10 Burning Questions for the 2014/15 NBL Season

The 2014/15 NBL season tips off tonight, with perhaps the most exciting collection of talent the league has ever seen set to lace up their boots and battle it out.  Whilst the build-up and media coverage across the country has, once again, been a little underwhelming, the action on the floor this year is likely to exceed even the loftiest of expectations.

Here, for your last-minute preseason enjoyment, are 10 burning questions for the 2014/15 NBL season:


1. Is Josh Childress here for a holiday?

On Twitter, Sydney Kings star import Josh Childress goes by the handle @JChillin.  His social media moniker, along with his laid-back look and generally chillaxed demeanour have some people around the league wondering if Childress is in Australia to ‘chill’ or to ‘kill’.  Comments like these, published in the Sydney Morning Herald, probably don’t evoke a lot of confidence in Kings fans that Childress is here with a burning desire to improve his game and dominate the league:  “I enjoy seeing new places and experiencing new things and not being solely defined as a basketball player.  That’s part of just growing and experiencing life.  I never imagined being able to travel the world and play basketball, so I’m going to take advantage of it as much as possible.”  The Kings are going to need Childress, who is still being paid $7M a year by the Phoenix Suns to stay away, to be a superstar this season if they’re going to make any noise. Is he up for the challenge?


2. Speaking of holidays, will Jordan McRae spend Christmas in Australia?

McRae can flat-out score and he’s hungry for success so there’s every chance he could absolutely tear up the NBL this season.  However, after his star turn in the Las Vegas Summer League, McRae has an out-clause in his Melbourne United contract allowing him to return to the States any time up until the New Year if the Philadelphia 76ers (who own his rights) opt to call him up.  Ironically, the 76ers will probably be less likely to do that if he’s playing really well, given that a) Philly are not necessarily in the business of winning games right now and b) good form will show that his time at Melbourne United is proving beneficial for his development.  Either way, the powers-that-be at Melbourne HQ will be hoping Sam Hinkie does them a solid and leaves McRae in the navy blue for the whole season.


3. How good is Scottie Wilbekin?

Wilbekin led the Florida Gators to the NCAA Final Four earlier this year and was named SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year.  The previous five SEC POY recipients were Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Detroit), Anthony Davis (New Orleans), Chandler Parsons (Dallas), John Wall (Washington) and Marcus Thornton (Boston) so he’s in pretty darn good company there. Offensively, Wilbekin has an outstanding floor game, can shoot from deep and can get into the lane off the dribble.  While he’s not a terrific finisher at the rim due to his average size and athleticism, Wilbekin has excellent court-vision and a beautiful floater that he uses to score over shot-blockers off the dribble.  Where Wilbekin made his mark in college was on the defensive end.  He’s a lock-down defender at the point, where he’s very active and has quick hands.  Wilbekin’s physical limitations have kept him out of the NBA thus far but he has the skill-set to have a Chris Paul-level impact on the NBL this season.


4. Will Clint Steindl break out?

Townsville coach Shawn Dennis thinks yes but not everyone around the league is convinced.  Steindl swapped clubs between North Queensland’s reptile rivals this offseason, hoping for happier times in the swamp with the Crocodiles.  As Michael Collins reported in August, Steindl’s move to Townsville was something of a Plan B.  Indeed, securing a European contract was his original intention when he opted out of his player option with the Taipans back in June.  As it turns out, he may well be in the perfect environment to hit his straps in Townsville, with Stevie Markovic – one of the league’s best passers – primed for another excellent season at the point.  Import big man Mickell Gladness is going to send a lot of shots packing for the Crocs this season, blocks that could spark numerous transition opportunities with Blanchfield running to the rim and Steindl spotting up on the arc.  Steindl played well against the Breakers at the Blitz where he dropped 17 with a full line and, by all reports, he has been shooting the lights out at training recently.  Don’t look now but Clint Steindl might be about to shake off that ‘potential’ tag once and for all.


5. Will Melbourne unite?

The Melbourne United front office did exactly what the doctor ordered after sending the Tigers to an early grave, they built a championship-level roster.  Dennis and McRae are both legitimate MVP candidates, as is marquee signing Daniel Kickert who will finally be playing in front of friends and family after over a decade plying his trade overseas.  Add to that two Aussies who nearly made the Boomers World Cup team in Worthington and Walker, a 3-time NBL Champion who has played in two Olympics and is still only 30 years old in David Barlow, last season’s Most Improved Player in point guard Nate Tomlinson and a 4-time NBL champion in sharpshooter Daryl Corletto and you have yourself a pretty intimidating ‘on-paper’ squad.  But that’s the thing, ‘on-paper’ doesn’t win you ball games (just ask the 2012/13 Lakers!), so it’ll be interesting to see how well this talented collection of ballers binds together.  Will one ball be enough for this group?


