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Illawarra Hawks - 2016/17 Season Preview

Illawarra Hawks – Fast and physical Last season: 17-11; lost semi-final 2-1 to Perth First game: Friday, 7 October v Adelaide 36ers (WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong) Arrived: Rotnei Clarke, Marvelle Harris, Mitch Norton, Nick Kay, Michael Holyfield, Departed: Kevin Lisch, Kirk Penney, Jarrad Weeks, Larry Davidson What happened last season? Not all seemed well early on, the Hawks 4-6 a month before Christmas, ranked last in rebounding, having held opponents below 85 points just twice and achieved coach Rob Beveridge’s stated goal of scoring 100 points only once. But as he usually does Bevo found a way, turning the Hawks into a solid rebounding and defensive unit, and from that came offence – glorious offence – reaching triple figures 10 times in their final 18 home and away games en route to averaging an incredible 93ppg. The run ended with two finals losses in Perth however, shooting 16-of-59 from long range as they fought bravely through Kevin Lisch’s injury in Game 1, but crashed cruelly in the decider as their MVP tried to produce one-legged magic but couldn’t. What did the Hawks learn? You have to rebound from Round 1. Illawarra missed second place by one game, and in their three losses to the Wildcats in the opening six weeks they were -23 on offensive rebounds. Win one of those games and they have home-court advantage and quite possibly a spot in the decider. This wasn’t lost on Beveridge, who brought in rebounding machine Michael Holyfield to ensure rebounding machine AJ Ogilvy didn’t feel so lonely this season after no other Hawk averaged more than 3.6rpg in 2015/16. The Hawks also added Rookie of the Year Nick Kay, who pulled in 6.8rpg for the Crocs last season, and deceptive 193cm wing Marvelle Harris, who averaged 5rpg across the final three years of his college career, giving the line-up someone who can start and finish the fastbreak. What do we already know? Beveridge’s system works. Last season marked Bevo’s fifth straight trip to the semi-finals, and while the run-and-gun style  is the part people notice most, the system is built around key pillars at both ends of the floor, starting with giving players confidence to make plays. Beveridge demands his teams get into offence quickly, move the ball selflessly and shoot every open shot. This forces opposition teams to defend the perimeter for long periods of the shot clock, opening up opportunities to get high-percentage shots and free-throw attempts on penetration. Remarkably, Illawarra ranked first in field-goal percentage last season while attempting more three-pointers than any other team – at a league-best 38 per cent – and still sat third in free-throw attempts despite their perimeter tendencies. That makes them hard to run against. The question mark? How does this group work in Beveridge’s style? With Penney and Lisch gone and Oscar Forman likely to have a reduced role, that’s three elite shooters who won’t be on the floor. The returning Rotnei Clarke is automatic, but the other replacements are different types of players. Kay has potential to be a stretch big man, but doesn’t yet demand hard defensive close-outs, while Holyfield likes to get his three-point plays the old-fashioned way. Harris and Mitch Norton can nail the triple but their forte is getting to the rim, leaving Tim Coenraad, Forman and Clarke as the only perimeter specialists, supported by the capable Rhys Martin and Cody Ellis. Beveridge has succeeded with average three-point shooting teams before – most notably the gold-medal winning 2003 U19 Emus – and he will need a different formula for the Hawks this season. But with high IQ guards Martin and Clarke leading the way his tweaked plan will be in good hands. Reason for optimism? Physical tools. So many times in their existence the gallant Hawks have eventually been worn down by bigger opponents, but not this year. The inside troika of Ogilvy, Holyfield and Kay provide the rare combination of size, power and mobility, allowing aggressive defence from the likes of Norton and Kevin White who  know the rim will be protected. If the defence generates quick entries into offence then Ogilvy and Clarke become almost impossible to stop, and once the double teams start the likes of Forman, Coenraad, Ellis and Martin know how to punish them. Harris also adds a new physical dimension with his ability to defend, rebound, handle, create for others and finish himself. While Penney can’t be replaced, if Marvelle’s as versatile as advertised he could be the link between the Hawks’ perimeter game and their newfound interior strength.   Written by Paulo Kennedy for NBL.com.au
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