After a 28-match 2019-20 NBL season, these are my player rankings for the fifth-placed Brisbane Bullets.
The Brisbane Bullets might have lost twice in Round 5 of the NBL to buzzer-beaters but there’s every reason to suggest they are a threat now this season and Lamar Patterson looks capable of being a difference-maker.
It might seem a strange time to declare the Bullets a genuine playoff threat coming off two losses across the weekend, but it does look a team capable of doing some good things once things fully come together.
There is a degree of pressure on them to perform as well with it being their third season back in the NBL after two successive wooden spoon finishes. Coach Andrej Lemanis must get them firing to back up that successful stint with the New Zealand Breakers and to show the national coach can still get the job done locally.
It was a weekend with two results that were tough to stomach and while it still leaves them outside the top five with a 4-5 record after five rounds, the signs are more encouraging than not.
Coming off their own win on the buzzer thanks to Cam Gliddon against the Adelaide 36ers, Brisbane shook off a slow start in Perth on Friday night to give them a shot at winning on the road to the Wildcats for the third time in as many seasons.
It wasn’t to be, though, with reigning league MVP Bryce Cotton hitting the walk off three on the buzzer to finish with 37 points on the night and give Brisbane a long flight home to prepare to host New Zealand on Sunday night.
And it was more of the same for the Bullets, this time Breakers’ all-time leading scorer Tom Abercrombie did the damage with the shot on the buzzer to snatch the win away.
Losing two games like certainly is tough to take, but things do appear to be coming together nicely for the Bullets.
Lemanis wasn’t feeling in the mood to trumpet that growth in the group and understandably so after losing twice inside three days in heartbreaking fashion, but in the bigger scheme of things he likes a lot of what he’s seeing.
“There’s certainly lots of good signs in terms of the group and the way we play together, the way we can hang tough and score in different ways and facets. We can use different line ups and use different defences so there’s lots of good stuff going on,” Lemanis said.
“We were one shot away in both games of winning so it’s certainly important that as a team as tough as this weekend is, that we can continue to build and stay positive, and grow and obviously you learn from mistakes always.
“The depth of talent is there and the quality of player is there, and the quality of team is there. It’s going to be another tough, tight competition and we just have to keep finding ways of keeping on getting better.”
The frontcourt led by Matt Hodgson and Cameron Bairstow is now contributing well and their chemistry is improving with the back up of the league’s most experienced player, Mika Vukona.
The backcourt was always going to be the strength of this Bullets team after they signed Boomers pair Jason Cadee and Cam Gliddon, and they aren’t disappointing, ably backed up by captain Adam Gibson and then Stephen Holt.
Holt might not be providing what is usually expected of an import, but in his role as the fourth guard in the rotation he is handy.
Then you have Kiwi Reuben Te Rangi who is in career-best form this season averaging 14.2 points and 3.3 rebounds while shooting at an outstanding 47.9 per cent from three-point range.
What the Bullets needed was a strong import wing and Alonzo Gee never looked capable of providing that, lasting just four games.
Lamar Patterson might have made an eventful entrance to Australia thanks to his dog, Kobe, but based on what he showed in the two games on the weekend little over a week from arriving in the country, he could be just the final piece the Bullets are after.
He did well to average 12 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists over the two games but more than anything in comparison to Gee, Patterson looked like he really cared, was committed to the cause and most of all actually has the physical tools still to play at a high-level.
While Patterson still has some work to do to fully acclimatise himself to the Bullets and the NBL, Lemanis likes what he has seen from him to date.
“It’s a process in terms of working him in when he’s only been in here a week and-a-half,” Lemanis said.
“We’ve played three games in that time so we haven’t had a lot of practice time together, so it’s always about finding out the skill set of the player, how that fits with the other skill sets we have and him getting a feel and comfort level of what we do offensively and defensively.
“Then he has to pick up the terminology, how he fits and how he gets his stuff within what we do, us figuring out how to best utilise him and that all takes some time. There’s certainly enough good signs there to suggest that this thing is going to keep getting better.”
Throughout much of his NBL career prior to this season, Cadee was known somewhat as a hot or cold scorer and shooter as a guard.
He had made a good career for himself too and has spent plenty of time representing his country, but the move to Brisbane was a chance for him to play as a genuine point guard and to do so under the national coach.
It could very well have led to the best and most consistent form of his career to date, and remarkably that has come without him having a great shooting season so far.
Cadee is shooting at just 33.8 per cent from the field and 27.7 per from three this season, but he’s doing so much more.
He is averaging 4.4 assists opposed to only 1.8 turnovers, an outstanding ratio for any point guard and proving he can run an offence, be a good distributor and decision-maker, and his defence is at the best it has been throughout his 229-game NBL career too.
Cadee is enjoying his role so far with the Bullets and likes the way the team’s beginning to come together.
“We are coming together well and we are seeing some signs from Lamar that he’s going to be good in this league. We just have to spend some time together to blend Lamar in as well but we have got a lot better in three weeks and we are going in the right direction. That’s all you can ask,” Cadee said.
“You’d be worried if you come to Perth and get smashed by 30, but even though we lost we are showing we are making steady progression.
“It’s going to take some time but we have a couple of games before the FIBA break and that will be great for Lamar to get back into game fitness and settle into the group even though a few of us will be away. I definitely feel like we’re heading in the right direction.”
NBL Round 5 Fixtures (AEDT)
Illawarra Hawks 87 defeated Melbourne United 81
New Zealand Breakers 104 defeated Cairns Taipans 81
Perth Wildcats 91 defeated Brisbane Bullets 87
Adelaide 36ers 81 lost to Sydney Kings 93
Melbourne United 87 defeated Cairns Taipans 80
Illawarra Hawks 81 lost to Perth Wildcats 90
Brisbane Bullets 84 lost to New Zealand Breakers 85