Nearing the halfway mark of NBL23, the Brisbane Bullets have made a major move in ousting head coach James Duncan.
The timing of the decision has drawn plenty of attention, with many wondering if Duncan has been harshly dealt with.
Kane Pitman, Olgun Uluc and Peter Hooley are back for this week's 3x3, with the Bullets on the agenda along with the Sydney Kings and two scuffling clubs who have made a habit of being perennial contenders.
Did James Duncan have a fair chance with this Brisbane Bullets group?
Kane Pitman: Given the timing of the move, it seems hard to believe the Bullets front office didn't have Duncan's papers stamped before the season began.
With a brutal road schedule to start the season and the three best players on the roster severely underdone, a slow start was predictable and should have been expected. With an import search nearing the one-month mark and now a coaching hire on the to do list, GM and interim head coach Sam Mackinnon has quite the challenge in front of him.
Olgun Uluc: In his first season, sure. This season: not really.
So, Duncan had a full first season to show what he can do in the NBL as a head coach. It wasn't a success but there wasn't any reason to not stick with him the next season. Going into this campaign, the Bullets' brass clearly had high expectations for their head coach, because they were prepared to part ways with him after their 0-5 start; those expectations are odd, considering their tough early schedule, and the amount of players on the roster who entered the season underdone. So, it seemed like it was a lose-lose situation for Duncan before this season even tipped off.
Peter Hooley: Whenever a team is successful, the general consensus is "wow, they had a great team of players." But when things aren't going well, it's always on the coach.
The Bullets played two preseason games against United without their three main stars and won. It was only preseason, but the style of play they displayed had everyone excited for what was to come. That completely disappeared come round 1 for whatever reason, and it just got worse as the weeks went on. There is always some responsibility on the coach, no doubt, but it's hard not to feel as if Duncan was scapegoated in what has been a disaster NBL23 for the Bullets.
As of today, who is the biggest threat to the Sydney Kings title defence?
Kane Pitman: This is the best version of South East Melbourne we've seen in their short existence.
6-2 over their last eight games since getting somewhat close to healthy, the Phoenix have poured in 119.9 points per 100 possessions (first in the league). Variety is the spice of life for Simon Mitchell's squad, as they are top two for points per play on cutting and off-screen actions, while also posting up more frequently than any other team in the league with Alan Williams the focal point in the paint. Per the data, they remain middle of the pack defensively, which remains the one hold up.
Olgun Uluc: It's a toss-up, but I'd pick the Breakers over the Phoenix.
We've spoken a lot about the creation options New Zealand has, but South East Melbourne also has that same ability to attack you in waves. So, the benefit of the doubt has to go with the best defensive team in the league. That's the Breakers. Mody Maor's team had a lot of trouble containing the Kings in their most recent matchup, so there are kinks in that specific head-to-head that need to be worked out, but they still look like the most complete, well-drilled team in the NBL right now.
Peter Hooley: With an import spot still up their sleeve, the 36ers are in a beautiful position.
Since the FIBA break they have looked like a completely different team. Robert Franks is doing what many expected him to do when he was signed and a player like Anthony Drmic, who was seeing limited minutes early in the season, is now flourishing with the extra opportunity. This Adelaide team is only going to continue to get better. I think they are already a strong contender, but that final import call is going to be so important.
Are Melbourne United or Perth Wildcats in more trouble?
Kane Pitman: Melbourne, because at least publicly, they appear out of answers.
Without a true point guard, the United offence has consistently leant on individuals playing one-on-one basketball. Chris Goulding has been underutilised, Isaac Humphries has struggled to find rhythm and Rayjon Tucker has battled in what often turns into a halfcourt grind. Only the Bullets and Hawks have scored at a rate worse than United this season and well...that's not great.
Olgun Uluc: Melbourne appears to be in more trouble.
At the very least, it seems like Perth have the pieces that just haven't completely clicked yet and are shooting it poorly right now. With United, there's so much volatility around the availability of Shea Ili, and the personnel isn't really there to make up for it. Perhaps the toughest thing for Dean Vickerman's team, though, is that they've already gotten through most of their home schedule, going 3-6 at John Cain Arena thus far; not only do they still have to figure out how to play together, but they have to do that on the road.
Peter Hooley: After 13 games of NBL23 action, I'm not sure anyone pictured United to be sitting 8th on the ladder with just five wins.
With all the personnel changes they've had, the one thing that simply hasn't stood up for them this year is the defensive end. In years gone by, everyone knew that a Dean Vickerman side would get the job done defensively when the game was on the line. The reason they're the biggest concern for me is because Shea Ili is continuing to deal with concussion symptoms. We have seen in the small sample he has played this year how much more balanced this team looks.