STORY OF THE WEEK
With the international break upon us next week, it's an opportune moment to assess the fortunes - good, indifferent, and downright horrendous - of every team in the National Basketball League so far. Already we can see several teams establishing their championship bona fides, a couple more with aspirations to join the top tier ... and then there's the teams chasing credibility and maybe just praying for a small slice of luck to go their way.
Perth Wildcats (10-1) It's an ominous sign for the rest of the league. A wounded Wildcats squad that has made perfect use of its stunning depth to withstand a host of injuries to star players and reel off a seven-game winning streak. This weekend was a perfect microcosm of their season so far. Two games against arch-rivals New Zealand, and Perth, even without superstar Bryce Cotton in the second leg, defeated the Breakers twice to maintain its hold on top spot. Be afraid.
Melbourne United (9-3) The defending champs have yet to really hit their stride, although the past few weeks would have encouraged coach Dean Vickerman that they're not that far away. In an encouraging sign, they've won games on nights when the fearsome offensive artillery has failed to fire, grinding teams down by force of will. Import DJ Kennedy has looked better and better each week, while Casper Ware continues to showcase his impressive array of scoring and playmaking skills.
Sydney Kings (5-4) An indifferent start had more than a few people looking askance at the Kings, who have since righted the ship with some adjustments to their offensive balance and a defence that has been anchored by a dominant Andrew Bogut. Teams have made a point of attacking the rim when Bogut is on the bench and Sydney will need to adjust accordingly.
Brisbane Bullets (5-6) Started the season in the brightest way possible - upending the Breakers in Auckland - before crashing back to the pack in a hurry, and then recovering with a series of impressive performances over the past month to move back into the playoff picture. Canine importation issues aside, new signing Lamar Patterson looks the goods, dropping 24 points, five boards, and five assists in the Bullets' 104-85 win over the Hawks on Thursday night.
Adelaide 36ers (5-7) The 36ers have desperately missed Mitch Creek for various reasons so far, not least his on-court leadership and versatility. Adelaide might have gone a long way in solving both of those issues by replacing under-performing playmaker Adris De Leon with former Illawarra swingman Demetrius Conger, who already looks like a difference maker since coming on board. There's still plenty of time for the 36ers to find their rhythm and when they do, look out.
New Zealand Breakers (4-7) What to make of the Breakers? At various times they've looked for all the world like a playoff team, a road win over Melbourne United the highlight. But they've also dropped home games to Brisbane and Sydney, needed a buzzer-beater from Tom Abercrombie to defeat Brisbane, and somehow couldn't defeat an undermanned Perth in either of their home-and-home contests this weekend. We're not at panic stations. Yet.
Illawarra Hawks (4-7) Competitive, scrappy, hustling ... the Hawks have struggled to shake the 'honest battlers' tag for a while now and this season has not been ideal for refuting that reputation. It's a team with its fair share of genuine NBL talent, but their depth is suspect and have struggled away from the friendly confines of the WIN Entertainment Centre. Their Round 7 win over Adelaide, a game that saw Illawarra explode for 40 points in the second quarter, could yet prove to be a catalyst for their playoff aspirations.
Cairns Taipans (1-8) If it was raining gravy, Cairns would likely be holding a fork, such has been their dismal luck thus far. This is not a team deserving of just the solitary win from nine attempts. Rookie coach Mike Kelly has had the Snakes well prepared and for the most part they've been competitive. But a lack of consistent offensive talent to support star guard Melo Trimble has also been a real issue, and this needs to be addressed quickly, lest the season slip away entirely before Christmas.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Nick Kay (PER) - Kay has been perhaps the recruit of the season, crossing to the Wildcats from the Hawks in the off-season and fitting in to Perth's system like a glass slipper. He was at his versatile best in Round 7, with 20 points, five boards, and five assists in the Wildcats' stunning road overtime win over New Zealand on Friday night before backing up with an even more impressive 22 points, 12 rebounds, and five dimes in Sunday's home triumph over the luckless Breakers.
TEAM OF THE WEEK
G: Jerome Randle (SYD) - Exploded for a game-high 35 points (including five triples) against Melbourne United on Saturday afternoon. Randle raced out of the blocks, scoring 15 points in the first quarter without blemish.
G: Casper Ware (MEL) - In an absorbing duel with Randle, Ware scored 23 points and added five boards and six assists as United held off the Kings with an epic 84-82 win at Melbourne Arena.
F: Nick Kay (PER) - See above
F: Jacob Wiley (ADL) - Dominated the Taipans to the tune of 30 points and four boards as the 36ers withstood a first quarter barrage from Cairns to run out 109-95 winners at Titanium Security Arena.
C: AJ Ogilvy (ILL) - In a spiteful game against Adelaide, Ogilvy, ahem, stood tall when it counted. A fiery contest that featured nine technical fouls and three players ejected, Ogilvy scored 19 points and hauled down a game-high 13 rebounds to ensure Illawarra kept its flickering top-four hopes alive with a 120-109 win over the 36ers.
WHAT TO LOOK FORWARD TO
A week off for everyone except those selected to play for the Boomers in their FIBA World Cup qualifiers against Iran and Qatar. The NBL resumes December 6 with the Kings getting a stern test of their vaunted title credentials, hosting the rampant Perth Wildcats at Qudos Bank Arena.