Perth Wildcats Season Preview

Last season: 18-10, second in regular season, NBL CHAMPIONS

2015/16 Points For: 84.3ppg, fifth

2015/16 Points Against: 79.6ppg, first

2015/16 Field Goal Percentage: 43.8%, fifth

2015/16 Defensive Field Goal Percentage: 42.3%, second

2015/16 Three Point Field Goal Percentage: 35.6%, third

2015/16 Defensive Three Point Field Goal Percentage: 32.0%, second

2015/16 Free Throw Percentage: 74.0%, fourth

2015/16 Rebounds: 38.2rpg, second

2015/16 Rebound Differential per Game: +4.8, second

2015/16 Assists: 16.8apg, second

2015/16 Steals: 5.4spg, third

2015/16 Blocked Shots: 3.0bpg, fourth

2015/16 Turnovers: 13.1tpg, seventh

2015/16 Turnover Differential per Game: -0.4, sixth

NBL Titles: 7 (1990, 1991, 1995, 2000, 2010, 2014, 2016)

NBL Playoff Appearances: 30 (last time 2016)

Homecourt: Perth Arena, capacity 14,000

Head Coach: Trevor Gleeson (4th season with Perth, NBL career record 165-122, career record with Wildcats 62-34)

Incoming: Angus Brandt (Sydney Kings); Jaron Johnson (import – NBA D-League); Dexter Kernich-Drew (Big V); Jameel McKay (Iowa State University); Lucas Walker (Adelaide 36ers)

Outgoing: Jermaine Beal (import – Brisbane Bullets); Nate Jawai (Cairns Taipans); Tom Jervis (Brisbane Bullets)

Projected Starters: Damian Martin; Jaron Johnson (import); Casey Prather (import); Matthew Knight; Jameel McKay (import)

Bench: Angus Brandt; Greg Hire; Jarrod Kenny; Dexter Kernich-Drew; Shawn Redhage; Jesse Wagstaff; Lucas Walker (short-term injury replacement); Corban Wroe

There have been some great dynasties in sport and basketball in particular.

The obvious ones are the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers – the two greatest NBA franchises of all-time. And of course the Michael Jordan-powered Chicago Bulls. Then in Europe you’ve got the likes of Maccabi Tel Aviv, who year after year are a dominant force.

And right now, the ultimate version in Australia resides in Western Australia with the mighty Perth Wildcats, who in 2015/2016 extended their record of consecutive playoff appearances to an astounding 30 straight enroute to their seventh NBL title – another league mark.

Their dominance is almost mind-boggling.

Every time you think they’ve finally got too many obstacles in their way, that unbelievable competitiveness fuelled by the phenomenal Damian Martin kicks in and they simply refuse to lose.

And that seventh title has put them even further ahead of any other franchise in NBL history. They are simply the best.

As they head into the 2016/2017 campaign they face another significant issue with stalwart big man Matt Knight sidelined for at least the first few games of the regular season with yet another problem with his perpetually balky shoulders.

With Nate Jawai and Tom Jervis heading elsewhere in the offseason, Knight’s health becomes a critical issue given the Wildcats have lost significant size up front. However, the team looked to address that in the offseason with the recruitment of young athletic import forward Jameel McKay and solid big man Angus Brandt.

In a pointer to a move that embraces a more transition-oriented style, Perth has also brought in high-flying athlete Jaron Johnson to pair with MVP candidate Casey Prather and they still have that remarkable core group that has been together for so many years.

Head Coach Trevor Gleeson has two championships with this team and is coming off an assistant coach role with the Boomers at the Rio Olympics so you know this is a squad that is exceptionally led from the sidelines, and they still play at the most intimidating venue in the National Basketball League, Perth Arena, where the famed Red Army is worth at least ten points per game to their beloved Wildcats.

As ever, the NBL championship runs through Perth. And that situation doesn’t look like changing anytime soon.

CENTRE

It will be interesting to see the development of new import big man Jameel McKay. The 6’9” power forward/centre is a noted defensive specialist and rim protector who is coming off a pair of seasons at Iowa State University where he averaged 2.4 blocked shots per game as a junior and was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Not known as a scorer, McKay will nonetheless be expected to provide some grunt in the middle and at least be a serviceable target in the low post.

FORWARDS

Matt Knight (11.6ppg, 7.9rpg, 48.3% FG) is one of those players every coach in the league would want on his team. A bulldozer inside and never afraid of old fashioned hard work, Matt is one of the most respected players in the competition, a tremendous individual both on and off the floor who means a great deal to this organisation. The only issue is whether Perth can keep him healthy.

If you’re interested in shelling out some of your hard-earned on a gamble for NBL MVP this season, you could do a lot worse than Casey Prather (16.3ppg, 4.5rpg, 1.8apg, 1.2spg). The 6’6” swingman is an explosive athlete and devastating in transition, and he had a brilliant debut campaign for the Wildcats in 2015/16. He was a big key in Perth’s seventh championship and named club MVP. In the offseason he came very close to winning an NBA contract and has improved his overall game to the point where this might be his last season of NBL ball.

GUARDS

I suppose people get sick of me constantly lauding Perth captain Damian Martin (5.2ppg, 4.4rpg, 3.3apg). But given his remarkable accomplishments and the fact he doesn’t seem to be slowing down, it’s hard not to praise the 6’2” point guard, who is unquestionably the greatest defensive player in NBL history. His competitive drive is legendary and he is relentless every moment he is on the floor. Despite suffering a calf issue early in the 2015/16 preseason and then missing five games with a badly broken jaw, he came back magnificently to lead his team to their seventh NBL championship and was named Grand Final Series Most Valuable Player. And he represented his country with honour at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. He’s simply outstanding in every way.

Based on what we saw at the Australian Basketball Challenge, Perth may have struck gold with new import swingman Jaron Johnson, who looks to be every bit the athletic specimen that his new teammate Casey Prather most assuredly is. His combination with Prather on the fast break will be a sight to see and the Red Army might have their own Red Air Force this season at Perth Arena.

BENCH

Experience and veteran savvy are the themes of a bench that features the seemingly ageless Shawn Redhage, a perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate in Jesse Wagstaff, the ultimate role player in Greg Hire and a tremendous backup point guard in New Zealander Jarrod Kenny. Angus Brandt comes across from Sydney to add muscle and size up front and Perth is high on shooter Dexter Kernich-Drew, who’ll fill a development role this season alongside Corban Wroe.

BURNING QUESTION

Can Matt Knight’s shoulders hold up over the course of the season? As much of a warrior as Matty has been over the course of his marvellous career, he’s had to deal with shoulder problems for many years and it’s something that once again threatens to have a large say in how the Wildcats perform this season. The reality is if they are going to challenge for the title, they need Matt healthy and firing on all cylinders.

PROGNOSIS

They are on an unprecedented 30 year streak of at least reaching the playoffs. And although there are a couple more question marks over this team than usual, it’s impossible to believe the Perth Wildcats won’t make it 31 straight postseason appearances. They still have the incredible Damian Martin, their veterans are still getting it done and their new acquisitions look exciting. They have the best homecourt advantage in the league and are very well coached. Bet against this team at your peril.

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