We’re currently in the midst of Round 10 of the 2014/15 NBL season – the official halfway point of the league’s regular season schedule. The Adelaide 36ers have broken their 7-game losing streak, New Zealand and Cairns are back on top of the table and the Sydney Kings have begun negotiations with Josh Childress on a new 14-year deal.
This season, only two months old in real time, has already delivered us plenty of intriguing talking points including Chris Anstey’s resignation, the Taipans’ hot start, the Wagstaff incident, epic losing-streaks, #SnapSnap and more.
Behind the hazy cloud of controversies and crisis-meetings, there are a number of individual players who have been performing at a very high level for their teams. Of course, the preseason hype was all about the quality of the import crop and, quite simply, that crop has not disappointed. Stars like Scottie Wilbekin, Jordan McRae, Cedric Jackson, DeAndre Daniels and, most emphatically, Josh Childress have been dominating box-scores and highlight reels across the country.
Two weeks ago Roy Ward conducted the first of his mid-season Award Watch columns, in which he highlighted the current leading candidates for the 2014/15 MVP, MIP, ROY, 6th Man and COY awards as well as the soon-to-be-renamed Damian Martin Perpetual Trophy for the Best Defensive Player.
Here, laid out in plain English for you to vehemently disagree with, are my selections for the mid-season All-NBL First and Second Teams.
All-NBL First Team
Point Guard: Cedric Jackson (New Zealand Breakers)
This was a tough one to call, with Cairns playmaker Scottie Wilbekin and Perth stalwart Damian Martin well and truly in contention. In the end, Jackson gets the mid-season nod for his outstanding play leading the Breakers back to the top of the NBL standings. Jackson, a former league and Grand Final MVP, has unsurprisingly excelled in his second stint in the NBL after a season playing in Slovenia. His opening round performance which saw him drop 22 points (on 8/11 shooting), 5 boards, 5 dimes and a steal in an away win over the defending champion Perth Wildcats was a sign of the regular stat-stuffing performances to come. Jackson leads the league in assists and his impressive averages – 15.14 points, 5.29 rebounds, 5.64 assists and 1.71 steals – clearly illustrate the consistent impact he has for New Zealand. To put it simply, he’s the key to the Breakers’ 10-4 record and their hopes of returning to the NBL’s Grand Final series.
Shooting Guard: Jordan McRae (Melbourne United)
McRae is the league’s leading scorer, averaging 22.3 points per game on an impressive 47.4% shooting from the field. The 58th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft has provided Melbourne United with a constant scoring threat from the 2-spot. McRazy’s crafty off-the-dribble game and deadly pull-up jump shot have proved a handful for opposing shooting guards on a weekly basis while his ability to entertain the crowd in transition – and willingness to get crunk afterwards – has warmed him to the masses.
Small Forward: Josh Childress (Sydney Kings)
Lord Chillington is the consensus MVP at the halfway point of the season. He is 2nd in the league in scoring (21.4), 1st in rebounds (10.8), 3rd in dimes (4.5) and 1st in blocks (2.4) – a phenomenal diversity of output in anybody’s language. Childress clearly ruffled some feathers with the nasty blow he delivered to Jesse Wagstaff in Round 3 but what’s also clear is the remarkable level of performance he has produced since. Driven by a sharpened focus, Childress has averaged 23.6 points, 12.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.6 blocks in the seven games since serving his one match suspension. When he danced all over the 36ers in Round 5, he became only the fourth player in NBL history to score 30+ points, throw 5 assists, block 5 shots and grab 15 rebounds in a single game.
Chilly was named NBL Player of the Month for November and, on the back of his spectacular play, the Kings have won 5 of their last 7 games and have placed themselves right in the thick of the playoff picture as we head towards the second half of the season. Oh, and word out of Adelaide is that Luke Schenscher is still waking in cold sweats thanks to this bad boy….
Power Forward: Mark Worthington (Melbourne United)
At age 31, Mark Worthington is a man operating at the peak of his powers. The 2-time Olympian and 4-time All-NBL First Teamer has been Mr. Everything for United so far this season, driving his team in the same way as Childress has been doing north of the Murray. Wortho’s consistent play has resulted in averages of 13.8 points (at a career-best 51% from the floor and 37% from long range), 7.7 boards, 2.8 dimes, half a block and an impressive 1.75 steals per game.
