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Sydney Kings - 2016/17 Season Preview

Sydney Kings – New royalty in town Last season: 6-22; wooden spoon First game: Saturday, 8 October v Brisbane Bullets (Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney) Arrived: Kevin Lisch, Brad Newley, Aleks Maric, Michael Bryson, Greg Whittington Departed: Josh Childress, Angus Brandt, Marcus Thornton, Rhys Carter, Jordan Vandenberg What happened last season? What didn’t happen last season? The Kings started the season with a royal 24-point spanking of 2015 grand finalist Cairns, before losing at home less than a week later to pre-season wooden spoon favourites Townsville. That about summed up the season – so much promised, so little delivered. Josh Childress got injured again, replacement Al Harrington arrived out of shape, coach Damian Cotter received the full support of the board and was then fired to make way for Joe Connelly, a first-time professional coach flown in from the USA. Throughout it all the Kings refused to play defence, conceding a league-high 91.8ppg and 46 per cent field-goal shooting. Opposition teams showed no mercy, Sydney dumped in 15 of their last 18 games to crash to an indecent 6-22 record, making it clear big changes were needed in the Harbour City. What did the Kings learn? They weren’t good enough, on or off the court. So in came new owners, new GM, new coaches, new players, new uniforms, a new venue and hopefully a whole new attitude. The signing of MVP Kevin Lisch from local rival Illawarra showed that new boss Jeff Van Groningen meant business and had the cheque book to back him up. Lisch’s ability at both ends is a game changer, but the appointment of Dean Vickerman as assistant coach was perhaps just as big a statement. Vickerman led New Zealand to the 2015 title and then overcame adversity to deliver them back to the NBL’s decider last season, cementing his status as a high-quality head coach. That he was prepared to join such a struggling franchise in a lesser role should tell the entire league things have changed in Sydney. What do we already know? This team will defend. Only once since their return to the NBL in 2010/11 have the Kings not been in the bottom two for points conceded. Despite this, it has seemed like almost every major signing they made was recruited for their offence, or their reputation. Not anymore. Recruiting Lisch and long-time Boomer Brad Newley guarantees this team will pride itself on getting stops. Not only are that pair elite defenders in their own right, they are respected leaders who will demand their teammates buy in to the new mindset. While Aleks Maric’s mobility could be a concern, after years in high-class European programs he is impeccably versed in team defence, while import forward Greg Whittington received impressive reviews from the Miami Heat for his work at that end of the floor, where he is expert at turning defence into offence. The question mark? Who can create shots for others? The upside of recruits like Newley, Maric and Whittington is their ability to play team basketball, but the flipside is they are complementary offensive players who mostly rely on scoring opportunities being created for them. Import wing Michael Bryson was a big-time perimeter scorer in his final year of college but never averaged more than 2.4 assists, and while Lisch and Jason Cadee can play point guard, they are both scorers first and foremost and neither has averaged more than 3.6apg in the NBL. Expect to see coach Andrew Gaze running plenty of his patented shuffle offence, a system designed to create open shots from player and ball movement, not individual talent. While this offence has been heavily scouted in the NBL, Drewey will be hoping the quality passing of big men Whittington, Julian Khazzouh and Tommy Garlepp can make it hum. Reason for optimism? Not only is this line-up the best the Kings have rolled out since their 27-3 outfit of 2007/08, it has a wide variety of talent from which Gaze and Vickerman can piece together a basketball team that fits snugly together. Lisch is the big-time finisher, Newley the ultimate role player, Khazzouh a big man with incredibly silky skills, Maric the strength and discipline inside, Cadee and Garlepp the offensive x-factors, Bryson the outside gunner and Whittington a defensive player groomed in Georgetown’s system, which should make him a good fit for the shuffle. This roster could finish anywhere from first to eighth, and with as many as seven new players there will be growing pains early in the season, but from a fans perspective the Kings finally have multiple world-class players ready to make world-class plays, and that’s reason enough for optimism.
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