The Brisbane Bullets got a crucial NBL win on Thursday to open Round 3 and are likely to have a third import soon arriving – and not before time according to former 381-game star Simon Kerle, who has joined the league’s commentary team this season.
The Bullets were feeling the heat after two disappointing losses by a combined 33 points at home to Cairns and then away to Perth during the opening weeks, but they responded in impressive fashion on Thursday night.
Brisbane caught fire midway through the first quarter and ended up going into quarter-time leading 34-26 in the highest-scoring opening period of the season to date.
The Bullets would go on to be in control most of the rest of the way despite the previously undefeated Wildcats giving them a couple of late scares. But Brisbane won the game 102-96 and there was lots to like.
Adam Gibson celebrated his 150th game with the Bullets by playing strong defence on league MVP Bryce Cotton, finishing with eight points and four assists on the offensive end, while fellow veteran Mika Vukona helped set the tone defensively.
The new-look backcourt of Cam Gliddon (17 points, four rebounds, four assists) and Jason Cadee (14 points, seven assists) were impressive, while Cam Bairstow showed why he was in the NBA just three years ago with 18 points on an efficient seven of nine shooting.
Big man Matt Hodgson was impressive too with nine points and seven rebounds, while Reuben TeRangi continued his career-best form to open the new season with 14 points including three of five shooting from long-range.
So there was plenty to like as the Bullets improved to a two and two record, but what was evident was that once again they virtually performed without any impact from their two imports.
To his credit, Stephen Holt had some bright moments with 10 points, but he only played 14 minutes.
Then there’s Alonzo Gee and he looks a player whose body just won’t allow him to be the player who played 418 NBA games including 213 as a starter. He is only 31 years of age, but he lacks athleticism right now and in 26 minutes on Thursday he had just four points and four rebounds.
There is good news in that a third import is likely to arrive next week, but there are questions over whether it’s actually helping the team to have both Holt and Gee in the group right now.
That’s something that stood out to Kerle when he took in his first game of the season as the Bullets lost to Cairns.
The man is one of the most colourful players in the history of the NBL from his 381-game, 16-season career, but for the past 13 years he distanced himself from basketball and the league.
What stood out to him when he returned and watched Brisbane over the opening rounds was that he couldn’t believe the lack of output and focus on the two imports in the Bullets team.
Considering the Bullets have finished last the past two seasons and coach Andrej Lemanis is out of contract at season’s end while also preparing to lead the Boomers into the Olympics with high expectations, Kerle is struggling to make sense of the team’s import decisions.
“There are a lot more imports coming off the bench now where they are as role players, but regarding Brisbane’s two they might need to step up for Brisbane to be successful,” he said.
“Those guys are imports and you bring imports in to make the team stronger and better. And if they aren’t bringing that quality to the team then what’s the point in having them there.
“If they’re there and you can have better local kids in those roles and spots, then what’s the point. If I’m Stephen Holt, in fact I saw his stats last year and he averaged nine points and his team came last, and all I’ve heard is people saying he came cheap and he’s a good guy and all of that.
“But Dre is in the last year of his contract, so try to find the money somewhere to get someone who is actually going to help you keep a job because if you come last again and you’re the coach of the Australian team, you’re in a bit of trouble.”
Kerle feels that if you want to win bad enough and you can find someone that will improve a team, that you just find a way to get it done somehow.
“It just staggers me and everyone says it about their budget, but you know, everyone finds more money and that’s been done for years. I wouldn’t want my career in the hands of a dude who averaged nine points after I came last,” Kerle said.
“I just think from an import’s point, if you are looking at the situation and they did play exceptionally in their first game of the season to beat New Zealand, and I was excited because it was good, hard basketball they played with awesome team defence.
“But it was the total opposite with the silly things they were doing a couple of days later against Cairns in the game I was at. After that first game, I thought if they kept at 70 per cent at least of that level they are going to win a lot of games just because it’s good, solid basketball.
“Everything was just good team basketball and it was good to watch. But it looked ugly by that second game with little structure or purpose, and it was frustrating to watch.”
Lemanis was happy to bring Holt back for a second season to Brisbane because the former Melbourne United MVP winner is a good teammate, accepts whatever role is given to him and is a capable back up to play behind Gliddon, Cadee and Gibson.
“He is coming off the bench this year and he’s a very good player in that role that we’ve got him in. He certainly gives you size in the point guard spot and gives us the ability to switch and do some things,” Lemanis said.
“He can get to the rim and I think he’s one of the better guys in our team of breaking a defender down and getting to the rim. He just needs to work on finishing and we need to help him with that.
“He needs to play with confidence and we’re going to back him and he needs to just knock some shots down. It’s as simple as that with the difference between him playing well or not.”
Lemanis acknowledges that the Bullets do need to get more out of their import combination, but he is happy with some of what Gee is providing and does feel he’ll improve as the season goes on.
“We’ve got to find ways to include them and they need to find ways to get their own as well out of what we do. They need to come with that intent and mindset to impose themselves on the game in different ways,” Lemanis said.
“Once we challenged Alonzo to get some rebounds and help us defensively, I thought he did that sort of stuff and he got in the lane a couple of times. He can get to the rim, there’s no problem with that, and we need to help him with some receiver principles and how people are going to get open off him.
“He’s a more than willing than passer so we need to learn more about him and how to best utilise him, and he needs to continue to grow and learn about the league and his teammates, and how he can best contribute to this group.”
Kerle has found himself rooting for the Bullets as he gets back involved in the NBL from the commentary booth.
Given the Bullets are the only team he played with still in existence, he feels a connection with them and wants to see them have some success for the city he calls home.
“When people would ask me before how I think the Bullets would go, I had little interest because I had my own life and had moved on from it. Eddie Groves isn’t there anymore and from my point of view what he did for the team and the league was amazing,” Kerle said.
“But he’s not there and no one really is there that I know even though obviously I know CJ (Bruton) and Sam (Mackinnon), and I played under-10s with Andrej in Melbourne. Even though I know them, I’ve had no connection with those guys for so long.
“It’s not that I didn’t care, but it wasn’t part of my life anymore even though I wanted them to exist because it’s good for the kids in Brisbane to have a team to aspire to play for. But before that first game when I made my Instagram post, I found myself wanting Brisbane to win.
“I was like is it OK to barrack for Brisbane even though I’m commentating? Then once you get into the game you forget that you used to play for them and you just talk about what you see, but I do find that I definitely want them to be successful.”
Brisbane Bullets 100 defeated Perth Wildcats 96
Cairns Taipans v Adelaide 36ers – Cairns Convention Centre 7.50pm
Perth Wildcats v Melbourne United – RAC Arena 3.00pm
Illawarra Hawks v Brisbane Bullets – WIN Entertainment Centre 7.50pm
New Zealand Breakers v Adelaide 36ers – Spark Arena 12.20pm
Sydney Kings v Cairns Taipans – Qudos Bank Arena 2.50pm
Melbourne United v Illawarra Hawks – Melbourne Arena 7.50pm