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The Burning Questions

After a roller-coaster opening round, which provided plenty of highlights but few answers as to how season 2015/16 will pan out, Paulo Kennedy has a look at some of the questions that players, coaches and fans are asking after the first week of action. Is Markel Starks a finisher? The Taipans' past two import point guards, Jamar Wilson and Scottie Wilbekin, have seemingly had an innate ability to make the big play right when it’s needed. Is Starks that sort of guy? He looked more like an opportunist during Round 1, a guy with elite speed who can get to the basket at ease when a lane opens up. If that’s the case greater responsibility will fall to the likes of Cam Gliddon and Mark Worthington down the stretch, and Starks needs to be more assertive early in the game so he can have the impact he’s capable of. Can Townsville win without Clint Steindl connecting? We’ll find out, but the Crocs were in both contests for large stretches last weekend with their best long-range marksman shooting 2-of-7 from the arc and 6-of-23 overall. Townsville have some nice frontcourt pieces in Brian Conklin, Luke Schenscher and rookie Nick Kay, as well as two livewire penetrators in the form of Jordair Jett and Mitch Norton, but without Steindl’s perimeter game firing his teammates might struggle to find the room they need. Do you really need to double-team Sydney’s post men from the get-go? The Kings were brutally efficient against Cairns on Saturday evening, relying on a team with six new players and missing their number one man, Josh Childress, with their slick ball movement and unselfish player feature. They punished Cairns’ tendency to double-team the low post from early in the game, zipping the ball around at speed to create open shots, driving lanes and mismatches. While Julian Khazzouh is a dangerous commodity down low, can teams risk leaving a talented supporting cast to run riot, especially when Childress is back in the line-up? Can Illawarra afford to let Jarrod Weeks go? Not right now, that’s for sure. The injury replacement knocked in 18 points in 32 minutes against Cairns and Melbourne in Round 1, doing it at 60 per cent from outside and 75 per cent inside. Add four assists and just two turnovers into the mix, and those are some handy point guard numbers. With Rhys Martin out he needs to maintain that level of play as the Hawks face the defending champs at home on Wednesday, but even once Illawarra’s regular floor general returns, how handy would Weeks’ energy and speed be in short bursts? How important is Tom Abercrombie? Every NBL fan knows Cedric Jackson has won three titles in three years with the Breakers, and that Mika Vukona has been the rock of all four New Zealand titles, but does Abercrombie get overlooked in that conversation? He’s been a major player in the quartet of titles, and his influence in Sunday’s win over Townsville was obvious, after the champs had been a rudderless ship without him against Adelaide on opening night. Abercrombie’s 11 points and five boards were handy, but it was his composure and decision making which helped bring poise and efficiency to his team. This is a man who’s played a lot of playoff and international basketball. But if Corey Webster doesn’t return, perhaps the Breakers will need more than just a steadying influence from Abercrombie to claim title number five? Can somebody please pass the Bubbles? OK, we’ve always known Chris Goulding is a baller, someone who can read a situation and make a play, but hands up if you expected him to dish out 11 assists against Townsville? With his scoring game not at its usual level, and Todd Blanchfield thanking his former team in the cruellest possible way, Bubbles turned distributor and keyed an offence that racked up 99 points at 54 per cent. He went back to his old self with 26 points against Illawarra two nights later, and this more mature, multi-pronged Chris Goulding must be a scary sight for opposition teams. Who is the 36ers’ change of pace? Scarily, Adelaide upped their speed and athleticism in the off-season with additions like Lucas Walker, Nathan Sobey and Matt Hodgson, and their 32-point second quarter against New Zealand and 28-point opening stanza against Perth showed exactly what they're capable of. But their 23-point second half against the Wildcats also raises questions about what they're capable of in a half-court grind. Gary Ervin and Jamar Wilson were the men who broke down the set defence the past two  seasons, who will it be this year? With Kenyon McNeail and Ebi Ere both returning from injury, neither was able to make their mark on Saturday, while Adam Gibson was limited to just four field-goal attempts for the game. I suspect the 36ers need more from all three next time they’re in crunch time. Who will Nate Jawai pass to? Anyone who watched Nate pick apart the Adelaide defence with his low-post passing had to be impressed. He recorded three assists, but set up a number of other open looks with his vision and timing. His teammates belied the scouting report which says make them beat you from the perimeter by nailing 9-of-23 from range. The question is now which Wildcats can continually make the double team pay? Damian Martin has twice been the NBL’s leading three-point marksmen in the regular season, shooting a 48 per cent in 2010 and 47 per cent in 2014. He has shot at 32, 23, 22 and 31 per cent in his other seasons in Perth. Jarrod Kenny’s NZ NBL perimeter percentages from the past six seasons read 18, 36, 41, 27, 40 and 27 per cent. Casey Prather hit 29 percent his junior year at Florida, 40 per cent his senior year, then 33 per cent in the NBA D-League. Which version of these three shooters appears this year could determine how far Jawai and the Wildcats go.
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