With an incredible NBL21 regular season concluding, The Inner Sanctum has taken a look at the year that was for clubs that didn’t make the four-team finals series, with a season review of the Sydney Kings next up.
After finishing runners-up to the Perth Wildcats at the sudden conclusion to the 2019/20 NBL season, expectations were high for the Sydney Kings ahead of this season. Unfortunately, the Kings have missed out on finals in 2021, finishing in fifth place with a 19-17 record, trailing South East Melbourne on percentage.
The Kings needed to make adjustments due to multiple departures, both in the off-season and during the season.
All-NBL First Team forward Jae’Sean Tate left after one season after signing with the Houston Rockets while Didi Louzada got released to the New Orleans Pelicans mid-season. Veterans Kevin Lisch, Andrew Bogut and Lucas Walker all retired at the end of last year.
Will Weaver departed from the head coach role after picking up an assistant coaching role in the NBA with Houston. Kings assistant Adam Forde took the reigns for this season after being with the organisation since 2019, spending time with Perth for eight years prior.
Pre-season expectations for the Kings all related to how well they would perform without their veterans and that showed, through others on the roster getting more minutes, that the club can handle big-name losses.
The depth of the Kings squad was tested but they remained upbeat throughout the season with consistent wins and handy contributions across the board.
The Kings were on the road for the first five games of the season and suffered three losses within the first four games to fall as low as seventh.
When the NBL Cup came around, Sydney finished in fifth place too with a 4-4 record, however, it began to be the rise of the Kings as they were entrenched inside the top four after Round 12.
The Kings had 11 wins while playing at Qudos Bank Arena in front of home fans while they were almost 50/50 when travelling.
The Kings had some player’s milestone games to celebrate during the NBL season – Casper Ware playing his 150th game and Shaun Bruce playing his 200th game. Daniel Kickert and Brad Newley celebrated their 200th and 250th games respectively in the Kings final game of the season, a one-point win against the Brisbane Bullets.
The Kings had strong starts to their matches throughout the season, winning 22 first quarters and drawing three, while there were some close first-quarter losses too.
The Kings were one of the best defensive rebound teams across the season, averaging 29.6 a game.
First-year King Jarell Martin, a USA native who’s had four years of NBA experience with the Memphis Grizzlies and Orlando Magic, was solid for the Kings defence this year. He won the league’s Player of the Week after Round 12 for double-double games against Perth and Brisbane.
The 27-year-old Martin averaged seven rebounds a game that included double-digit counts in six of his 28 games he appeared in. He averaged 17.9 points a game with a field goal average of 50%. Martin’s scoring produced a tally of less than 10 points just twice with a season-high 29 points against the New Zealand Breakers in Round 19.
Second-year player Jordan Hunter rose from being a bench player last season to become a starter under Forde. He played every game for the Kings this season and averaged almost 21 minutes with multiple games with scores in the double-digits. He had four double-doubles and a career-high six blocks against the Phoenix in Round 14.
Sydney was firmly entrenched inside the top four with four rounds to be played but a stretch of five losses in seven games that included two by over 20 points ultimately saw them fall.
The Kings were fighting for their season towards the end of the season, rounding out the year with a three-game win streak however they were close, single-digit victories.
They couldn’t get other results to go their way enough to sneak into the finals frame, leading them to miss finals.
The Kings were the equal-worst three-point shooting team in the NBL this season, tied with Illawarra with 33.4% of their shots from beyond the arc going in. The Kings attempted the most three-point shots too (995) with forward Xavier Cooks was the only King to hit 50% from three-point range. The Kings ended the season with an average of five steals a game, the worst of the league.
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Casper Ware was already a three-time MVP with Melbourne United before his move to the Harbour City and now, in his second season at the club, has added a Sydney Kings MVP award. He celebrated his 150th game in the NBL in a Round 18 matchup against Brisbane.
The Kings co-captain went at 17.7 points a game and whilst that was lower than last season, he went at a field goal average of 40.1%. He appeared in each of the Kings 36 games of the season and only had five games where he scored less than 10 points.
The clutch player put the Kings in plenty of winning situations over the course of the season, coming back from a missed game-winning opportunity against the Taipans in Round 1. In the Round 14 game against Cairns, the scores were tied at 65-all after three quarters however Ware pocketed 13 points in the final 10 minutes.
Ware’s output included three three-pointers, each keeping the Kings in touch with their opponents before hitting the defining three-point jump shot that gave them the lead.
Looking ahead to NBL22
The Kings will already be on the search for a new coach after Adam Forde and Sydney agreed to part ways, the one-year contract not extended. A two-time NBL Champion and Boomers assistant coach Matt Nielsen has already emerged as a potential suitor. Andrew Bogut also became a co-owner of the Kings which could put them on the championship-winning path again.
The Kings won’t be out of finals for long and showed this season they can respond to changes with a mix of younger and older players combining well. Keeping the same set starting rotation will be key for the Kings as they were tested throughout the season with Jarell Martin going down with an injury, as did Didi Louzada before he was released.
The Kings, having got more minutes into certain players, will be impressed with their performances this year and hope it translates into next season too. Jordan Hunter and Dejan Vasiljevic have been nominated for individual awards, Most Improved Player and Rookie of the Year, respectively. The pair, both 24 years old, will be leading the club in the coming years.
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