Perth Wildcats Season Preview

The champs recovered incredibly after losing Hugh Greenwood late in the off-season after effectively replacing him with Nate Jawai, which clearly led to some roster imbalances. With Damian Martin’s face smashed open by a Brian Conklin elbow, the guard rotation grew even thinner and the responsibility on the untried Jarrod Kenny evolved far beyond their original forecast. Martin did return though and Kenny filled in admirably as the Cats still posted a top two defense and the best net rating during the regular season. The ability of their frontcourt to pass helped make up for their potential shortcomings as they picked apart defenses often enough to dominate scoring inside the paint and from the free throw line. They weren’t as consistent on offense as they were on defense but their top end talent produced just enough bursts of scoring at the right times to stay afloat and eventually claim the title.

POINT GUARD

The Wildcats are built for defense at point guard with the quick hands, strong body, and relentless pressure of Damian Martin as the starter and the slighter Jarrod Kenny (who is somewhat of a poor man’s Martin).

Martin is the head of the snake and impacts a defense like no other guard or wing can in the league. He’ll set the tone for what will no doubt be a top two defensive team with the athleticism, talent and smarts that surrounds him. Offensively, he’s not much of a scoring threat with his unpredictable outside shot but he’ll make the occasional floater and have plenty of chances to create turnovers and then throw a lob in transition on the same play this season.

Kenny is too a competitor on defense and a reluctant shooter, but he picked his spots later in the shot clock and hit them enough to make himself a valuable two way player at a time when Perth needed him to play with a steady head. Jermaine Beal was the other main ball handler and a late clock go to guy and his departure leaves a large hole that needs to be filled.

WINGS

The import duo of Jaron Johnson and Casey Prather is as exciting and athletic as it is pivotal to Perth’s offense. Johnson projects as the better offensive player but isn’t at the same level as Prather on the defensive end.

Johnson is a lot more comfortable as a shooter and he needs to be, considering he’s replacing Beal who was a high volume guy. He’ll have the opportunity to be the number one option on this team and showcase how good his off the dribble game is to go with his shooting and transition play. Just how well he does as a half court creator will go a long way to determining where the Wildcats finish on offense.

Prather will help force some turnovers and kick-start the offense with some quick transition play where they can take advantage of their speed and above the rim finishing. He thrived as a cutter off of the passing bigs last season with the ability to catch a lob, finish through contact and draw a load of free throws. Prather is a guy who has improved his three point shooting (attempts and percentages) each year of his career, so if he can do so again he looks like an even bigger impact player this season.

Dexter Kernich-Drew has the length, athleticism and shooting to be an asset as a three and D prospect but it would be unlikely for him to fill much of the shot creation void left by Jermaine Beal. How he goes against top level athletes is a question but if he can hit shots and use his physical tools to hold his own defensively then he looks like a sound fit in limited minutes off the bench.

Greg Hire is the last of the wings, and whilst I like him as a power forward, he actually logged some shooting guard minutes last season thanks to the late offseason roster shuffle and some injuries leaving them stacked up front. Now he looks set to play mostly small forward and whilst his three point shot has never been consistent, his offensive rebounding fits in perfectly with the strength of this team.

BIGS

Power forward includes the same rotation of last season with veterans Matt Knight, Jesse Wagstaff and Shawn Redhage. Knight made the successful move back to power forward last season from center and remains one of the smarter and more skilled local bigs in the league. He can score, rebound, defend, pass and is pivotal to their chances. The big question on him has been injuries and with another year of miles on the legs it’s a case of fingers crossed.

Jesse Wagstaff is a superb backup and provides the extra shooting out to the three point line that Knight doesn’t. He’ll do a little bit of everything on offense whilst irritating and covering a range of players on defense. Shawn Redhage is perfect for the eleventh man role as an energy provider that can handle the ball, space the floor, pass, and add some fire to a contest in a similar (and maybe more extreme way) than Wagstaff.

Jameel McKay is the projected starter and newbie to the team and he signals the athletic upgrade of the roster with his movement on both ends of the floor in contrast to that of the departed Nate Jawai. McKay will be an upgrade defensively with good foot speed for his position, timely help defense and rim protection, whilst he will run hard, dive to the rim, rebound and perform low usage and high efficiency offense. Jawai came to Perth with big credentials, had his dominant moments, and left as a championship player, but his inconsistency limited his overall impact. McKay has a chance to deliver a better net result at center this season although the talent level of the league has grown, so whether that ends in a championship or not is up in the air.

Angus Brandt is a fine signing as a backup and he adds some more bulk to the frontcourt should they need it when McKay is having an off night or is dealing with a bad matchup. Brandt has an edge and competitiveness to him and this seems like a perfect fit with what the Wildcats’ on court product is. He’s a skilled big who can bang inside, stretch it out a little bit, defend and rebound.

OUTLOOK

Defensively, they’re almost a lock to finish top two in the league on the back of the mainstays in Martin and Knight, plus the athleticism and options around them. The pace should increase with this athleticism upgrade, with so many active bodies on defense and the guys to get out and rim run.

The major question is the half court shot creation where Beal and Jawai leave a hole in scoring, gravitational pull and passing. Beal was streaky and inconsistent in year two and three of his tenure whilst Nate was the lone Wildcat to register a negative net rating when he was on the floor last season, per spatialjam.com, so the hole may not be as big as first thought.

Overall, they look like a more neutral fan friendly TV team who will still defend at a high level and have enough options on offense to make another trip to the playoffs and contend for a title.

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