SBL season preview – Perth Redbacks
THE Perth Redbacks' men were a genuine SBL title threat in 2014 and expect more of the same in 2015 and while the women's team struggled, the young group continues to develop and should improve further this year.
The two Redbacks teams are in different stages of their development with the men capable of competing for the championship and the women's team just looking to be more competitive and build for the future.
The Redbacks women rebuilt their group virtually from scratch in 2014 and while the end result was only two victories, those wins did come in their last four matches after they started the season with an 18-game losing streak.
Gabby O'Sullivan was their leading scorer but was limited to just 11 appearances and when she is available in 2015, she will help new coach Keith Horwood have an even more competitive squad at his disposal.
Gabby Clayton has also signed on with the Redbacks and will be a more than handy guard while Alex Hayward and Jess Jakens are a more than handy front court.
They combined to average 25.3 points and 16.1 rebounds a game last year, and there's every reason to suggest they can better that in 2015.
Meanwhile, the Perth men's team had a strong season in 2014 finishing the regular season in third position with a 17-9 record and entering the playoffs on a six-match winning streak that quickly extended to eight after a two-nil quarter-final victory over the Mandurah Magic.
The Redbacks then fell short in the semi finals against the eventual champion East Perth Eagles, but will now be looking to go at least one step better in 2015.
The Redbacks' imports from last year Stan Okoye and Lee Roberts leave big shoes to fill but Ray Turner and Marshall Brown certainly look exciting.
Turner arrives at the Redbacks ready to dominate inside in the SBL season with the 6'9 power forward sure to be someone hard to combat for opposition teams at both ends of the floor.
Only in 2013 did Turner complete his college career with Texas A&M where he finished his senior year averaging 9.2 points and 6.2 rebounds a game while shooting 51 per cent from the field.
In 2014, Turner played with the Rockhampton Rockets in the Queensland Basketball League and helped lead the team to the QBL championship averaging 20.5 points and 12.8 rebounds a game while shooting an incredible 64.1 per cent from the floor.
Brown has now been out of college since 2007 after a strong career with the Missouri Tigers and since then he has played in the Canadian NBL, NBA D-League, Japanese BJ League and even briefly with the NBA's Portland Trailblazers in 2011.
Most recently he played in Japan with the Shiga Lakestars where he averaged 15.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists a game for the 2013/14 season.
The 6'7 small forward will be able to spend time at the four spot as well in the SBL and looks set to have a big impact with the Redbacks.
Even though the Redbacks also lose Jarrad Jackson who joins the Mandurah Magic, if the two imports can be as good as expected, then they have every chance of again being a genuine championship threat just like they were last season.
With Joel Wagner still leading the way as point guard, Jarrad Prior back to full health in the back court with him, Dennis Tawhiti continuing his outstanding contributions and then Ben Smith coming on board from the Kalamunda Eastern Suns, it is an outstanding Redbacks squad.
Smith alone averaged 21.6 points a game last season and adding that sort of punch that had no trouble scoring already, then coach Nik Lackovic has every reason to expect big things from his team in 2015.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
Nik did a great job last year with this group, and the addition of Ben Smith adds another high quality Aussie to the group. The addition of a true big in Ray Turner gives them a quality presence in the key this year. Marshall Brown is the 2nd import and knowing Nik, he'll be good.
My Prediction: 3rd
The Redbacks are a well-coached team with an excellent starting five, led by Joel Wagner. New imports Ray Turner and Marshall Brown could potentially form one of the best import combinations we have seen in the SBL in many years. Nik Lackovic has made one of the best signings in the league this off season, by recruiting Ben Smith from the Suns, who is undoubtedly one of the best perimeter shooters in the SBL. The Redbacks are a well-balanced offensive team that will defend well and play in front of a packed house at Curtin.
My Prediction: 2nd
Import Ray Turner looks like a serious player if the Blitz is anything to go by. If Turner is as good as predicted and can find chemistry with Joel Wagner, Dennis Tawhiti and the new addition Ben Smith from Kalamunda, this team will be a force in 2015. They will get Prior back from a foot injury later in the year and working in tandem with Smith will be a serious perimeter threat as both are two of the best shooters in the SBL.
My Prediction: 3rd
Should be significantly better than last year but whether that will be enough to move them much higher up the standings remains to be seen. G Clayton will help with the ball handling and will make a nice combination with O’Sullivan when she is available. Jakens should improve again this season but they still need more talent to finish higher in the standings.
My Prediction: 11th
Keith Horwood is a former WSBL Coach of the Year and returns in 2015. The Redbacks now have a talented backcourt with gifted combo guard Gabby Clayton signing on from Cairns and new Kiwi Meike Elkington arriving to Perth. When Gabby O’Sullivan returns the Redbacks will have one of the league's most exciting teams, particularly in transition. The frontcourt looks promising with last year's WSBL Most Improved Player, Alix Hayward returning and young star Jess Jakens primed for a big year.
My Prediction: 8th
Still so young, I think they need another year of development. The inclusion of Gabby Clayton will help considerably though and I predict we will see more wins than 2014 for this team.
My Prediction: 12th