Cairns Taipans Season Preview
Last season: 12-16, sixth in regular season
2015/16 Points For: 79.9ppg, eighth
2015/16 Points Against: 84.1ppg, fourth
2015/16 Field Goal Percentage: 42.5%, eighth
2015/16 Defensive Field Goal Percentage: 46.0%, seventh
2015/16 Three Point Field Goal Percentage: 30.2%, eighth
2015/16 Defensive Three Point Field Goal Percentage: 37.9%, eighth
2015/16 Free Throw Percentage: 79.4%, second
2015/16 Rebounds: 33.4rpg, seventh
2015/16 Rebound Differential per Game: -1.8rpg, fifth
2015/16 Assists: 14.6apg, fifth
2015/16 Steals: 4.8spg, fifth
2015/16 Blocked Shots: 2.7bpg, sixth
2015/16 Turnovers: 9.5tpg, first
2015/16 Turnover Differential per Game: +2.5, first
NBL Titles: None
NBL Playoff Appearances: 6 (last time 2015)
Homecourt: Cairns Convention Centre, capacity 5,300
Head Coach: Aaron Fearne (9th season with Cairns, career record 103-103)
Incoming: Fuquan Edwin (import – Israel); Nnanna Egwu (import – D-League); Nate Jawai (Perth Wildcats); Mitch McCarron (Spain); Travis Trice (import – D-League); Jarrad Weeks (Illawarra Hawks)
Outgoing: Matthew Burston; Markel Starks (import); Cameron Tragardh; Shaun Bruce (Brisbane Bullets); Torrey Craig (import – Brisbane Bullets)
Projected Starters: Travis Trice (import); Cameron Gliddon; Fuquan Edwin (import); Mark Worthington; Nate Jawai
Bench: Nnanna Egwu (import); Damon Heuir; Alex Loughton; Mitch McCarron; Jarrod Weeks; Stephen Weigh
It was quite the precipitous fall from grace for the Cairns Taipans in season 2015/2016.
First place in the regular season with a 21-7 record and a Grand Final appearance in the 2014/15 campaign seemed to indicate the Taipans were on track for another solid performance in 15/16.
But they struggled to get anything going offensively for most of the season and their previously vaunted defence couldn’t get consistent stops – in fact they conceded nearly nine points more per contest than they did during their brilliant Grand Final run.
The result was a mediocre 12-16 sixth place record and a quick rebuilding project.
But based on what we saw at the Australian Basketball Challenge in Brisbane, that rebuild looks to be a roaring success.
Missing a minimum of three starters and four total contributors, the Taipans shocked all in attendance by winning all three games – every one against NBL opposition – closing with a blowout stunner of the hometown Brisbane Bullets. Cairns captain Cam Gliddon won the Ray Borner Medal as the MVP of the tournament and only due to the tournament scoring rules were the Snakes denied their first piece of NBL silverware.
It was a remarkable effort, and although the old standby ‘but it’s only preseason’ holds true, those who have summarily dismissed Cairns as a threat this season may have to rethink their opinions.
Coach Fearne – one of the best there is – has recruited superbly, adding a monster big man in Nate Jawai, who by the way looks awesome despite suffering an offseason finger injury that kept him out of the ABC in Brisbane; the three imports are all quality and were it not for his season in Spain, Mitch McCarron would be a lock for Rookie of the Year.
In speaking to a number of Taipans in Brisbane, there’s little doubt that many of them are coming into this season with a chip on their shoulder. They are tired of being disrespected by the rest of the league.
And that’s dangerous for the rest of the NBL.
Nate Jawai (10.3ppg, 4.1rpg, 54.9% FG with Perth) was an underrated contributor to the Wildcats’ record seventh NBL title last season. Double and triple teamed at almost every turn, his presence allowed his teammates more freedom to operate than they had the previous season. Despite suffering a nasty hand injury in the offseason he looks better than he ever has, and once fully healthy has the ability to terrorise the league with his size, tremendous power and passing ability out of the low post.
He may be on the downside of his fabulous career, but there’s no question the fire still burns bright for Mark Worthington (11.3ppg, 4.8rpg, 1.0spg, 82.7% FT). As relentless and tough a competitor as you’ll find, the elder statesman of this group is going to provide great leadership and experience.
Explosive import small forward Fuquan Edwin was one of the real surprises of the Brisbane ABC. Known as a defensive stopper during his time at Seton Hall University – leading the entire NCAA in steals in 2011/12 and named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 – he opened a few eyes with a better than expected perimeter game and some serious athleticism.
Cameron Gliddon (13.5ppg, 4.3rpg, 2.3apg) was outstanding in Brisbane and looks set for a huge campaign in 2016/17. He’s one of the purest shooters in the league, a threat to score every time he has the ball in his hands, and is one of the most highly respected individuals and leaders there is in the nation.
Cairns will be hoping that his new backcourt mate Travis Trice has the same impact that Scottie Wilbekin did for the Taipans a couple of years ago. Like Wilbekin, Trice led his college team – Michigan State University – to the Final Four, and he played for one of the best college coaches there is, the legendary Tom Izzo. Trice didn’t play in Brisbane but by all accounts is an intelligent floor leader with the ability to get to the rack and finish in traffic.
2015 NCAA Division Two Player of the Year Mitch McCarron is coming off a year in Spain and will be determined to make an immediate impact. Import big man Nnanna Egwu showed surprising touch from the perimeter in Brisbane and will be an excellent backup for Nate Jawai. Veteran Stephen Weigh could start but might be more effective in a role off the bench. Alex Loughton looks reborn based on what we saw at the Australian Basketball Challenge, Jarrod Weeks is the ultimate sparkplug and Damon Heuir breaks into the regular roster for the first time to provide quality minutes in relief.
Will Nate Jawai dominate again? By his own admission he was carrying too much weight last season, but after going through an offseason workout regime that mirrored what he did prior to being drafted to the NBA, Big Nate is an awesome sight to behold. If that holds through the season, the Taipans have a juggernaut on their hands and the rest of the league better watch out.
I suppose four teams have to miss the playoffs and generally speaking the smaller market teams are the first to be written off when it comes to predictions. But writing this team off may be the worst kind of fools’ gold. They are brilliantly coached by Aaron Fearne; they have a ton of experience, a star in the making in Cameron Gliddon and a guy in Mitch McCarron who could be anything. Ultimately it will come down to their 1-5 guys – Travis Trice and Nate Jawai – to determine how far Cairns go in season 16/17. If those two are consistent and effective, there’s no question the Taipans will be playoff bound. And the doubters may scoff, but a championship run is by no means out of the question for this group.