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Bryce Cotton will once again spearhead the Perth Wildcats as they shoot for a 36th straight post-season appearance.
The Perth Wildcats have made the Australian NBL playoffs for 35 consecutive seasons in a streak stretching back to 1987. Nobody is counting on it being 36th time unlucky in 2021-22.
The Wildcats, once bitter rivals of the New Zealand Breakers, and 10 times champions, remain the standard-setters in the fast-improving Aussie hoops league in a sustained run of excellence that is all but unprecedented in a major professional sport.
And, despite a coaching and ownership change, it is expected to be business as usual when they tip off the new season at home against the Adelaide 36ers on Friday night.
Once again, the men from the wild west of Australia figure to be there or thereabouts when this competition is decided in May, maybe alongside a beefed-up Sydney Kings roster, with the Illawarra Hawks, defending champs Melbourne United and South East Melbourne Phoenix expected to be somewhere in the mix too.
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That said, there is an even look about a competition that includes one new face in the Tasmania JackJumpers, has had its share of player movement and which will, again, have to negotiate the perils of Covid.
Here then is all you need to know about the Breakers’ nine rivals in season 2021-22:
The skinny: Some useful pickups in title-winner Mitch McCarron (from Melbourne) and Dunedin-born NBA hopeful Mojave King (Cairns), and have added a pair of useful imports (Dusty Hannahs and Todd Withers) to go with a strong Aussie frontline of Daniel Johnson, Isaac Humphries and Cam Bairstow. 2.18m Filipino Kai Sotto an unknown. Will miss Josh Giddy’s playmaking but capable of contending New coach in ex-Breakers champ CJ Bruton. Key man: McCarron’s savvy, playmaking and toughness will be huge. Predicted finish: 7th.
The skinny: New era with James Duncan taking over from Andrej Lemanis as coach, Otago Nuggets import Isaiah Moss and Robert Franks joining ex-Breakers fatty Lamar Patterson as restricted players and Kiwi Jack Salt, China’s 2.25m Chuanxing Liu and Spanish/French Next Star Tom Digbeu jalso new. Nathan Sobey, Jason Cadee, Tall Black Tyrell Harrison and Anthony Drmic all return. Key man: Sobey is a world-class 2-man. At his best. Can he do it for a season? Finish: 8th
The skinny: The ebullient Scott Machado will keep them in some games, but haven’t added enough top-end class to be truly competitive. New coach Adam Forde will keep it tight on his rotations, but just doesn;t have the game-changers to make runs. Well out of the money. Key man: Machado will deliver, but new import Stephen Zimmerman needs to be really good. Finish: 9th.
The skinny: Master coach Brian Goorjian will give them every chance, and he has a lot of weapons with Tyler Harvey and Justinian Jessup back to lead the backcourt attack, Aussie Olympian Duop Reath boosting their front court and new imports Antonius Cleveland and Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Harry Froling adding to a useful rotation. Key man: Harvey might be the most creative one guard in the league. How he goes, they will too. Finish: Semifinalists.
The skinny: Losses of Jock Landale (NBA) and Mitch McCarron hurt, but Dean Vickerman has added Boomers great Matty Dellavedova, sharp Nigerian Caleb Agada, German Next Star Ariel Hukporti, veteran Aussie Brad Newley and Kiwi NBL MVP Dion Prewster to a solid roster. Shea Ili will again be key on defence, while Jack White’s return from injury is pivotal. Contenders again. Key man: Dellavedova. NBA quality must deliver. Finish: Semifinalists.
The skinny. With Bryce Cotton healthy again, Vic Law an outstanding import pickup, Luke Travers on the rise and Matt Hodgson boosting the interior, the perennial contenders should be there or thereabouts again. Former Celtics assistant Scott Morrison takes over coaching reins of a club that knows the way to the playoffs blindfolded. Key man: Cotton. Unstoppable when he’s fit. Finish: Semifinalists.
The skinny: If sharpshooter Ryan Broekhoff can hit top form, could contend again. Mitch Creek will lead from the front, Xavier Munford looks a useful PG and there are plenty of solid support pieces, including Kiwis Reuben Te Rangi and Izayah Le’afa. Will need a lot to go their way. Key man: Creek may need to be superman this campaign. Finish: 5fth.
The skinny: Quality, deep lineup, and bookies’ favourites for the title. Jarrell Martin back as key import, Jaylen Adams and RJ Hunter added and outstanding support cast headed by Dejan Vasiljevic, Xavier Cooks and Angus Glover. Kiwi Tom Vodanovich should see important minutes too. New coach in Chase Buford (son of Spurs front-office legend RC). Key man: Martin. Talented but erratic. Finish: Semifinalists.
The skinny: The newcomers shouldn’t be easybeats, but it’s always tough year one for an expansion franchise. Not enough quality to overcome that, though Will Magnay and Sam McDaniel look good pickups. Key man: Import Josh Magette will need to put up big numbers: Finish: 10th.