Written for NBL.com.au by Roy Ward
Perth Wildcats have posed a stack of tough questions to NBL sides to open this season as they moved to the top of the ladder, here are 10 Wildcats storylines from #NBL19 so far.
Bryce’s contract looks a steal
Perth’s decision to sign star import Bryce Cotton to a three-year deal caused some surprise during the offseason, not because of the player but because of how rarely teams give imports such lengthy deals.
But Cotton is as good as any import point guard to come to Australia and that show of faith has been repaid as he nailed the game-winner in the comeback win over Brisbane in November and has averaged a league best 23 points per game. Another MVP is on the cards.
Winning without stars
Injuries hit the Wildcats hard in the early weeks of the season with Damian Martin, Terrico White, Angus Brandt, Cotton and others missing various games but even with two or three players out, the Wildcats kept winning.
After sitting atop the league at 10-1 at the FIBA break, they are still 11-3 after the first round back although their loss to Sydney reminds us all that there are still little dividing the title contenders.
What has helped the Wildcats has been an “all hands on deck” approach with the likes of Nick Kay, Mitch Norton and Jesse Wagstaff among those standing tall while in recent games White has taken more shots and shown his talents.
The five of Tom Jervis, Clint Steindl, Kay, Norton and Wagstaff have played every game and their reliability has been key to that winning start.
Kay, Norton a dynamic duo
As we have seen with the NBL Boomers, Kay and Norton are a superb and consistent duo and they have relished their move to the Wildcats.
Consistent, tough and reliable players have a long history of success in Perth and so far these two look every bit the perfect fit they were expected to be.
The only concern for Perth should be whether either or both players could be lured overseas in coming years as they continue to look like world level professionals.
We all see the videos of the Red Army and wonder at the crowds at RAC Arena and the Wildcats have been rewarding their sell-out crowds with seven wins from first seven home games this season.
The win over Brisbane was a memorable won and we wait and watch for who can beat them in Perth this season.
Unless they suffer more losses, anyone who wants to win the NBL title will have to do so in a game three and game five in Perth considering they are in the box seat to get home court advantage for the finals.
The Kings rivalry
The Kings and Wildcats have had little to quarrel about in recent years but since Andrew Bogut’s arrival in Sydney the two teams appeared destined to become the best of enemies.
The first meeting in Sydney, in which Bogut and Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson had their much-talked about impromptu time out discussion, lit a fuse and the Kings second win over them, this time in Perth, must have locked it in.
Considering all the commotion created by an incident worth just a $500 fine, let’s hope the two clubs meet up again during the post season as they make for appointment viewing.
Big men crucial
We know how important post play and rebounding will be this season and the quality of centres in the league has been well documented, including the recent story on big man talent this website, so keeping Angus Brandt, Tom Jervis and Nick Kay engaged and thriving will be vital for Perth.
Kay has been excellent, Brandt great when fit and Jervis as serviceable as ever and they will need all three firing in the second half of the season.
No third import
It doesn’t look like the Wildcats need any extra help right now but it does still appear that they have a third import position open should they feel the need to use it.
Team balance and depth looks great so far but if there is an injury or if they feel they need another elite centre to match with Bogut, Boone and co then they could still bring someone in.
There have been few greater leaders in NBL history than Damian Martin and Greg Hire and the two continue on with the side but Cotton’s re-signing in addition to Jesse Wagstaff, Nick Kay and Mitch Norton means the team has a stable group to lead the club when their current leaders are ready to move on.
The Wildcats have a difficult run to the finals with seven of their last 13 on the road including five straight run games between now and January 11.
As good as the Wildcats have been so far, this will be a big test of whether they can remain at the top of the league and keep home court advantage for the finals.
The future arrives
While we praise the current Wildcats, keep a close eye on two elite talents in their development ranks with swingman Wani Swaka Lo Buluk and power forward Kyle Bowen beginning to move into the side.
Buluk, a recent member of the NBA Academy program in Canberra, made his debut and scored his first basket in the win over Cairns and Bowen has been a high achiever at junior level at the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence and he suited up against the Kings.