NBL Team Watch: Cairns Taipans

THE National Basketball League (NBL) is gearing up for another exciting season full of action, and the teams are looking to gain an advantage over their opponents before the season has even begun. Following a wooden spoon finish in 2020, the Cairns Taipans will be looking to improve on their performance, and the upcoming season provides the perfect opportunity for this. Given the interruptions that have occurred over recent years, the sporting world is finally able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, with vaccination rates reducing the likelihood of snap lockdowns and season postponements or cancellations. With continuity desperately needed, the Taipans will be hoping for a better season than last.

Following a season of promise in 2019, the Taipans unfortunately slid down the ladder in NBL20. The loss of key players such as DJ Newbill and Cameron Oliver combined with injuries to Majok Deng and Kouat Noi gave coach Mike Kelly a lot of headaches throughout the season. Newbill was the reigning defensive player of the year, and Oliver had starred throughout his tenure for the Taipans before heading over to play for the Houston Rockets in the NBA. Fortunately Kelly was able to get the most out of players such as Scott Machado, but the lack of continuity didn’t allow for any flow on both ends of the floor, and the team finished with just eight wins and 28 losses.

Kelly has since left the role of head coach for the team, and his replacement comes in the form of Adam Fordewho brings a wealth of experience following assistant roles at Perth and Sydney. Forde will be hoping to bring the team back to the form that saw a postseason appearance in 2019, and will have capable players to work with such as Machado, Deng and Noi.

As expected, the team has announced Oliver will not be returning to compete in the NBL, having accepted an offer to play in California. Losing their star player will be detrimental, but they had a fair chunk of last year to adapt to this and give other players new roles. Forde said shortly after the team knew this was a real possibility, so their pre-season preparation has accounted for this.

The team has announced the signing of forward Keanu Pinder, who showed great signs of potential during his most recent tenure at the Adelaide 36ers. His defensive capabilities are well-respected around the league, and he has shown glimpses of offensive explosiveness, demonstrated by a 19-point outing against the Bullets in round 16. Pinder should bring defensive hustle, with the opportunity to work on his game at the offensive end of the floor.

The team also announced the addition of 2021 NBA G-League champion Tahjere McCall of the Lakeland Magic. McCall enjoyed a terrific 2021 season, averaging 11.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists, and was named to the G-League’s All-Defensive team. McCall will compliment the current core, and should provide an upgrade on both ends of the court.

The Taipans have made noteworthy moves during the offseason, looking to bounce back from their wooden-spoon finish. With a new coach at the helm and some international talent on its way, the team could be back in the finals by season’s end.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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