young||Tyrrell Harrison (Dev)|
The squad is a reasonably well-balanced one for the Bullets, as it appeared on the surface before last season started.
The biggest points to note include no Jermaine Beal, and the short-term contract of Jeremy Kendle not being renewed, despite a superb stint for the Bullets after they moved Beal on.
The team unsurprisingly look a lot stronger without Beal there. His days in Australia look marked as never again, despite being the Wildcats player of the year a short three seasons ago.
Brisbane, in his place have Travis Trice and Stephen Holt to play in the guard positions. Trice was one of the stars of the league last season, claiming the Cairns Taipans MVP award as he led them into the playoffs, but not over the Wildcats.
His well-rounded offensive game is a key pickup under the Lemanis structure, and his combination with Kickert and Cameron Bairstow – should he not be injured – is shaping up as an entertaining one.
Holt is remembered for his time at Melbourne United. He is a creative player who can fill both the one and two on court, and can shoot the three ball.
New import Perin Buford is likely to lock down at the three, while the likely season-ending injury to Cameron Bairstow means the Bullets are likely to go with either Anthony Petrie, former Wildcats’ big man Tom Jervis or exciting youngster Mitchell Young to partner Daniel Kickert in the frontcourt.
Adam Gibson coming from the pine also offers plenty, while Reuben Te Rangi impressed in the pre-season FIBA Asia Cup and could be in for a big year.
Can Trice and Holt gel and work together?
This is probably the question which determines where the Bullets will end up in 2017-18. Holt, as we know is a superb three-point shooter and loves to have the ball in his hands, but so does Trice.
Trice is coming off a season where he was the main man in Cairns, and despite some cold form early, he sparked their run to make the playoffs. Holt too, has been a star in Melbourne before, although is more used to playing next to established players, having been alongside Chris Goulding during his time in Victoria.
Shot creation was a real issue for United last season, and Holt should go some way to fixing that. His passing is a key asset to his game, but whether he will get the ball in his hands enough playing the two spot is yet to be seen under the Lemanis structure.
Trice, playing the one will have first use more often than not and we all know what he is capable of.
This is going to be a real juggling act for Lemanis, but one he must pull off. Working together, Holt and Trice have the ability to be one of the better guard combinations going around, but we have to remember, they aren’t Casper Ware, Kevin Lisch and Bryce Cotton quality.
So to make it work, they have to be playing the same gameplan and sharing the orange.
How good can the Bullets’ frontcourt be?
Even without the injured Bairstow, the Bullets’ frontcourt is an exciting prospect. Kickert is coming off another huge season, capped off with representation for the Boomers at the Asia Cup where he excelled.
Kickert has long been one of the best shooters in the league, but needs to take on that responsibility more this year, especially with defenders needing to worry more about the outside shooting prowess of Trice and Holt.
The paint leader will be joined by veteran Tom Jervis, who went from strength to strength last season, and it could well be that the pair are named to start by Lemanis. Jervis tenacity on the glass stood him out from the crowd, and it has right throughout his career.
Mitchell Young is one of the most exciting prospects going around, but must step it up this year. It’s crunch time for Young, after a season with promise and inconsistent performances.
Working in rotation, on the back of the Holt passing game, the Bullets frontcourt could surprise many who have already written them off this year.
How much does a trip to the States set them back?
The Bullets aren’t the only team with a trip to the States, but there’s is the furthest into the season, and it will be interesting to see how they respond.
Not only do the Bullets have to travel to Phoenix for a weekend game, but they will have to do so during an NBL round.
It means they won’t play a game during Round 2, and how they recover from that is going to be telling on their season.
