Record: 13-15 (sixth)
Average Points: 84.0 (4)
Average Points Against: 83.5 (4)
Points Differential: +0.5 (4)
Points: Casper Ware – 22.1
Assists: Cedric Jackson – 5.4
Rebounds: Josh Boone – 9.2
Blocks: Josh Boone – 1.1
Steals: Cedric Jackson – 1.4
Team MVP: Casper Ware
There were two tales to United’s season this year, before Ware and after Ware.
United started the season 3-7 and were sitting at the bottom of the ladder. Cedric Jackson was sent home soon after and Casper Ware landed at Tullamarine and proceeded to lead Melbourne to a 10-8 record during his stay.
It took him a little time to click with the team, shown by his paltry 3-14 shooting night in his first game, but in the end, he outshined almost any other guard not named Jerome led Melbourne in scorer in 60% of the games he played. Included within that was his 38-point one man destruction of the Perth Wildcats defence.
Being able to lead the league in points and finished fourth in assists despite joining a team mid-season is impressive, and coaches and players took notice and rightfully voted Ware to the All-NBL First Team.
What went right?
When things were clicking for Melbourne, they were unguardable. Casper Ware’s game winning three-point dagger against Sydney had all of Melbourne talking about playoffs and on paper, they had some of the best basketball resumes in the league.
Ware and Chris Goulding became an offensive one-two punch unseen in Melbourne since Gaze alley-ooped Copeland. Ware led the league in scoring at 22.1 ppg and Goulding finished ninth with 16.9ppg. In what was a guard dominant league, Melbourne arguabley had top of the best three guards on their roster.
Josh Boone arrived with only one-third of the season left but was effective during his stay. He went to work cleaning up the missed shots of Ware and Goulding and finished the leagues most best rebounder.
Minute for minute, there was no more effective player than Josh Boone.
A feel good story was the fan’s seeing David Barlow finally eturn to the court. After injuries forced surgery upon Barlow during the 2014-15 season he hadn’t hit the floor for two years. A shaky start this season meant injuries kept Barlow off the court until November 12th where he played over 21 minutes in a loss against Sydney.
What went wrong?
One word that summed up why Melbourne underachieved as it did: distractions. Whether it be the Cedric Jackson saga of slouching shoulders, pouty lips, and eventually packed bags or their many disappointing imports and unfortunate injuries. Just like the Sydney Kings, Melbourne was one of the best teams on paper. However, the best thing about basketball is that it’s not played on paper.
Looking back from the end of the season where the United had two fantastic imports it is hard to think about the guys who just didn’t work out. Devin Williams was very lackluster and was held onto too long when another import could have done better. There was also Cedric Jackson and apart from his bad attitude, his numbers weren’t that ideal for a former MVP.
He was never a good shooter, but his percentages of 38% FG, 12% 3P and 49% FT were atrocious.
Ramone Moore was very streaky but averaged out to be a decent player, which made it more disappointing when he went down with a calf injury. And the less said about Lasan Kromah’s three total points in three games on 14% shooting, the better.
Injuries took a major toll on this team, as Tai Wesley and Majok Majok were the only two players to compete in all 28 games. Coupling the injuries with all the import turnover, only six players suited up for at least 75% of games.
Chemistry and camaraderie cannot be created with so much instability and having a coach that was in the hot seat (and subsequently let go) is not the best working environment.
Focus for next season
Being able to retain Ware and Boone would see Melbourne suit up a strong starting five next year no matter what other pieces they combine with them.
The team as it was at the end of the season seemed to have things in the right places and given a full pre-season could be all that needs to happen for Melbourne to be successful next year.
With the team having two elite scoring guards, two long interchangeable forwards in Todd Blanchfield and David Barlow and a big man rotation of David Andersen, Josh Boone, Tai Wesley and Majok Majok that can hold their own against anyone. It may be a big ask, but if they can keep a similar structure to that, then Melbourne should feel comfortable with their title chances.
With the money the United has at their disposal, this team will always be a contender on paper. What is needed is someone to coach the squad to the promised land. Dean Demopoulos seemed to lose the team halfway through the season and only when Ware came aboard and the team started gelling again was he able to lead. The team needs a strong coach who will both massage egos and crack the whip if they want to join the playoff hunt.
Season grade: D
United were still in the playoff hunt up until the last round. However, the hype and excitement for this team makes no excuse how poorly they played during long stretches of the season. They need to be a stronger, more aggressive team if they want to be seen as a team that can go all the way. If they can keep a similar team structure like they did at the end of the season and pray that the injury bug doesn’t bite them like this season, then they should make it.