It was inspiring to see Nathan Sobey transform himself from a bit player at Adelaide two seasons ago to being a powerhouse in the NBL and suiting up for the Utah Jazz in the NBA Summer League.
He stepped up in a big way, and 2017/18 should be even greater. However, ‘stepping up’ doesn’t always happen in a Nathan Sobey sense. Instead of going from relatively unknown to NBL star, it may mean reaching the potential that was always there, or rising above mediocrity, or going from being a superstar to being the MVP favourite.
Here is the player on each NBL team that needs to step up in one way or another.
At 25 years old and six NBL seasons under his belt, it’s time for Mitch Creek to step up. He has always shown flashes that he could become an elite type player, but he just hasn’t shown it consistently. Only twice has Creek averaged double figures points per game in those six seasons, and while his shooting has been fantastic, he’s just been a role man for the 36ers.
This off-season has been a wonder for the former Adelaide captain, with first suiting up for the Utah Jazz in the NBA Summer League and then leading the Australian Boomers to an Asia Cup win. He was the high man in scoring with 14.7 points per game on 69% shooting to go along with 5.2 rebounds per contest, good for third on the team.
With Jerome Randle out of the picture, is this the year that Mitch Creek breaks out and becomes the player many people thought he could be when he first came into the league in the 2011/12 season? Or will he be relegated to ‘glue guy’ status that is important to his team, but not someone that could be counted on to be a star in the NBL?
When Cameron Bairstow went down with injury, and Torrey Craig moved on to greener pastures at Denver, they left massive holes in Brisbane’s offence. Daniel Kickert may be able to pick up some slack, but the rest haven’t shown they can carry an offence on a nightly basis.
So, the burden falls to the Bullets’ stellar backcourt in Stephen Holt and Travis Trice. Trice was Cairns’ club MVP and has shown that he can not only control the flow of the game but also fill the basket in a hurry. Holt played in Spain last season, but in the 2014/15 season, he was schooling teams in the NBL with Melbourne United.
This hybrid backcourt in Brisbane, where both players can play floor general and off the ball will be the crux of the team’s success. If both players can step up and work together, use the ball wisely and score the ball efficiently will be extremely important for how Brisbane’s season unfolds.
When Nathan Jawai entered the league in 2007/08, he was a revelation. He was bigger and stronger than everyone else in the league, dominating to the tune of 17 points and nine rebounds. He won the NBL Rookie of the Year award and was named to the All-NBL Second Team. He played so well; he was drafted in the second round of the NBA.
He bounced around Europe for a few years before coming back to play in Perth for the past two seasons. In those two years, he has been a shell of his rampaging rookie self.
It may be because he will be 31 years old by the time this coming season rolls around, but his play has been subpar. He averaged less than twenty minutes a game, and it seems like the game has become too fast for him to succeed.
So, if “Outback Shaq” doesn’t have a season similar to his rookie campaign, he will be doomed to be ‘just decent’, instead of the potential of being game changing.
Mitch Creek and Nick Kay are the same age (25) but it seems like Kay’s career is just getting started. After winning the Rookie of the Year award two seasons ago with the Crocodiles and continued his fine form with Illawarra in 2016/17.
He was a part of the Boomers squad that ran the table in the Asia Cup where he showed that he belongs on that stage. Some people have compared his playing style to another Boomer in Matthew Nielsen. He may not be as amazingly talented as Nielsen was, but Kay has massive potential in the NBL. He runs the floor like a guard, has extended his range to beyond the arc (hitting a third of his career three-point shots) and is getting better and better.
Kay will most likely start next to AJ Ogilvy in the Hawks’ front court, so expect him to develop with more minutes. If Kay can step up this season, the sky is the limit for him.
It’s a bit harsh to expect a 24-year-old who has only played two seasons behind the likes of Hakim Warrick and Josh Boone to step up, but he needs to show more if he wants to improve.
Comparing last season to his rookie year is almost looking at the same stat line. Apart from his shooting percentages that increased dramatically, the rest of his sophomore year is almost a carbon copy of the year prior.
Majok needs to improve his game and not just continue with the status quo, and hopefully, 2017/18 will give him that opportunity. David Andersen is 37 years old and will not be counted on as much as last season, while the addition of Casey Prather will give Majok the chance to do what he does best.
Just like Josh Boone, Majok is a garbage man, someone who does the dirty work and doesn’t need the ball in his hands too often. If Majok can improve his output on what he does best, and continue to improve his all-around game than this upcoming season will be viewed as a success.
If he doesn’t, then are we to assume that five points and five rebounds are the best we’re going to get out of Majok for his career?
If there is anyone in the league who can have a Nathan Sobey type improvement, it’s Shea Ili. In the 2015/16 season, Sobey averaged four points, two rebounds and one assist on 36% shooting. In 2016/17, Ili averaged four points, two rebounds and 1.5 assists on 30% shooting.
What makes Ili able to have a breakout season is a confidence and experience he gained from leading the Tall Blacks at the FIBA Asia Cup. He led the team to fourth place in New Zealand’s debut Asia Tournament and was named to the All Star Five team, the five best players in the tournament. With averages of 15 points and six assists on 48% shooting, he should carry the thought of the Asia Cup into his play with the Breakers.
Ili knows the Breakers’ game plan inside out after three seasons with the team. Even though new point guard import Edgar Sosa looks promising, if Ili can step up and fill in that point guard gap, it will bring another important piece to New Zealand’s national team for years to come.
It’s a hard task for someone who had 45 points in a closeout game for the NBL championship and led the whole league in points per game, but Cotton has the potential to move into another level to unanimous MVP.
As well as Cotton played for the Wildcats, he still had some stinkers, with games with the shooting of 4/11, 3/13 and 7/21 from the field. He won’t have Casey Prather to take the heat from opposing defences, as Derek Cooke Jr is unproven and Devondrick Walker is injured.
If he can iron out those speed bumps and not get rattled when opponents focus on him, he can be the best imports this league has seen in a long time. Coming to a new country, learning new systems and teammates and he still won Finals MVP and only missed out on an All-NBL team because of a lack of games played. Imagine what he can do with a complete offseason and no teething issues.
Jason Cadee has had more opportunities to improve his game than most players, yet he is still only an average shooting guard in a point guard’s body. From playing with the All-Australian team in China to the Boomers squad at the recent FIBA Asia Cup victory. He has coaching and training at the highest level and at 26 years old, it’s time for him to step up.
His averages of 13 points and three assists are decent, but his shooting stroke lets him down, hitting only 38% from the field. That was the same percentage as Cedric Jackson and was worse than Damian Martin and Terrance Ferguson. That is not a good company to keep from a shooting standpoint. His PER was below average, and he had the worst Defensive Rating on the Kings.
When Cadee is on, he can win games for his team. His shooting can be electric, and he can fill up the bucket in a flash. The rest of his game isn’t quite as defined, but with great passers like Kevin Lisch, Brad Newley and Travis Leslie he doesn’t need to be the pure point guard.
However, he does need to step up and show the people who have devoted time and effort to improve his basketball. If he doesn’t, then what we see is what we get from Cadee, a streaky two-guard in the body of a point. A welcome addition to any team, but nothing to write home.