17/04/2024

Illawarra Hawks looking to make the NBL Finals after another semi-final collapse. (Image: Illawarra Hawks Twitter)

The Illawarra Hawks are looking to continue competing for a title this season, wanting to improve their semi-finals appearance last season.

The Illawarra Hawks are looking to continue competing for a title this season, wanting to improve their semi-finals appearance last season. With a bunch of new signings and a new head coach, can they do it?

Last season 

Ladder position: Second (19 wins, nine losses)

Illawarra finished in the top two in the standings last season and was one of the best teams in scoring as well as defensively only conceding 80 points per game on average.

In recent years, the Illawarra Hawks have been struggling to break the semi-final curse and in the 2021/22 season, they had put together the best group they have had to compete for a championship.

Before the end of the regular season heading into the playoffs, the Hawks would finish the season winning eight out of their last nine games, with the majority of the wins coming in the six-game winning streak, only losing to the Sydney Kings in mid-April.

They would face the Kings in the semi-finals with a home crowd advantage. However, they were swept in by the Kings.

Biggest in

Justin Robinson has spent a few seasons playing in the NBA and has signed with the Illawarra Hawks for this upcoming NBL season.

Robinson joins the Hawks following three years in the NBA, playing for the Washington Wizards, Oklahoma City Thunder, Detroit Pistons, and Sacramento Kings. Most notably, appearing for the 2021-22 defending NBA champions the Milwaukee Bucks.

Robinson’s experience in the NBA and G-League as a scorer can offer the Hawks an all-around playing style helping the Hawks climb up the ladder for a top-four spot again.

Robinson’s scoring ability and variety are something the Hawks are going to be excited about when it comes to playing in this system. The addition of the 24-year-old will help lessen the offensive duties of Tyler Harvey.

Robinson is a quality three-pointer shooter that can play the catch-and-shoot system for the Hawks and be a pick-and-roll maestro, opening up the options in a half-court set.

Biggest out 

The Illawarra Hawks’ biggest loss in the off-season is Duop Reath, who averaged 15 points, seven rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game.

The 26-year-old was one of the most consistent players for the Hawks last season in a multitude of aspects of the game.

Reath provided a lot of the defensive success the Hawks had during the regular season with his rim protection and physicality.

His best month came just before the playoffs, averaging 18.8 points per game in the last five games of the season, showing his ability to score around the rim and be a scoring option in an offensively-stacked team.

Losing Reath’s rim protection, physicality, and his scoring while having a double-double average is going to be hard for this team to make up this season.

More NBL Season Previews

NBL23 Season Preview: Sydney Kings

NBL23 Season Preview: Tasmania JackJumpers

NBL23 Season Preview: Perth Wildcats

Player to watch

Expect Deng Deng to provide a lot of production for Illawarra this upcoming season as a wing player, who previously spent a year in Brisbane.

Deng has a long wingspan and frame that can be utilised on defence and has a lot of potential to become a great passing wing player for the Hawks.

Deng also has explosive athleticism, which can add to the variety of pick-and-roll plays in which he can get into the paint and score easily.

In 18 minutes per game for the Bullets, Deng averaged 6.8 points on 51 per cent shooting from the field, along with four rebounds.

As an experienced campaigner look for Deng to be one of Illawarra’s key pieces off the bench.

If the Hawks can put him in spots where he can get into the dunkers’ spot or kick it out to their shooters on the perimeter, they can be one of the best teams in ball movement and shooting threes.

Starting five

The Inner Sanctum’s predicted starting five for the Illawarra Hawks. (Design: Will Cuckson)

Full squad 

Akoldah Gak, Alex Mudronja, Dan Grida, Deng Deng, George King (import), Harry Morris (development player), Justin Robinson (import), Kevin White (injury replacement player), Lachlan Dent (development player), Mangok Mathiang, Sam Froling, Tim Coenraad (injury replacement player), Tyler Harvey (import), Wani Swaka Lo Buluk, William Hickey (development player)

Ins: Deng Deng (Brisbane Bullets), George King (Ontario Clippers, NBA G League), Harry Morris (Illawarra Hawks, NBL1 East), Justin Robinson (Detroit Pistons, NBA), Kevin White (Perth Wildcats), Mangok Mathiang (Cedevita Olimpija, Slovenia), Wani Swaka Lo Buluk (Sydney Kings), William Hickey (Melbourne United)

Outs: AJ Ogilvy (retired), Antonius Cleveland (Adelaide 36ers), Duop Reath (Qingdao, China), Emmett Naar (Heroes den Bosch, Netherlands), Harry Froling (Brisbane Bullets), Isaac White (Tasmania JackJumpers), Justinian Jessup (Zaragoza, Spain), Xavier Rathan-Mayes (Melbourne United)

Fixture highlights 

The Hawk’s season opens up with a clash against the Sydney Kings, who eliminated them in the semi-finals last season. The semi-final rematch is going to be anticipated by all fans of the NBL.

The Hawks will also play the minor-premiers Melbourne United on October 29, which will show where the top two teams from the previous season are just a couple of weeks into the season.

Illawarra fans will be hoping they can enter the new year with a win when they host the Perth Wildcats on New Year’s Eve.

Round 11-12 will be the toughest stretch, going up against the Sydney Kings, South East Melbourne and the Tasmania Jack Jumpers in a week mostly on the road.

In mid-January 2023, the Hawks have their longest road trip of the season, with a three-game road trip against the Cairns Taipans, Sydney Kings and New Zealand Breakers.

What to expect

The Hawks last year ran a lot of isolation plays that ended with a player finishing at the basket or driving and kicking it out.

Losing a crafty scorer like Antonius Cleveland is a blow to Illawarra which has struggled against good defensive teams that can neutralise the Hawks’ offensive system.

Sam Froling needs to play with his back to the basket. A guy with his size and mobility should be offering opportunities to open up the floor, especially when the team consists of really good three-point shooters.

The Hawks to improve this season should run more pick-and-roll action and also possibly play small ball if they want to speed up the pace of the game and spread the court.

The last word

With the loss of some quality players, the Hawks will be a different type of squad this season.

After making the semi-finals in the last two seasons, the Hawks will be looking to go one step further but with the teams around them also improving their rosters, it could be tough.

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