The Cairns Taipans will look to get back into the finals in NBL22. (Photo: Cairns Taipans/Twitter)

Following a disastrous campaign last season, the Cairns Taipans have a new coach, and some fresh players as they look to get back into the thick of finals action in NBL22.

After being unable to qualify for finals in NBL21, the Cairns Taipans will look to bounce back and enter the top-four once again, with an NBL Championship still eluding the Queensland-based team.

A swarm of list and personnel changes within the club look set to guide the Taipans back to the top, beginning with new head coach Adam Forde, a former Perth Wildcats and Sydney Kings assistant turned head coach in NBL21.

Last season

The Cairns Taipans finished the NBL21 season in ninth place with eight wins and 28 losses in a disappointing season that was somewhat doomed before it even started, losing key players via transfers or injuries on the cusp of the opening series of matches. None were more important than then-reigning Defensive Player of the Year, DJ Newbill.

Cairns got its season off to the best start possible with a gripping one-point victory over the previous year’s runners-up, the Sydney Kings, winning the final quarter to mark a memorable comeback at Cairns Pop-Up Arena, their temporary home.

After that point however, a six-game losing streak saw them languishing towards the bottom of the ladder and despite a two-game winning streak after that point, from there, Cairns was situated in last place on the standings, a position the team would remain for the remainder of the season.

Following a 25-point loss to eventual champions Melbourne United in their second-last game of NBL21, head coach Mike Kelly was sacked, the Taipans unable to string too many wins together, and in the process, suffered long-standing winless streaks.

The club was the second-lowest scoring side in the league across the season, averaging 81.7 points per game – just a touch above the New Zealand Breakers’ 81.6 points per game. Cameron Oliver top-scored for the Taipans, averaging 17.3 points, and was the leader for rebounds at the club with 10.0 per game while Scott Machado totalled 7.0 assists per game last season.

Biggest in

The Cairns Taipans have secured the services of Tahjere McCall for NBL22, which will mark the US import’s first season playing in Australia.

McCall, a shooting guard, won the 2020/21 NBA G-League earlier this year with Lakeland Magic. After being taken with pick five in the draft, he averaged 11.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists throughout the championship-winning season.

The 27-year-old does have NBA experience, playing one game for the Brooklyn Nets in the 2018/19 season (against the Washington Wizards) where he scored four points in eight minutes of court time, along with one rebound.

However, McCall’s output will be extremely important for the Taipans as he’s able to guard multiple positions on the floor, but mostly on the outside wing. He’s become a high-impact player from the perimeter, either through his shooting or passing to inside the key.

Biggest out

Import Cameron Oliver looms as a big loss for Cairns in NBL22, the forward choosing to terminate the remaining year on his contract to return to the USA for family reasons.

In two seasons with the Taipans, Oliver provided plenty of highlights and was named to the All-NBL Second Team following his first season – NBL20 – with the team.

Across the NBL20 season, Oliver averaged 17.0 points shooting at 54 per cent, along with 9.1 rebounds (a league-best), 1.1 assists and 1.6 blocks. He collected Player of the Week honours in Round 9 – 26 points, 13 rebounds against Melbourne United – and Round 19 – 31 points, 12 rebounds against the Adelaide 36ers.

Throughout NBL21, Oliver performed even better and although he didn’t find himself any post-season accolades, he managed to average 17.3 points at 50 per cent, adding 10.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.3 blocks. He received a Player of the Week award in Round 14 – 25 points, 17 rebounds against the Adelaide 36ers and 27 points, 19 rebounds against the Sydney Kings.

Oliver’s ability to impress inside the paint and above the rim, as well as on the outside, shooting from long range and not be deterred by the pressure around him, put him well above many similar players in the league.

Upon the release of his contact with Cairns, towards the end of the 2020/21 NBA season, he signed a 10-day contract with the Houston Rockets and played four games where he averaged 10.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists.

Player to watch

Second-year NBL player, first-year Taipan, and former Adelaide 36er Keanu Pinder has been lured to the Snake Pit for NBL22. The power forward played in the Polish Basketball League with Legia Warszawa for two seasons before moving back to Australia to suit up for the 36ers.

Last season, Pinder played 35 out of a possible 36 games for the 36ers and averaged 4.8 points and 4.3 rebounds. He was a handy pick-up for the frontcourt off the bench, with an ability to play long amounts of game time.

While he might not get the starting position over Majok Deng, Pinder looms as a defensive unit that will work well down the court for the Taipans. He’s a player who’s able to collect rebounds, run the ball in transition, and is useful inside the paint to put up crucial buckets.

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Starting five

PG: Scott Machado

SG: Tahjere McCall

SF: Kouat Noi

PF: Majok Deng

C: Nate Jawai

Full squad

Majok Deng, Mirko Đerić, Brayden Inger (development player), Nathan Jawai, Jarrod Kenny, Bul Kuol, Scott Machado (import), Tahjere McCall (import), Jordan Ngatai, Kouat Noi, Keanu Pinder, Stephen Zimmerman (import)

Fixture highlights

Cairns has had a long-standing post-season rivalry with the Perth Wildcats throughout the past decade, facing them in semi-final fixtures in three separate seasons – and losing each time.

Round 1 marks the opening game for both of these teams for NBL22, but it will also elicit an enticing matchup that’s sure to have plenty of heat at The Jungle, RAC Arena.

The Cairns Taipans welcome the NBL’s newest franchise, the Tasmania JackJumpers to Cairns Convention Centre for their first home game of the season in Round 2.

It’ll also mark the first time the Taipans will play at their true home court since Game 2 of the NBL20 semi-finals against the Perth Wildcats, due to construction that prevented them from playing at Cairns Convention Centre throughout NBL21.

The first Queensland derby between the Cairns Taipans and Brisbane Bullets is scheduled for Round 4 – on Boxing Day – at Nissan Arena in Brisbane. The Bullets won each of the four matchups last season, including an overtime two-point win, prompting the Taipans to change the script in NBL22.

After crossing the northern border’s state lines to take the helm of the Taipans this year, the former Sydney Kings coach Adam Forde will face a long wait until he comes up against his old team. The Kings and Taipans first encounter each other in Round 14 at Qudos Bank Arena before the return fixture the following round.

What to expect

With a new coach in Adam Forde, the Taipans will need to familiarise themselves with a potential new game plan and strategies. However, the incoming coach’s technique and approach to player relationships should put the team on the same page from the get-go, hellbent on making up for last season’s below-par form.

Captain Scott Machado will continue to lead from the front this season, already showing his worth since joining the Taipans two years ago. Already, the point guard has over 1000 NBL points and will surely accumulate more, as he’s been the club’s leading scorer for those two years.

The last word

The Cairns Taipans will be wanting to reach the finals again, and Adam Forde will look to make that happen too, having seen success everywhere he’s gone previously. With such a mixed playing group, the team chemistry and symmetry will only improve as players gain consistent minutes with each other.

While the Taipans might not reach the top four, improvement is in their sights and despite losing quality players, they’ve made up for it by scouting worthy replacements that are sure to make an impact from the very first tip-off.

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