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Friday, 12 September 2008

NBL 2008/09 Season Previews : Part 2

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With the start of the NBL season only a day away, here is Part 2 of ...a stern warning's Season Preview series. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.


Once again, the Tigers are regarded as the top ticket in the league this season. After the controversial signing of Ebi Ere from under the nose of cross-town rivals the Dragons, the plucking of Singapore Slingers import Rod Grizzard and the homecoming of former NBL MVP, Sam Mackinnon, few can argue that the Tigers go into this season as heavy favourites. They will also be marked men.


Outside of Darryl MacDonald’s reign in Tiger-town, the team has long been content without a pure point guard on the roster (remember Messrs Gaze and Copeland?) and it has not caused them any great difficulties. Coach Al Westover will be hoping that this is the case again this season, as Nathan Crosswell off the bench is the only player who could be regarded as a genuine NBL point guard.

Ebi Ere certainly knows no peer when it comes to explosive performances on Australian professional basketball courts. His scoring parlays have become legendary, dating back to his heroic Finals performances with the Sydney Kings. The Tigers were very happy to have snared his services as there are few in the league that can stop the swingman when he gets going – penetrating or bombing away from the outside. Ere is not known as a particularly strong player in other aspects of the game, but perhaps this is purely because his scoring ability outshines all other nuances so much.

David Barlow, fresh off an acclaimed Boomers campaign in Beijing, will likely be assigned much of the point guard duties. This is something that many outsiders question, as he has not been known as a great ball-handler or decision maker in the past and is best suited to being set up for the spot-up perimeter shot. However the reality is that the Tigers will bring the ball up court through a number of means, including the use of Ere. Barlow is one of the most promising stars of the competition. The “Prototype” has a strong NBA-type body and extremely efficient shooting percentages from all ranges. If not for the dearth of talent on this roster, you would think he’s set for a breakout season.

Daryl Corletto has long hung in the back drops for the Tigers as a sharpshooter, looking for his opportunity to grab the starting two-guard slot. He will have to wait at least another year to be given a starring role on this squad.


Rod Grizzard is as versatile as they come. In Singapore he was forced to take on a scoring load in a losing program and the move to the Tigers will no doubt show other qualities in his game. The Tigers plan to use him at the small forward position and he will shoot a lot more from the perimeter than he did with the Slingers. He contributes on the boards, passes well and is a great defender – more than an adequate replacement for Dave Thomas.

Sam Mackinnon is coming off an injury-riddled season which also forced him to miss the Olympics. Reports are that he is slowly regaining his old touch and the Tigers will be hoping to see some of the 2006-07 MVP Slammin’ Sam, rather than last year’s beaten down version. Mackinnon has always given me the impression that he is much happier being an extra cog than the star of the team and he certainly will have that opportunity here in Melbourne. The superstar role player, for want of a better term, is one of the best individual defenders that Australia has seen and can guard everything from point guards to centres. His athleticism is still impressive, despite his numerous injuries over the years and his jump shot is much more reliable than it was in his early years.

Stephen Hoare, perennial sixth man of the year candidate, gives Westover an unspectacularly solid option off the bench to cover for either Grizzard or Mackinnon. An extremely efficient player who is not afraid to hustle, many teams would like to have his no-nonsense 10 and 5 game on board.

Tommy Greer has shown plenty of promise as he has been mentored by the various Tigers greats in recent years and he continues to bring his youthful exuberance off the bench this season.


It’s not often that a team can boast the league’s two previous MVPs, as well as a solid runner up to the crown, but that is what the Tigers have with Chris Anstey being joined by Mackinnon and Ere. Since returning from his European and NBA years, Anstey has been near unstoppable in the NBL. His propensity to sit on the perimeter has often been criticised, but the reality remains that he is a deadly three point shooter, whilst still providing a solid presence in the key on the other end of the court. After some strong moments in Beijing, he shows no sign of slowing down and could well take more than one trophy home at the end of 2008-09.

Daniel Johnson, formerly of Pepperdine, came home to Australia citing homesickness and the Tigers gladly took his services on as a backup to Anstey. He may struggle if forced to play major minutes early on (where injury or foul trouble strikes) but by the end of the season may well be a valuable contributor off the bench.


