With an exciting roster the Cairns Taipans will be looking to start climbing up the NBL ladder this season. (Photo:@CairnsTaipans - Twitter; Design: Will Cuckson.)

The Cairns Taipans will look to make an ascent up the ladder and build on the promising signs shown last season with key players returning and new additions bolstering the squad for the NBL23 season.

Last season

Ladder position: Ninth (Nine wins, 19 losses)

Injuries, fixture reshuffles, and COVID protocols marred the Cairns Taipans’ 2021/22 NBL campaign with the side finishing second to bottom for the second consecutive year.

Last season was the team’s first under head coach Adam Forde and while they started the season promisingly, as it progressed they struggled to maintain their winning ways.

Key players such as Scott Machado, Mirko Djeric, Stephen Zimmerman, and Tahjere McCall all missed periods of time last season, making it difficult for the team to build continuity. This was shown with the team going on two five-game losing streaks in its final 15 games of the season.

There were some positives to take from the season with Bul Kuol being named the Rookie of the Year and Keanu Pinder winning Most Improved Player.

Biggest in

The arrival of Shannon Scott will be a welcome addition to the Taipans roster, with the 29-year-old bringing much-needed veteran leadership to the team.

With former team captain, Scott Machado joining Hapoel Eilat in Israel, Scott will be able to fill the void left by him being a playmaking guard.

Scott is an unselfish, pass-first player which will fit well with Cairns’ roster as he will not be taking shots away from its other high-usage players.

The 6’3 guard is renowned for his solid defence meaning the pairing of him and Tahjere McCall who led the league in steals last season will make for a formidable defensive combination.

During his time in Greece with Doxa Lefkadas, Scott led the league in steals, averaging 2.0 steals a game. Throughout his three stints in the NBA G-League with the Long Island Nets, he recorded strong defensive numbers.

The biggest advantage of Scott and McCall suiting up at the two guard spots is that the pair have experience playing together in the past, back in 2017-18 on the Long Island Nets. This means the two should already understand how each other plays, limiting the adjustment period needed to learn each other’s playing styles.

With Scott’s strong playmaking abilities this will mean he can take some of the ball-handling duties away from McCall who was required at points last season to be the main facilitator. This will allow McCall to play off the ball more, get easier baskets, and converse his energy to be more impactful on the defensive end.

Lastly another positive of Scott’s arrival is the veteran leadership he will bring. He is set to play an important role in mentoring the Snakes’ young and developing players being labelled as a ‘coach on the court’.

Biggest out

The loss of the last season’s starting centre, Stephen Zimmerman will hurt the Snakes as he was an anchor at the five, highlighted by him leading the team in rebounds.

Zimmerman proved to be one of the best rebounders in the league, averaging 9.6 and leading the league in offensive rebounds with 3.8 per game. This activity on the offensive boards allowed the Taipans to get many second-chance opportunities which they will miss this season.

Zimmerman was also a serviceable defender and was able to effectively defend the rim and swat opposing shots away.

While the departure of Scott Machado also hurts the squad, the front office has been able to adequately replace him while the same cannot be said for Zimmerman’s exit. Cairns will enter the season thin at the centre position and will heavily rely on Keanu Pinder to play big minutes at the five spot.

The Taipans now lack depth at the centre position and while Pinder can do a job there, he only stands at 6’9 and does not have the weight nor the seven-foot frame to match it with the league’s premier big men.

Player to watch

The arrival of import D.J Hogg is an exciting addition to Cairns’ roster and is sure to have many fans eager to see what he can produce in the NBL.

Last season the Taipans were the worst three-pointing team in the league, Hogg should immediately help them improve in that area with his speciality being his shooting from deep.

While playing for Cholet in France last season, Hogg shot an incredible 44.1 per cent from behind the arc while averaging 12.5 points per game. This was no anomaly with the forward going at 40.1 per cent in 2019/20 when playing for the Wisconsin Herd in the NBA G-League.

His shooting prowess should translate to the NBL where he will be one of the league’s premier deep ball threats.

With solid playmakers such as McCall and Scott who will be able to find him for good looks, Hogg has the chance to be one of the league leaders in three-pointers made and percentage.

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Starting five:

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

Full squad:

Ben Ayre, Bul Kuol, D.J Hogg (import), Jonah Antonio, Josh Davey (development player), Keanu Pinder, Lat Mayen, Majok Deng, Mirko Djeric, Sam Waardenburg, Shannon Scott (import), Tahjere McCall (Captain, import)

Ins: D.J Hogg (Cholet Basket, France), Jonah Antonio (BK NH Ostrava, Czech Republic), Josh Davey, Lat Mayen (University of Nebraska), Sam Waardenburg (University of Miami), Shannon Scott (Brose Bamburg, Germany)

Outs: Brayden Inger, Jarrod Kenny, Jordan Ngatai, Kouat Noi (Sydney Kings), Marshall Nelson, Nate Jawai, Robbie Heath, Scott Machado (Hapoel Eilat, Israel), Stephen Zimmerman

Fixture highlights

The Taipans will be determined to again get the better of Queensland rivals, the Brisbane Bullets in the team’s four meetings this season. In NBL22, Cairns took home the bragging rights, winning all four games against Brisbane.

The two teams first meet in Round 7 at Brisbane’s home before playing again in Rounds 11, 14 and 17. With the Bullets having some big inclusions this season, getting the better of them will go a long way to having a successful season.

Another key game for the Taipans is when they host the Adelaide 36ers in Round 13 for a New Year’s Eve primetime night game. Beating the 36ers would be a big scalp for the Taipans and help set up their second half of the season with the Sixers expected to be a very competitive team.

What to expect

Cairns’ young roster has the ability to surprise many teams this season with the addition of new imports offering an exciting prospect for fans. With a strong guard rotation and roster flexibility, Forde can get funky with line-ups and cause headaches for opposing teams.

The team has addressed some of its weaknesses from last season, with the additions of Hogg and Sam Waardenburg helping to improve its shooting from deep. The returning trio of McCall, Pinder, and Kuol is also a massive plus, with them all expected to play big minutes and be a key part of how successful the Taipans can be this season.

The team needs to sign another big forward or centre to add depth to the position with this being one of the organisation’s major weaknesses. Having a traditional big man will go a long way to giving Forde more options with line-ups and give the team cover if they do suffer any injuries.

The goal for Cairns this season should be to show signs of improvement and make strides towards a finals spot after being relegated to the bottom of the table in the past two seasons.

The Taipans will have their backs against the wall early, with seven of their first eight games of the season being against the top six teams from NBL22. If they can come out of the early part of the season with a handful of wins this could set them up to exceed expectations.

The last word

With many questions heading into this season around new additions to teams that struggled last year and marquee players from the top teams leaving, the NBL will be as competitive as ever.

With a lack of depth in certain positions which has the possibility of being exploited and young players still developing the Taipans will likely not have enough to secure a top-four finish.

However, if the team can gel together, remain healthy, and maintain a strong brand of basketball then Cairns will be a dangerous matchup for the rest of the competition.

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