Can anyone stop the Wildcats?
Australian basketball’s premier competition, the NBL, tipped off on Wednesday night with Adelaide easily defeating New Zealand 90-71, to set up a blockbuster game against the bookies elect – Perth.
The Wildcats lead betting as the $4 favourites with Sportsbet in a wide open market that features more than half of the league’s teams in single figures.
“The Perth Wildcats look to be back to their championship winning best after a disappointing end to the 2014-15 season and deserve to be $4 favourites,” sportsbet.com.au’s Ben Bulmer said.
“But punters remain sceptical on the Wildcats’ chances with Illawarra ($7) and Melbourne United ($5) the best backed with us.
“The Hawks are best backed to make the top four, with punters keen to get on board at $2.50. Melbourne United and the Cairns Taipans are also attracting plenty of interest from punters to make the playoffs.”
Over at William Hill, the bookie’s Tim Ashworth told us that the New Zealand Breakers were battling the Wildcats for favouritism, but punters were looking elsewhere.
“The Breakers may be equal favourites in betting with the Perth Wildcats at $4.50, but only account for seven per cent of the money wagered by WilliamHill.com.au punters at present,” Ashworth said.
“The money is sitting equally with the Wildcats and Sydney Kings ($5.50) heading into round one.
“One WilliamHill.com.au punter rates the Townsville Crocodiles very highly, standing to win $1100 should the boys from the north make the top four.”
Ashworth said Kings former NBA man Josh Childress was the favourite for the Most Valuable Player Award.
“Childress remains the $5 favourite for NBL MVP, however the punters are liking the $11 on offer for the Breakers’ Cedric Jackson and $17 for Adelaide 36er Daniel Johnson,” Ashworth said.
Childress is the man every one wants at sportsbet.com.au, Bulmer revealing nearly half the money had come for the star swing man.
“After earning a start in last year’s All NBL First Team in just his first year, Childress is the outright favourite for the Andrew Gaze Trophy, with 45 per cent of punters backing him for the win,” he said.
“Punters are also showing plenty of interest in New Zealand’s Cedric Jackson at $13, while defending MVP Brian Conklin is great value at $18.”
Every year, the NBL hierarchy says the competition is back with a bang. And every year it has the same lacklustre lure.
But the quality of players, coupled with a television deal that will see every game played on Fox Sports, with one game a week televised by Channel 9 on free to air television, could the league finally be making some head way?
NBL executive director Larry Kestelman thinks so.
Nine will televise a game every Sunday at 3pm and the finals series.
“We have a vision to make the NBL a premier sport in Australia and an unrivalled option for entertainment during the summer, and take great confidence from the fact that that Nine shares our vision,” Kestelman said.
“The new NBL offers incredible athleticism and entertainment in a dynamic atmosphere – Australians haven’t seen basketball presented to them in this way for quite a while and we are confident of its success both at the stadiums and on television.”
Such is the nature of the NBL beast, favourites can turn into flops and cellar dwellers can become superstars over night.
It’s so unpredictable, with high player turnover, new imports who either dominate or disgrace themselves on the Aussie hardwood.
This year’s talent pool is packed with former NBA and international players, indicating this could be the toughest season yet.
We’re going to sift through each team, give you the low down and see if we can’t find you a decent bet to whet your whistle.
Last season: Third
Title odds: ($18)
The Sixers sent a huge message to the NBL when it whacked the New Zealand Breakers tonight in the season opener and, despite being outsiders, they will have high expectations after finishing third, but being bundled out of the playoffs by the eventual champions in round one.
It has been an off season of change, though, with the departures of Brock Motum, Jamar Wilson and Luke Schenscher.
But Ebi Ere is the big signing. It’s been a long time since he was dominating the league, but he has the experience and the know how to make a big impact for the Sixers.
Ere has won two NBL titles, with Sydney and Brisbane, and has since been plying his trade in Italy and Spain.
Key men Anthony Petrie and Adam Gibson will go around again for Joey Wright and Melbourne United product Lucas “Sky” Walker will be hoping he can finally fulfil the potential that had him held in such high esteem at his former club.
Opportunity knocks for the Sixers.
Versatile Mitch Creek will be hoping he can stay healthy and Brian Teys is set to have a break out season.
Suggested bet: Adelaide 36ers to finish in the top four ($3.75 with Sportsbet.com.au) – They are not fancied by many to make a big impact in 2015-16, but we think they have the cattle to sneak into the playoffs and cause plenty of surprises.
Last season: Top, grand finalists
Title odds: ($7)
While Scottie Wilbekin is on the move, the Taipans have reloaded for a title run after falling short at the hands of the Breakers last season.
US import Markel Starks will set the table for the Taipans. The 24 year old missed out on the NBA draft after four years at Georgetown University and spent last season in Italy.
