WITH the National Basketball League (NBL) season done and dusted we take a look at the performance of each team and how they fared in season 2021. The next team under the microscope is Adelaide 36ers who had an inconsistent season to say the least.
Conner Henry took over the reigns as the new head coach of the Adelaide 36ers and with a new man in charge, along with a new squad, the 36ers just could not perform consistently enough to feature in the post season.
An early departure of new signing Donald Sloan and a key injury to inform big man Isaac Humphries interrupted the team’s momentum after they had started well, winning five of their first eight games.
With Humphries missing a chunk of games through the middle of the season, the team was forced to play smaller and missed the defensive presence of their big man (who had averaged three blocks a game).
The 36ers remained in the finals hunt for most of the season thanks to the efforts of NBA bound Josh Giddey, and club champion Daniel Johnson, but a seven-game losing streak to finish the season only saw them reach 13 wins and 23 losses as they ended in seventh spot, making it their third straight season without finals action.
How It Unfolded:
As was a theme a lot during the season, the 36ers lacked consistency and the ability to play four quarters. They showed that their best could match it with the top teams, but when they did not fire, they coughed up leads and allowed their opposition to run over the top of them. The Sixers’ season was off to an average start reaching a 6-7 record before losing Humphries when he suffered a left foot injury in a nightmare 44-point loss to the Breakers.
A 10-14 record when Humphries returned had the team still in the mix for finals, but an early finish to the season for Giddey (so he could prepare for the upcoming NBA draft), was a blow as the 36ers’ season spiralled out of control with seven losses to close the campaign.
What Worked Well:
Josh Giddey. The young star had a super season after turning down college offers in favour of playing in the NBL under the ‘Next Stars’ program. Giddey completed three triple-doubles on his way to the Rookie of the Year award and proved himself as one to watch leading into the upcoming NBA draft.
On a team note, despite ranking average across the league for field goals and three pointers made per game, the 36ers did shoot it well when they took their shots, making 44.6 per cent of field goal attempts (ranked fourth) and 35.5 per cent of their three pointers (ranked third).
Their top four averaging shooters, Johnson, Giddey, Humphries and Brandon Paul, each shot above 40 per cent from the field, with Humphries shooting an impressive 56 per cent throughout the season. They were also equal third for assists, largely thanks to the playmaking skills of Giddey (who alone averaged 7.6 across the season), and third for blocks with Humphries finishing as the league’s best rim protector, averaging 2.8 blocks per game.
What Went Wrong:
The 36ers struggled to score enough points often enough to win games, with an average score of 82.9 points not meeting the competition mean of 85. This was compounded by their defensive instability, conceding an average of 87.7 points per match which was third worst league wide.
As mentioned, when they shot the ball, the Sixers shot it well, but they did not get enough shots off, as they were ranked last in three pointers made (8.8 per game), and sixth for field goals made (30.5 per game). The Sixers were not great on the glass, sitting eighth for offensive boards (8.7 per game), while they were only sixth in rebounds overall (35.8 per game). Unfortunately for coach Henry, they also led the league in turnovers (12.9 per game).
The 36ers obviously were not helped by the injury to Humphries at an important point of the season, leaving them with a smaller rotation, relying on Johnson and Keanu Pinder (who started in place of Humphries) to defend the opposition big men. Sloan’s early departure also interrupted the season, as they awaited the arrival of his replacement, Paul. Sunday Dech and Tony Crocker did not have huge impacts on the season as experienced campaigners.
Adelaide announced joint MVP winners for the season with Giddey and Johnson taking out the honour, both having strong seasons for the club.
Giddey as we know is headed straight for the NBA, with most experts projecting him inside the top 15 picks. He led the team in both assists (7.6 per game) and rebounds (7.3 per game), while also averaging 10.9 points per game, and 1.1 steals per game. It was a great season for the 18-year-old, although his 28 per cent three-point shooting will be something he will want to work on heading into the world’s top league.
For Johnson, it was a record sixth MVP for the club, and his third straight. He had a massive workload this season playing all 36 games and was the team’s rock as others were injured and missed games. Johnson led the team in points per game with 19.5, shooting 47 per cent from the field, and 39 percent from beyond the arc. He averaged above seven rebounds and once again showed why he has been a great asset to this club.
For Conner Henry, the obvious big loss is Giddey heading to the NBA. Finding a good scoring and playmaking point guard will be his number one priority.
Once again, the 36ers may have a big roster reshuffle, as only Johnson, Dech and Humphries (as a club option) remain under contract for the 2021/22 season. The two American imports Paul and Crocker are both out of contract and could be moved on. Alex Mudronja has been released from the final year of his contract after starting at the club as a development player and earning a full contract for this season.
Expect the 36ers to be busy during free agency, as they will look to add some experience and players with good basketball IQ.
Looking Towards Next Season:
The changes are already happening for next season after the Sixers announced new CEO, Nic Barbato, would be joining the club from A-League club Perth Glory.
A fresh start at the top could be a good move for the 36ers, as the club will now prioritise some aggressive moves in free agency to add to the experience of Daniel Johnson, and 23-year-old Humphries, who could have a massive season next year, if he remains fit.
With only three guys contracted for next season it is hard to determine where the Sixers will end up, but with the dominant big duo of Johnson and Humphries anything remains possible. One thing for sure is that coach Henry will certainly want to avoid a repeat of this year, both consistency wise and on the injury front.
Photo credit: NBL