End of regular season prediction: 1st.

This Tigers team is absolutely and undeniably stacked. The only question mark will come in their ability to handle the ball under pressure, given their lack of a pure point guard. Outside of that, they can shoot the lights out from one through to five, can defend virtually anything thrown at them and will likely boast the tallest team in the league. Anything less than a title will be a disappointment, but there are a couple of teams out there that have very solid claims to de-throwning the defending champs.


It seems like so long ago that the Breakers signed CJ Bruton, under much scrutiny. That of course was before the collapse of Bruton’s former teams the Brisbane Bullets and Sydney Kings. The Breakers have quietly been building upon last season’s strong squad and look to make push into the upper echelons of the NBL for the first time. They seem to have almost all of the right tools to take them there.


CJ Bruton has yet to reach the downward spiral of his career. The son of Cal Bruton has done a lot in his time, since that first big half-court shot for the Wildcats started his career off in fine form. In terms of running a club, Bruton is the class act that everyone else has to follow in this league. He proved this again with a solid showing at the Olympics last month. Once CJ gets on a hot streak from the perimeter, he is a game changer. His ball distribution is excellent and this will no doubt free up his gun-happy teammates from long range.

Kirk Penney has shown that his years in the NBA were not undeserved. The Tall Black has great size and range. His ability to put points on the board will only be improved this season with the arrival of Bruton to take pressure off him. Last season he averaged 24.2ppg (2nd in the league) and knocked down 3.6 treys per contest (1st in the league) and the number of open threes he gets this season will only increase.

Phill Jones, with two L’s, formed the other half of New Zealand’s long-bombing tandem last season. The 34-year old shooting guard has had some huge performances internationally for the Tall Blacks in the past and appears to still have petrol in the tank to keep it up for the Breakers this year.

Paul Henare has often been doubted as the point guard to lead the Breakers. A solid defender who lacks in the shooting department,. with Bruton on board Henare will not be forced to do more than provide relief off the bench.


Oscar Forman’s game continues to blossom. A lanky shooter from deep, he has the height to cause problems for opposing defences and will help out on the boards as well, from the small forward position. The Breakers will hope that his emergence continues this season.

Tony “the Bear” Ronaldson is still getting around. His rear end has boxed out for many a rebound and he is still the master of the three after trailing on the break. The perfect veteran presence for a team that wants to win – the only concern being that he may not be able to hold his own on the boards any more as he used to and the Breakers may lack in this department at the four spot.

Dillon Boucher returns home to NZ from the Brisbane Bullets. A hard nosed defender in the mould of former Sydney King, Tim Morrissey, he has gotten under many skins in the NBL. His hustle approach brings a change of pace to Forman’s long range, finesse game.


Rick Rickert could argue himself to be the most dominant force under the basket in the league right now. His 6’11” frame was sidelined for all bar 13 games last season by injury (with fellow former NBAer Derrick Alston filling in admirably) but he managed 17.8ppg and 10.7rpg when active. He will certainly be the focus down low for the Breakers as there is currently no other force of note in the low block.

Tim Behrendorff has a big body which has yet to prove its usefulness at the top level. His size provides temporary insurance should Rickert miss any time.


End of regular season prediction: 6th

The Breakers are talking much bigger things than sixth place at the moment, however they will struggle mightily on the boards this season, unless they pull another import out of the bag within the points cap to help Rickert down low. The loss of Mika Vukona to the Dragons may prove costly in this respect. On the bright side, the Breakers will shoot the lights out every night with Bruton, Penney, Jones and Forman treating opposing baskets like a shooting gallery. Making the six is a realistic aim for this squad and one that they would not want to fall short of.


The Tigers may have the most stacked starting lineup in the league, but no team goes deeper than the Wildcats from top to bottom. There realistically is not enough playing time to get all of these players on the court and a slow early-season start for captain Paul Rogers through knee problems may prove a blessing in disguise to get other new front court players time to gel with the team in the early going. New coach Connor Henry is an unknown quantity, but has dipped his foot into the NBA waters and certainly has the vote of confidence of his players. The Wildcats are looking for nothing less than a title this season and they will come awfully close to getting one if they don’t.


