Average Points: 88.5 (2)
Average Points Against: 88.3 (7)
Points Differential: +0.2 (3)
Points: Rotnei Clarke – 17.4
Rebounds: AJ Ogilvy – 7.6
Assists: Mitchell Norton – 2.9
Blocks: AJ Ogilvy – 1.5
Steals: Rhys Martin – 1.2
Team MVP: Rotnei Clarke
There were only three Illawarra players who averaged over ten points a game in 2016-17 and two of those only barely made it to that threshold. That meant that night in, night out Rotnei Clarke had to shoulder the load for the second highest scoring team in the land. His move to the bench after ten games was a masterstroke because it gave him the opportunity to study the game and free him up to take on opposing team’s second units.
Clarke was an offensive dynamo, coming in seventh in scoring and seventh in PER for the league. He led the Hawks in scoring and minutes played and was top five in each of the other statistical categories other than blocked shots.
What made Clarke the MVP of this team was the way he brought a swagger and boastfulness to the team and the area. Non-capital cities are usually seen as the underdogs because their city is not as big as the others and Clarke epitomises that. Standing only 183cm, Clarke was not afraid to get into opposing team’s faces and show up the big city folk.
He had a lightning quick shot release and a bull-doggedness that made his team stand up and follow his lead. Clarke was not only the statistical leader of the Hawks but the way he played and carried himself also paved the way.
What went right?
Making it all the way to the grand final series after bumping off the minor premiers is a clear reason how the season fared. They were one of the most consistent performing teams during the season, being in the top four for most of the season and were only dropped to fourth due to Cairns and Perth having the advantage in head to head. Defeating the Sixers in three games in the semi-final after losing the first game was a fantastic showing of determination.
The Hawks were the best ‘team’ in the league. They led the competition in assists per game at 19.4 helpers per contest but had only Mitchell Norton in the top 20 in assists with 2.9 per game. Their ball movement showed a fantastic approach to moving the ball with everyone able to be a playmaker, opening the floor for their many scorers.
The big men rotation of AJ Ogilvy, Nicholas Kay, Tim Coenraad and Oscar Forman was one of the best around, even if they did fly under the radar. Ogilvy was the only player in the NBL this season to average at least one steal and block, and Kay has shown potential to be a high-class player in the future. Michael Holyfield had his moments but unlike Illawarra’s other imports, Rotnei Clarke and Marvelle Harris, he was underwhelming.
What went wrong?
Losing the Grand Final will always sting, especially going down in straight sets. The team underperformed in the series, averaging a whole eight points less than their regular season average and struggled to get free from the ferocious Perth defence.
Although Rotnei Clarke and Marvelle Harris had great seasons, Michael Holyfield was a total non-entity. He was on the court for a whopping eleven minutes per game, the third-lowest in the team, above only development players Luke Jamieson and Angus Glover. With guys like Devin Williams, Michael Bryson, Cedric Jackson and Steve Blake getting fired for poor performance, it was strange to see Holyfield on the roster at the end of the season.
With Rotnei Clarke moving to the bench partway through the season, Illawarra’s starters were well below the competition’s average. The Hawks starters were last in points per game, three-point shooting, rebounds and field goal makes. They were also third last assists per game. This statistic may point to a well-rounded team, but it shows that the starters did not pull their weight.
Focus for next season
Unlike a lot of other NBL teams, the Hawks have most of their roster set for next season. Rotnei Clarke had his team option taken up, while AJ Ogilvy, Rhys Martin and Nick Kay are locked up for 2017/18. A strong wing who can do a bit of everything will be greatly appreciated while taking some of the offensive load away from Clarke and Ogilvy. The basis is there, so using the two other import spots will be critical in getting back to the deciding series.
Season grade: A
This team scored quickly and often, and their high-powered offence carried them to become the second-best team in 2016/17. The Hawks weren’t picked to go that far, and as a non-capital city, it’s fantastic for Wollongong. It would have been nice to take the title or even a game against Perth, but there is no shame in how Illawarra fared this season.