The King was letting his basketball do the talking.
After a hyped off-season, the NBL is back with a vengeance. Here’s my take on Week 1.
Casper Ware – Rim Protector
The NBL was hoping to start with a bang and their Friday night special delivered a game for the ages. For just the second time in NBL history, Melbourne and Illawarra took their battle to a fourth overtime in an absolute cliffhanger.
Of all the possible finishes to this special night, a 5’10” point guard rotating along the baseline from the weak side to stop the Hawks drive to a special win would have been long odds. Casper Ware, the least likely of rim protectors, showed his impressive athleticism and gave a master class in vertically – establishing position early, jumping straight up, arms extended to smother the incoming drive.
After 60 minutes of play, Ware sealed the victory and Melbourne escaped Wollongong with a win. But not before Chris Goulding did a victory lap, serving up a spray to fans on the opposite side of the court before returning to shout down the locals behind the visitor’s bench.
I wouldn’t want to be one to label the locals as feral, but I imagine it would have given Melbourne an extra level of satisfaction to an already epic victory.
All new Breakers
Thanks to the time difference, a Breakers’ home game sits well as the opening leg of an NBL double header. However, in years past if you could manage to handle the Kiwi accents, it was the hideous court of the North Shore Events Centre that rendered games unwatchable.
It’s extra dark wood and raised bleachers with no courtside seating gave the game a terrible visual aesthetic. Now in the heart of Auckland at Spark Arena, the Breakers have a whole new look.
Great court design, connected courtside seating and of course the cherry on top – NBA all-star (and outside chance of being a Hall of Famer) Shaun Marion sitting courtside as a part owner.
Sponsors – winners and losers
Hungry Jacks is a major sponsor of the league. As a nice throw in, they’re giving away free cheeseburgers whenever a road team misses a pair of free throws. Their sponsorship investment stretched a little further in Adelaide where the raucous crowd screamed, “Hungry Jacks! Hungry Jacks!” through every Perth free-throw on Thursday night.
Although someone should tell Jetair Jordan of the Illawarra Hawks a headband with the Hungry Jacks logo isn’t the coolest fashion statement.
On the flipside, anyone watching the weekends Foxtel broadcast of the NBL would have been bombarded by the ads for the fashion label, ‘First Ever’. For some reason the league started it’s own fashion brand, and while I wish them success, spamming their ads in broadcasts will drive viewers bonkers.
Wildcats multiple personalities
They aren’t the reigning champs like Melbourne and they haven’t an offseason recruited the big names like Sydney but the Wildcats remain an excellently coached outfit and they’ve still got the MVP.
The trip to Adelaide displayed the full array of Wildcats weapons, it was an opening statement that the Wildcats weren’t going to lay down for their east coast rivals.
The early exchanges would have had fans a little worried we were going to witness a long slow season of grinding post ups with Tom Jervis and Nick Kay pounding the ball inside, unaided by the lack of shooting from Damien Martin and a cold start from Terrico White. Thanks to Jervis’ touch and Kay’s activity the inside game was effective.
When Jervis and Martin went to the bench, Bryce Cotton led the second unit with a spread floor outside game with Steindl, Wagstaff, Norton and Hire all with the green light to let it fly. In all, 14 of the opening 17 points came from layups and post play before the next 28 points included six three-pointers.
Having opened the flow of the game with outside shooting the Wildcats took advantage of the 36’ers youth, who overplayed and gave up easily looks on hard cuts with newly promoted development player Rhys Vague sneaking past Majok Deng for dunks on back to back plays. Only a foul prevented Vague converting his second dunk in less than a minute.
Terrico White would catch Jack McVeigh in the 3rd term for the easiest of layups.
White’s slow start had some wondering if he’d even make it back to Perth without being released by the Wildcats, but the team looked to feed him with Cotton deferring the scoring load to his American teammate.
