Five Burning Questions: Illawarra Hawks

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Written for nbl.com.au by Liam Santamaria

 

In the lead up to this month’s Blitz, we’re taking a close look at all eight NBL teams and highlighting some of the key questions surrounding them this preseason.

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Last week we covered the Adelaide 36ersBrisbane Bullets and Cairns Taipans. Today we turn our attention to the Illawarra Hawks, a team full of new recruits with familiar faces.

 

Have they got enough shooting?

Speaking with people around the league, this is the number one question that keeps coming up about Illawarra’s NBL19 roster. That’s because, well, it’s a reasonable one.

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After all, neither Cedric Jackson nor Jordair Jett – the likely members of their starting backcourt – have ever been consistent perimeter threats throughout their careers.

Jackson’s career three-point shooting percentage in the NBL is 28.6 percent while Jett shot just 27.8 percent from range during his one previous season in the league.

Todd Blanchfield, Tim Coenraad and David Andersen are all legit floor-spacers while rookie guards Emmett Naar and Daniel Grida are both entering the league as efficient shooters.

So… there is some shooting on this roster. But there are also four members of the team’s likely starting five – Jackson, Jett, Brian Conklin and AJ Ogilvy – who are all sub-30 percent shooters from outside the arc.

Of course, at their best Conklin and Ogilvy are actually very effective in the mid-range, something which is bound to open up driving lanes to some extent.

Overall, though, the answer to this question to me is: not quite. It just doesn’t look like the Hawks have quite enough perimeter shooting, especially in the backcourt, to consistently stretch the D.

Head coach Rob Beveridge strenuously disagrees.

“With all due respect to yourself and others, I laugh at you guys to even suggest that,” he said.

“We are shooting such a high clip from the perimeter at some of our sessions and our efficiency is just off the charts.

“Last year we were too perimeter oriented, so we didn’t have balance. Whereas now we will be attacking inside-out.”

Bevo’s a master at instilling confidence in his players and maximising their talents. That being said, you’d have to think Blanchfield will need to hit a truckload of threes this season to keep the floor spread in the ‘Gong.

 

Who will surprise?

The Hawks signed two former MVPs, Jackson and Conklin, as imports but I think it might be their other American, Jett, who surprises a few people.

The former Townsville Croc played well in the QBL this year and told the Illawarra Mercury recently that he’s gunning for an NBL MVP trophy of his own.

It’s a big call but, by all accounts, Jett is currently putting in the kind of work that turns dreams into reality.

And it seems to be paying off.

In a fully-timed intra-club scrimmage this week, Jett dropped 40 points with 8 made threes.

“Guys were going under the on-ball and Jordair just went bang, bang, bang,” Beveridge said.

“Then guys had to come out and hard show or double and now he’s getting to the rim. He put on an MVP performance.”

Jett is an interesting fit alongside Jackson as both seem to have similar games in their desire to put the ball on the floor and get into the paint.

According to ‘Bevo’, that’s not going to be an issue.

“People say, ‘where does he fit in?’ Well, right now he is a basketball player,” Beveridge explained.

“He is not a point guard, he is not a shooting guard, he is a flat out player. I recruited him for his defensive ability rather than offence, but he went for 40 this week.”

More of that please, Mr Jett.

 

Have we seen the best of AJ Ogilvy?

Apparently not.

A three-time member of the All-NBL First Team, Ogilvy did it rough last season as he battled through a lingering hip issue. The Hawks centre was a shadow of his former self as his numbers dipped and his ability to dominate ball games fell away.

Those injury issues and the resulting form slump were major issues for the Hawks, who had grown to rely on Ogilvy being an all-round interior force.

Right now, however, the word out of Wollongong is that Ogilvy’s on track to return to his stat-sheet-stuffing ways of yesteryear.

“[AJ] is better than how he was when he was at his best,” Beveridge claimed.

“He is off the charts… He’s in unbelievable shape, has zero body fat and he’s running the floor and shooting the ball really well.

“He doesn’t have his hip injury any more. He is strong, he’s getting on the glass, he’s getting the tip-ins, he is going off the dribble, he’s banging people inside… He’s back to the AJ that we had.”

This is massive news for Hawks fans as Ogilvy has become something of a barometer for this club…. If he’s flying, so might they.

 

Have they got enough bigs?

The Hawks are the only team in the league who have not signed at least four genuine ‘bigs’ to their eleven-man roster.

(New Zealand could potentially be seen as another, although Finn Delany, their fourth ‘big’, has played plenty of pro ball at the four.)

The Hawks have Ogilvy, Conklin and Andersen up front and that’s it as far as genuine size is concerned. They decided not to sign another veteran back-up big like Cairns did with Mitch Young. Nor did they lock up a developing young big in the mould of Will Magnay (Brisbane), Tohi Smith-Milner (Melbourne) or Deng Acuoth (Sydney).

Instead, and somewhat interestingly, they intend to play 199cm veteran Tim Coenraad at power forward.

“That is going to create a lot of mismatches,” Beveridge said.

“Something that people don’t realise is that Timmy played the four nearly his whole life until he came into the NBL. As a junior and when he was over in college he played the four.

“Good luck to the people who are defending him on the perimeter.”

Beveridge has talked about adapting his style and playing a little more ‘bully ball’ this season rather than the fast-paced, free-flowing system he’s used with the Hawks in the past.

The plan is for the Hawks to be a lot more physical, pound the ball inside to Ogilvy and Conklin and have Jackson, Jett and Naar creating off pick-and-rolls.

From ‘Bevo Ball’ to ‘Bully Ball’… the ‘bevolution’ is underway.

 

How big is the chip on their shoulder?

When franchise centerpieces Nick Kay and Mitch Norton signed with Perth and imports Rotnei Clarke and Demitrius Conger received big-money offers elsewhere, the Hawks were forced to head back to the drawing board and re-build their roster.

Beveridge and GM Mat Campbell sat down and devised a plan. Let’s bring in guys who need a second chance, guys with chips on their shoulders, they thought.

“We’ve re-loaded with a whole lot of players who all individually have a point to prove,” Beveridge explained.

Jackson, Jett and Conklin – all former NBL imports – certainly fit that category. As does Andersen who, despite constant references to his veteran status, is clearly not ready to retire.

“What I like about our team is the negativity that has been suggested, from a social media perspective, with people bagging Jordair and bagging different guys on the team like AJ this, Conklin that,” Beveridge said.

“These players read that and it provides a lot of motivation for them.”

Truth is, the players aren’t the only ones with fire in their bellies.

“I had a s**t year last year so I’ve got a chip on my shoulder too. I’m really, really fired up this season,” Beveridge said.

“I’m excited about where we are at but everybody just doesn’t rate us and I take that personally.

“All I can say is please tip me to come last or second last. Poke the bear.”

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