What is wrong with the Perth Wildcats?
Less than a month ago, the Perth Wildcats were on top of the NBL ladder and favourites to win back to back NBL championships. Now they languish in fourth, and if you believe their captain Damian Martin, they’re undeserving of a top-four finish.
So, what has happened to this once proud unit?
Some would say they’ve played a heavy schedule. Perth have played 7 games in 22 days. Admittedly they have been back and forth across the country, playing Sydney (twice), Adelaide, Brisbane, New Zealand, all on the road. However, if you compare that to top of the table Melbourne, who have played 5 games in that same time span, 4 of these on the road, the Wildcats are clearly lacking something. So, can we blame the schedule? No.
Another possible reason is it’s just a form slump. Although doesn’t every team have these at some stage?
Admittedly, last season the Perth Wildcats were playing poorly, nearing last on the ladder, but still managed to win the title. This particular slump was before Christmas before Bryce Cotton’s arrival transformed them into the unstoppable Red Army of the past. There is more to it than a form slump. A meeting at 6 am Perth time suggests something far deeper in the realms of the far west.
Could it be injuries?
This season Perth have had the same team for most of the season, with the exception of Damien Martin missing three games with an ankle injury, and Matty Knight retiring early in the season with concussion concerns. Injuries haven’t been a major issue for this season’s Wildcats.
Is it something as simple as a lack of effort?
This here seems to be the key issue. Effort can be described in many ways. Lack of offense and defensive effort is: not chasing after loose balls, not crashing the offensive glass, not boxing out on the defensive boards, not setting hard, usable screens, not cutting with purpose, not helping on defense, and finally picking up cheap fouls on defense by not remembering the basics of moving your feet to the right spot. All these ‘effort’ issues can drive a coach insane, which leads him to look stressed, speak harshly to his players, pace the sideline, and generally stressed out body language that is obvious even on camera.
Damian Martin, the best defensive player in the league and Captain of Perth, was interviewed after their last loss to Sydney. He said this to the reporters: “Right now, we are playing selfish basketball. I don’t mean a guy going one on one, I mean giving up something for the betterment of the team. Whether it’s a hard cut, setting a good screen and getting the ball to the guys we want to shoot the ball. Right now, we are making it too hard for our scorers, and that’s through lack of energy, lack of effort.” If the Captain of the team can see it and makes a point of telling people, it is clear that has to be addressed, and soon! With only three weeks left of the season, time is of the essence and form needs to be found.
You cannot underestimate the loss of Matty Knight. He did the little things. The back to basics, the skills you had drummed into you in your junior years at your local basketball club. These things, like taking charges, diving after loose balls, setting hard screens and moving your feet to contain smaller players when mismatched is the effort that Damian was talking about. You cannot replace a player like that. It takes the team to find it in themselves to do it. The coach can drill them all day, push, prod and try to motivate, but they have to want to do it. If Damian Martin can do it, the rest will follow.
The effort to do the little things on both offense and defense will get them back to the Perth Wildcats we know. Getting stops and running their offense with their usual efficiency should bring them back into finals contention and a force to be reckoned with once again.