He will have to fill the shoes of Wilbekin, who is on his way to the NBA, but all the word out of Cairns is that he is up for the challenge.
Australian Boomer Mark Worthington is the other huge in for the beaten grand finalists, who won more games last season than any other year of their franchise.
He bolsters a big man line up that features guns every where. Cam Tragardh, Alex Loughton and Matt Burston would start on any other team, but they will be jostling for the playing time as part of the deepest line up in the NBL.
New man Damon Heuir will support Starks in the back court, along with captain Cam Gliddon, while returning men Stephen Weigh and Torrey Craig will man the small forward position.
Suggested bet: Cairns Taipans to win the title ($7 with Sportsbet.com.au) – of all the sides in that middle pack, the Taipans definitely have the best claims on the title. They’re deep, talented and have the experience of last season fresh in their minds. We reckon they will be out for some revenge.
Last season: Bottom
Title odds: ($8)
The Hawks have reverted to their original name to reflect the broader community they represent, changing back from Wollongong.
And the signing of former Wildcat and 2012 league MVP Kevin Lisch brings new hope to the club.
Lisch has since played in Spain, but he won a championship in Perth in 2010 and was named that series’ MVP.
He is as clutch as they come and while this Illawarra squad doesn’t have the pedigree of those dominant Perth teams, his addition alone means the only way is up for a side that finished on the bottom of the table last season.
Also back from Spain is Kirk Penney, while AJ Ogilvy might be the biggest signing of them all. The dominant big man joins the team on a one year deal. The last time he played in the league, he led it in both rebounds and blocked shots and provides a presence in the mid few clubs will be able to deal with.
The three aforementioned men are a significant upgrade on a side that relied heavily on the ageing Oscar Forman and Larry Davidson.
Rhys Martin and Tim Coenraad will be the glue that holds this team together and we’re expecting bigger and better things out of the Hawks this season.
Suggested bet: Illawarra Hawks to finish in the top four ($2.50 with Sportsbet) – It all has to come together, but this league is a fickle one and we wouldn’t be surprised to see the Hawks finish in the top two. They’re talented and they have one of the best coaches to grace the league in Rob Beveridge.
Last season: Fifth
Title odds: ($5)
Has a side had a better off season than United.
Like the Hawks, this team has had a revamp, but this one is to the max.
Former Memphis Grizzlie Hakim Warrick is the marquee signing, but Australian Boomer Chris Goulding is not far behind.
Goulding is as good as any Aussie in the competition and will be looking to make an impact, with NBA scouts circling after he performed well for the Dallas Mavericks in last season’s Summer League.
With four years at the same St Mary’s College program that produced Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova and new team mate Daniel Kickert, former NBA D Leaguer Stephen Holt is another huge signing.
Former Townsville Crocodile Todd Blanchfield would be a big signing for most clubs, but this is getting ridiculous.
Then there’s the intriguing Majok Majok, who could be a star in his own right. He’s raw, but there are NBA raps on the towering Sudanese migrant, who has proven very active at both ends of the floor in pre season competition. He just has to find some minutes in the stacked side.
It’s an embarrassment of riches for a club that just fell short of the playoffs last season.
Mark Worthington is the big out, but you just feel like this side has more than made up for it, with new coach Dean Demos charged with making all the new pieces to the puzzle fit.
It’s hard to see them going anywhere but the grand final and they have real claims on the title.
Suggested bet: Hakim Warrick to win the MVP Award ($26 with Sportsbet.com.au) – That’s way over the odds for this former NBA player. Warrick played some really good minutes for the Memphis Grizzlies early in his career, with a best season of 12.7 ppg and 5.1 rpg. If he doesn’t end up back in the US, he’s a massive chance.
New Zealand Breakers
Last season: Second
Title odds: ($4.50)
The Breakers have had one of the best five year stretches in NBL history, winning four titles in that time. But are they so short because of that championship pedigree.
Cedric Jackson has three NBL campaigns for three titles, but this side’s hopes hinge on whether or not New Zealand international Corey Webster wins a roster spot with the New Orleans Pelicans, which he is widely tipped to do.
Webster was the heart and soul and the loss of scoring machine Ekene Ibekwe leaves gaping holes in the champions.
And Alex Pledger is out for at least a month with injury.
Another Jackson will take up the other import roster spot, with Cedric joined by former Tennessee Tech star Charles.
We’re underestimating them at our own peril, but we think it might be a fall from grace for one of the most dominant teams in NBL history – if they can overcome this adversity, we’ll be tipping our hats to them.
Suggested bet: Cedric Jackson to win the MVP ($13 with Sportsbet.com) – If we don’t think they will make the playoffs, how can Jackson win the MVP? The Crocs finished sixth last season and Brian Conklin took it out. With Webster, Ibekwe and Pledger either gone or injured, it really falls to Jackson and he should get as many touches as he can handle.
