The Taipans had a great 2014/15 season making it all the way to the Grand Final Series.
Let’s have a look at the off season moves made by the Taipans to go attempt to go one step further in the 2015/16 NBL season.
Scottie Wilbekin (Philadelphia 76ers), Mitch Young (Townsville Crocodiles), Corey Maynard (Townsville Crocodiles)
Markel Starks (Italy), Mark Worthington (Melbourne United), Damon Heuir (Cairns Taipans Development Player)
The biggest loss to the Taipans roster from last season is Scottie Wilbekin who was arguably the best point guard in the league. Wilbekin was a huge part in kick-starting the Taipans start to the season and through his leadership the team made it all the way to the Grand Final series.
The Taipans knew they had quite a talent in Scottie Wilbekin and signed him up for a two-year deal in April 2014. The only hiccup with that is in July 2015, after he took home the Defensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player award for Cairns, Wilbekin continued his stellar play for the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA summer league.
This resulted in former Australian Boomers coach Brett Brown, now coaching the Philadelphia 76ers sharing the good news with Taipans coach Aaron Fearne that he had unearthed quite a player in Scottie Wilbekin. But the bad news was Brown had decided to offer a four-year deal with Brown’s Philadelphia 76ers and take him for himself.
Scottie Wilbekin swiftly exercised his NBA out clause to join the 76ers which created a massive hole in the Taipans roster but the Taipans seem to have recovered nicely with the recruitment of new import point guard Markel Starks.
Markel Starks is a 24 year old, 6’1 Point Guard who played his college career at Georgetown, averaging 17 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds in his senior year. He spent last season, his first professional season playing in Italy for FMC Ferentino where he averaged 15 points, 4 assists and 2 rebounds.
These numbers stack up very well with Scottie Wilbekin’s college and NBL numbers and having a pro season under his belt already can only be a good thing for Starks who hopefuly can produce Scottie Wilbekin type results in the Taipan’s win column as well.
Starks appears to be a point guard of a similar mould to Wilbekin, known as being a skilled penetrator and scorer. He has shown a high basketball IQ in college and Coach Fearne has said in the past that his imports also need to have some good defensive skills and commitment so I expect Starks to be a very competent defender as well.
Mark Worthington has stepped in and essentially replacing Mitch Young’s position on the team. His ability to score and rebound (His NBL career averages are 15 points and 7 rebounds) will help the Taipans become a stronger all round unit and his experience now positions the Taipans as one of the most experienced rosters in the league.
The 32 year old Worthington brings some legitimate NBL playoff and championship experience to the club having won a title in 2009 (South Dragons) as well as having the experience of playing for the national team at two Olympic and two FIBA World Cup’s. His in his impressive NBL career.
Worthington has one of the most impressive resumes of any Australian playing in the NBL and when you are able to bring him in for a young back up big in Mitch Young it on the surface is a huge signing and upgrade in terms of talent and experience. Worthington also brings a bit of grunt and versatility to the Taipans being able to play either forward position and play inside and out at both ends of the floor. So you would have to say its a great recruiting coup for the club.
A question which remains is how are they going to manage the small forward and power forward position minutes effectively in order to keep everyone happy and maintain a balanced line up on the floor. Is Mark Worthington likely to demand a greater minutes and a bigger role than what Mitch Young has played for the Taipans or will he fit comfortably in as a utility player, something he is more than capable of.
The team also lacks a real star big guy (I am a fan of Matt Burston the only true centre on the roster, but he has had injury concerns over his career) so I will be interested to see how they guard the centre position with this now being arguably the most talented position in the NBL this year.
Is Burston going to see a large boost in minutes to defend the Jawai’s, Khazzouh’s and Ogilvy’s of the league or will players like Tragardh, Loughton and Worthington have success playing out of position in order to stem opposition big men?
Other roster changes include young guard Damon Heuir replacing Corey Maynard, however the Taipans have been successful in bringing back the 7 remaining players from their Grand Final team to maintain team cohesion and added quality coach Geordie McLeod to the coaching staff to boot.
In past NBL seasons a strong start to the season has often been linked to teams who are able to retain the majority of their roster from seasons past. If you look at playoff regulars like the Perth Wildcats, having a core group of players stay together year after year usually is a big advantage and helps you get off to a strong start to the season whilst other teams are still finding there way.
Given this and the fact they seem to have recovered well from losing Wilbekin to the NBA and were able to add Worthington to the roster without losing any of last seasons starting five. I expect the Taipans being a the very top of the ladder at the mid-point of the season, however do they have the talent to continue to grow and develop and maintain that spot… time will tell.