Adelaide should be one of the most improved teams in the league this year. Despite the loss of star import Julius Hodge (whose NBA ambitions had to be submitted to), the Sixers have done well to recruit a stacked roster. Arguably the two biggest Australian signings were snared by Adelaide in the off-season, in former Baylor point guard Aaron Bruce and former NBA centre Luke Schenscher. They certainly had no problems last season in putting points on the board, unfortunately they allowed their opponents to do the same and they will hope to address that this year with the big red-head inside to intimidate.
Despite the key signings bringing excitement to the City of Churches, the fact remains that the two are untested at NBL level and existing teammates Brett Maher, Adam Ballinger and co do not know what to expect from this season.
Combo guard Brett Maher is an Adelaide institution. The sharp-shooter has seen a lot of success and more recently failure, punctuated by injury and off-court pains, in Sixers colours. As he nears the end of his storied career, he is lucky to have some support in the backcourt.
Aaron Bruce has proven at the collegiate level that he can run a team. He can score the ball and distribute well. Well enough indeed that he has had serious interest from NBA clubs in the lead up to this past NBA draft. He is a near certainty to be in Boomers colours for much of his career and Adelaide will hope to keep him around for as long as possible.
Brad Davidson was a solid performer for a struggling Adelaide side last season. His 13.3ppg, 4.5apg and 3.3rpg ensured a steady presence in the backcourt, whilst Maher missed much of the season. The Queenslander and former Townsville Finalist comes into this season with niggling injuries, so may start slowly.
Promising youngster Ryan Kersten will provide additional support at the point, along with Erik Burdon.
Mark Tyndale is largely unknown in Australia, but comes to Adelaide with an impressive NCAA resume. He seems to the type of player that can do a bit of everything and will be called upon to play the two and three spots for the Sixers, covering the role left by Julius Hodge.
Adam Ballinger has been one of the most underrated and quietly spectacular performers in the NBL for some time now, originally with the Titans, then the Hawks and now with the Sixers. Balls does a bit of everything, from rebounding and shot-blocking to drilling three point bombs. All of this with deadly efficiency. He forms a solid base for the Adelaide front-line to rely upon.
Similarly, Jacob Holmes’ presence on the bench gives the Sixers an all-round weapon. Holmes returned to Adelaide, along with coach Scott Ninnis, from the South Dragons. Holmes is an undersized, yet excellent rebounder and can score inside and out. Not many teams can boast a player of his skill off the bench.
Big Bird, Luke Schenscher, is a 7’1” pillar to be reckoned with in the key. His size combined with skill is near to unprecedented at NBL level and he certainly will provide the Sixers with a second layer of defence, despite his apparent lack of foot-speed. He can score steadily inside on simple shots and will grab his fair share of rebounds, complementing Ballinger well.
David Cooper is somewhat the opposite of Schensch inside. An undersized energy player, he will block shots like crazy when on court and relies on his agility and hustle to help the team out, making him a fan favourite wherever he goes.
A STERN PREDICTION
End of regular season prediction: 7th
Despite great strides in the off-season, the ten team competition means that every squad is stacked, so the Sixers have merely kept with the status quo of the league. Add that to the fact that a new coach and new key components to the roster will take some getting used to, and the Sixers will struggle to crack the top six.
Once again the Taipans have built an impressive roster going into this season. They seem to be loaded with stars at every position and the loss of Nathan Jawai to the NBA has been nicely covered by the addition of do-it-all Canadian Dave Thomas and former King, Ian Crosswhite. However, as with last season, much will come down to the health of Stephen Black, Martin Cattalini and Darnell Mee.
Stephen Black is as good as they come in the NBL right now as a backcourt shooter. The fact that he has been unavailable for Boomers duties in recent times is nothing but a shame. He has encountered his fair share (or an unfair share) of injuries and once again this will be a concern for the ‘Pans going into 2008-09. Not many around the league can produce the quality of his 17 and 5 game, but can he keep it on the court? He played 31 games last season. Will he replicate or beat that? That is the question.
