In Larry we Trust.
In just three short months, Larry Kestelman and his team at NBL HQ have transformed the look, feel and future prospects of our previously languishing pro league.
Every game live in HD on Fox Sports. A rebrand with a brand new website. A truckload of new corporate partners. A new free-to-air broadcast partner. A new app including a new online streaming platform. The list goes on and on.
“The people that have worked with me will definitely understand that when it comes to business and making things happen we go on a crazy ride,” Kestelman explained last night at the glamorous launch of the upcoming season.
“We set completely unrealistic goals and then we make them happen.”
Make it happen indeed. Kestelman has saved the NBL and delivered it back to the fans in its most exciting form for a very, very long time.
All is in readiness for the season’s opening tip tomorrow night.
Thus, we turn our attention towards the basketball; the on-court action set to delight, intrigue and excite us over the next five months.
Who is ready to step up? Who will exceed expectations and who will underwhelm?
Here are 5 burning questions for the 2015/16 NBL season.
Will Marcus Thornton ‘Buy-In’?
I’m a little worried about the Sydney Kings.
Yes, Childress is a star – arguably the best player in the league – and the signing of double-double machine Julian Khazzouh was a major step forward.
For me, though, the success (or otherwise) of this team lies with the ‘buy-in’ from high-profile import guard Marcus Thornton. And I’m worried about what we saw from Thornton at the Blitz.
Don’t get me wrong, the talent is there. Big time. Thornton has silky smooth handles, dazzling footwork, an explosive change of speed and a picture-perfect release. The kid can flat-out fill it up.
But he’s a gunner and, with his sights firmly set on getting back to the States and into the NBA, he’s here to get his numbers first and foremost. We saw last year with Jordan McRae what kind of impact that mentality can have on team chemistry and it’s hardly happy families.
There were times during the preseason when Thornton’s lack of defensive effort frustrated head coach Damian Cotter. In a loss to Illawarra at the Blitz, Cotter barely played him during the second half while the Kings turned things up defensively to work back into the game.
Following that loss, veteran NBL scribe Boti Nagy, who was sitting next to the Kings bench, wrote:
“Did someone new to the Kings have the dreaded “BlitzShitz” when he was subbed yesterday? Being a thorn in the team is no way to make your mark, especially if you want to go back home with your reputation enhanced, a la James Ennis or Scottie Wilbekin. But then again, Jordan McRae is another example you can follow too, I guess.”
Watch this space.
Will Can Clint Steindl make the leap?
This is the year for Clint Steindl.
With Toddy Blanchfield out of the way, Steindl who turned 26 in March, has every opportunity to make the leap from good to very good this season.
It’s the kind of leap Blanchfield made last year (at age 23) in Townsville, Chris Goulding made in 2012/13 (at 24) and Mitch Creek is seeking to achieve this year (at 23) with the 36ers.
Steindl made the move from Cairns to Townsville last year in search of more playing time and a greater role. Well, those minutes are there for him now – as is the role – with the Crocs leaning heavily on his scoring punch to spread the load offensively.
In a promising sign, Steindl scored a game-high 28 points (including 7/8 threes!) in a preseason win over his old club last month. But the word got out, and the sharp-shooter struggled with more focused defensive attention at times during the Blitz. As a result, the Crocs averaged just 3 made triples a game during the tournament – easily last in the league – and connected on only 28% of their attempts from long range.
— NBL (@NBL) September 25, 2015
Steindl showed during the pre-season that his slashing game has improved but he still lacks the strength and balance to finish consistently at the rim. He also needs to develop his ability to shake loose off the ball, exploding off screens into catch-and-shoot jumpers. Scorers like United’s Goulding and Illawarra’s Kirk Penney are masters of that art. Too often Steindl relies on his screeners to get him open, rather than using his own activity and deception to create space, before working off the screens into the catch.
You’ve got to love Steindl’s commitment to growing his game and desire to take on greater responsibilities. Now it’s time to make the leap.
Can Perth shoot?
Over recent years, the Wildcats have built their consistent success around elite defense and rebounding. They are the standard bearers, consistently ranking top two in both Defensive Rating (the number of points a team allows per 100 possessions) and Rebounding Percentage (the percentage of rebounds a team secures that are available to them), per Real GM.
This year, with the addition of Nate Jawai and with the NBL’s greatest ever defender still leading the charge, they show no signs of letting up. That’s why they’ll likely notch up #30Straight.
However, it’s at the offensive end where the question marks exist remain for the Wildcats. Specifically, Perth’s ability to shoot from the perimeter will go a long way to deciding how far they progress this season, especially in the postseason.
My man Tommy Greer said it time and time again last season: “When push comes to shove in the playoffs, I just don’t think they can score enough to win.” In the end, he was right – as the Wildcats were swept aside by Cairns in the Semi Finals.
So much relies on the outside shooting of Jermaine Beal – one of the league’s most dangerous commodities from long range. Beal knocked down over three triples per game during Perth’s championship run in ’14 and was one of only a handful of players to average over two per game last season.
For me though, it will be the outside shooting of Damian Martin, Casey Prather, Shawn Redhage, Jesse Wagstaff, Jarrod Kenny and (especially) Greg Hire, that will prove the difference for Perth at the offensive end and will ultimately make or break their championship credentials.
How truly great is Cedric Jackson?
Since joining the league, Cedric Jackson has won the championship in every single NBL season he has played.
Think about that: three years, three titles. The one year he missed since joining the league? The Breakers failed to make the playoffs.
Jackson is a two-time Grand Final MVP, league MVP (2013), three-time All-NBL First Team selection and has led the league in dimes in each of his three seasons.
These days, the secret to NBL Championship success is clear: sign Cedric Jackson.
Can he do it again?
Side note about Jackson: Most sports betting agencies have him paying around $11 to take out this season’s MVP. In his three seasons in the league, Jackson has finished fourth, first and second in MVP voting. Worth a sneaky fiver, I would’ve thought.
How old is too old in today’s NBL?
Many greats across NBL history played well into their late 30s, with some – like the ageless Darryl McDonald – even daring to cross that magical 40 threshold before finally hanging them up.
This season, three championship-winning coaches will be suiting up veteran stars who, at just 34, are battling doubters questioning their ability to perform given their ‘old’ age.
Kirk Penney (Illawarra) and Shawn Redhage (Perth) will both turn 35 this season while Ebi Ere (Adelaide) will join them in early August. They are each former champions with multiple All-NBL First Team honours and each are vitally important to their team’s championship aspirations.
With Nate Jawai joining the Wildcats, Redhage will be asked to play a load of small forward minutes this season. How he goes defending younger, quicker wings such as Blanchfield, Abercrombie, Creek, Coenraad and Childress will be fascinating to watch.
Penney (hamstring) and Ere (calf) have already been managing soft-tissue concerns during the pre-season, although both look set to take the floor for their teams’ season openers.
Will they hold up? Can they prove the doubters wrong?
Let’s play some #HardBall.