Sydney Kings Season Preview

Last season: 6-22, eighth in regular season

2015/16 Points For: 86.3ppg, third

2015/16 Points Against: 91.8ppg, eighth

2015/16 Field Goal Percentage: 44.3%, third

2015/16 Defensive Field Goal Percentage: 45.5%, sixth

2015/16 Three Point Field Goal Percentage: 33.1%, sixth

2015/16 Defensive Three Point Field Goal Percentage: 35.8%, sixth

2015/16 Free Throw Percentage: 74.0%, fifth

2015/16 Rebounds: 35.0rpg, fifth

2015/16 Rebound Differential per Game: -4.2, seventh

2015/16 Assists: 14.4apg, sixth

2015/16 Steals: 5.2spg, fourth

2015/16 Blocked Shots: 4.7bpg, first

2015/16 Turnovers: 11.9tpg, third

2015/16 Turnover Differential per Game: -0.2, fifth

NBL Titles: 3 (2003, 2004, 2005)

NBL Playoff Appearances: 13 (last time 2013)

Homecourt: Qudos Bank Arena, capacity 17,500

Head Coach: Andrew Gaze (1st season with Kings, NBL rookie)

Incoming: Michael Bryson (import – University of California-Santa Barbara); Darcy Harding (development – SEABL); Kevin Lisch (Illawarra Hawks); Bo Liu (development – China); Aleks Maric (Spain); Brad Newley (Spain); Greg Whittington (import – NBA D-League)

Outgoing: Angus Brandt (Perth Wildcats); Rhys Carter; Josh Childress (import); Steve Markovic; Dion Prewster; Marcus Thornton (import)

Projected Starters: Kevin Lisch; Jason Cadee; Brad Newley; Greg Whittington (import); Julian Khazzouh

Bench: Michael Bryson (import); Tom Garlepp; Darcy Harding (development); Jeromie Hill; Bo Liu (development); Aleks Maric; Craig Moller (development)

It’s a new era for the Sydney Kings, both on and off the court.

Six years of futility and underachievement have been replaced by professionalism and accountability and some real hope that this organisation is finally on the right track.

There was nothing but doom and gloom among long-suffering Kings’ fans after a disastrous 2015/16 season, but that was replaced by pure excitement when the announcement was made that powerhouse corporation AEG Ogden, led by the highly respected Harvey Lister, had purchased the team and then appointed Jeff Van Groningen as the front office guru to lead this team out of the wilderness.

A basketball guy through and through, Van Groningen has been given an enormous task to build something that is special, that is sustainable in the long term and most importantly gets the wider Sydney community re-energised and re-engaged with the Kings once again.

It’s maybe the toughest mission in Australian sport – making the Sydney Kings relevant in their own town as they were during the halcyon days of the early to mid-1990s. But Van Groningen, the guy who was responsible for building one of the greatest single season teams of all-time, the 2006/07 Brisbane Bullets, is more than qualified to get the job done.

And he wasted little time in making an enormous splash, bringing in reigning league Most Valuable Player Kevin Lisch in a stunning coup. Lisch immediately legitimises this team and is one of those rare individuals who genuinely makes players around him better.

At around the same time, Van Groningen made another huge splash with the announcement of the one and only Andrew Gaze as the team’s new Head Coach.

While ‘The Factor’ is a legend of the sport, he is a relatively inexperienced coach and his appointment did raise some eyebrows among the Kings’ faithful. Still, no one knows more about the game in this country, and the further addition of championship winner Dean Vickerman as his lead assistant solidified a group that also includes the great Lanard Copeland and a rising star in the coaching ranks in Luke Kendall.

Van Groningen wasn’t through, recruiting a pair of Australian Euro-stars in Brad Newley and Aleks Maric and he brought back a couple of imports from the NBA Summer League in Michael Bryson and Greg Whittington that he hopes will bring the excitement at Qudos Bank Arena – Sydney’s new home and arguably the best stadium in the National Basketball League.

However, there are concerns, specifically around the health of Julian Khazzouh.

The talented Sydney centre suffered a horrendous leg injury toward the end of last season that still sees him not cleared to play and the club is taking an ultra-cautious approach with him.

