R9 Preview | Illawarra Hawks v Sydney Kings

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Illawarra Hawks v Sydney Kings

When: 2.50pm (AEDT), Sunday 16 December

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Where: WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong

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Broadcast: 9GO; Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ


The last time

Sydney 86 (Bogut 21, Randle 13, Lisch 12) d Illawarra 79 (Blanchfield 16, Coenraad 16, Jett 14), Qudos Bank Arena, Round 4

It was like the Hawks arrived late to this one, and they missed a hell of a show from Andrew Bogut and Co as Sydney raced to a 27-12 quarter-time lead and forged 22 ahead just before half-time. Illawarra at least showed some pride, getting up the floor late as they forced the Kings into 20 turnovers and pulled the margin back to single figures.



The now

It’s Fat Boy Slim time for the Hawks, they must make their move right here, right now. With six of their next eight outings at The Sandpit, the playoffs are a realistic goal if they can find consistency. Illawarra successfully goaded Adelaide and Cairns to play on their terms, but can they do the same against an experience half-court team like the Kings?

Sydney showed their composure and class down the stretch against Perth, scoring 22 of the final 31 points. No King took more than 11 shot attempts, while six attempted six or more as Andrew Gaze’s men put together their most balanced offensive performance of the season, a repeat of which in Wollongong will have them sitting in second place at round’s end.


The match-ups

Jordair Jett v Jerome Randle – Jett was one of the few shining lights last time against Sydney with 14 points, 3 assists and 2 steals, while helping force Randle into 6 turnovers. Jerome loves nothing more than torturing the “dirty” Hawks and will have kept that performance in the memory bank, so expect an aggressive Kings point guard on Sunday.

Todd Blanchfield v Brad Newley – Newley has picked his moments – taking double-figure shot attempts in five games but less than four on four occasions – and converted well, 47 per cent on field goals and 45 per cent from outside. Blanchfield has averaged 18ppg at 50 per cent from deep in the Hawks’ winning streak as their go-to man when they need a basket.



Brian Conklin v David Wear – The combination of Wear and Daniel Kickert provided 36 points on 75 per cent three-point shooting on Friday night, a stunning return that spread Perth’s D. That will provide a test to Conklin and Tim Coenraad, but can Sydney’s duo handle King Conk in the block, and keep up with Coenraad on the perimeter?

AJ Ogilvy v Andrew Bogut – The Kings’ pivot put together 23 points, 14 rebounds and 3 blocks in Round 4, embarrassing Ogilvy in the process. The Hawks’ centre has averaged 14ppg and 9rpg in his past four contests though, his All-NBL First Team form has returning, while Bogut will be looking to bounce back from twice being outplayed by Perth’s frontcourt.


The stats

The Kings bench outscored their Perth counterparts 33-14 on Friday night, shooting the ball at 56 per cent from the field and dishing out 7 dimes to just 3 turnovers.

Sydney’s starters have an average plus/minus of +17.2, while their four main bench players are +28 on average despite playing 13 minutes per game less than the leading quintet.

Illawarra are the NBL’s number one bench scoring team with 32.7ppg, with their reserves also leading the league in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.

Jett is the only Hawk with a positive plus/minus at +5, followed by Dave Andersen (-1), Daniel Grida (-10) and Coenraad (-12). Illawarra’s starters have an average of -43.4 this season.



The story

The Illawarra Hawks have won three on the trot to move within touching distance of the top four, and rookie duo Daniel Grida and Emmett Naar are the flavour of the day.

Rewind a month though, and that was anything but the truth. The Hawks had lost five of six and were sliding out of playoff contention, at times looking disenchanted on the floor.

Grida and Naar were getting plenty of chances to play, but they were struggling with the step up to the Hungry Jack’s NBL, with a plus/minus of -31 and -43 respectively, close to last on the Hawks’ roster on a per-minute basis.

With each missed open shot, poor decision, blown defensive cover and other rookie mistakes, the frustration of the team’s veteran core slowly grew, but coach Rob Beveridge kept faith in the youngsters and had a simple message for his leaders.

“I said to those senior players, if you’re frustrated, remember you were a rookie once as well,” he said.

“I encourage the rookies to go out and play with passion and make mistakes, my expectations are the senior players have got to nurture them. It’s their responsibility as senior players in the team to teach these young guys how to be an elite professional player.”

The veterans bought in to that mantra and the process has happened quickly, the Hawks’ team system finally clicking with Grida and Naar amongst the driving forces as Illawarra’s bench led their teams’ resurgence.



Grida has scored more points in the past four games than in his opening nine, shooting 5-of-9 from distance, after open the year 5-of-18.

Just as impressive has been his 60 per cent conversion from inside the arc, the 20-year-old showing an all-around offensive game that has Beveridge predicting big things.

“He’s a scorer, he actually reminds a bit more of Brad Newley,” Beveridge said.

“He’s going to be that slashing two-three, can shoot the three and rip and get to the rim. What I love about him is he plays so hard on every single possession, offence or defence, he has no fear.

“His progress has been accelerated because we’re giving him time and giving him freedom to make mistakes, that’s probably the biggest thing.”

Many of Grida’s looks have come from the improved composure of Naar, who no longer looks rushed, dishing 15 dimes in the past three outings without coughing the ball up once.



Both rookies have enjoyed the line-up shift that put shooters David Andersen, Tim Coenraad and Grida around them and the masterful penetration of Jordair Jett alongside them.

Grida’s plus/minus has flipped to an impressive +21 in the Hawks’ winning streak – where the team has been +23 in total – while Naar’s has jumped to +15.

“He’ll run a team,” Beveridge predicted of his young point man who is learning the ropes from league legend Cedric Jackson.

“He’s serving an amazing apprenticeship. He’s got a bunch of veterans there that are doing their bit, and he’s playing with a lot of freedom. As he evolves as a player, he’s going to be an amazing player.”

There is no time for star-gazing into the future though, Illawarra has an in-form big brother coming to town, armed with their own reinvigorated bunch of reserves who sparked a famous road win in Perth on Friday night.

Kyle Adnam and Brian Bowen against Naar and Grida shapes as a pair of unlikely but important match-ups for two teams whose reserves are getting the job done better than their starters.

Sydney are also getting the job done defensively at an impressive rate, and while the Wildcats initially got hold of them in that area, they regrouped to hold the league’s number one offence to just one field goal in the final 5:30 as they stormed to victory.

In Round 4, the Kings kept Beveridge’s men to 10 points in the opening 9:30 as they blew the game wide open, Andrew Bogut a dominant figure with six rebounds, two blocks and a steal in that span.

“He is the most influential player in the league, he dominates games through his intimidation in defence, his rebounding and his passing, and now he’s starting to score,” Beveridge said.

“We don’t want to play them in the half-court because of their scheme of funnelling into the best defensive player in the league.



“They want to get into a half-court grind, they played Friday, then travelled, they’ll be tired so they’re going to want to slow the game down.

“If we get caught in that trap they’ll win, one because their offensive talent and two their defensive prowess with Bogut.

“We’ve got to be playing at a higher tempo and tire them out, get them to make mistakes over the duration.”

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