The 2015/16 NBL season projects to be one of the most tightly contested in league history. So much talent squeezed into eight teams, almost all of which possess genuine championship credentials.
To conclude our build-up to opening night, here are Downtown’s #HardBall predictions.
TOP 4 (in no particular order)
LIAM SANTAMARIA: Melbourne, Cairns, Illawarra, Perth
TOMMY GREER: Melbourne, Perth, Cairns, Illawarra
TOM HERSZ: Cairns, New Zealand, Perth, Melbourne
MICHAEL COLLINS: Cairns, Melbourne, Illawarra, Sydney
BRETT THOMAS: Melbourne, Perth, Illawarra, Sydney
NICOLAS JUNGFER: New Zealand, Melbourne, Perth, Cairns
ALEX LYLE: Adelaide, Cairns, New Zealand, Perth
Total: Melbourne (6), Cairns (6), Perth (6), Illawarra (4), New Zealand (3), Sydney (2), Adelaide (1)
SANTAMARIA: Cairns Taipans – They’re hungrier than ever and are very well coached. Ready to break through.
GREER: Melbourne United – Great off/on-court chemistry and enough firepower to take down a Roman Army.
HERSZ: Cairns Taipans – They came close last year, Starks looks a solid Wilbekin replacement, while the addition of Worthington and development of Gliddon and Bruce makes them deeper and tougher.
COLLINS: Cairns Taipans – Melbourne United hoarded the most talent over the offseason, but it’s difficult to bet against the best coach and system in the NBL. Cairns is ready even with the loss of Wilbekin.
THOMAS: Melbourne United – They have compiled so much talent, filled holes from last season and should be targeting a championship series appearance as a minimum.
JUNGFER: Perth Wildcats – The Wildcats not only possess elite talent, but their continuity and home court are unmatched, making them incredibly difficult to beat in a three game series.
LYLE: New Zealand – The Breakers have won four titles from their last four playoff trips, and they’ve got Mika Vukona and Cedric Jackson.
Total: Cairns (3), Melbourne (2), Perth (1), New Zealand (1)
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
SANTAMARIA: Cedric Jackson – Will have to carry more of a load this season, resulting in more MVP votes along the way.
GREER: Josh Childress – Showed his dominance last year, hard to bet against.
HERSZ: Josh Childress – Has a better team around him this season and will be out to prove to his buddy Hakim who owns this league.
COLLINS: Josh Childress – Talent beats experience every time … and Childress has both.
THOMAS: Josh Childress – Second season in the NBL, is used to how our league is officiated and the Sydney Kings have added some quality help for him.
JUNGFER: Josh Childress – Childress led the league in points and rebounds per game by a healthy margin last season. While I’ve picked his Kings to miss the playoffs, this is a stat friendly award.
LYLE: Josh Childress – Having players like Khazzouh and Thornton around him should make his unselfish game look even better than last season, when he came third in MVP voting.
Total: Childress (6), Jackson (1)
ALL-NBL FIRST TEAM
SANTAMARIA: Cedric Jackson, Chris Goulding, Josh Childress, Brian Conklin, A.J. Ogilvy
GREER: Kevin Lisch, Chris Goulding, Josh Childress, Brian Conklin, Hakim Warrick
HERSZ: Cedric Jackson, Chris Goulding, Josh Childress, Brian Conklin, Daniel Johnson
COLLINS: Cedric Jackson, Chris Goulding, Josh Childress, Brian Conklin, A.J. Ogilvy.
THOMAS: Cedric Jackson, Jermaine Beal, Josh Childress, Daniel Kickert, Julian Khazzouh
JUNGFER: Cedric Jackson, Chris Goulding, Casey Prather, Josh Childress, A.J. Ogilvy
LYLE: Cedric Jackson, Chris Goulding, Josh Childress, Hakim Warrick, Julian Khazzouh
Total: Childress (7), Jackson (6), Goulding (6), Conklin (4), Ogilvy (3), Khazzouh (2), Warrick (2), Kickert (1), Prather (1), Lisch (1), Beal (1), Johnson (1)
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
SANTAMARIA: Damian Martin – It is officially time to name the Award after him. Do it. Now. Please.
GREER: Hakim Warrick – Will rebound and block shots. Plus enough of Martin already.
HERSZ: Adam Gibson – Martin is the sentimental favourite, but I think it’s time for someone else to take that mantle and Gibbo has been thereabouts in recent seasons already.
COLLINS: Damian Martin – No other Australian player deserves a spot on Zach Lowe’s Mirror Guy team more than the Reverent.
THOMAS: Damian Martin – Give it to the man now. There’s no such thing as an off night for the Cats guard on D.
JUNGFER: Damian Martin – Having won DPOY for the past five straight years, this isn’t a sexy pick. However, Martin is the defensive king of our league until proven otherwise.
LYLE: Damian Martin – He’s won the award five straight times and his defensive role with the Wildcats won’t diminish, assuming injuries aren’t a big problem.
Total: Martin (5), Gibson (1), Warrick (1)
BEST SIXTH MAN
SANTAMARIA: Mark Worthington – Wortho’s high-energy play off the bench will be a feature of Cairns games all season (and in the Finals).
GREER: Mark Worthington – The man was in contention for MVP over the first third of last season.
