30/05/2024
Adelaide 36ers Trey Kell III, Trentyn Flowers, and Dejan Vasiljevic don the heritage jersey. (Picture: Adelaide 36ers Media)

After a slow start, the Adelaide 36ers finished a game outside of the playoffs. (Picture: Adelaide 36ers Media)

It was a tale of two halves for the Adelaide 36ers in NBL24. After a disastrous first half of the season, a new coach and new perspective saw the Sixers fall just outside of playoff contention.

Snapshot

Final ladder position: Ninth (12 wins, 16 losses)

Several changes to their roster saw the 36ers get off to a slow start. Coach C.J Bruton was fired after going 4-9 in the first 13 games and was replaced by assistant coach Scott Ninnis

A two-time champion at the 36ers, Ninnis got his side back into playoff contention after an impressive January. Adelaide went 5-1 throughout the month, tied with the Perth Wildcats for the best record in that time. 

Ultimately, the revitalised side finished a win and percentage away from the playoffs.

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What worked

The 36ers were ferocious on the boards this season.

Already a dominant side when it comes to protecting the glass, Adelaide improved on its efforts last season. Ranked second in the competition for rebounds in NBL24, the 36ers averaged 43.5 rebounds per game.

This was a focal stat during January, where they went 5-1. In five of those six matches, Adelaide was above average in rebounding, including 54 rebounds against the statistic-leading Sydney Kings.

The return of import Jacob Wiley and the acquisition of 2018 Rookie of the Year Isaac Humphries provided positives. Both players ranked inside the top 15 for rebounds per game, leading the charge for the 36ers.

What didn’t

A concern for the 36ers was their inability to score from the perimeter.

Dropping 4.1 per cent in three-point shooting from NBL23, Adelaide was the worst in the competition for shooting beyond the arc at 29.9 per cent.

Only Next Star and NBA hopeful Trentyn Flowers shot above 40 per cent from three, going eight of 19. 

Two from 11 against the Tasmania Jackjumpers in December highlighted the woes of the South Australian side. Their inability to shoot from range was just a footnote in the 94-59 defeat – their equal-lowest since the beginning of the 40-minute era.

Going 29 per cent from the field and outrebounded by 17, the low moment sparked the end of Bruton’s tenure at the 36ers.

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Club MVP

Signing with the team in October, Dejan Vasiljevic was the catalyst for a vast improvement throughout the second half of the season. Fresh off a stint for the Washington Wizards in the NBA, Vasiljevic averaged 19.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 23 games.

The shooting guard was pivotal as the 36ers shocked ladder leaders Melbourne United in January. Vasiljevic scored an equal season-high 30 points in the 100-96 win.

He also finished the season strongly, scoring 20 points in his last five games. This included a 25-point, 14-rebound performance in their final match against the New Zealand Breakers.

Looking ahead

Could we see the return of Antonius Cleveland?

Vasiljevic has urged the club to pair Ninnis and Cleveland together for NBL25. The guard has had one wish come true after Adelaide announced the appointment of Ninnis as head coach.

Will we see the second wish come true too?  

The 2023 Damian Martin Trophy winner was prolific in his two seasons at the club, averaging 15 points and 1.9 steals per game. Currently playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel, Cleveland would be a welcome addition to Adelaide should he return.

Vasiljevic is one of four players contracted next season alongside Sunday DechJason Cadee and Nick Marshall.

Ninnis has said he wanted to retain up to four out-of-contract players over the offseason, with Isaac Humphries likely to be the first person on their list, and the coach got his wish with the big man inking a new three-year deal to remain with Adelaide.

However, Kyrin Galloway and Mitch McCarron look set to not be at Adelaide next season with Galloway linked to Cairns and McCarron linked to a move across the ditch with New Zealand.

If the Sixers can acquire some lively shooters this offseason, the Scott Ninnis era could bring success earlier than expected.

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