The Fun and Unusual Roster of the Adelaide 36ers

Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker is a fan of Third Eye Blind’s “Motorcycle Drive By.” He told everyone about it in The Players’ Tribune.

 The Derek Jeter-founded website is full of first-person disclosures like that from athletes. In late June, one of them came from Terrance Ferguson.

The 2017 NBA draft prospect announced in an article on the site that he was skipping college and heading to the Adelaide 36ers. The place that revealed what’s playing in Tucker’s truck was officially confirming Ferguson was NBL-bound.

Adelaide’s other moves weren’t Tribune-worthy, but the promising and unusual developments with Ferguson were representative of what the 36ers have done since the end of last season. Compared to the other seven NBL teams, they’ve taken a different route to building an exciting roster.

After league rule changes expanded rosters, allowed for a third import per team and introduced a soft salary cap, the NBL’s offseason has been marked by the signings of David Andersen, Cameron Bairstow, Brad Newley, Aleks Maric and Rotnei Clarke.

League MVP winners in Kevin Lisch, Cedric Jackson and Kirk Penney changed NBL clubs, as did championship winners Nathan Jawai, Tai Wesley and Tom Jervis. Rob Loe and Mitch McCarron came back from Europe, too.

The 36ers, however, didn’t sign any of them. None of their five incomers is an Olympian, former D-Leaguer or high-profile defector from elsewhere in the NBL. If you don’t count Adam Doyle’s second-tier stints, none of them even has fulltime pro experience.

College returnees Majok Deng and Anthony Drmic, import Eric Jacobsen and former development player Doyle are, along with Ferguson, the Sixers’ new recruits. That list makes Adelaide the only club for this offseason that didn’t sign a player who was with another NBL team in 2015-16, and so far the only one to add any locals who’ve just completed college careers.

The new guys will join the returning Jerome Randle, Nathan Sobey, Brendan Teys, Mitch Creek, Daniel Johnson and Matt Hodgson.

Adelaide coach Joey Wright told Downtown the 36ers can’t fight with the NBL’s “big-money clubs.”

“If they want someone we wanted, they got them. We went after a couple players and obviously the big-money clubs came in over the top,” he said.

“What we have to do is just go after the guys that are there, the guys we think can get the job done, and obviously we’re real confident with the guys we were able to secure.”

Though the Sixers haven’t added the names that other teams have, their roster is enticing.

The newcomers have no NBL track record to weigh down expectations, and an optimistic view is that some of them will take to the league quickly and outperform their resumés. That appeal of the unknown wasn’t brought to Adelaide by Peter Crawford, Jamar Wilson or Lucas Walker.

The team is also young. Randle is the oldest at 29, six guys are under 25, and 18-year-old Ferguson is the league’s youngest-ever import. That might translate to on-court vulnerability. It might translate to a pleasing blend of confidence, exuberance and misguidedness, too.

Said Wright of his young players: “They’re going to make some mistakes that maybe some of the older guys won’t, but they can make it up with their enthusiasm, their effort and athleticism.”

Since becoming a 36er, Ferguson has said he sees himself being drafted in at least the top 10 in 2017, thus setting the bar for candour and on-court performance compellingly high. He alone boosts the Sixers’ attractiveness given that how he fares could influence how many future uni-skippers end up in the NBL. He should also be good in the open court.

 

Wright said he doesn’t have many expectations for Ferguson, and that the 36ers will let him “do his thing.” “It’s going to be an adjustment period for him, but we don’t see many guys of talent like that around here, so it’s been great having him around,” Wright said.

It also seems relevant to mention Ferguson is involved with Lil Wayne’s Young Money Sports agency. You don’t get that with David Andersen.

Another strength of this team is that it’s logically constructed.

Wright’s up-tempo style means having an abundance of fresh legs is appropriate. That benefit of youth will be exploited in Adelaide. The length of Ferguson, Drmic, Jacobsen and Deng should complement that approach too, while helping mask any strength issues.

Deng, Drmic and Ferguson can shoot from outside, and they’ll have Randle drawing attention to help their cause, meaning an increase in three-point efficiency for the Sixers is conceivable. And their pre-existing strength of getting to the line looks safe, with their three leaders in free throw attempts from last season—Randle, Johnson and Creek—all returning.

Chemistry shouldn’t be an issue between Drmic and Deng, if the YouTube clip of Deng’s address to Adelaide fans is to be trusted.

Deng builds the tension with an uncomfortable monologue before Drmic appears from off-camera to instantly wash it away with a finger-point and slogan. It’s the introduction video equivalent of drawing a double team before finding the open man for a corner three.

Those factors might help the Sixers win plenty of games, one of the surer ways for a team to be entertaining. That said, their unproven roster and the potency elsewhere in the league might condemn them to more losses than their 14 from last season. Their newness means most things can be questioned, notably their ability to get enough stops to keep their offence working and the depth they have behind Randle.

It’s difficult, nevertheless, to envisage their season being less than intriguing.

Ferguson has motivation to perform with his draft stock to consider. Wright and all the locals except for Doyle and Hodgson are contracted beyond ’16-17, giving them reason to collectively improve should they be hopelessly outside the top four by January. And their starting point guard is the defending people’s champ.

The excitement they’ve built with their contrarian offseason is at its peak now, when three other rosters are unfinished and the preseason tournament is a month away, but some of that excitement should remain throughout their schedule of proper games.

Then after that, if things go well for Ferguson, Fran Fraschilla will narrate snippets of some of those matches in the first hour of next June’s draft.

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