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Season Preview: Adelaide 36ers

Last season: 17-11, third in regular season, lost to New Zealand in semi-finals 2014/15 Points For: 88.9ppg, first 2014/15 Points Against: 89.4ppg, eighth 2014/15 Field Goal Percentage: 44.8%, first 2014/15 Defensive Field Goal Percentage: 44.8%, fifth 2014/15 Three Point Field Goal Percentage: 32.9%, seventh 2014/15 Defensive Three Point Field Goal Percentage: 36.2%, eighth 2014/15 Free Throw Percentage: 71.3%, sixth 2014/15 Rebounds: 38.2rpg, fourth 2014/15 Rebound Differential per Game: +1.6, fifth 2014/15 Assists: 16.1apg, second 2014/15 Steals: 5.0spg, sixth 2014/15 Blocked Shots: 3.3bpg, fifth 2014/15 Turnovers: 13.2tpg, seventh 2014/15 Turnover Differential per Game: -0.2, sixth NBL Titles: 4 (1986, 1998, 1999, 2002) NBL Finals Appearances: 23 (last time 2015) Homecourt: Titanium Security Arena, capacity 7,800 Head Coach: Joey Wright (3rd season with Adelaide, career record 201-146) Incoming: Matthew Hodgson; Kenyon McNeail (import); Lucas Walker; Nathan Sobey; Ebi Ere (import); Daniel Carlin (development) Outgoing: BJ Anthony; Peter Crawford; Tom Daly; Luke Schenscher; Jamar Wilson (import); Brock Motum Projected Starters: Kenyon McNeail (import); Adam Gibson; Ebi Ere (import); Anthony Petrie; Daniel Johnson Bench: Mitch Creek; Lucas Walker; Nathan Sobey; Brendan Teys; Matthew Hodgson There’s no doubt Joey Wright is one of the great coaches in the National Basketball League – maybe one of the best ever. He’s won a Championship, been successful wherever he goes, and has always been regarded as that classic players’ coach. In the past two seasons, his 36ers have reached a Grand Final in 2014 and then made the semi-finals in 2015. From that ’15 team they’ve lost Brock Motum but get back former All-NBL big man Daniel Johnson for a full season. In normal circumstances, they’d be a team heavily talked about during the off-season, but not this time. Eschewing the big splashes made by other clubs, the 36ers have built their roster with a couple of unknowns and role players, an import who is just outside his prime and another one who had some 36er fans scratching their heads considering his name was so unfamiliar. The result is that this 36er unit has to a degree been flying under the radar, which is unusual for a club and fan base that is used to success and indeed a certain level of expectation that the team will be at a minimum highly competitive. That’s not to say they won’t be in season 2015/16. Throughout the NBL Blitz, the 36ers looked like a team that was going to make a lot of noise – and that while playing without one import, with forward Ebi Ere held out. They may have gotten a couple of steals in guard Nathan Sobey and big man Matt Hodgson; new import guard Kenyon McNeail could be a star with his strength and athleticism raising some eyebrows and Daniel Johnson will be an offensive force once again. You know what to expect from Coach Wright’s ballclub. They are going to play at a high tempo; they will be up and in defensively and to a man they will be confident and assured in what they are running. That says a lot about their Head Coach – a flat-out winner who knows what it takes to succeed at this level. CENTRE The thing to remember about Daniel Johnson (10.4ppg, 5.8rpg), is that last season was a very small sample size –just nine games – as he made a surprise return for the 36ers after his Euro-stint didn’t work out. But with a full offseason behind him, DJ figures to again be that inside-outside, stretch the defence threat that is so critical to what Adelaide does, particularly on those occasions where the 36ers are in their halfcourt offence. His mobility gives opposing big men nightmares and he can score in a variety of ways. FORWARDS There’s a bit of a caveat with Ebi Ere projecting as the starting small forward given both his early injury concerns and the expected emergence of Mitch Creek as a prime-time ballplayer. But if he’s healthy, Ebi is still a guy who can give you 16 a game; a player who loves being a part of a fast-paced offensive system and can score from anywhere on the floor. The question marks over him will undoubtedly be his age and the fact he’s not in his prime, but Joey knows him well and will put him in the best possible position to succeed. It’s almost redundant to say that Anthony Petrie (10.3ppg, 6.3rpg) is underrated, so often has he been overlooked throughout his career. But he is a guy every coach would love on his team – a hard as nails, blue collar worker who more often than not you’ll find diving on the floor for that 50-50 ball. He’s also very intelligent, a better scorer than sometimes given credit for and an outstanding defender. GUARDS There is a school of thought that Adam Gibson (10.9ppg, 5.4apg, 4.4rpg) was less effective than normal for large periods of last season given he was playing alongside a scoring-minded, ball-dominant point guard in Jamar Wilson. And that thinking has a lot of merit considering his best games came with Wilson on the sidelines. With his new backcourt mate considered more of an off the ball scorer and Adam expected to see a lot more of the rock, he should be more comfortable and efficient offensively. Of course, he’s still going to play that tough, uncompromising D and he’s going to lead extremely well – it’s his offensive production that will be a story to watch this season. New import point guard Kenyon McNeail was rated as one of the best players to ever come out of Louisiana Tech University – no mean feat when you consider the college’s most famous graduate, one Karl ‘Mailman’ Malone. Still, in this era of the big name import, McNeail was an interesting choice. He did show off some serious athleticism at the Blitz and it’s clear he will be that perimeter threat this team sorely needs – ultimately his chemistry with Gibson will go a long way to determining Adelaide’s fortunes this season. BENCH You had to come away from the NBL Blitz thinking that Adelaide’s depth this season might be a lot better than advertised. Coach Wright may have unearthed a couple of hidden gems in explosive athlete Nathan Sobey and talented pivot Matt Hodgson; Mitch Creek could be about to take the Step, Lucas Walker gives them power and athleticism on the frontline and Brendan Teys can fill it up when he gets going. BURNING QUESTION Can the young guns step up and contribute? There’s undeniable potential there with Hodgson and Sobey, but the man who really needs to emerge, as a genuine star this season is one Mitch Creek. Gibson, Johnson and Petrie will all do their thing, but the difference between the Sixers making a playoff run or not could be down to their youngsters and young veterans making an impact. PROGNOSIS Anyone who is summarily writing off this ball club isn’t a student of recent history. After all, this is the team given up for dead midway through last season at 4-10 – and they wound up in the Finals series. As much as Joey Wright says – and, surely believes – that he doesn’t care what other people say about the prospects of his team, it can be assumed at least a small part of him would be happy that his team is flying so much under the radar. It might give his group that added motivation to prove the doubters wrong, and that would make this 36er team even more dangerous. The 36ers will be right in the thick of the Finals mix when all is said and done.
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