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Kickert on the verge of history

Melbourne United big man Daniel Kickert is shooting the ball so well this season, he’s on pace to create history. The sharpshooter is currently on target to become the first NBL player ever to join the exclusive 50–40–90 club. This is an elite basketball category of statistical achievements. It’s when a ‘qualified’ player shoots at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three point range and 90 percent from the free throw line over the course of an entire regular season. It’s the Holy Grail for offensive-minded players … the ultimate test of shooting consistency and efficiency. Entry into the 50–40–90 Club is so difficult to achieve, no player in League history has accomplished it. Yet, with five matches remaining on Melbourne’s regular season schedule, Kickert (who has played 22 of United’s 23 games) has shot 51.6 percent from the field (126/244), 47.3 percent from three (53/112) and 91.7 percent from the line (33/36). “That would be cool to be able to get that,” said Kickert this week. “Especially if nobody’s ever done it.” To be clear, there have been some 50–40–90 seasons previously in the NBL, but none that officially counted in terms of entry into the exclusive Club. That’s because those players didn’t reach the statistical minimums necessary to qualify as a league leader for each of the shooting categories. Just like a player who has a 40-point game and then misses the rest of the season doesn’t win the scoring title, a player can’t qualify as a leader for field goal percentage, three point percentage or free throw percentage unless they’ve played a certain number of games and made a certain number of shots. Currently, those statistical minimums involve playing at least 20 games and making at least 100 field goals, 28 three-pointers and 42 free throws. With that in mind, apologies to Gordie McLeod (1991), Stephen Hoare (1996), Neil Turner (1996), Stephen Black (1999), Reed Rawlings (2004), Erik Burdon (2009), Tim Behrendorff (2010), Matt O’Hea (2010), Ben Knight (2010) and Brad Anderson (2015). Each of these guys shot accurately across the board, but either didn’t play enough games or didn’t attempt enough shots. Stephen Black, for example, played just one game in the 1998/99 season, knocking down his only field goal attempt (a three) and connecting on both of his free throw attempts. Of course, there have been a number of players – household NBL names – who came agonisingly close to entering the exclusive 50–40–90 Club. Knockdown shooters like Andrew Gaze and John Rillie spent most of their careers operating just outside the Club’s exclusive parameters. Gaze came closest in 1999 (the season he left early to join the San Antonio Spurs) when a couple of missed freebies gave him shooting clips of 53.4 percent from the field, 42.1 percent from three and 89.4 percent from the charity stripe. Rillie, meanwhile, nailed two of the three categories on a number of occasions, each time narrowly falling short of the third. Others to have come close include North Melbourne Giants legend Scott Fisher (1989: 55.8 – 52.1 – 89.2), the late Dave Colbert (1993: 49.1 – 41.0 – 94.7) and fellow Brisbane Bullets import Steve Woodberry (1998: 48.6 – 40.8 – 92.0). Basketball Australia’s current National Shooting Coach, Brad Davidson, shot 49.2 – 42.0 – 97.0 for Townsville in 1999, but didn’t shoot enough free throws to qualify. “That’s a remarkable achievement if he can get there,” Gaze said of Kickert earlier this week. “It’s extremely impressive to put those kinds of numbers up, it’s something that’s not at all easy to do.” In the NBA, only six players are 50–40–90 Club members: Larry Bird (twice), Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash (four times), Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant. Gaze says that Kickert’s numbers are particularly impressive as he’s shooting a high volume of shots while being a genuine focus for opposition defences. “When most teams go into their scouting report they’ve got a fair idea of what he’s capable of doing,” Gaze said. “When you’ve got opposition teams every single game aware of your strengths and you go about it like that, it’s a very good achievement.” Kickert believes striking the right balance of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ is the key to maintaining his efficiency. “My ideal style of game involves a little bit of everything,” he said. “If you want to be a really good player you can’t just have one threat. If you’re just shooting threes, not only are you more easily scouted but the game’s just not as enjoyable.” Last season Kickert shot 51 percent from the field and a remarkable 51 percent from downtown but connected on only 74 percent from the foul line. His improvement at the stripe has put him in contention this time around. “I’m probably most happy about having 90 percent from the free throw line because at the end of the day they’re free points,” Kickert said. Truth is, it will probably be his free throws that will make the difference. Kickert will need to make at least 9 more freebies over the course of United’s final 5 games while connecting on a very high percentage of his attempts. Interestingly, Kickert says that the importance of shooting efficiency numbers was something he had drilled into him during his formative days at St. Mary’s. “When I was in college I was always pushed on 50–40–80 and that’s something I’ve been always going for ever since,” he said. “I find value in it because I feel like if I can achieve it then I’m being efficient, taking good shots, and not hurting my team by taking a high volume of bad shots.” As a result, Kickert graduated college with career percentages above that 50–40–80 mark, something he’s also achieved a number of times in Europe. The 50–40–90 Club, however, is an entirely different beast and Gaze, for one, is worried the extra attention might jinx him. “We’ve 100% put the mozz on him,” Gaze laughed. “That sort of thing can start playing with your head. The odd occasion he’s out there on the three point line all on his lonesome and he starts thinking ‘I’m a chance to make history here, oops I just missed’ … that’s not good karma.” With so many past players sitting just outside the elusive Club, the seven-time MVP also believes it might be more social of Kickert to miss out. “It would probably be a bit rude if he went in there,” Gaze joked. “You’d rather be in a long line of people out the front of the night club than the only one inside, wouldn’t you?” For Kickert, his mentality is to keep it simple and see what happens. In his own words … “Hopefully they keep on dropping.”
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