Eight points in the second term and six points in the third and all of a sudden, White had found his tempo and confidence that was absent in preseason competition showing a full arsenal, spot up threes, a pull-up mid-range jumper and the back door catch inside.
The commitment to get White going paid dividends not only on Thursday but the season ahead. White top-scored in the Sunday evening clash with the Hawks and played with an aggression level we hadn’t seen in preseason.
The third act of the Wildcats performance was their star, Cotton. The significance of such a talented star signing a three-year contract can’t be understated.
A Wildcats outfit that has built an identity and culture on the likes of staples – Martin, Hire and Wagstaff now has an elite talent buying into the program.
Cotton’s ability to set the platform for his teammates set him apart from his opponents, while Adelaide found ways to score off the individual talents of their stars, Cotton found a way to keep his team involved, punctuated with a beautiful cross-court pass off the dribble to Clint Steindl for a wide open three.
But when the game was to be won, and it needed winning after a 36’ers surge, Cotton took the game into his own hands. Cotton poured in 14 of the teams 25 fourth quarter points.
The Wildcats found ways for him to make plays, he put Ramone Moore in cement shoes when in an iso thanks to a fast ball reversal. He converted an and-1 on a catch and shoot baseline play after Tom Jervis nailed his defender with a screen.
When the Wildcats ran an elevator doors play (Cotton speeds from the rim up to the three-point line between two teammates who immediately come together setting one giant screen – closing the elevator doors) that resulted in a missed shot on an open look, they went straight back to it the next play, to no ones surprise the second open look was three points.
On the defensive end, the Wildcats showed their ability to change also. They started the game sending double teams in the post and hard traps on any sideline pick and rolls.
Where they made their jump on the 36’ers was with a 2-3 zone that threw the Adelaide offence off kilter until Nathan Sobey worked his way into the game. By then, the Wildcats were ready to offer a switch-heavy man to man coverage.
This Wildcats unit is built for playoffs. In a series format, where teams can set their focus on the single opponent, their depth and multiple looks and styles will allow them to shift and change while other teams might be stuck with only one dimension.
The exhausted Illawarra side that showed up to Perth on Sunday certainly took the full brunt of a team that rolls 10 men deep in their 40 point demolition to close the weekend’s games.
Hamish’s Power Rankings
1. Melbourne – a home loss without import DJ Kennedy won’t stress United too much, especially coming off the exhausting opener against Illawarra.
2. Perth – two from two and some emphatic wins. Not enough to hand over number one spot from the reigning champs but as impressive an opening weekend as they could have hoped.
3. Cairns – Far away and out of mind, the Taipans have built a solid roster and took care of Brisbane with ease. Melo Trimble might be as a good as anyone in the league. This might be an overreaction based on one game, but they’ll be the darkhorse in this campaign.
4. Sydney – The crowd showed up, the broadcast went on free-to-air, everything was set but the Kings didn’t deliver. Would slide them down except for Jerome Randle’s dominant performance. They’ll be competitive as long as he is carrying them but they’ll need to iron out a few kinks.
5. Adelaide – Against a much weaker defence in the Kings, Nathan Sobey got his swagger back and got the 36’ers their first win. Sobey and Daniel Johnson might be as capable as any 2 man combo, this is a team with lots of potential.
6. New Zealand – They were better from the field in their opening game loss but turnovers and rebounding hurt them. Tai Wesley willed them to a victory in Melbourne getting a massive 25 points while logging 32 minutes. The clutch buckets from import Patrick Richard should ensure he features more prominently in the games ahead.
7. Brisbane – Got out of New Zealand with a win but some awful numbers. Import wing Alonzo Gee 7 of 23. Jason Cade 4 of 18. 29 pts from Cam Gliddon on opening night is certainly a number they can’t rely on.
8. Illawarra – Probably not on the bottom of the list if a few balls bounced differently on Friday night but it is a 0-2 start. Cedric Jackson the concern here. Couldn’t break double