It’s official Australian Boomers big man Nathan Jawai has officially signed with the Perth Wildcats for the 2015/16 NBL season. There has been a lot of fanfare and press around many big names returning to the NBL this season and names like Chris Goulding, Julian Khazzouh, AJ Ogilvy returning to the NBL are all huge additions to their respective teams. But Jawai is a 6’10, 280lbs Man Mountain, who in his last go around in the NBL posted 17 points and 9 rebounds every single night and Jawai’s signing will no doubt changes the future for the Perth Wildcats, it possible to change the landscape in the entire league.
Over the past 10 years the NBL for numerous reasons has been satisfied with “small ball” and the results have seen players teams like Shawn Redhage, Mark Worthington and Tom Abercrombie featuring in recent All-NBL First team’s as the best “bigs” in the league. No nothing against the quality of these players but imagine having Redhage guarding Jawai in the post after watching him devour members of the Tall Blacks recently like BBQ chicken. While a player like Nathan Jawai is in the league there is almost no option for a team to try “small ball”.
The NBL is a big man’s league whenever a player like Jawai is on an NBL team and much like the NBA’s rosters changed when Shaq was at his most dominant (it wasn’t unusual for teams to have 3-4 players over 7 foot then, no try to find a team with 2 7 ft. + players) the NBL landscape has now been forced to go big.
Anytime you have the opportunity to sign a current member of the Boomers you grab it with both hands and figure the rest out later, so I applaud the Wildcats management in being able to secure his services just to begin with, but claiming Jawai’s signature does not simply guarantee an NBL title and a number of concerns exist by having Big Nate on the Wildcat’s roster.
As good as Jawai is it won’t matter if his health won’t allow him on the court. After a traumatic neck injury suffered while playing for Turkish club Galatasary in October 2013 Jawai hasn’t been at 100% for close to two years. The injury was so horrific Big Nate spent six months at Canberra’s Australian Institute of Sport undergoing intense rehabilitation with limited on court activity.
Getting Jawai back to peak form as soon as possible, at the very least by mid-season will be critical to getting maximum impact from having him on the roster. The Wildcats are a team who have the unique advantage of having big man tandem Matt Knight and Tom Jervis sitting patiently, ready to fill any gaps Jawai’s health may create. Having high calibre players like Knight and Jervis ready at all times can allow the team to bring him along slowly if need be. A playing schedule which starts off with him playing 15 minutes a game while he gets healthy and eases into the team wouldn’t be a surprise come October.
Nathan Jawai’s NBL All-Star MVP perfomance as a rookie (2007)
Once Jawai returns to his dominant self this also presents the challenge of how does a team with 3 players capable of starting at the centre spot for any other NBL team rotate players enough to keep them all happy?
Does this reality mean the Wildcats fall short of NBL glory due to having an unbalanced team… to heavy at the centre spot?
The Minutes Situation
Rotating players on purely talent and youth could see a rotation look like this.
Playing time in brackets (minutes)
C Jawai (20)/Jervis (15)/Knight (5)
PF Knight (15)/Wagstaff (20)/Redhage (5)
SF Prather (15)/Redhage (15)/Hire (10)
SG Beal (25)/Prather (15)
PG Martin (25)/Beal (5)/Kenny (10)
How does this effect the Perth Wildcats season?
- Is this a line up which is too big and potentially not mobile enough? Especially when Prather isn’t at his most effective position, small forward?
- Will Prather be happy playing out of position when he is hoping to use this season to wow NBA scouts and return to an NBA locker room?
- Can Jawai and Knight play together? as neither shoot from the perimeter, and Knight at PF means Wagstaff isn’t there spreading the floor with his 3point shooting.
- Is Redhage still mobile enough to play SF for the bulk of his minutes? Will he do well and be happy coming off the bench?
- Can Martin, Beal, Prather, Redhage shoot the 3 point shot well enough this season, to spread the floor for the bigs and make the most of when opposition teams go into a zone and/or double/triple team the big guys?
- In 2014 when Perth won the title Martin, Beal and Redhage shot 42 %, 43 % and 39% from 3 point land respectively with Wagstaff shooting 42% from the three point line at PF.
- However last year in 2015 Martin, Beal and Redhage shot 31 %, 34 % and 37% from 3 point land respectively with Wagstaff shooting 32% from the three point line.
- So can you back these guys to get back to their 2014 form from the perimeter to keep the team balance and spread the floor for the big guys inside and prevent teams from simply clogging the paint and daring you to shoot from the perimeter all game to beat you.
- Prather seems to be a more athletic player who scores by getting to the rim, so I don’t think he is the answer in this area either, and does he and his ability to penetrate become less effective when Jawai and Knight are both on the floor with him? Also can he effectively play SG in the NBL?
- The Wildcats seem to always have a great team culture, but will Redhage be happy off the bench moving back to SF?
- Will Jawai and Knight be happy playing 20 mins. or less each? Given either could take bigger roles on any other NBL team. Will factors like this impact team chemistry?
One huge bonus could be if Knight and Jawai are happy to split 30 – 40 mins. between them, it could mean they have less toll on their bodies and are fresher and healthier come playoff time. But again does playing this kind of role or even coming off the bench behind Knight help achieve Jawai’s goals of making the Rio Olympics and are you robbing Peter to pay Paul and underutilizing either or both of them if this is how they do it?
To me in terms of talent Jawai is a massive pick up and upgrade to the Wildcats team, they have an amazing 9 man rotation, given Jawai essentially replaces Earnest Ross from last year’s roster but how he fits in and if the team improves in the wins column will be determined by how the team addresses the above questions.
If Martin, Beal, Redhage and Wagstaff regain their 2014 shooting form, Prather is more James Ennis than DeAndre Daniels and all team members be happy and effective with their roles and minutes, the Jawai signing could lead them right back to the Title. Jawai could easily be the best big man and the best force in the paint by seasons end.
However if they shoot more like they did in 2015 from the perimeter they will struggle to stop teams from just clogging the paint against them which limits the effectiveness of the bigs and makes the team too top heavy they could risk missing the playoffs.
It will be interesting to see how they deal with these things and how it plays out, but I know if I were coaching against this Perth team id be clogging the paint as much as possible and making them beat me from 3 point land and running the ball as much as possible in a transition offense to see if the Wildcats bigger line ups can keep up defensively.
Either way It’s great for the NBL to have a talent such as Nathan Jawai back playing in the league, if he can replicate the form shown in the highlights below he will be a force to be reckoned with and fun to watch.