HERSZ: Mark Worthington – Wortho will do a little of everything to help the Taipans and make it back-to-back sixth men hardware for Cairns.
— Cairns Taipans (@CairnsTaipans) September 24, 2015
COLLINS: Cameron Tragardh – Cairns’ true barometer and star last season was Wilbekin, but Tragardh was their sneaky MVP.
THOMAS: Mark Worthington – Feel like Wortho will be playing with a point to prove this season after his exit from Melbourne United.
JUNGFER: Cameron Tragardh – I’m going for another repeat here. Trigger is still a starting quality big man and I expect him to wreak havoc once again.
LYLE: Torrey Craig – Slight improvement as a rebounder and disruptor on defence will make him worthy if he at least reproduces the erratic bench scoring he provided as a rookie.
Total: Worthington (4), Tragardh (2), Craig (1)
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
SANTAMARIA: Nick Kay – The minutes and role are both there for Kay and he has the game to take advantage.
GREER: Nick Kay - Lots of opportunity and let’s face it, there’s something special about k. #SpecialK
HERSZ: Nick Kay – he showed he’s a man’s man at the Blitz, will have every opportunity to play for Shawn Dennis and should be a handy addition at the Swamp.
— NBL (@NBL) September 23, 2015
COLLINS: Nick Kay – After turning heads in pre-season, it’s his award to lose.
THOMAS: Matt Hodgson – Melbourne might regret letting the 23-year-old go. Chris Anstey and Joey Wright both really rate him.
JUNGFER: Matt Hodgson - Injuries have kept him off the court so far, but Hodgson has the size, strength and all round inside game to make a real impact.
LYLE: Nick Kay – The opportunity he’ll get at the Crocodiles makes him the rookie most likely to have a handful of standout games.
Total: Kay (5), Hodgson (2)
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER
SANTAMARIA: Mitch Creek – Will be in attack mode all season.
GREER: Reuben Te Rangi – Underperformed last year but we saw a little of what he can do while playing for the Tall Blacks. Can you spell breakout season?
HERSZ: Mitch Creek – After showing improvement last season, he looks primed to take on a bigger role for the Sixers this year.
COLLINS: Mitch Creek – His mini breakout season last year went somewhat unnoticed amidst Brock Motum and Daniel Johnson’s late season arrivals. I don’t expect the same to be so this season.
THOMAS: Mitch Norton – Not much is expected of Townsville this season but I’m predicting the Crocs captain will lead from the front. Points, assists and minutes have slowly risen each season.
JUNGFER: Mitch Creek – Despite entering his sixth NBL season, Mitch Creek is still only 23. He has an NBA body with the athleticism to match and if healthy, has all the makings of a breakout player.
LYLE: Reuben Te Rangi – He shot 29.1 percent from the field and 25.5 percent from three last season, so just a passable 2015/16 would give him a chance at being the MIP.
Total: Creek (4), Te Rangi (2), Norton (1)
FIRST IMPORT RELEASED
SANTAMARIA: Jordair Jett – Homicide’s in the country, right? #TheReturn
— NBL (@NBL) October 5, 2015
GREER: Marcus Thornton – Seems to have that, let’s say, over-confident persona.
HERSZ: Umm … Ekene Ibekwe?? Doesn’t count? Ok then Ebi Ere of Adelaide. Haven’t seen him out there yet and have a feeling age and injury will limit his impact early and Joey will search for a replacement faster than you can say “Where’s Brock?”
COLLINS: Jordair Jett – The Jury’s still out on Jett. How long will they deliberate?
THOMAS: Marcus Thornton - Because Liam has me worried.
JUNGFER: Jordair Jett – It isn’t that Jett has shown any red flags, he just hasn’t impressed quite as much as the rest of this year’s stunning import class.
— TownsvilleCrocodiles (@TsvCrocs) September 25, 2015
LYLE: Jordair Jett – The rook won’t have much veteran help around him in Townsville to cover up a slow start personally, should that occur while he adjusts to the league.
Total: Jett (4), Thornton (2), Eri (1)
PLAYER MOST EXCITED TO WATCH
SANTAMARIA: Chris Goulding – Nobody has more fun on an NBL court and it’s infectious.
GREER: Chris Goulding – Dude had 50 points in a 40 minute game and loves to make opponents look really silly with his samba steps on the perimeter.
HERSZ: Chris Goulding – Bubbles attacks both inside and outside, a year in Europe has made him tougher and more focused and when he heats up in an instant – watch out!
— CTI Melbourne United (@MelbUnitedHQ) September 28, 2015
COLLINS: Mika Vukona – Instincts tell me this really isn’t the sort of nominee you were looking for here, but who knows how many years the five-time champ has left in the tank. After all, you just can’t predict health, nor the mindset of such an unassuming guy.
THOMAS: Nate Jawai – If the big man is in shape and can stay on court he will be a cult figure not just in Perth but across the NBL
JUNGFER: Chris Goulding – Goulding is even better than when we saw him last and will be able to do whatever he wants offensively.
LYLE: Cedric Jackson – Others have similar potential to excite, but none are as likely to consistently produce compelling performances as Jackson, who’s looking for his fourth title in his fourth NBL season
Total: Goulding (4), Jackson (1), Vukona (1), Jawai (1)