Andrew Bogut might be the NBL defensive player of the year, but Kevin Lisch’s work at the defensive end starting against Melbourne United’s Casper Ware and Chris Goulding could be even more important to the Sydney Kings’ finals prospects.
Bogut was deserving of winning the league’s best defensive player honour this season while also taking out the MVP award.
And there’s no question Bogut’s defensive presence both against Melbourne bigs Josh Boone and Alex Pledger, and to be intimidating shots when DJ Kennedy, Mitch McCarron and company go inside will be crucial.
But if Ware or Goulding, or both, get on a roll for Melbourne across the best-of-three game series starting at Melbourne Arena on Thursday, it could be curtains on the Kings’ season and their push to send out coach Andrew Gaze with a championship.
That’s where the defence of Lisch becomes crucial. Obviously he can’t do it all himself, but at different times he’ll be asked to lock down Ware, Goulding and possibly even McCarron and he just happens to be in the best defensive form of his career to do so.
It might seem a big statement given Lisch has always been an outstanding defender since beginning his NBL career at the Perth Wildcats in 2009-10 where he went on to lead the ‘Cats to a championship and claim grand final MVP honours.
He has since become the league’s MVP twice and is a former best defensive player award winner himself. But the shadow of Damian Martin has always hovered over any recognition he receives over his defence.
And indeed this season, the presence inside of Bogut is gaining most of the accolades for the improvement the Kings have shown at the defensive end of the floor as they prepare for only their second finals campaign since returning to the NBL in 2010-11.
Take nothing away from Martin and Bogut for their defensive exploits this season and over their careers, but Lisch deserves recognition for his efforts at the defensive end, too.
Right throughout his career he has been a high-level defender, but his offensive game has attracted the headlines because he has been just so good as a ball handler, distributor, shooter, passer and finisher close to the basket.
Lisch has averaged over 15 points and still 14 points this season, but the pressure is off him offensively somewhat given the presence of Jerome Randle, Brad Newley, Daniel Kickert, David Wear, Brian Bowen, Kyle Adnam and indeed Bogut.
For the past two seasons in Sydney and prior to that in Illawarra, Lisch carried an incredible workload as the main point guard and distributor and offence runner, along with the main focal point in terms of scoring and shooting.
That left him exhausted late in games more often than not and while it didn’t noticeably impact his defence, he without question is thriving in this season against the best guards in the league because of having less of a burden offensively.
Just looking back to the end of the season, Lisch did a tremendous job up against Goulding in Sydney’s first win over Melbourne in 11 attempts. Then he helped shut down Bryce Cotton in Perth, holding him to three points in three quarters.
Obviously, Cotton got going after that but you can’t blame Lisch for that and whether it’s Goulding or Cotton, or indeed Melo Trimble against Cairns to close the regular season or any other of the standout guards in the league, Lisch is making their life hell.
While the decreased offensive burden and work of Bogut inside has helped Lisch shine defensive. He has a simpler solution for the way he is playing defensively – being healthy.
“There are no games off especially with the guards in this league because there are so many dynamic and dangerous point guards and shooting guards,” Lisch said.
“The biggest thing is that it’s just nice being healthy this season and being out on the court. I like to think that makes a difference but I enjoy playing defence and just playing basketball, to be honest.
“It’s a challenge every game defensively and especially with the guys we have on our team this year with Bogues in the middle, you can probably pressure a little bit more and funnel things towards him knowing he’ll be there to either intimidate or block shots.
“Jerome has done a great job obviously and we’ve been working pretty well in tandem in the backcourt. With him being able to play defence like he is and carry the ball, it definitely frees me up at times to do other things as well.
“That’s helped a lot but really just being back on the court again and healthy is what’s made the biggest difference. I’m just enjoying being back out there.”
Lisch gives a lot of credit for his defence to the presence of Bogut too, knowing that he is there behind him to allow him to up the pressure on the guards he is facing up.
Having already been an Olympic teammate of his, Lisch isn’t surprised by what Bogut has brought to Sydney but is more than happy having him on his team and he was glad he won MVP and Best Defensive Player.
“If I could vote for my own teammate, I’d be giving it to Bogut for MVP and Defensive Player of the Year,” Lisch said.
“For me those would be pretty obvious in my mind just because of what he’s provided to us. Obviously, there are other factors, but we are in the playoffs this year and defensively even things that don’t go on the stat sheet like intimidation, it is a real thing that he provides.
“He would definitely have my votes for those two categories.”
When Lisch came to Sydney ahead of the 2016-17 season, he was used to being part of finals his whole NBL career.
In four Perth seasons, he won a championship, played in another two grand finals and a semi-final series. Then in his one season with the Hawks, he helped lead them to the semi-finals in 2016 so the last two seasons have been unusual for him in Sydney.
But they are back in the finals and Lisch likes that their preparation was a home game against Cairns and then another couple of weeks at home to prepare for battle against Melbourne.
“We know that’s just the beginning too. All our preparation are aimed towards not just being happy to be there, but seeing what we can do in the finals. It’s really been an enjoyable season to this point,” Lisch said.
“It’s great being at home and being able to do your own recovery and little work in, but on the flip side, we’ve been just as good on the road as we have at home this season.
“The good thing about our team is that nothing really fazes us and regardless of where we are, we are happy to go and play. I think we’re in a good situation.”
Speaking of home, a big smile comes over Lisch when he thinks about returning from any road trip to get home to wife Rachel and their four children, Benjamin, Sofia, Isabel and Isaac.
“When I’m on the road I make sure I get a good night’s sleep so I rest up for the organised chaos at home, I mean that in the best way,” Lisch said.
“I just love being around my wife and family, I think I’m a homebody for sure. The trips are great but then coming home to see the smiles on their faces is even better.”
NBL semi-final fixtures (AEDT)
Perth Wildcats (1) v Brisbane Bullets (4)
Thursday February 28 – RAC Arena 10.20pm
Saturday March 2 – Brisbane Entertainment Centre 2.50pm
Game 3 (if required)
Monday March 4 – RAC Arena 9.50pm
Melbourne United (2) v Sydney Kings (3)
Thursday February 28 – Melbourne Arena 7.50pm
Sunday March 3 – Qudos Bank Arena 2.20pm
Game 3 (if required)
Tuesday March 5 – Melbourne Arena 7.50pm