NBL Round 1 Preview: Illawarra Hawks v Brisbane Bullets

From NBL.com.au:

When: 3pm (AEDT), Sunday 6 October

Where: WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong

Broadcast: SBS Viceland; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand

New players:

Illawarra – LaMelo Ball, Josh Boone, Aaron Brooks, Sunday Dech, Sam Froling

Brisbane – Taylor Braun, EJ Singler, Nathan Sobey

The last time

Brisbane 98 (Patterson 24, Gibson 14, Hodgson 14) d Illawarra 87 (Jett 16, Grida 13, Jackson 11, Naar 11), OT, Round 17, 2018/19, Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre

The energy of Dan Grida drove the Hawks to a double-digit advantage in the second term, but the length and athleticism of Matt Hodgson brought the Bullets back in touch by the main break. The second half turned into a bucket-for-bucket classic culminating in an Adam Gibson free throw to send the game into overtime.

After an inefficient shooting night, Lamar Patterson stepped up with a huge triple in the extra period, before a back-breaking trifecta from Gibson sealed the deal and put one Brisbane foot in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

The now

The Bullets’ build continues, with eight players returning from last season’s semi-final outfit to give Andrej Lemanis’ men the best continuity in the league alongside Perth. The new additions all bring scoring power, and if Matt Hodgson, Will Magnay and Tyrell Harrison can successfully man the middle, Brisbane’s perimeter crew looks a handful for any defence.

For a team with a new coach and three new Americans, the Hawks have a settled feel about them. That has a lot to do with long-time assistant Matt Flinn taking over the reins, and the extensive experience of new imports Boone and Brooks. On the perimeter, Ball, Grida and Emmett Naar bring youthful exuberance, while Todd Blanchfield is a man at the peak of his powers.

The match-ups

Todd Blanchfield v Lamar Patterson – Blanchfield looks on the cusp of going to another level, his 23 points against Perth at the Blitz coming on a blistering 7-of-12 from long range. However, in four games against Brisbane last year, ‘Vinnie’ averaged a mere 4.8ppg at 19 per cent from the floor as the Hawks lost the season series 1-3. Time for him to step up in this match-up.

While there has been much talk about Patterson reporting for duty out of shape, he promptly dropped 20 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds and 6 steals on Adelaide at the Blitz. Last season he won over his teammates by literally working his tail off after arriving plump, and given he averages 22ppg on 57 per cent three-point shooting against Illawarra, he’ll be looking forward to this clash.

Aaron Brooks v Nathan Sobey – It became clear last season the Bullets needed to improve their defence at the guard spots significantly, especially with Adam Gibson heading south, and Sobey proved time and again in Adelaide that he can make life hard for the best guards in the Hungry Jack’s NBL with his speed and workrate, and he’s more than happy to turn D into O.

Can you name all the NBL import guards who have ever averaged above 19ppg and 40 per cent three-point shooting in an NBA season? The answer is Aaron Brooks. He may be 35 now, but this is a man with a career high of 41 points in The Show, and he showed pre-season he’s still got plenty of shot-making tricks, so Sobey and Co need to be on their game this Sunday.

The stats

When Patterson shot 44 per cent or better last season the Bullets were 8-5, compared to 3-8 on his off-shooting nights.

The Hawks were 5-2 in 2018/19 when Blanchfield scored four or more two-point baskets. Against Brisbane, he managed a total of three makes inside the arc in four meetings.

When Illawarra kept opponents below 96 points last season they were 10-3, compared to 2-13 when they didn’t.

Brisbane allowed opponents to shoot above 46 per cent from the field last season. The other three teams in the playoffs kept opposition sides below 44 per cent.

The quotes

With shooting threats across the floor, and big men who can roll down the lane and finish with thunder, the Bullets appear to have a roster ready to entertain.

“I think it’s going to be a fun, unselfish group,” point guard Jason Cadee said.

“I feel like we are going to play an unselfish style of basketball and it’s going to be entertaining with the personalities we’ve got and the talent we’ve got.

“I think you’ll see us having fun playing that way.”

With Sobey, Braun, Cadee, Cam Gliddon and the ever-improving Reuben Te Rangi surrounding Patterson’s playmaking, this team’s offence is unquestionable.

Where some pundits are questioning Brisbane’s championship credentials is their ability to defend bigger frontcourts, and keep their defensive field-goal percentage down, but Cadee would like to remind them of a bloke named Mika Vukona.

“There isn’t too much he hasn’t seen,” Cadee said of the Kiwi’s international career.

“From Yao Ming to Bogut, he’s had a crack at all of them and he knows how to defend out of his weight division, and I think Mika’s experience is going to help the young guys learn too.

“We’ve also got Hodgy, Will Magnay and young Tyrell, so we do have bigs, and Reubs (Te Rangi) defends above his size as well.

“People talk about guys like Tai Wesley and Nick Kay, but those guys are a problem for everyone in the league, not just for us.

“I don’t think defending big guys will be an issue, I think us being able to group rebound is going to be the biggest thing for us this year.”

That will be tested first up at The Sandpit against a Hawks team capable of making opposition defences scramble with their subtle execution, which will open up driving lanes and offensive rebounding lanes.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who are good in pick-and-roll situations,” veteran forward Tim Coenraad said.

“LaMelo, Aaron Brooks, Emmett, they can all come off the on-ball with the best of them, and we’ve got guys who really know how to screen and roll, Josh Boone and AJ (Ogilvy) are really good at getting downhill.”

Add to that the pick-and-pop capability of Coenraad and the ageless David Andersen, and the shooting of Blanchfield and Grida, and coach Flinn has all the pieces to toy with opposition defences. He’s also got the veterans to make his read-and-react system work.

“I think Flinny’s doing a really good job with the offence so far getting guys in the right spots to use their strengths,” Coenraad said.

“We’ve got a great mix of veterans and young guys and it’s working really well … I love the way the veterans like Aaron Brooks and David Andersen and Josh Boone are talking to the younger guys.

“You can’t teach experience, so to have them passing on their knowledge to the young guys is invaluable.”

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