Alternative NBL Storylines for 2016-17

Most of the storylines ready to develop this NBL season are unlikely to be detailed on the six o’clock news.

There’s an abundance of narratives that aren’t on the level of Andrew Gaze coaching the Kings, but will nevertheless be fascinating to watch. Here are five of those unglamorous storylines for 2016-17.

 

Fuquan Edwin replacing Torrey Craig

A March media release from the Cairns Taipans revealed that Craig wouldn’t be returning for a third season with the club. Aaron Fearne was quoted as saying the team at the time had interest in retaining Craig but had received indication from his agent that he was going to Europe instead.

The release also acknowledged the good that could come from the move. “The departure of Craig opens the door for the Taipans, who will be looking at a relatively clean slate after a disappointing season,” it said.

The player who gets the chance to make Craig’s exit look like a Cairns blessing is Edwin, the Taipans’ new import wing. He too is a 25-year-old, 6-foot-6 small forward.

Edwin’s career numbers suggest he should better Craig’s three-point accuracy of 28.7 percent from last season while also being a superior free throw shooter. He showed at the Australian Basketball Challenge a keenness to steal the ball, and he’s accumulated some gaudy averages in that department elsewhere. Edwin will create more easy scores for Cairns that way than Craig did.

He probably won’t rebound or block shots like Craig though, and he’ll be challenged to score 17 points in his first half in the NBL or spectacularly cop a foul from Drake U’u.

The bonus is that Craig went to the Brisbane Bullets, not Europe, so an ongoing comparison of the two imports will be easy to make during the season. Their head-to-head matchups will be a fun insight into whether the Taipans ended up with a better player.

 

Melbourne United’s shot selection

United were reliant on the three-pointer last season. According to RealGM numbers for the regular season and playoffs combined, they averaged 28.4 shots from distance per game, and 42 percent of their field goal tries were from downtown. Only Illawarra averaged more three-point attempts.

United converted 37.3 percent of those shots and finished on top of the ladder at 18-10, but their affinity for outside shooting had its downsides. They were second-last in the league in offensive rebounding percentage and shot 19-of-58 from deep, or 32.8 percent, in their two playoff games, both losses to New Zealand. United shot 17 more threes than free throws in that series.

They’ve added Cedric Jackson, David Andersen and Tai Wesley, a trio that’ll provide scoring at the hoop and from post-ups, and lost two strong three-point shooters in Daniel Kickert and Stephen Holt. That could change Melbourne’s approach, but with Chris Goulding, Todd Blanchfield, David Barlow and Ramone Moore also around, the triple will still be popular.

How much United relies on it compared to last season will influence what they’ll be like to watch. Fewer threes would make them less exciting—the steam cannons don’t go off for 12-foot bankers—but improved versatility would make them a safer bet for playoff success.

 

Adam Doyle’s play as a reserve point guard

What the Adelaide 36ers will do when Jerome Randle sits is one of the uncertainties attached to their inexperienced roster.

Randle averaged 30.7 minutes a game across his 23 outings last season, along with 1.9 fouls, and nothing about the Sixers’ offseason moves suggests his playing time will contract in ’16-17. Nevertheless, there will be some Randle-less patches in each game for Adelaide to navigate.

That’s when Doyle might be called on. This will be his first year as a main roster NBL player, though he was previously a development player with the 36ers. He’s coming off a season in South Australia’s Premier League in which he was the competition’s fifth leading scorer with 20.1 points a game.

Adelaide’s other options to back up Randle are Nathan Sobey or a perimeter guy playing out of position, so Doyle should get a good chance to show his suitability.

The intriguing part will be seeing if he can replicate the feats of Shaun Bruce, Jarrod Kenny and Jarrad Weeks. They were once in Doyle’s situation as unproven reserve point guards and all three contributed appreciably to playoff teams—Bruce in ’14-15 and Kenny and Weeks last season.

A pleasantly surprising season from Doyle, akin to what those three delivered, would give the Sixers the kind of boost they’ll need to eke out a top-four finish.

 

Mitch Norton in a new environment

Norton is a dependable point guard who has progressed measuredly in his five NBL seasons. His run of incremental improvement might be interrupted this season.

In his first year in Illawarra, and first away from Townsville, he’ll be in a situation rich with potential benefits and problems.

He’s got a new coach and, with the exception of Nick Kay, an entirely new set of teammates to pass to. He’s no longer the captain, a hometown guy, or an undisputed starter. Rotnei Clarke provides an elite scoring guard for him to play alongside, and the expectations of the Hawks will be greater than those the Crocs faced the last three seasons.

Such change for a 23-year-old with 116 games of NBL experience means Norton is positioned for a season that deviates from the calm progression he’s achieved so far.

 

Attendances at Qudos Bank Arena

The Sydney Kings are returning to the venue where they played from 1999-2002, one that can have its capacity configured from 7,000 up to 20,000, according to a Fox Sports article. That makes it clearly the biggest arena in the NBL, and the crowds the Kings draw will be of extra interest as a result.

Expecting Perth Arena numbers at Kings games from the start is unrealistic considering they weren’t filling the Sydney Entertainment Centre last season. Should the Kings find themselves at 12-3 in December, then those crowds of 12,000 will come into consideration.

If they make the playoffs, maybe even larger crowds will show up. That’d make for an impressive atmosphere and would be quite the visual contrast to the Breakers’ North Shore Events Centre. Sydney has a sufficient amount of star power and recent struggle—one home playoff game since returning to the league—to make it happen. The octagonal scoreboard with panels of 40 square metres that Boti Nagy has written about will help, too.

Another possibility is that the revamped Kings stumble through the season, turning O.K. crowds into poor ones and putting something of a Flint Tropics situation in play. 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