6. Where to for the Kings?

After many years coaching in the SEABL, at the NSWIS, with the U19 National Team and assisting with the Sydney Kings and Opals, Damian Cotter has finally been given a crack at an NBL Head Coaching job.  I played under Cotter in the SEABL many moons ago so I’m a little bias, but the man has paid his dues and deserves the opportunity.  That being said, the Sydney fans are not really known for their patience; something that could be an issue given the youth of the Kings’ 2014/15 roster.  Nonetheless, I’m predicting a surprising season from the Kings this year as Cotter certainly has the tools to maximise the talent at his disposal.


7. Will Pledger play?

Alex Pledger, New Zealand’s 7-foot center, has struggled with foot and ankle injuries since December last year.  Right now his issue is turf toe – a frustrating condition that involves a ruptured plantar plate near his toe area and will require surgery at some stage, either now or after the season.

”Hopefully within the next week or two a firm decision will be made, and until then it’s kind of up in the air a bit,” Pledger said recently. ”If I got through this season, then had it during the off-season it would basically take out my entire off-season and I would walk into game one without any practice. ’It’s one of those things where there’s no good time to do it. We’ll weigh the pros and cons of both and go from there.”

Pledger’s presence in the middle is hugely important for the Breakers and their chances of making the playoffs would be severely hampered if Pledger was unavailable.  Can the big fella play through the pain?


8. Can Gordie get himself a ring?

Gordie McLeod did a remarkable job on the sidelines last season leading his rag-tag bunch of Hawks to the Playoffs and taking home his second Coach of the Year Award for his troubles.  For years Gordie has managed to get an underpaid Wollongong roster to overachieve and last season’s effort was just another example of a job well done.

But… after a dozen years as an NBL Head Coach in the league (with West Sydney, Singapore and Wollongong), Gordie has never won a ring.  He’s a wonderful coach – there’s no doubt about that – but the ring is the thing, after all.

“Everybody loves Gordie,” Adelaide 36ers coach Joey Wright said on the Downtown podcast this week when asked how he didn’t win last year’s coach of the year award.   And with the Wollongong Hawks recently signing McLeod to a three year deal, it seems there’s plenty of love flowing for him close to home.  The question, therefore is this: now that BRW Young Rich Lister James Spenceley has jumped on board and McLeod has the resources to spend the full cap, can everybody’s favourite coach win himself some jewellery?


9. Will the roller-coaster continue for Adelaide?

The 36ers, under the guidance of Joey Wright, enjoyed a remarkable bounce-back season last year, rising from wooden-spooners in 2013 (and 2010… and 2012) to the Grand Final Series in 2014.  It was a massive turnaround (one that perhaps could’ve been rewarded with a COY trophy)… but, will it last?

The 36ers lost star forward Daniel Johnson to Europe as well as talented guard Gary Ervin to Wollongong and key back-up Jason Cadee to Sydney.  Is it just me or do their replacements – Jamar Wilson (Cairns), Daequon Montreal (Dandenong SEABL) and Peter Crawford (Townsville) – lack a little firepower? Wilson is a downgrade form Ervin in terms of dynamic playmaking abilities while Montreal will likely prove the same in terms of filling the void left by DJ’s departure.  Veteran shooter Crawford was a sneaky good signing, but it just doesn’t seem like it will enough.

In his season preview published on The Age website yesterday, Roy Ward (Fairfax and Downtown) predicted the 36ers would fall all the way back to 8th this season.  Meanwhile, Adelaide scribe Boti Nagy (New Ltd.) pleased the locals on the weekend by predicting they’d make the playoffs.  One thing’s for sure, Adelaide’s ceiling and floor seem a long way apart.


10. #29Straight?

I know I harp on this point but THE PERTH WILDCATS HAVE MADE THE PLAYOFFS FOR 28 CONSECUTIVE SEASONS! No matter which way you spin it, that’s a remarkable run of continued success – an accomplishment matched by no other professional sports club in Australia. It’s clearly not a ‘burning question’ this one, as Babe will likely fly before the ‘Cats miss the playoffs, but it’s an apt topic to wrap things up on.  As usual, it’s Perth’s championship to lose.


Follow me on Twitter @liam_santa


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I like to think that I bring the all-important little man’s perspective to the Downtown crew. The rim may be 10-feet high folks but the court, itself, is at ground level. My one season playing ball on the national scene was back in 2001/02, when I played the vital role of 4th-string PG as a member of the Victoria Titans. Go back and watch the tapes, I’m confident that only Patty Mills outranks me worldwide as an end-of-the-bench towel-waver. This experience, however, gives me the kind of an insight into pro hoops that can only be gained by spending time ‘behind the curtain’. These days I spend most of my spare time squeezing every last cent out of my League Pass subscription. And when I’m not playing, watching, writing about or podcasting about basketball, you’ll find me soundly outplaying all-comers at the fantasy version of the game. Safe to say that if I had a tatoo it would say ‘mum’. But if I had two tatoos, the second one would definitely be of a basketball. Follow me on twitter: @liam_santa

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