Darnell Mee is another example of a player who has shown so much skill and class in his time, yet currently struggles to be there for tip-off time. Mee is the type of player who can control both ends of the court and has the size to give nightmares to opposing backcourts. His naturalisation was a boon for the Boomers which soon after turned into disappointment as he appeared not to have the same gas in the tank as he used to. If the supporting cast is on target, then he can be a great piece to complement the rest of this squad.
Gary Boodnikoff will swing between the two and the three positions and provides an excellent touch from the outside, coupled with good size. After an extremely promising 2005-06 season, he never seems to have recovered from a 2006 injury which has seen his remarkable shooting percentages plummet. The Taipans will be hoping that he is back to this old form (15ppg, 5rpg, 51% FG) and can lead the charge where Mee and Black miss time.
Kerry Williams and Scott Cook are two promising guards whose numbers will be called if injury strikes the aforementioned stars.
Martin Cattalini is a perennial MVP candidate who missed half of last season with an achilles injury and will be preparing to come back firing in 2008-09. 2006-07 saw what Catt is capable of, with a 24 and 7 season making him a near unstoppable target for opposing defences. Look for him to return resoundingly this season as he tries to bring the Taipans back to prominence.
Dave Thomas is one of the most respected players in the NBL and has proven that he will fit into any squad in his time with both Canberra and Melbourne. As one of the league’s premier defenders, his arrival in Cairns was met with much fanfare. More than anyone, Thomas’ tempo-setting play may determine the fate of the team this season.
Larry Abney, “the Birdman” will man both the power forward and centre spot this season. His high-flying play is not as impressive as it was when he first entered the league with Townsville, but he certainly is capable of putting up a double-double every night and setting the crowd alight with some impressive jams. The arrival of a big man inside may mean that Abney can ply his trade more efficiently at the four position.
Aaron Grabau is a Taipans institution. Having his number retired this week, the athletic swingman will fill in admirably off the bench and play his trademark defence and put down the dunks afforded to him. The type of player that every team needs.
Ian Crosswhite proved himself to be a surprisingly versatile big man in his time with the Sydney Kings. As someone who is a legitimate 6’11”, yet can pass the ball out of the high post and can even occasionally knock down an outside jumper, Cairns did well to secure him from the Kings fallout. Abney will likely start at centre, but Crossy will no doubt play a large number of minutes, particularly against teams with solid centres like New Zealand and Perth.
Matt Smith has been a success story in his short in and out of the squad and provides energy when called upon at the end of the bench. When given the opportunity he performs.
A STERN PREDICTION
End of regular season prediction: 4th
Much of this team’s showing depends on injuries and the potential continued decline of Darnell Mee. Fourth would appear that the best that this team can hope for, but realistically they could fall anywhere from 3rd through to 6th. They certainly play all of the right cards in terms of having shooters, solid defenders and low post scorers – they just need to put it all together this season or risk another disappointment.
GOLD COAST BLAZE
The Blaze are potentially the hardest team to predict in this championship. They have an aged superstar at the point, backed up by a totally unproven youngster. Their go-to player at shooting guard is injured as the season commences. They have a quality import who has guarded Michael Jordan in the NBA who is returning from a stroke. Their other import is an undersized power forward who arrived halfway through last season and a series of retreads and journeymen manning the rest of their front court arsenal. Their new coach, Brendan Joyce has had a mixture of championship success and bottom-of-the-barrel failure and will try to mould this into a team that overachieves.
Shane Heal is no doubt the most well known name still in Australian basketball. He can shoot the ball with alarming range and brings cockiness to any squad he joins. However his recent adventures with the South Dragons have been panned by many as a failure and the results certainly indicated as much. Playing under friend Joyce may mould his game into a strong veteran presence and take away the stress of captain-coaching that he had in Victoria. There will be plenty of people looking to see the Hammer fail on the Gold Coast and the blonde bomber will do everything in his power to prove them wrong.
