John Rillie will look to make a statement in his first season as coach of the Perth Wildcats. (Photo: Perth Wildcats - Twitter; Design: Will Cuckson)

After a disappointing sixth-place finish last season, the Perth Wildcats are looking to get back to the top after hiring John Rillie as their head coach.

Last season

Ladder Position: Sixth (16 wins, 12 losses)

Despite a solid start to the season, the Perth Wildcats suffered one of the biggest collapses in the history of the NBL. The Wildcats lost six of their last nine games of the season to miss out on the finals for the first time in 35 years.

Biggest in

TaShawn Thomas comes into the team with a good reputation after playing across Europe and Israel, for which he has played throughout his professional career.

Given that the Wildcats struggled defensively, the recruitment of the 29-year-old power forward/centre is a smart one, as he is a very dominant player in the paint both offensively and defensively.

Thomas most recently played for Le Mans in LNB Pro A. In 34 games, he averaged 13.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and under a block per game in 27 minutes.

Thomas will be heavily relied on as Perth’s second option behind Bryce Cotton, especially after the departure of Vic Law.

In his first job as a head coach, 15-year NBL veteran John Rillie has taken over the Perth Wildcats as they hope to get back to the top of the NBL.

At the end of the previous season, it was announced that Scott Morrison resigned from his coaching duties for the Perth Wildcats due to family issues that required him to return home.

With Rillie tasked with such a high-calibre job for his first outing as a coach, it will be interesting to see if the Wildcats change or enhance their technical approach.

Biggest out

Despite gaining a good defensive asset, they are losing another one as Vic Law left Perth, choosing to sign for the Chiba Jets in Japan.

This could prove to be a big loss to the Wildcats as Law was statistically one of their best players last season, averaging 20.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, and a block per game.

The forward was named to the All-NBL First Team last season and his ankle injury proved to be a massive blow to the Wildcats as they failed to qualify for the top four.

Vic Law could be a major loss for the Wildcats this season. (Image: @NBLFacts – Twitter)

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Player to watch

Having recently signed a new deal with the Wildcats, it will be interesting to see how three-time NBL Champion Bryce Cotton is utilised under new head coach John Rillie

Cotton is arguably the best player in the league and the Wildcats have been able to build a team around him in recent seasons.

It will be interesting to see how Cotton can get better now he is in the prime of his career.

The 30-year-old continues to put himself in contention for the league’s MVP every year.. Last season, Cotton averaged 22.7 points, 4.8 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and a steal per game.

In the pre-season, the three-time MVP discussed his mindset going into the season with his third coach since joining Perth.

“I think the biggest thing that all of us are doing is taking the season for what it is,” Cotton said.

“Because it’s been three coaches in three seasons, you just unlearn what you learned in the previous three seasons because all the coaches have different styles.

“It’s still early, we’re still learning JR’s [John Rillie’s] style of play and what he likes but I think we are coming along pretty good so far from what I have seen.”

Starting five

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

Full squad

Brady Manek (import), Bryce Cotton (import), Corey Shervill, Corey Webster, Jack Andrew (development player), Jesse Wagstaff, Kyle Zunic, Luke Travers, Majok Majok, Michael Harris (development player), Mitch Norton, Oliver Hayes-Brown (development player), TaShawn Thomas (import), Todd Blanchfield

Ins: Brady Manek (North Carolina Tar Heels), Corey Webster (Al Ittihad, Egypt), Jack Andrew (Otago Nuggets, NZNBL), Michael Harris (Mount Gambier Pioneers, NBL1), TaShawn Thomas (Le Mans, LNB Pro A)

Outs: Jack Purchase, Kevin White (Illawarra Hawks), Matt Hodgson (TaiwanBeer HeroBears, T1 League), Michael Frazier II, Mitch Clarke, Vic Law (Chiba Jets, Japan)

Fixture highlights

The Perth Wildcats will host the Brisbane Bullets in their first game of the season, and the crowd will be getting behind their new coach on game day.

The Wildcats play their biggest rivals on January 7th when they travel to Sydney to face the title-defending Kings. When Perth and Sydney play each other, the contests are always firey and there is no reason to expect anything less this season.

Last season, Sydney beat Perth in all three of its encounters last season so Perth will want to get revenge as it tries to make up for last season’s disappointing finish.

What to expect

Although the Wildcats were the highest-scoring team in the league last season, they struggled defensively. Last season, the Wildcats ranked fifth for points against, conceding 84.9 points per game.

Another area Perth struggled in was the rebounding department. This was illustrated as only three players on the roster (Vic Law, Majok Majok, and Luke Travers) averaged more than five rebounds per game.

Rillie has made sure to fix the Wildcat’s defence and rebounding abilities, acquiring TaShawn Thomas and Brady Manek.

When speaking to the media prior to the start of pre-season training, Rillie laid out his philosophy for the team, stating that he aims to balance the side in terms of their offensive and defensive output.

“Philosophically we’ve got our rules for defence and offence. As long as they are executing that,” Rillie said.

“Defensively, like ball pressure, helping all that type of stuff and offensively sharing the ball, being a great teammate is enjoying the success of someone else. That’s what we’re preaching, that’s how we recruited this team.”

The last word

Although it may be a transitional period for the Wildcats, with the talent they’ve brought in there is no reason to expect them not to make the top four given their very positive off-season.

Whether that will translate during the season will be something to look out for.

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