Final ladder position: 4th (19 wins, 17 losses)
The Phoenix’s second year in the NBL saw a marked improvement from the first.
From the easybeats who gave up the second highest points of any team in the competition in NBL20, to the top scorers of NBL21, South East Melbourne just got better and better.
Early signs in the season were strong, as coach Simon Mitchell and inaugural star Mitch Creek continued to build the foundation of the club.
They were soon joined by a slew of talent including Cam Gliddon, Reuben Te Rangi, Ben Moore, Keifer Sykes, and later in the season, ‘Rowdy’ Ryan Broekhoff as he returned to Melbourne from the Dallas Mavericks.
Keeping the likes of the local Kyle Adnam and bringing on Kiwis Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa and Mike Karena made the Phoenix a side with remarkable depth. They proved this multiple times, overcoming the other finals sides consistently with injuries to their starting five.
As mentioned, the sharing of the workload and spread of talent across the Phoenix’s depth was on show from almost the very start of the season.
Dane Pineau went down before the season even started, but this gave greater opportunity to the likes of Mike Karena, Yannick Wetzell and Ben Moore to get more time on court.
Moore played his first season of NBL, averaging 10 points and over six rebounds a game, while Wetzell averaged 11 points and seven rebounds.
What would have pleased coach Simon Mitchell is even though the Phoenix were the highest scoring team in the NBL regular season, there wasn’t an overreliance on any one player.
Where Creek and Sykes showed their ability to turn games one week, Te Rangi or Adnam would go onto to hit three threes straight the next.
The safety in expecting a different player to contribute strongly each week was not something many other coaches were able to have.
What didn’t work:
As demonstrated in the third game of the final series, the Phoenix were not a side that could rebound effectively in NBL21, either offensively or defensively.
They were second last in the league for RPG, and the lowest for all finals teams in defensive rebounds.
Defence was another area the Phoenix struggled, giving up the highest PPG of all finals teams at nearly 87 a game.
Leading Melbourne United by as much as 15 points in the second quarter of the final game of the semi final series, they gave away a turnaround of almost 30 points to finish 10-point losers.
Staying in games from start to finish, and keeping defensive structures tight all the way through, will be a key focus going into the NBL22 season.
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Mitch Creek was undoubtedly the Phoenix’s most consistent squad member, deservedly named on the All-NBL Second Team at the Gaze Awards.
Creek played in 34 of the Phoenix’s 39 games, averaging 18 PPG at a 51 FG%. He also averaged three and a half assists and six a half rebounds per game.
At his best, Creek could lift the whole team around him, and demonstrated that throughout the semi final series against Melbourne United.
In game two, he dropped 26 points as well as notching up four rebounds and two assists.
He would score 20 points or more on 15 occasions throughout the NBL21 season, including a season-high 31 to lead his side to an inspirational victory in the Throwdown.
Had Keifer Sykes remained uninjured for the whole season, managing 24 games, he would be right up in contention.
The point guard showed off how much of a threat he can be to the NBL competition, cutting through defence after defence with his slick inside movement.
He averaged 17 points and just under three assists a game across the semi final series.
This season showed that South East Melbourne has the depth in the squad to match the best in the competition.
Winning a game in its first ever final series will fill every player with the confidence they need to keep building on the already strong foundation.
Additions to the squad will be key, specifically targeting stronger defensive players to strengthen that area of the Phoenix’s game.
As well, a full season into Sykes and Broekhoff will do a world of difference for the Phoenix in NBL22.
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