Hungry Jack's NBL
R3 Preview: Illawarra Hawks v Adelaide 36ers
When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Monday 21 October
Where: WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong
Broadcast: ESPN; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand
The last time
Adelaide 102 (Sobey 23, Moore 22, Conger 19) d Illawarra 96 (Conklin 22, Blanchfield 19, Coenraad 12), Round 13, 2018/19, WIN Entertainment Centre
Adelaide triumphed last time they were at The Sandpit thanks largely to their 24-of-29 effort from the foul line, their fast-paced penetration game drawing repeated errors from the Hawks’ defence. Ramone Moore, Nathan Sobey and Demitrius Conger combined to hand out 18 assists as their team shot 64 per cent from inside and 8-of-17 from outside. Illawarra dished 25 dimes of their own, Todd Blanchfield the main beneficiary as he canned 4-of-8 from deep.
Both teams look quite different now to that game just 10 months ago, Adelaide with five new players and the Hawks with a new coach and seven new faces. The 36ers started to look like a Joey Wright-coached team on Saturday night as they ran over the top of Brisbane, owning the paint, forcing their opposition to fire from range and scoring in the open floor.
Illawarra is starting to look like a hybrid Beveridge-McLeod outfit. That is aggressive D to create open court scores ala Bevo’s style, and with Tim Coenraad at the four-spot there is more Gordie-style offence, which revolves around ball-screens and cuts off the high post area, opening up the key, opening up the three and giving the Hawk Heads plenty more points to cheer about.
- Illawarra averaged 78.5ppg on 9-of-49 (18%) from deep in their first two games, compared to 95.5ppg at 20-of-63 (32%) in two outings with their new line-up
- Adelaide won fast break points 28-7 over Brisbane on Saturday, racking up the most transition points by any team this season. Against the Kings they lost fast break points 18-10
- The 36ers scored 83 points from ‘ones and twos’ in that win, compared to 62 in their opening game loss to Sydney
- Illawarra and Adelaide have been the NBL’s top two in free-throw attempts the past three seasons, and they currently occupy those two places in 2019/20
Tim Coenraad v Daniel Johnson – In Coenraad’s 84 minutes on the floor this season, Illawarra have outscored opponents by nine points, but have been whooped by 48 in his 76 minutes of pine time. In 51 minutes since moving into the starting line-up, he’s had 25 points on 7-of-13 from the arc, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and 1 turnover.
Johnson has been enjoying life against small ball teams, however, racking up 42 points and 14 boards in 59 minutes, while drawing 11 fouls, shooting at 50 per cent from the field and 17-of-18 from the stripe. Let’s cut to the point, these guys can’t guard each other, so whichever team can utilise them best could force their opposition into adjustments.
Aaron Brooks v Jerome Randle – Brooks has averaged 21 points and 6 assists in the past two games in Illawarra’s small-ball starting five, and on Saturday he finally got his three-ball going, which spells big trouble for the rest of the league. He also defended John Roberson pretty well, the Phoenix star only getting off the chain late when foul trouble hampered Brooks.
Randle presents just as big a challenge, and Illawarra’s NBA recruit needs to be smart about when he puts his hand in the cookie jar, because the Hawks have few other options to slow down ‘Rome. While he’s only hit 11-of-28 so far this season, Randle has dished 10 dimes to 4 turnovers and Adelaide are +3 with their point guard on the floor and -19 when he’s resting.
It was pre-season 2016/17 and the fortunes of the Adelaide 36ers weren’t looking great. Having missed the playoffs with a 14-14 record the previous year, and lost five of their top seven scorers, they were a near-unanimous pick for the wooden spoon.
Where did they finish? Top of the table with a 17-11 record. How? Energy.
After losing solid veterans like Adam Gibson, Anthony Petrie and Lucas Walker, coach Joey Wright threw the keys to Jerome Randle and Daniel Johnson, and then filled the car with energetic youngsters.
With Mitch Creek, Matt Hodgson, Nathan Sobey, Anthony Drmic, Majok Deng and Terrence Ferguson bringing athleticism and hustle, the 36ers were a tough proposition at both ends.
Fast forward to 2019/20 pre-season and few pundits had Adelaide finishing any higher than seventh in a loaded Hungry Jack's NBL season.
Having missed last year’s finals with a 14-14 record, and over the past two seasons lost Creek, Deng, Hodgson, Sobey, Josh Childress and Jacob Wiley, there was genuine reason for pessimism.
That only grew after thrashings from Utah and Sydney, but last weekend the 36ers' new car finally got rolling with a high-speed win over Brisbane. What was the key? Energy.
“I was pleased with it early, and then I was pleased when it picked back up in the fourth quarter,” Wright said.
“But we’ve got to learn to play with kind of energy and push each other to play at that level (consistently) in order for us to be successful.”
Just as was the case three years ago, it was youth who provided the fuel, and no one more so than Jack McVeigh with his 16 crowd-inspiring points.
“Jack came in a brought a lot of energy, and that’s going to be our advantage,” Wright said
“We've got some guys who sat tonight that will maybe come in and spark us like that, but tonight it was Jack.
"He knocked down big shots, got some back-door cuts, finished strong around the rim and got a couple of o-boards, so I thought he did an excellent job of sparking us.”
He wasn’t on his own, however, first-year forward Obi Kyei providing the force for the second-straight game, backing up his 6-rebound effort against the Kings with 6 points, 5 boards, 2 dimes and one highlight-reel jam in just 8:07 on court.
“He’s definitely going to be a regular part of our rotation,” Wright said.
“He came in, he sparked us, he made some great plays, he made a play we've been working on at training for a while, so it was good to see him get rewarded.
“He’s going to be a big part of what we do by the end of the year.”
Young guns McVeigh, Kyei and Harry Froling combined for 32 points at 67 per cent and 10 rebounds in less than 43 minutes of playing time against the Bullets.
It sets up an intriguing battle of the babies in Wollongong on Monday night, with the Hawks featuring emerging stars LaMelo Ball, Dan Grida, Emmett Naar and Sam Froling, who is primed to go against brother Harry.
The Hawks' young quartet provided 31 points, 15 rebounds and 6 assists against the Phoenix on Saturday night, but defensively Illawarra couldn’t get the job done, outscored 27-14 in a decisive seven-minute run in the final term.
“I was really happy with the way we competed, I just thought we weren’t able to execute at times when we needed to,” coach Matt Flynn said.
“We’re a young group and a relatively new group so we’re growing all the time. Closing games out is one of those things as a professional you need to do, and that’s not (just) on the players it’s on all of us.
“We've adjusted a little bit of the style in the last few days, so we’re still working some stuff out, we're still working each other out, so there’s no question with the ceiling this team has we’re going to get better.”