Friday, October 24, 2014

Pressing Questions: Central Division

Can Alex Johnson take charge of the Power?(Photo: Rob Beintema)
    We’re only a couple of weeks away from the 2014-15 NBL Canada season, meaning teams are running out of time to teaching players their systems, finalize their rosters, and get set for opening night. With time running out, there are still pressing questions yet to be answered for every team, some may not even be answered until half way through the season. Here’s a little preview of what fans should look for from the Central Conference teams.

Brampton A’s

- How many threes can one team shoot? You might be looking at that question and think I’m referencing last year’s team, as the A’s broke the NBLC records for most 3 pointers made and attempted in a single season. But believe it or not, the A’s are looking to shoot even more 3 pointers than the 1,193 they attempted in 40 games last season (for comparison, the Toronto Raptors shot 1,886 3’s in 82 games). Those are already some mind boggling numbers, numbers that might look even crazier this year. With the addition of Paul Mokeski, a coach who is ushering in an analytics based, 3 point heavy offense (detailed excellently by our own Kamal Hylton here), the A’s could be the highest scoring team in the NBL by a wide margin. With the return of nearly the entire roster, including leading scorer Cedric Moodie and big man Cavell Johnson, and a very strong coaching staff led by David Magley, the A’s will be one of the most exciting teams in the NBL.

Windsor Express

-Have they done enough to defend? In the 2013-14 the Windsor Express were able to overcome every challenge they had to face en route to an NBLC Championship. This season, a new challenge will face the Express, as they now have the additional challenge of staying the champs. Things looked rocky with their starting backcourt of Darren Duncan and Stefan Bonneau, both former all stars, on the way out. So with the Ottawa SkyHawks franchise folding this year, the Express chose to pluck some of the best the SkyHawks had to offer, by adding NBL All Star Ryan Anderson and super athletic big man Fred Sturdivant. Anderson especially was needed to solidify their backcourt and provide a go to scoring option outside of Chris Commons, while Sturdivant looks like a breakout candidate based his age (he’s only 25), and on the way he stepped his game up in the 2nd half of the season after Jermaine Johnson was traded to London. And perhaps a surprise source of scoring can emerge off of the roster. Remember, Bonneau had only averaged 7 points a game prior to last years offensive explosion (22.6 ppg). And with 2013-14 Coach of the Year Bill Jones manning the helm, odds are the Express will find a way to make things work.

London Lightning

- What impact will a new coach have? Just about every team in the NBL would consider making it to Game 7 of a Conference Final to be a successful season, but for the Lightning, that’s the worst result in franchise history. So big changes were made, mostly notably off the court, with coach Michael Ray Richardson and his two NBL titles not returning to the sidelines. Richardson was a very intense coach, and at times, stubborn, as he had a tendency to be over reliant on his veteran players, even after a younger player was clearly playing better. Now the Lightning are transitioning into a new era, led by Carlos Knox, a coach with a strong resume of developing players, including recruiting and developing Indiana Pacers PG and IUPUI alumni George Hill. With the staff taking a different approach to coaching, and management’s continued ability to find talent, London may not win a championship right away, although they certainly can’t be counted out, and may be better set up for winning in the long run.

Mississauga Power

-How high can Superman fly? There was little doubt that Mississauga’s hopes already rested on Alex Johnson’s shoulders. The 1st overall pick in the 2013 NBL Canada Draft, Johnson lived up to his billing immediately by averaging nearly 10 points and 6 assists per game, combining with Morgan Lewis to form one of the better backcourts in the league, and giving hope to fans that better days were ahead for the franchise as it limped to an 11-33 record. Everything changed when Lewis, a former #1 pick himself, signed a deal in the Saudi league. Now Johnson’s role has changed, as instead of being the young wing man to Lewis, he will be asked to take charge in the offense, and to take pressure off of 2014 1st overall pick, Jordan Weidner. With an unsettled frontcourt, Johnson’s play in the backcourt and ability to grow his game will be a deciding factor for the Power.