While it might have an impact, Andrej Lemanis is coach of the national team, who are used to playing games on the back of travel – albeit not half way around the globe – but he is probably the man for the job if they are going to recover and get back on top when they return home from the game against the Suns.
|1||Sat Oct 7||8:30 PM||Perth Wildcats||Perth Arena|
|3||Fri Oct 20||7:30 PM||Cairns Taipans||Brisbane Entertainment Centre|
|3||Sun Oct 22||5:00 PM||Illawarra Hawks||WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong|
|4||Thu Oct 26||7:30 PM||New Zealand Breakers||Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre|
|4||Sat Oct 28||5:30 PM||Melbourne United||Carrara Stadium, Gold Coast|
|5||Fri Nov 3||7:30 PM||Illawarra Hawks||Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre|
|6||Sun Nov 12||3:00 PM||Cairns Taipans||Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre|
|7||Fri Nov 17||7:30 PM||Perth Wildcats||Brisbane Entertainment Centre|
|7||Sun Nov 19||1:00 PM||New Zealand Breakers||Spark Arena, Auckland|
|8||Fri Dec 1||7:30 PM||Adelaide 36ers||Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide|
|8||Sun Dec 3||3:00 PM||New Zealand Breakers||Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre|
|9||Thu Dec 7||5:30 PM||New Zealand Breakers||Spark Arena, Auckland|
|9||Sat Dec 9||5:30 PM||Sydney Kings||Qudos Bank Arena, Homebush|
|10||Thu Dec 14||7:30 PM||Cairns Taipans||Cairns Convention Centre|
|10||Sat Dec 16||5:30 PM||Perth Wildcats||Perth Arena|
|11||Sat Dec 23||5:30 PM||Sydney Kings||Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre|
|12||Tue Dec 26||7:30 PM||Melbourne United||Hisense Arena, Melbourne|
|12||Sun Dec 31||3:00 PM||Illawarra Hawks||WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong|
|13||Fri Jan 5||7:30 PM||Cairns Taipans||Cairns Convention Centre|
|13||Sun Jan 7||3:00 PM||Adelaide 36ers||Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre|
|14||Sun Jan 14||3:00 PM||Perth Wildcats||Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre|
|15||Sat Jan 20||5:30 PM||Melbourne United||Brisbane Entertainment Centre|
|16||Sat Jan 27||5:30 PM||Adelaide 36ers||Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre|
|17||Sat Feb 3||5:30 PM||Melbourne United||Hisense Arena, Melbourne|
|18||Thu Feb 8||7:30 PM||Illawarra Hawks||Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre|
|18||Sat Feb 10||5:30 PM||Sydney Kings||Qudos Bank Arena, Homebush|
|19||Thu Feb 15||7:30 PM||Sydney Kings||Brisbane Entertainment Centre|
|19||Sat Feb 17||5:30 PM||Adelaide 36ers||Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide|
As already discussed, the Bullets are going to be in for a rude start to the season after their trip to Phoenix during Round 2.
Apart from the fatigue issues that it brings, both through the trip and having to catch-up games later in the season, it raises the question of how fit they are going to be, given the number of injuries the side suffered last time around.
The Bullets fitness will be given a thorough testing between Rounds 6 and 13, when the side play 13 games in 7 weeks, including six doubleheaders. Of that stretch, they also play nine on the road, so it could well be what decides the Bullets’ season.
If the Bullets overcome that stretch of the season, they go on to play six of their last nine at home. If this team are as talented as they look on paper, then a run like that could springboard them not only into the finals, but up to a potential home semi-final and give them plenty of momentum for the business end of the season.
The Bullets look very strong on paper this year. The effect of their US trip and a long road trip is yet to be seen, but they have the cattle to get over that. Andrej Lemanis is a tough coach with a defence first approach, but that’s exactly what they will need to get through it.
So long as the Bullets stay healthy, their creatives in Trice and Holt should work like a dream with Kickert and Bairstow in the paint to finish things off. While the calibre of Buford is yet to be seen against the rest of the NBL, the Bullets, with their depth off the bench have the capabilities to go a long way in this year’s competition.
As much as I’m tipping them to miss the top two, don’t be surprised if they sneak in or cause a major upset in the semi-finals.
Next up, we will move onto the top two, with only Melbourne and Perth remaining during this series.
In the meantime, leave your comments below on the Brisbane Bullets. How do you rate their chances? Can they improve on last season?
The rest of the series