James Harvey is one of the best flat-out scorers in the league. His career has been one that has constantly just fallen short of greatness, most recently culminating in his omission from the Beijing Boomers squad which disappointed him immensely. He will be looking to prove Brian Goorjian wrong on that front, but will first need to recover from an ankle injury which has sidelined him for the pre-season and threatens to do so for some weeks to come. When he is healthy in the backcourt with Heal, defenders better look out on that perimeter.
Daniel Joyce has had a tonne of criticism lumped on his slight shoulders in his short time in the league. Labelled as turnover prone and a poor shooter, many claim he has only had minutes in his previous time in Wollongong due to nepotism. Many forget that he is only 20 years of age and still has plenty of room for growth. The situation with the Blaze will give him ample room for that development as he is the sole backup plan should Heal missed extended time, which is not unlikely at his age. Joyce is in a sink or swim situation and his father will give him every opportunity to swim.
Tyson Demos is an as yet unproven commodity at the two guard who may get a chance to show his athleticism with Harvey’s potential absence.
A large amount of shock ensued in the Gold Coast community when Juaquin Hawkins last year went down with a stroke. The team confirmed that they wanted him back and he is ready to go for the new season. A powerful top-notch defender at the 2/3, he will likely get the toughest assignments on that end of the court. His offensive contributions are not on par with those traditionally expected of an import, but with the backcourt that the Blaze have, he won’t be touching the ball all that much anyway.
Luke Whitehead is as unassuming as they come at the power forward position. Standing barely over 6’6”, he still managed to grab close to 10 rebounds per game last season, after arriving late to cover for Hawkins subsequent to his health scare. Statistically he has not impressed greatly in other categories, but the Blaze must like what they see as they have asked him to start afresh in 2008. Like Harvey, he opens the season with a potential setback through an ankle injury.
Pero Cameron continues to be a force, 120kg of force. The former World 1st Team member is 34 years old, but his game does not rely on athleticism, rather an unwieldy combination of finesse and brute force. Known for his ability to shoot the three and then power layups underneath, his body mass makes him one of the harder players to control. The big Kiwi’s contributions both on and off the court will be valuable to the Blaze.
Casey Frank is an impact player. A crowd favourite for his spectacularly surprising dunks in traffic, he has been somewhat inconsistent at times. The Blaze hope to get more of the massive games that he has already shown in this pre-season. Perhaps this is the season where he becomes a consistent force in this league.
Scott McGregor has seen a few NBL teams in the period between his Baby Boomer Under-23 Gold Medal and now. His Finals experience and all-round ability on the court are vital in leading this team. Whilst he may not be the leading scorer on a nightly basis, he certainly will be one of the most vocal in the locker room and will cover where gaps arise on the court.
Ben Melmeth, Mr Expansion Team, has played for almost every new team that has come into this league in recent times. From Hunter, to New Zealand, to Singapore to the Gold Coast he’s certainly seen his fair share of startup clubs. A soft touch in the paint along with a solid body to box out with makes him the stereotypical mobile centre. He lacks the size and shot blocking ability of some of the games behemoths and that is where the Blaze will struggle at times. They could do a lot worse than having Melmeth in the middle though.
Greg Vanderjagt, recently described by former teammate John Rillie as having hands like feet, will get his chances to play with the Blaze. His big body makes him an ever-tantalizing proposition to develop, however he has yet to reach anything more than backup status.
A STERN PREDICTION
End of regular season prediction: 8th
As must be clear by now, much of this team’s fortunes will hinge on the injury status of Harvey and Whitehead and the ability for Heal to lead this team, without grabbing too much of the spotlight for himself. They have a solid stable of big men, none of which is particularly dominant and I’m sure they wish they could trade one of those forwards for a solid veteran guard to backup Heal and Harvey. Eighth may even be a stretch for this squad, with the wooden spoon a not unlikely possibility.
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