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Adapt, Adjust, Succeed

Daniel Kickert is no one-trick pony. The Brisbane Bullets forward is enjoying an excellent start to the 2016-17 season with his new team, adapting his game under head coach Andrej Lemanis. Kickert has played a key role in Brisbane’s solid start, helping tick the scoreboard over while the new squad continues to gel. He is the Bullets’ third leading scorer (13 points per game), behind Torrey Craig and Cameron Bairstow, and leads the team in assists per game (2.6) from the power forward spot. The most fascinating part is that Kickert has, for the most part, put away the three-ball. Over his first two NBL seasons – both with Melbourne United – Kickert established himself as the most accurate three-point shooter in league history (minimum 200 attempts). During that time, the big man shot close to 50 percent from long range on 4 three point field goal attempts per game. A massive 38 percent of his field goal attempts were from beyond the arc. So far this season, that number has plummeted to just 13 percent. “I take pride in not being a one-dimensional guy,” Kickert told NBL Media this week. “It wouldn't bother me at the end of the year if I shot 30 threes for the season. I’m comfortable playing the way that I'm playing.” It’s been a remarkable transformation from the 33 year old, displaying the versatility that brought him so much success over almost a decade in Europe. “It's funny, everyone is saying ‘you've got to shoot more threes’… well, I don't. That's the thing. You don't put yourself in a pigeonhole and have to shoot threes because you're a good three point shooter. You take what’s given to you,” Kickert said. “Sometimes when you're running around shooting threes you take yourself out of the game because you're worrying about getting threes up. Me standing out there and jacking up threes isn't actually what's best for the team.” Lemanis agrees, adding that the change has actually happened fairly organically. “It wasn't a plan to jump in and say ‘you're not going to shoot threes and you're just going to go play in the block’. That certainly wasn't the case,” Lemanis said. “But what I did know, through my experiences with Kicks, is that he has good skills, veteran experience and he plays the game with a lot of poise.” In fact, while the rest of the basketball world was marvelling at Kickert’s historic three-point shooting last season, the national coach was keenly looking elsewhere. “I remember being in Perth and watching him play for United in a game last year and his ability to contribute when he had the ball in the post was remarkable,” Lemanis said. “His decision-making, his array of moves down there… United went on to win that game and his contribution was significant, the way he added to the team from the low post.” Interestingly though, Kickert’s post game wasn’t hugely featured in Melbourne’s offense last season. In fact almost half of Kickert’s points came from beyond the arc. That’s not to say Kickert wasn’t used effectively last season, he was. He was a key part of one of the league’s top offences and was named to the All-NBL First Team for his efforts. This year, however, he is spreading his wings. It’s not all about the post either. In fact, much of Kickert’s playmaking is coming out of the reversal action within Brisbane’s offensive schemes. Think Andrew Bogut in Rio, when the big fella was running smooth dribble hand-offs on the perimeter and dropping dimes to back-cutting wings. That’s Kickert in Brisbane. “He is a very skilled player and has an ability to fit that into what's most effective for the team that he is with, however they want to utilise him,” Lemanis said. “I think sometimes we get a little narrowed in our focus and sometimes it’s about the opportunity to play within an environment and system that enables players to discover how they want to be effective.” In Melbourne in Round 3, Kickert scored a game-high 23 points on 76 percent shooting, without a single three point attempt. His array of dribble drives, shot fakes and post moves had United – David Andersen in particular – bamboozled. A few days later back in Brisbane, Kickert put the moves on New Zealand Breakers legend Mika Vukona. This time, however, he brought out the full bag of tricks. “Over my career I've kind of, if anything, prided myself more on my inside game more than my three pointers … I actually get bored of shooting threes,” Kickert said. “It does get boring, it's more fun to beat someone, to put a move on someone. Just standing there shooting threes, even if they're going in, you don't feel like you're beating someone. You’re hitting an open shot which is what you're meant to do.” “Working inside, it's a fun way to play and it's always been a part of my game, it's always been a strength.”   The result is a vastly different 2016-17 shot chart as well as more free throw attempts (up from 1.7 to 3.2 per game) and an increase in assists (up from 1.2 to 2.6 per game). Kickert’s assist percentage – an advanced stat which estimates the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while he was on the floor – has almost tripled from last season, up from 7.2 to 20.9 percent. He and Vukona are the only ‘bigs’ (power forwards or centers) inside the NBL’s top 15 for that metric, per realgm.com. Kickert prides himself on his ability to adapt, something that speaks volumes about his understanding of basketball as a collective endeavor. “That's what everyone has to do at some point in their career. You have to adapt to different coaches and different systems, things that teams want you to do. That's kind of been good for me in my career,” Kickert said. “Going into teams and trying to demand what you are to your coach is never going to work. You have to fit into what the system is and buy in.” For Lemanis, that mentality is part of what makes Kickert such a star. “What Kicks is showing is that often the best players can contribute in different ways,” Lemanis said. “Part of what makes them great is understanding the environment that they're in.”   Written exclusively for NBL.com.au by Liam Santamaria
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