30/05/2024

Milton Doyle was the King of the fourth quarter for the JackJumpers against Melbourne United. (Photo: NBL)

Another round of fast-paced, riveting, and non-stop NBL action took place as some teams solidified their championship prospects while others continued their woes.

The Tasmania JackJumpers returned to their usual defensive selves, downing two-time defending champions: Sydney Kings then storming home to topple Melbourne United.

The Perth Wildcats overcame a spirited Adelaide 36ers at RAC Arena to make it two from two in the Jungle.

After eight consecutive home losses, the Illawarra Hawks had plenty to celebrate, downing the South East Melbourne Phoenix – their first home win since December last year.

As for the Adelaide 36ers, where do they head from here after a 0-4 start?

Here are the five talking points.

Wildcats’ young Next Star impacts

Alex Sarr is making his presence known in a very short period.

On Friday night, the touted top-five selection in next year’s NBA Draft delivered two of the biggest shots, with the contest hanging delicately in the balance.

In his maiden game, coach John Rillie entrusted him with valuable minutes down the stretch against the Tasmania JackJumpers, and he didn’t disappoint.

With Keanu Pinder fouling out for a second straight game, Rillie called upon the 18-year-old to play critical minutes, with the 36ers seeking an upset and he held his own.

First, Bryce Cotton penetrated the lane into a crowd of 36ers players in the paint, before swinging the ball outside to a wide-open Sarr. Without a split hesitation, the 216cm giant sunk a vital three to propel the Wildcats’ lead out to six.

Moments later, Cotton ran an identical play, and Sarr took care of the outcome, draining a second triple, putting the contest out of Adelaide’s reach.

His defence is a galvanisation for the Wildcats getting out in transition for easy baskets – something they didn’t have last season. His extraordinary rim protection draws parallels to the legendary Kevin Garnett.

As the season progresses, how much of the Pinder-Sarr combination will take place?

Considering the formula is working, coach Rillie has this option up his sleeve when the game gets to crunch time.

Phoenix’s gaping defence

Everyone knows the South East Melbourne Phoenix can score. The lingering question is can they consistently defend for 40 minutes?

From a small four-game sample size, the ominous answer is no.

It’s not an ideal omen to have, especially when Mike Kelly – a renowned defensive-minded coach, was one of the elite defensive players during his NBL playing days.

In the early going, the Phoenix rank last for points allowed (95.25). In their first four seasons since entering the league ahead of the NBL20 season, the team have ranked ninth, eighth, eighth, and sixth.

Against the Illawarra Hawks, the Phoenix were cut to pieces in the paint (58) and from behind the arc, allowing the Hawks to shoot 42 per cent (12/28).

During periods in games, they defend hard but concentration lapses ultimately cost them – as seen when Hawks guard Justin Robinson hit two triples early in the fourth.

Their cause wasn’t aided by not having Tyler Cook (eye abrasion), Alan Williams (knee) or Gorjok Gak (ankle), severely denting their big man options, instead inserting former Perth Wildcats champion Rhys Vague into the starting five.

With Cook’s status unknown for the crucial meeting against the firing JackJumpers, all hands are needed to not only contain rebounding giant Marcus Lee but also the elite shot-making of Milton Doyle and Jordon Crawford.

More Basketball News

A case of try and try again for Milton Doyle: How the Tasmanian JackJumpers star sunk Melbourne United

‘A world of potential’: Dellavedova’s thoughts on Australian basketball

Cayla George is ‘relishing’ the opportunity to play for the Aces and a WNBA Championship

Let the Hunter feed

Out of the Sydney Kings star-studded roster, Jordan Hunter might come as the last mentioned when scouting an offensive scheme. After his dominant outing against the Adelaide 36ers, teams may change course.

Already averaging a career-high in points (12) and blocks (1.3), the 26-year-old made his impact known, finishing with a team-high 22 points and eight rebounds in only 21 minutes.

Hunter was an integral piece in the Kings’ second championship in as many seasons, playing a key role in a dangerous second unit.

He won’t have many offensive plays drawn up for him, but when the team needed a lift, Hunter provided it in spades.

On a couple of plays, Hunter was on the receiving end of two alley-oop passes – one from Denzel Valentine. It’s that dynamic that not only makes him a threat but gives the opposition fits – considering three-point shooting the Kings’ strength.

With Jonah Bolden slowly integrating himself back into the league, most intriguing is whether Hunter remains the starting centre. From what we’ve seen, keep him there.

He has the size, rim protection, and defensive instincts to match it with Alan Williams, Sam Waardenberg, Keanu Pinder, Marcus Lee, Sam Froling, Aaron Baynes, Issac Humphries, and Zylan Cheatham.

Defence and JackJumpers is a match made in heaven

In an uncharacteristic season-opening loss in which they allowed 101 points to the Perth Wildcats (only the fourth time in team history conceding 100 points), the Tasmania JackJumpers returned to what they do best, defend the island.

Defend the Island isn’t a slogan or mantra, but an identity of the team under the straight-shooting Scott Roth.

Against one of the most lethal offensive teams: the Sydney Kings, the JackJumpers grounded them to a halt, allowing only 72 points on 42 per cent shooting and 28 per cent from three-point territory.

It was a typical JackJumpers outing.

Prevent the Kings from playing at a breakneck speed and instead slow the tempo down and force them into a half-court grind.

Likewise against a potent Melbourne United offence, Tasmania restricted Melbourne to only five points in the final 7:31. Overall, the JackJumpers held United to only 41 per cent overall and 31 per cent from distance.

Whilst the JackJumpers’ offence has had its peaks and troughs, defence is the main archetype to why in only three seasons, they have become the most rugged and feared defensive sides.

Where to for the Adelaide 36ers?

Four games into the season, the Adelaide 36ers are desperately hanging on.

Enduring another tough start, the team has provided glimpses of their best basketball in a five to six-minute period, only to fall away at crucial junctures.

Examples include racing out to a 15-0 lead against the Brisbane Bullets, being competitive against Melbourne United, getting within three with two minutes left against the Perth Wildcats, and sticking firm with the Sydney Kings, only to allow a 19-6 run to open the fourth.

Despite being gallant and demonstrating competitiveness, it is unclear what the 36ers identity is on both ends of the floor.

We’ve seen Trey Kell produce his best outing, scoring 27 points in the Kings’ loss. On Friday, Issac Humphries dominated the paint in the side’s third-quarter resurgence against the Wildcats, and power forward Jacob Wiley supplied all-out energy.

It is unwise to write off a proud team with a third and final import yet to be signed, but 36ers supporters are as passionate as they come.

Nothing less than making the playoffs will satisfy them, with the side’s last playoff appearance coming in 2018 – the year it made the Grand Final.

About Author