Darnell Hinson was an MVP forerunner in the first half of season 2007-08, before slumping slightly with the fortunes of the Razorbacks. He comes to a team where he will not be relied upon for as much scoring, but will act as more of a distributor. He may prove to be the best backcourt player in Wildcats colours since Ricky Grace. The Mike Tyson lookalike is tough as nails and is the type of player that exudes playoff confidence – perfect for a team like this. His statistics across the board last season were very impressive and he will pair nicely on defence in the backcourt with fellow ball-thief, Peter Crawford.

Crawford has proven to be a team leader and consistent contributor since his move across from Queensland. His athleticism has been complemented in recent times by a sweet three point shot and he consistently helps out on the boards and forces his share of turnovers. Unfortunately he has been prone to turnovers himself, but with the ball in Hinson’s hands he should be free to operate without any undue pressure.

On many other teams, Brad Robbins would be a starter, but given the state of the league today he will have to be happy with a backup role with the Wildcats. The youngster is a quality defender and will look to snare minutes where possible.

Adam Caporn once had a promising career ahead of him and looked like a future NBL starting point guard in his time with the Wollongong Hawks. However injuries and lack of opportunity have set him back and he will struggle to get consistent minutes on this team.


Stephen Weigh is the favourite for rookie of the year after a successful USA college run. He is known as a solid, athletic defender and can swing between the two and three positions. The Wildcats were lucky for him to fall into their laps after the demise of the Bullets.

Shawn Redhage will be fresh as a daisy at the start of this season after Brian Goorjian did not trouble him much in the Olympics, playing the perennial MVP candidate sparingly. Redhage (22.9ppg, 8.0rpg, 3.3apg) can do it all, scoring on an array of options under the basket and from mid-range. He is the unquestioned best player on the Wildcats, though he will be pushed for that title by Hinson and this next man.

Alex Loughton is one of the fastest rising stars in the league. If not for the presence of a mountain named Jawai last season, he would have taken out Rookie of the Year honours with his 14.5ppg and 7.0rpg. No doubt he will improve on those numbers this year as he continues to prove a future leader of this team.

Isiah Victor proved the perfect complementary import with the Sydney Kings last season. He was happy to toil in the background in limited minutes, deferring to the Aussie stars of the team and when he was called upon come playoff time, he was ready. His role with the Wildcats will likely be quite similar. With the number of stars in this Perth frontcourt, minutes are limited but Victor will bring his double-double ability every night, regardless of time on the court.

The most recent signing to this team, Ben Knight completes the embarrassment of riches under the basket for the Cats. Knight is the ultimate success story. A guy from the Western Suburbs of Sydney, he has fought through a tough upbringing and a journeyman career to be one of the most respected forwards in the league. He rebounds like a mad man and can hit the mid-range jumper. I bet he’s happy to be back finally on Aussie soil again too.


Captain Paul Rogers will possibly miss game one due to knee problems, which have beset him in recent years, however his mind will be set on being available down the stretch to take this team all the way. His size and experience gives the Wildcats the ability to match up with any opponent down low, whether they want to go big or go fast with Loughton. Rogers (12.2ppg, 9.2rpg, 1.2bpg), a former league MVP, may be taking more of a back seat to other teammates these days, but make no mistake that he will dominate in the paint when he is needed in the same mould as a Mark Bradtke or John Dorge of yesteryear.


End of regular season prediction: 2nd.

Many are proclaiming this season as a two horse race between the two Melbourne teams, but I’m inclined to think that with the lineup that Perth has and the time that Rogers-Redhage-Crawford have had to mould as a core, they will be the ones pushing the Tigers for the championship trophy. The sheer depth of the Cats mean that a not even a mild earthquake could disrupt their season and they are filled with quality players that appear to be happy to operate as a team. The real wildcard in all of this is how coach Henry leads this group. With the talent he has at his disposal, it’s almost make or break for him in only his first season at the reigns.

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