The Roar
The Roar

Advertisement

NBL 2017-18 season preview: Perth Wildcats

The Perth Wildcats will look to bounce back against the Denver Nuggets. (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)
Expert
2nd October, 2017
3

The Perth Wildcats are the most consistent team in Australian sporting history having made the playoffs 31 straight times. They also happen to be the back-to-back reigning premiers and are a solid chance of making it a three-peat when the 2017-18 season tips off.

Perth really had no right to win the 2016-17 championship. Their qualification for the finals wasn’t locked in until the last day of the season, but given how close everything was it hardly came as a surprise when a team with their level of experience excelled on their way to the big dance.

They went on to knock over the Cairns Taipans in the semi-final, before blowing past the Illawarra Hawks 3-0 in a canter during the grand final series.

But, it was far from easy for a club who has set a record for making finals series. They were at one point sitting dead last, having been handed their biggest ever beating on Perth Arena by the Brisbane Bullets.

The second half of the season though, following the Christmas period saw them get a number of stars back in the side. Casey Prather found his touch, their bench worked their way into things and most importantly Damian Martin, their defensive linchpin was back on the floor.

greg-hire-casey-prather-perth-wildcats-nbl-basketball-2017

(Chris Pike)

With plenty of personnel changes for the season ahead, there could be some growing pains for the men in red. If there’s one thing you know about this ball club though, it’s that they will be at the top come the pointy end, and under Trevor Gleeson they will be hard-nosed in defence. Add that to almost unbeatable in front of 13,000 fans each game, and you get where I’m heading with this.

Team Roster and depth chart

Squad
Damian Martin (captain), Jarrod Kenny, Bryce Cotton (import), Dexter Kernrich-Drew, Mason Bragg (development), J.P. Tokoto (import), Greg Hire, Lucas Walker, Derek Cooke (import), Jesse Wagstaff, Matthew Knight, Angus Brandt, Devondrick Walker (import – injured until new year)

Advertisement

In: Lucas Walker, J.P Tokoto, Derek Cooke, Devondrick Walker (injured)
Out: Casey Prather, Jaron Johnson, Jameel McKay, Shawn Redhage
Coach: Trevor Gleeson

Starter Interchange 1 Interchange 2
Point guard Damian Martin Jarrod Kenny
Shooting guard Bryce Cotton Dexter Kernrich-Drew Mason Bragg
Small forward J.P. Tokoto Greg Hire Lucas Walker
Power forward Derek Cooke Jesse Wagstaff
Centre Matthew Knight Angus Brandt

The Wildcats squad for the new season is missing some key names from their last campaign, and at the top of that list is Casey Prather. The import who has led the way in offence over the last two seasons looked destined to leave the NBL, but has since signed with Melbourne United.

Jameel McKay has also left the club after plenty of promising moments, but all-in-all, a disappointing two seasons consistency wise. Still, he rose when it counted for the Wildcats, helping them on their way to two premierships so it’ll be easier said than done to replace him.

Veteran Shawn Redhage has also drifted off into retirement, while the on again off again guard Jaron Johnson is nowhere to be found.

Once again, the Wildcats will be marshalled around the floor by Damian Martin. He did a superb job last year, and the difference between the side with him on the floor and not was noticeable. Mainly on the defensive end, but Martin also offered plenty in a consistent offensive game.

Bryce Cotton, who replaced Johnson at the end of last year is the man to join Martin in the starting five. His explosiveness was a big part in the Wildcats’ premiership, and it’ll be scary to see the sort of numbers he may put up this season.

Devondrick Walker was originally signed as a small forward option to replace Prather, but his injury means that, at least until Christmas, it will be JP Tokoto and Derek Cooke to fill the three and four spots. The pair have been impressive in the pre-season, Tokoto running up a storm against the Sydney Kings just last Wednesday in their final hit-out.

Advertisement

Matthew Knight will likely be shuffled back to the five after playing power forward for much of last year, but his injury woes mean Boomers debutant Angus Brandt and veteran Jesse Wagstaff, along with the recently signed Lucas Walker are likely to see plenty of minutes with the Wildcats playing small ball.

Key questions

Can anyone stop Bryce Cotton?
Cotton hit the NBL with a bang after Christmas last year. He had an immediate impact and was a standout in the grand final series. Playing just 16 games, he started every single one and came out of it averaging 23 points a contest, to go with three assists, a couple of rebounds and a 47 per cent shooting percentage.

His combination with Martin worked wonders, and his explosiveness was too hard to handle for most defences around the competition – and certainly those of the Taipans and Hawks come the business end of the season.

The question that remains now regards stopping him this year. There are some very good perimeter defenders in this competition, but without Prather on the same floor, the option may now be to double team Cotton when he gets his hands on the ball.

If it’s the only way to stop him, then it’s someone like Damian Martin you leave, given his inconsistency and at times unwillingness to take a three-point shot.

While that’s an option, no team is going to go in with a game plan to double team Cotton from the get go. When it’s down to a one-on-one battle though, there is only a very short list of guards who could think about stopping or even containing him.

bryce-cotton-perth-wildcats-nbl-basketball-2017

(AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

Advertisement

How do Perth cover if Knight gets injured again?
There’s no questioning the value Matty Knight brings to the Wildcats in the paint. The difference he makes when on the floor is huge, and if there’s one thing you can count on from the veteran, then it’s consistency.

It’s a policy which has made the Wildcats what they are. They demand consistency both as a group and individuals, and if it’s not up to scratch, Trevor Gleeson will have you on the bench quick smart.