Last season: Fourth
Title odds: ($4)
Pegged as the team to beat ahead of last season, the mighty Wildcats just couldn’t quite measure up. It’s a new season and, guess what, they’re favourites again.
Club MVP Jermaine Beal is back again, while former NBA D Leaguer Casey Prather will fill the other import role.
It’s a strong back court that would have been stronger, had Hugh Greenwood not chosen footy over basketball.
Ageing Boomer Nathan Jawai comes in as his replacement, but we’re not sold on him. He looked slow and without touch playing for Australia. Has the game left Baby Shaq behind?
The other question mark is on Damien Martin, who seems injured more often than not these days.
The punters ride on the Wildcat factor, but there’s just something nagging at us. Could this be the first year in the club’s 30 year history that they miss the playoffs? We think so.
Suggested bet: Casey Prather to win the league MVP ($12 with sportsbet.com.au) – Beal is probably not in that upper echelon MVP contention and not a lot is known about Prather. There is talk he is versatile, able to play both wing positions and create off the dribble. He’s as good a bet as any on this Wildcats side.
Last season: Seventh
Title odds: ($5)
Damien Cotter’s roster has enjoyed a revamp for the better.
And hey, any side with Josh Childress (for a full season) is going to be competitive.
Childress was on his way to winning the MVP and leading the Kings into the playoffs when he was struck down by injury and missed nearly half the season.
And the Kings have double NBA trouble, with Boston Celtics second round draft pick Marcus Thornton set to provide a one two punch in Sydney.
The big guard will provide a scoring boost net to Childress, after finishing his four year collegiate career with an average of 20ppg.
Those are the marquee men, but Sydney’s stirling off season doesn’t end there.
Breakers title winner Rhys Carter has crossed the ditch, joined by Townsville Croc Steve Markovic and experienced big man Julian Khazzouh.
And Aussie Jerome Hill is the icing on the cake for a side that will be hoping to break an 11 year title drought.
Expect the Kings to comfortably make the top four this season and be real challengers for the title.
Suggested bet: Sydney Kings to win the NBL title ($5 with Sportsbet.com.au) – If Melbourne United is the standard, these guys are the heir apparent. You know what you’re going to get from Childress, if Thornton works out, $5 is over the odds.
Last season: Sixth
Title odds: ($51)
They have the reigning NBL MVP stepping out again, but they’re a real chance of finishing on the bottom of the league this season.
Conklin beat Jackson and Childress for the award last season after dropping 18.9 ppg and 6.4 rig on 50 per cent shooting in 2015.
But the support is simply not there.
Blanchfield’s defection to United hurts a lot. He was the side’s second best player and will need fellow import Jordair Jett to fill his void – and then some.
Jett has a fantastic name and a superb shock of dreadlocks that will make him stand out on the court.
He and Conklin know each other well, and that could be the key – the pair played with each other at Saint Louis University.
Tower of power Luke Schenscher is also back in Crocs colours, but injuries have cruelled his output in recent seasons. They will need him healthy in support of Conklin up front.
The Crocs will largely play the kids with Mirko Djeric, Corey Maynard, Mitch Norton and Clint Steindl set to get plenty of playing time behind young guns Nick Kay and Mitch Young.
They look ok on paper, it just appears the other teams are light years ahead.
But that’s the beauty of this competition.
Suggested bet: Jordair Jett to win the MVP – The bookies haven’t even got odds on this bloke yet, but he’s apparently a Jett by name and a jet by nature, playing both ends of the floor with aplomb. They’re not winning the title and will probably struggle to make the four. Conklin could go back to back but this guy is going to get noticed on the floor.
2015-16 NBL season markets
Perth Wildcats ($4)
New Zealand Breakers ($4.50)
Sydney Kings ($5)
Melbourne United ($5)
Cairns Taipans ($7)
Illawarra Hawks ($8)
Adelaide 36ers ($18)
Townsville Crocodiles ($51)
Top four market:
Perth Wildcats ($1.14)
New Zealand Breakers ($1.25)
Sydney Kings ($1.66)
Melbourne United ($1.44)
Cairns Taipans ($1.80)
Illawarra Hawks ($2.50)
Adelaide 36ers ($3.75)
Townsville Crocodiles ($5)
Most Valuable Player market:
Josh Childress (Syd) ($6)
Chris Goulding (Melb) ($8)
Stephen Holt (Melb) ($9)
Casey Prather (Perth) ($12)
Cedric Jackson (NZ) ($13)
Markel Starks (Cairns) ($15)
Brian Conklin (Town) ($18)
Nathan Jawai (Perth) ($20)
Daniel Johnson (Adel) ($21)
Hakim Warrick (Melb) ($26)
* Odds provided by Sportsbet.com.au
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