Worthington’s rebounding and thieving numbers rank 3rd and 2nd in the league respectively and are both career highs while his assists come very, very close to the career best 2.9 he averaged in 2008. United were a shadow of their usual selves in the only game he’s missed thus far and, to put it simply, Worthington is the driving force behind their championship aspirations.
“He’s the heart and soul of this team,” explained coach Darryl McDonald after a recent home win. “He’s been our most consistent player all year. “
Center: Ekene Ibekwe (New Zealand)
With Daniel Johnson and AJ Ogilvy both plying their trades in Europe, the center position lacks genuine firepower this season. Daniel Kickert has been shooting lights out for Melbourne but I’m sorry, his disappointing 3.9 boards per game and 5 total blocks on the season make it hard for me to slot him into the All-League First Team. Mickell Gladness, on the other hand, has been boarding and blocking; his 8.5 rebounds and 1.5 swats both ranking 2nd in the league behind Josh Childress prior to this weekend. However the Blockodile’s poor shooting from the field (.437) and charity stripe (.477) as well as his tendency to drift in and out of ball games has limited his overall impact.
I’m also looking past Townsville’s other interior force, Brian Conklin, for this position given that he plays the majority of his minutes as the PF next to Gladness.
This spot, therefore, goes to New Zealand reserve Ekene Ibekwe. Ibekwe leads the league in FG%, connecting on 63% of his 7.7 attempts per game, and ranks third in blocks (1.57). After a slow start to the season marred by foul trouble, Ibekwe has now scored in double figures in each of the Breakers last seven games, including a 20-point/14-rebound/7-block bonanza vs Cairns (in only 24 mins!), 15 points and 5 blocks vs Sydney last week and 18 and 8 on Thursday vs Perth.
Ibekwe’s elite PER (Player Efficiency Rating) of 24.36 ranks 2nd in the league behind only Childress and ranks waaaay ahead of both Kickert (13.98) and Gladness (13.73). He’s still struggling with fouls (averaging a league-worst 3.86 per game on the year), which is an issue, but the well-travelled Maryland product has managed to have a big impact in limited playing time nonetheless.
All-NBL Second Team
Point Guard: Scottie Wilbekin (Cairns Taipans)
Wilbuckets gets the nod over Damian Martin here due to his outstanding start to the season. He was Player of the Month for October, ranks inside the top 10 for points, assists and steals and has guided the Taipans to a remarkable 10-4 record to begin the year.
Shooting Guard: Jermaine Beal (Perth Wildcats)
Besides one horrific performance in Melbourne (and a somewhat lackluster season-opener vs NZ), Dolla Beal has been absolutely on point thus far this season. His 16.8ppg ranks 5th in the league and leads the defending champion Wildcats. Beal has scored in double figures in 12 of Perth’s 13 games and has proved the difference-maker in a number of games down the stretch.
Small Forward: DeAndre Daniels (Perth Wildcats)
Daniels gets this spot over Townsville’s Todd Blanchfield thanks to his superior rebounding and shot-blocking as well as Perth’s far superior win-loss record. Daniels has found his groove with the Wildcats recently and is now averaging 14.5 points, 7.6 boards and almost 1.5 blocks per game, with his boards and blocks ranking inside the league’s top 5 for those cats.
Power Forward: Brian Conklin (Townsville Crocodiles)
King Conk, a member of last season’s All-NBL Second Team, has been working his tail off for the Crocs again this time around. His 18 points per game has him ranked 3rd in the league for scoring, a result of 13 double-figure scoring games out of a possible 14. He earned Player of the Week honours for Week 2 after a dominant 30 & 10 performance in Sydney and is in terrific current form, averaging 20 and 8 thus far in December.
Center: Daniel Kickert (Melbourne United)
Kickert missed out on a First Team nod due to his low production in the traditional big-man stats but he gains recognition here for his phenomenal offensive output. Kicks leads the league in 3P%, connecting on over 3 long-range attempts per game at a remarkable clip of .585 –ridiculous shooting for anybody, let alone a man his size. Season averages of close to 14 points per game at over 50% from the floor, combined with a tendency to knock down big shots in big moments, gains Kickert this mid-season All-League nod over Gladness.
Honourable Mentions: Damian Martin (Perth Wildcats), Mickell Gladness (Townsville Crocodiles), Todd Blanchfield (Townsville Crocodiles), Jamar Wilson (Adelaide 36ers), Ben Madgen (Sydney Kings), Corey Webster (New Zealand Breakers)
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