21/04/2024

Luke Travers was one Wildcat who stepped up during adversity (Photo: Perth Wildcats/Twitter)

A solid campaign fell sadly short for the Perth Wildcats in NBL21, and now face a rebuild as big names have left the franchise. Will the league's most successful team bounce back?

With an incredible NBL21 season concluding, The Inner Sanctum has taken a look at the year that was for the Perth Wildcats.

Snapshot

It was a case of poor luck for the Wildcats, who looked for the majority of the NBL season to be the main challenger to a dominant Melbourne United side. With the league MVP Bryce Cotton firing alongside John Mooney, the Perth juggernaut looked to be back in full swing, headed towards challenging for a third straight championship.

But when Cotton went down injured, and proceeded to miss the end of the season including the play-offs, Perth’s stocks quickly fell. More injuries meant the Wildcats’ depth was severely tested, yet they still managed to magically pull through a wild semi-finals series against the Illawarra Hawks.

Yet it was a bridge too far to climb when they finally faced United in the finals series. They spent all of their tickets overcoming the Hawks and battling past key injuries, and succumbed to United in a whitewash that failed to sum up their gritty and terrific NBL21 campaign.

What worked

When Perth was on its game, it was equal with United as the most scintillating side in the league.

The main times Perth beat United in their early battles throughout the season, Bryce Cotton fired from the point guard position and dominated the floor. With speed, smarts and elite shooting at his disposal, his leadership made Perth look stylish and aggressive.

When he went down, John Mooney’s presence and power in the post was another major plus for the Wildcats, who did brilliantly to continually find ways to adapt their style and mould their changing line-up.

Todd Blanchfield’s versatility often came to the fore down the stretch of the season, as Perth kept unearthing more prospects who contributed valuably to the Wildcats’ finals run.

Alongside Mooney, young stars in Will Magnay and Corey Shervill also showed their worth, setting up a healthy future for the Wildcats franchise.

Bryce Cotton was once again the heartbeat of the Wildcats throughout NBL21 (Photo: NBL)

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What didn’t work

Perth has always been known for its adaptable nature and strong culture when the side faces adversity.

But the 2020/21 campaign showed a weakness for Perth, and that is in its shooting stocks behind Bryce Cotton. Cotton was simply superb for the majority of the season, but his loss highlighted the lack of depth the Wildcats had for his position.

In a dynasty where no player was viewed as indispensable, Cotton’s absence proved how vital he was to a successful Perth roster. It left a massive burden on guard Mitchell Norton – a burden one player alone can’t make up for.

They also lacked a powerful centre to partner forward John Mooney, as they found themselves exposed in the rebounding stakes when coming up against dominant big men like United’s Jock Landale.

Club’s MVP

You’d think the league MVP would also comfortably win his own team’s award.

But the valuable asset that is John Mooney makes for an understandable upset for the Wildcats’ Gordon Ellis Medal. The American forward came into his own in 2020/21, averaging 17 points a game to go with a gigantic 11 rebounds per match.

His tough efforts, even without his star league MVP winner in Bryce Cotton, was admirable, especially when he led the team through an arduous finals series and became instrumental to their post-season success.

His 27 double-doubles throughout the season sees him sit second as a Wildcat, as he also averaged a double-double in an amazing effort.

Despite not winning the top gong, Cotton would have to be a clear second in the award table, as his scintillating season partnered perfectly with Mooney’s power in the post.

Looking ahead

It’ll be a season of great turnover for the Wildcats, who will have to rely on new staff and young prospects to get them back up to championship contention.

After winning the club’s MVP award, 23-year-old Mooney will jet off to Japan to play for Chiba Jets Funabashi in 2021/22. Coach Trevor Gleeson will also depart after a magical period of success, where he led Perth to five chips and was named the league’s Coach of the Year for the NBL21 campaign.

For the rest of the roster, Clint Steindl, Will Magnay, Jarred Bairstow and Waini Swaka Lo Buluk have all left the club, while the Wildcats have re-signed Mitch Norton, Jesse Wagstaff, Majok Majok and Corey Shervill. It’s a clear indication of Perth’s emphasis on young talent, but it’ll be an interesting season ahead for the rebounding Wildcats.

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