It can be a case of "once bitten, twice shy" for Adelaide basketball fans. Too often have we witnessed our team declared as a favourite or contender at this point of the season, only for things to come crashing down in the post season.
Mitch Creek celebrates a three-point play opportunity during last week’s home win over Perth. (Jan. 3, 2018 - Source: Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images AsiaPac)
You would hardly put your house against history repeating itself, but as they currently sit one win off top place at fourth in the upper half of the NBL's log-jammed ladder after taking two important scalps last weekend, it's impossible to deny this team's legitimacy as a contender.
Injuries have already struck hard. Not only has the squad fought through admirably, but the free minutes have facilitated the exposure of considerable depth in the roster.
The 36ers bat particularly deep in the wing positions, with Mitch Creek, Nathan Sobey, Josh Childress, Ramone Moore, Anthony Drmic all capable of tearing a game up on their day. Four of those five are averaging double figures in points per game, and three of those four are doing it at above 50 per cent from the field.
Floor general Shannon Shorter has looked more at home as the season has progressed. Those who expected a like-for-like replacement for Jerome Randle will have been disappointed, but he's arguably a better fit for the ensemble cast of scorers Adelaide possesses. Shorter is a passionate, mature, big-bodied team player who is reliable at both ends of the court and is a deceptively excellent rebounder.
(Nov. 1, 2017 - Source: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images AsiaPac)
Strangely, the player leading the 36ers in both points and rebounds per game may be the one with the biggest question mark hanging over his head when assessing personnel. The fragility of Daniel Johnson's mindset and the inconsistency of his aggressiveness are factors that deliver a more negative shade of unpredictability from game to game. The big man is utterly unstoppable when in form, but when he enters that cosy shell of his, he becomes not only ineffective at one end of the court, but a liability at the other. It may seem a harsh criticism, given his aggregate performance thus far, but with great talent comes great expectations. Luckily, the imminent breakout threat, Matt Hodgson has been the reliable frame at centre that this team needs when called upon, despite somewhat underwhelming numbers.
And then there's the wildcard, Majok Deng, who set Titanium Security Arena up in flames in the victory over Perth with a ridiculous shooting streak. The infallible offensive confidence that made him a black hole at times in his rookie year has been his greatest strength at times this season as he has announced himself as a potential game-breaker.
It's a spread of scoring threats that is unmatched in the league.
Joey Wright is a high upside coach. He has orchestrated some of the most spectacular basketball the 36ers have played in a long time. Some may describe him as simultaneously the best coach in the league at the moment, and the most volatile.
Dec. 28, 2017 - Source: Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images AsiaPac)
Joey forms part of the reason many fans will be less than shocked if this campaign is to dramatically derail at any moment. We are observing a competition with an incredible propensity for dishing up everything from mild injustice to the outright infuriating. That is the unfortunate state of the NBL in 2018. Wright must find the balance between advocating for his players and setting a calm, measured tone even under the most frustrating of conditions if this club is to avoid another collapse.
As for the 36ers' competition, you would be hard-pressed to find many fans that saw the potent Melbourne United roster and didn't declare them favourites at the beginning of the season. They are starting to look incredibly imposing, while both Perth and New Zealand have at times looked a class above the rest in a tussle for top spot.
The truth is, this race is wide open between these top four clubs, and Adelaide fans have every reason to believe this team is a genuine chance of finally, finally going all the way.
The 36ers are back in action tonight at Titanium Security Arena against the Cairns Taipans. Tickets are available here: GET TICKETS