Record: 15-13, lost 2-0 in semi-finals to Perth
Average Points: 81.3 (7)
Average Points Against: 82.2 (2)
Points Differential: -0.9 (6)
Points: Travis Trice – 14.6
Rebounds: Mark Worthington – 4.6
Assists: Travis Trice – 3.5
Blocks: Nnanna Egwu – 0.6
Steals: Travis Trice – 1.2
Team MVP: Travis Trice
When Trice was a starter for the Taipans, the team was 13-9. When he was injured or came off the bench, they were 2-4. It may not seem like much, but in an NBL where the ladder was more jammed than a Melbourne freeway just before a public holiday, it means a lot. Extrapolating that 13-9 record start across a whole season, Cairns would have finished with 17 wins, equal to league leaders Adelaide.
For a team that struggled to score (second last in teams with 81.3 points per game) having a go-to scorer in Trice was imperative. Not only did Trice lead the team in points, assists and steals, but he also had the top three point totals in individual games and six of the top ten.
Advanced statistics loved him as well, as Trice was tenth in the NBL in PER at 19.6. The next highest for Cairns was Nathan Jawai at 38th.
The Taipans were a squad that prized the team over any one individual, but every basketball club needs one player that can get buckets when it’s needed. Melbourne had Casper Ware and Chris Goulding, New Zealand had Kevin Dillard, and Cairns had Travis Trice.
What went right?
Their defence was spectacular, giving up the second least amount of points, only beaten by championship winner Perth. The Taipans accomplished this in an unusual fashion. Usually, the team which limits their opponents scoring percentage wins games, but Cairns did it another way.
Opponents shot 45.7% from the field, which was fourth highest in the league. What Cairns did so well was to take all the speed out of the game, allowing their foes only 64 shots per game, third least in the league, and pressured shooters into a league worst 32.9% from the three-point line.
They also had the lowest opponent pace at 74.3 possessions per 40 minutes. They sucked the air out of the game and made it a grind, which worked in their favour.
Mark Worthington may have retired at the end of the season, but his final go around was one he could hold his head up after. Wortho was top four for Cairns in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and minutes played. For an old guy, he had a hell of a season.
This team had fantastic resilience, as they overcame stretches of the season where they looked dead and buried. Cairns were last after a round five times, equal highest with bottom dweller Brisbane. Only four weeks before the end of the season, the Taipans were spending their third week in a row in seventh place. To be able to come back from such adversary to finish second on the ladder just shows how good this team worked at the end of the season and how the coaches pulled this team together.
What went wrong?
As said before, this team was hard to watch at times. They were only in the top four for only four rounds, the least amount of time a team sat in playoff contention during the year. Even Brisbane, who were far-and- away the worst team in the season held a top two spot until injuries hit.
In a league where Adelaide and Illawarra stole the headlines for their fast paced, high profile brand of basketball, Cairns were seen as slow, plodding and dull. They were second-last in points, last in pace, rebounding, blocks and field goal percentage and only had three players in double digits scoring.
The team didn’t have a member of the All-NBL teams for the second year in a row. The other seven teams have had at least one member in the past two seasons.
Making the playoffs was a great success for Cairns but their performance in the postseason was a disappointment. After snatching home court advantage after finishing in a three-way tie with Illawarra and Perth, the Taipans rolled over in two games to eventual champions Perth. A 22-point defeat at home was soul deflating, which made game two’s 22 point first half season ending. Game two might have ended at only an eight-point margin; the game was in Perth’s hands after Cairns totalled eight first quarter points. It was a disappointing end to a quality season.
Focus for next season
Just like nearly all other teams, Cairns will be looking for a score-first point guard, as it seems like having one is a large key to team success. Travis Trice looked good leading the team and another year of experience for the 24-year-old would make the team more dangerous.
Replacing Mark Worthington will be bigger than expected as this team is based on good ball movement and team play, which Worthington loves. His passing from the power forward spot is exceptional and having someone like that to shoulder the offensive load would go a long way to winning games.
They have a solid core of role players already under contract with the likes of Cam Gliddon, Nathan Jawai, Alex Loughton and Stephen Weigh so adding some sparkle will make this team a playoff contender.
Season grade – B
If the ladder were in any other season, Cairns most likely wouldn’t have made the playoffs. They were lucky to have such a condensed league and need to find some scoring punch to go with their excellent defence.