While Jameel McKay was a big part of answering the problems the Wildcats faced with injuries to Knight last year, he isn’t in the picture this year.

It’s unclear at this stage if Knight will start the season after suffering a hand injury during the pre-season. While Brandt is there to fill-in his shoes, he won’t be able to do it all, and the back-up is looking just a little bit skinny.

In all truth, it’s probably the only area of the Wildcats roster that raises concerns.

Will Perth’s defence be as good as it has been?
The Wildcats defence is what has set them apart from the rest of the competition over the last few seasons. While they have had Prather and others running around for them, any side coached by Gleeson is going to be physical on the defensive end of the court.

It’s hardly a surprise they finished last year conceding just 2,257 points – or 80 points per game – which gave them the best defensive record in the competition by a considerable margin.

With their noted inside worries though, the question has to be asked if they will be quite as good at that end of the court this year, and more to the point, can they contain the big scoring teams.

Advertisement

When you think of offensively sound teams, you go straight to United, who have the best roster in the competition by the length of the straight. How will the Wildcats fare with a perimeter first, up tight defensive style against them?

Only time will tell, and Martin is one of, if not the best defensive guard Australian basketball has ever produced, but the pressure is going to be on them from the word go, and a Round 3 clash at home with Melbourne should tell us plenty.

Damian Martin of the Perth Wildcats

(AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

Team Fixtures

Round Date Time (AEDT) Opponent Venue
1 Sat Oct 7 8:30 PM Brisbane Bullets Perth Arena
2 Fri Oct 13 9:30 PM Illawarra Hawks Perth Arena
3 Fri Oct 20 9:30 PM Melbourne United Perth Arena
3 Sun Oct 22 7:00 PM Cairns Taipans Cairns Convention Centre
4 Thu Oct 26 9:30 PM Illawarra Hawks Perth Arena
5 Fri Nov 3 9:30 PM Sydney Kings Perth Arena
6 Thu Nov 9 5:30 PM New Zealand Breakers Spark Arena, Auckland
6 Sun Nov 12 7:00 PM New Zealand Breakers Perth Arena
7 Fri Nov 17 7:30 PM Brisbane Bullets Brisbane Entertainment Centre
7 Sun Nov 19 3:00 PM Melbourne United Hisense Arena
8 Fri Dec 1 5:30 PM New Zealand Breakers North Shore Events Centre, Auckland
9 Fri Dec 8 9:30 PM Adelaide 36ers Perth Arena
9 Sun Dec 10 3:00 PM Illawarra Hawks WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong
10 Sat Dec 16 5:30 PM Brisbane Bullets Perth Arena
11 Sat Dec 23 7:30 PM Illawarra Hawks WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong
12 Sun Dec 31 7:00 PM Cairns Taipans Cairns Convention Centre
13 Thu Jan 4 7:30 PM Adelaide 36ers Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide
13 Sat Jan 6 5:30 PM Sydney Kings Qudos Bank Arena, Homebush
14 Fri Jan 12 9:30 PM Melbourne United Perth Arena
14 Sun Jan 14 3:00 PM Brisbane Bullets Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre
15 Fri Jan 19 9:30 PM Sydney Kings Perth Arena
15 Sun Jan 21 3:00 PM Sydney Kings Qudos Bank Arena, Homebush
16 Sat Jan 27 8:30 PM New Zealand Breakers Perth Arena
17 Fri Feb 2 9:30 PM Adelaide 36ers Perth Arena
17 Sun Feb 4 3:00 PM Adelaide 36ers Titanium Security Arena, Adelaide
18 Fri Feb 9 9:30 PM Cairns Taipans Perth Arena
19 Fri Feb 16 7:30 PM Melbourne United Hisense Arena
19 Sun Feb 18 TBC Cairns Taipans Perth Arena

The Wildcats will have every chance to build momentum on their home floor early in the season, but it’s a stuttering schedule early on. Despite five of their first six being at home, Perth take five rounds to play those six games.

Momentum in a close competition is everything, and the Wildcats may not be able to build it having to spend so much time on the training court. In saying that, if they are to have a slow start for whatever reason, it’ll give them a chance to iron out the gameplan.

Of course, with a slow start, it means it’s going to be a hectic finale. The Wildcats play 13 games in the final seven rounds, but it’s going to be the middle third of the season which will test them the most as they lost their 13,000 seat Perth Arena to the Hopman Cup.

Advertisement

Between Rounds 7 and 14, Perth play just three of 11 on their home floor, and two of nine if you stop that count a round earlier. It’s going to be a difficult period, but if they overcome it, they will be in the driver’s seat for a home semi-final as they push into the second half of the year.

Prediction

The Wildcats are the most professional ball club in the country, and despite the loss of Casey Prather, their new imports are offering plenty.

While the situation with Walker is a tough one, they have maintained much of the same squad from last year which saw a good mix, with youngsters starting to stand up. Kirnrich-Drew and Brandt are two who could be in for monster year’s, while their starting five is as good as any – bar United – in the competition.

The Wildcats should book in a home semi-final and make it to the big dance on top of that for another season. It’s simply too difficult to see them missing out under Gleeson.

Second.

Given we have now unveiled all other seven sides, it will be Melbourne United’s turn tomorrow as the predicted minor premiers, before the season gets underway with the 36ers hosting United on Thursday evening in the city of churches.

Roarers, what do you make of the Wildcats’ chances in 2017-18?

The rest of the series

1. Melbourne United
2. Perth Wildcats
3. Brisbane Bullets
4. Adelaide 36ers
5. Sydney Kings
6. Cairns Taipans
7. Illawarra Hawks
8. New Zealand Breakers

close