The uncertainty around his status has also meant that the Kings are the only team in the NBL that is yet to complete their roster, with two spots still available – one of those an import slot.

It’s not an ideal situation in which to come into a season, especially one this competitive. And it’s crucial the Kings get off to a positive start at the opening game at Homebush, where the club will pull out all the stops to put together an event that is every bit the equal of a NBA game night experience.

Given the team has four of their first six games at home, they’ll be desperate to get off to a positive start and get those people flowing through the doors. It’s a draw that gives them a shot of doing that, so provided Khazzouh comes back shortly and they are able to stay over .500 in the early going, a strong run to the playoffs is possible.

Above all else, it’s great to have the excitement back in Sydney basketball. The Kings are a moribund franchise no more.

CENTRE

The team has been waiting patiently on the return of franchise centre Julian Khazzouh (13.8ppg, 7.5rpg, 1.8bpg, 1.0spg, 49.2% FG) who suffered a terrible quadriceps tendon injury late last season and has been feverishly rehabbing ever since. When healthy, he’s a tremendously skilled pivot with a game similar to that of the NBA’s Pau Gasol; an excellent post target with the ability to go left or right and even step outside and drain it from the perimeter.

FORWARDS

The return of superstar Australian swingman Brad Newley is not only a huge fillip for the Kings, but for the entire league as well. He’s had an outstanding career, primarily in Europe, and is a slashing type who is devastating in transition but can also fill it up from range. He provides veteran leadership and tremendous experience to this group.

Import forward Greg Whittington showed signs at the Australian Basketball Challenge in Brisbane that he could be a quality addition to the roster. A 6’8” forward who will play as a stretch four, Whittington is long, very athletic and extremely versatile. He’s coming off a D-League Championship with the Sioux Falls Skyforce and his length and range should make him a difficult matchup.

GUARDS

The recruitment of reigning NBL MVP Kevin Lisch (19.4ppg, 3.3apg, 3.5rpg, 1.8spg, 49.7% FG, 85.2% FT, 40.9% 3PT FG with Illawarra) was one of the biggest coups in franchise history. Just the fourth man ever to win both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season, the 6’1” point guard is one of the greatest floor leaders in NBL history and a phenomenal competitor who can do it all at both ends of the floor.

Jason Cadee (14.0ppg, 3.5apg, 3.2rpg) started every game last season and figures to do it again in 16/17. The 6’1” combo guard is emerging as a force at NBL level and is a noted perimeter bomber, winning the three point shootout contest at the Australian Basketball Challenge in Brisbane. He was the MVP of the NBL All-Australian team that played a three game series against the Chinese national team in the offseason and looks ready to make the jump to the next level.

BENCH

The big question mark over this roster at time of writing is they are the only team yet to complete their 11-man roster, with two spots still to be filled. Until that’s resolved, the team will be significantly undermanned in comparison to the rest of the league. What they do have off the pine is impressive regardless. Tom Garlepp moves back to the bench and should provide good scoring punch, import Michael Bryson will bring athleticism, three point shooting and defence, Jeromie Hill is a solid combo forward and Aleks Maric will start initially but will provide rebounding and toughness once he settles into a reserve role. Of interest is their Chinese development signing Bo Liu who played for Coach Gaze in SEABL, but would become the first Chinese player ever to play a minute in an NBL regular season game should he set foot on the court.

BURNING QUESTION

At what point will they complete their roster? Khazzouh will miss at least the first couple of rounds which makes this team very light on in the frontcourt, and one would think the sooner this squad is fully put together, the better, especially given the strength of this league and the fact every game matters in a season that will go right down to the wire.

PROGNOSIS

The expectations are always high when it comes to the Sydney Kings, and that’s especially the case this season. A new ownership group, a respected GM, a new stadium and some impressive signings – all of that is a giant positive. There are question marks however, not least of which is how this group will respond when put under that pressure that always hits in the Harbour City. To their great credit, neither Jeff Van Groningen nor Andrew Gaze nor anyone in the playing group has shied away from those high expectations. They understand it, and welcome the challenge. That’s an outstanding attitude. And if it all comes together, there’s no question this team has the ability to reach the playoffs and contend for their fourth NBL crown.

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