In the afterglow of the NBL’s 39th season, three Downtown writers have assembled, each with something worth remembering about 2016-17.
Liam Santamaria (NBL.com.au): The Adelaide 36ers were riveting
When we look back, #NBL17 will be remembered for three things: Perth’s title defence, the insanely close ladder and the Adelaide 36ers.
This year’s 36ers were a revelation, crushing lowly expectations by dominating the regular season and claiming their first minor premiership since 2000.
It was an incredible ride.
They were the youngest team in the league and featured the youngest import ever to step foot on an NBL floor.
Sure, they had Jerome Randle, but the supporting cast just seemed way too inexperienced to consistently compete against the league’s seven other teams.
Thus, I picked them to finish last—I wasn’t alone—and after they opened the season with a 34-point loss to Illawarra, it seemed like they probably would.
Led by the unstoppable Randle, the 36ers bought in, stepped up and played together. Head coach Joey Wright had them playing a high-paced, guard-oriented style which closely mirrored that of the Texas Longhorns team he played on in 1989-90*.
They also got after it defensively—pressuring up the floor and jumping the passing lanes—as a way of triggering their fast-break offence.
It was intense, unrelenting and effective, as the Sixers went 14-1 through the middle part of the season.
— NBL (@NBL) January 22, 2017
During the preseason, I told Mitch Creek that an opposing coach didn’t think the Sixers could play their high-pressure style game-in, game-out over the course of the entire season. Creek’s response was verbal gold:
“That’s his own opinion. I have my opinions on some things. You know, I don’t like onions on my spaghetti, does that mean he doesn’t put onions on his spaghetti? No, he might, you never know. I pick my nose. Is it okay for him to do it, or for someone else to do it? Doesn’t matter, that’s what I like to do, that’s what I think. I don’t care what anyone says about us, I trust in the fact that Joey’s a successful coach and he knows what he’s talking about.”
Maybe that coach was right, maybe he wasn’t. But whether you like onions on your spaghetti or you pick your nose, one thing’s for sure… the Adelaide 36ers were awesome to watch this season.
* That ’89-90 Texas team was super fun to watch, dangerous and ultimately fell short of winning the national championship—just like this year’s 36ers.
Tom Hersz (NBL.com.au): Chris Goulding was better next to a ball-dominant guard in Casper Ware
Melbourne United signed Cedric Jackson last offseason to play a more traditional point guard role than what Stephen Holt was the year before.
Jackson’s pass-first, shoot-second style along with his drive-and-dish skills were to be a perfect match with Goulding. After all, the United offence was built around CG43, a player who needed the ball in his hands or plays run for him to score.
Whether fatigue from Rio at the start of the season had something to do with it, I’m not sure, but Goulding and Jackson did not mesh. CG43 was a much better player sharing the backcourt with another ball-dominant guard who needed the ball in his hands to be successful—one Casper Ware Jr.
Ware quickly drew as much defensive attention as Goulding, meaning opposing defences could not focus solely on trapping, closing out hard or hedging hard on pick-and-rolls against Goulding. If they did, he would pitch to a shooter or to Ware, who could easily take his man off the dribble, get into the paint and either finish or find an open shooter.
Goulding, relishing the one-on-one defences he was facing, became a much more efficient player, taking fewer forced shots, hitting at a better clip and getting to the line more often. Here are his numbers before and after the point guard change according to RealGM.
Five games, 21-of-62 field goals (33.9 percent), 13-of-37 threes (35.1 percent), 1.4 free throw attempts, 2.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, one steal, 12.2 points
Seventeen games, 103-of-229 field goals (45.0 percent), 60-of-139 threes (43.2 percent), 3.3 free throw attempts, 2.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 0.9 steals, 18.3 points
Both players benefited from having each other on the court as defences were forced to honour the shooting ability.
— NBL (@NBL) November 18, 2016
Notice here how Goulding’s man doesn’t want to leave him to help on Ware for fear of a quick pitch which would be tough to close out to.
— NBL (@NBL) January 14, 2017
If Ware does not return for the 2017-18 season, it will be interesting to see what type of player Melbourne pairs Goulding with after he clearly thrived next to a lead guard with a scoring mentality.
Alex Lyle: Cedric Jackson and Jermaine Beal were cut
Neither Cedric Jackson nor Jermaine Beal lasted the season at their new teams. Jackson was released nine games into his Melbourne run and Beal met the same outcome with five games left on Brisbane’s schedule.
Those two have combined for three grand final MVPs, a league MVP and five championships, yet neither made it to February. Picture Casey Prather defecting to another NBL club in 2018 and getting fired after nine games.
United were 3-6 and on a four-game slide when they released Jackson. He was 2-of-17 from three-point range and wasn’t enlivening Melbourne’s offence enough in other ways—he had a 94.1 offensive rating according to RealGM.
During the broadcast of a New Zealand game two days after Jackson was cut, Breakers GM Dillon Boucher was interviewed about his team’s recent import move. They brought in point guard David Stockton, not Jackson, to replace the injured Ben Woodside.
“Cedric was a big part of the success we had, but Cedric didn’t enter the equation, and we already had our sights set on what we needed and it certainly wasn’t Cedric,” Boucher said.
The Bullets had lost nine of their previous 11 games when Beal was axed. He was averaging career-lows with 11.2 points and 31.2 percent shooting from three. In his second-last game, he committed a turnover that led to Kevin Dillard’s game-winner for the Breakers, and he followed that up with a scoreless outing in Adelaide.
In the first season following the increase in the number of imports permitted per team, the Jackson and Beal releases were a hefty reminder of the fragility of those jobs.