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Brisbane Bullets - 2016/17 season preview

Brisbane Bullets – A new beginning Last season: Did not compete First game: Thursday, 6 October v Perth Wildcats (Brisbane Entertainment Centre) Arrived: Adam Gibson, Anthony Petrie, Jermaine Beal, Tom Jervis, Daniel Kickert, Mitch Young, Shaun Bruce, Torrey Craig, Reuben Te Rangi, Cam Bairstow, Matt Kenyon Departed: The cobwebs What happened last season? ‘Last season’ for Brisbane was 2007/08, when they hit opening night as defending champions and finished the regular season in third place with a 21-12 record. Ultimately though, it was the size of Chris Anstey against their undersized frontcourt that ended the Bullets’ campaign in the semi-finals and consigned fans to almost a decade on the sidelines. The club spent 2015/16 putting some impressive NBL pieces in place – Richard Clarke in the front office, Andrej Lemanis as coach, Mick Downer as assistant, CJ Bruton as Basketball Operations Manager and Sam Mackinnon on the advisory board. Then they set about recruiting on-court winners, between them this roster has seven NBL championships and 13 NBL grand final appearances, headlined by Tom Jervis and Jermaine Beal who have won two titles in the past three seasons. What did the Bullets learn? Funnily enough, it’s unlikely anyone will be taking advantage of this Bullets frontcourt, which builds around the toughness of Cam Bairstow with the shooting of Daniel Kickert, the length of Tom Jervis, the defence and versatility of Anthony Petrie and the energy of Mitch Young. When you add that to the athleticism and size of Torrey Craig and Reuben Te Rangi on the wings and the strength of Adam Gibson and Jermaine Beal in the backcourt, it’s clear this is a team built to withstand physical battles and control the boards. Three other things of note about this roster are only Bairstow and Matt Kenyon haven’t played in the NBL before – the equal fewest number in the league - only Kickert and Petrie are over 30, the second fewest in the competition, and nine Bullets can play multiple positions, giving coach Lemanis some real x-factor in his line-ups. What do we already know? Andrej Lemanis is one hell of a coach. In New Zealand he came into that program a rookie coach, cleared out the cupboard and built a powerhouse almost from scratch. With the national team he had a vision of what Australian basketball should look like on the international stage and delivered it exceptionally well in Rio. In both instances Lemanis showed he can take a number of different ideas and philosophies and mould them together to suit his players’ strengths. ‘Drej built those two programs over a number of years, but there might be some higher immediate expectations in Brisbane. To help expedite the process he has targeted high IQ players with Beal, Gibson, Petrie, Kickert and Jervis all proven at excelling within a successful system. Furthermore, eight of this roster have previously worked under Lemanis in one form or another, giving them a head start on what to expect. What’s the question mark? Depth and speed in the backcourt. Gibson and Beal are proven commodities and Shaun Bruce showed last year he is evolving into a quality back-up, but what comes after that? Kenyon is an exciting prospect but unproven against men, Craig can swing to shooting guard but we’ve yet to see much of that in the NBL, and while Te Rangi stood out for the New Zealand national team playing in the backcourt, it’s been two years since he produced his best ball. The other question is who has the jets to guard the likes of Cedric Jackson, Jerome Randle, Kevin Lisch, Rotnei Clarke, Corey Webster and Travis Trice? A lot will depend on Gibson getting back to full fitness after being hobbled last year, but the Bullets’ team defence in ball-screen situations is also going to be crucial to their chances. Reason for optimism? High expectations. Only New Zealand and Perth have more players who have been to an NBL grand final series, and once you’ve been there you want to go back. This is not a roster that will be content to have an ‘expansion season’ filled with ‘respectable performances’. Bairstow will bring the toughness Matt Knight gives Perth, Gibson will have a point to prove after missing the Rio Olympics, Beal will come in ready to make big shots, Petrie and Kickert will be hungry for their first NBL title, and Craig is ready to show he is more than just a handy role player. Taking the ultimate prize is almost mission impossible for a new team, but the Bullets have an intelligent roster capable of executing Lemanis’ plan and willing to make the sacrifices needed. Bairstow’s injury could be an early spanner in the works, but once he’s back Brisbane will expect to challenge even the league’s heavyweights.   Written by Paulo Kennedy for NBL.com.au
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