Through two rounds of the NBL the level of competition is through the roof. We’ve witnessed historic individual performances, social media-breaking posters and a level of basketball the NBL may have never seen before.
The Inner Sanctum has made five observations that are flying under the radar around the NBL through the early rounds of the season.
1. Over-reliance on Dusty could be 36ers’ downfall
Adelaide was dealt a tough opening schedule with four games in the opening two rounds, but have navigated the stretch to sit at 2-2 after an expectation-raising pre-season campaign.
This roster’s strength is its big-man depth. Cam Bairstow has exceeded all expectations in his start to the season, with Daniel Johnson as consistent as ever and Isaac Humphries continuing his defensive dominance in the paint. They’re still yet to unleash Filipino sensation Kai Sotto on the league as well.
What lacks is shot-making, with Mitch McCarron a second option at best on offence and Johnson unable to create for himself consistently. It has meant the 6ers regularly go through cold spells on offence – as we saw in the first half against the winless Breakers – and the lack of space for Humphries and Johnson to operate gives way to ugly, congested half-court sets.
As a result, Dusty Hannah’s role in this offence is vital. The sharp-shooting guard showcased his dazzling potential with a second-half blitz against the Breakers on Sunday. He put up 25 points on nine-of-15 shooting from the field and four-of-six from deep.
The G-League star has immediate pressure with the 36ers to be the man down the stretch of games and create his own offence. It’s a difficult role in a league where every possession is so heavily fought for, but Hannahs has the pedigree to thrive.
The 36ers aren’t built to be a high three-point shooting club, but Hannahs will need to make his fair share if their offence is to get by.
2. Wildcats struggle to flex their offensive muscle
The departure of Trevor Gleeson from the Wildcats would always bring changes. Whether they were good or bad, to evolve you need to change.
Gleeson’s patented flex offence in full flight was a thing of beauty. It was team basketball mixed with the individual brilliance of Bryce Cotton. ‘System’ players became more than just another fiddle to the stars. But with the arrival of new head coach Scott Morrison, the flex has been ditched for a more ‘American’, isolation style of play.
Growing pains were always expected, as stated by Wildcats captain Jesse Wagstaff before the pre-season blitz in Tasmania. This is due to coach Morrison only coming out of quarantine a day before their first preseason game, but also because players will need to have time to adjust to a new system.
These growing pains were on full display in the Wildcats double overtime loss to the Brisbane Bullets on Sunday. The Wildcats shot at 38 per cent from the field overall, while Bryce Cotton shot a woeful 21 per cent overall and 18 per cent from the three on 16 attempts.
‘SCoachMo’ took the blame for the loss in his post-match press conference.
“My initial thoughts are just some mistakes I felt I made with our game planning and preparation,” Morrison said.
3. Bairstow play causing rotation headache for CJ
He might have been one of the 36ers’ last signings, but Cam Bairstow has proven to be a key piece in the Adelaide line-up.
Bairstow has shown that he can be a great player in the NBL if he can stay healthy. Last year in Illawarra, he played 14 games, averaging 11.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while shooting the ball at 45.2 per cent from the field and 72.7 per cent from the free-throw line.
In his four games so far with the 36ers, Bairstow is averaging 13.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, he’s shooting the ball at a high clip of 48 per cent from the field and 36 per cent from three.
His performances so far have given newly appointed head coach CJ Bruton a lot to think about playing Bairstow more minutes at centre at the expense of Isaac Humphries.
Adelaide’s big-man stocks already include starters in Humphries and a consistent performer in Daniel Johnson. Bruton also has Next Star Kai Sotto that he needs to find minutes for. So, Bairstow’s hot start to NBL22 has Bruton needing to figure out his big man rotations, which isn’t a bad problem to have right now.
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4. This is the version of Lamar Patterson the Bullets need
Lamar Patterson has performed at the very top echelon in the NBL before, but his journey in the league has been far from smooth sailing. The forward wound back the clock on Sunday night to don the cape and lead Brisbane to a famous win over Perth in The Jungle, and he’ll need to do it often this season.
Nathan Sobey is coming off an MVP-calibre season, but this Bullets club won’t sniff the play-offs if he’s the only offensive firepower consistently producing each night.
Patterson has averaged 21 points in this league before (in his all-NBL 2019 season), and he might need to reach those heights again. His six triples were a welcome sight after a stretch with the Breakers wherein he struggled to even hit the rim, but the Bullets have long been his home in the NBL and he’s capable of producing offensive outbursts that can help Sobey carry this team into the postseason.
5. Does the Caleb Agada experiment need a shake-up already?
Perhaps the most intriguing off-season import signing was Melbourne United locking in Caleb Agada as their singular import behind signing marquee Australian Matthew Dellavedova.
Agada showed in limited minutes for the Nigerian national team in the Olympics that he was capable of holding his own amongst some truly elite competition. This was most demonstrated in the pre-Olympic warm-ups where Agada managed 17 points in Nigeria’s historic defeat of team USA.
Some still considered it a risk for defending champs Melbourne to head in this direction after losing so many important pieces.
Agada had a fantastic season last year in the Israeli Super League for Hapoel Be’er Sheva, averaging 22.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.4 steals a game which paved the way for his olympic selection and ultimately the opportunity at Melbourne.
So far this season however it has been far from smooth sailing for the Nigerian. Although playing a similar amount of minutes to veteran Brad Newley, Dean Vickerman has regularly gone with the experienced Newley to start games with the first unit.
It is unknown how much this has affected Agada who in the early season is shooting a pretty dismal 31 per cent from the field and only 20 per cent from the three-point line. Agada certainly appears to have the green light off the bench for Vickerman as he has attempted 32 shots in just 54 minutes of action this season.
Unless these shooting stats receive a significant boost, it would be hard to see Melbourne persevering without utilising that second import spot.
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