Illawarra Hawks Season Preview

The Hawks completed a superb turnaround last season on the back of a high pressure defense and league leading offense that featured a triple-headed attack of Kevin Lisch, Kirk Penney and AJ Ogilvy. As good as they were at forcing turnovers, moving the ball, and knocking down threes, the roster did have its shortcomings as they finished 7th in DREB% and 8th in opponent TS% which limited them to a middling 5th placed defensive rating. Finding a power forward who could log consistent two-way minutes was a problem until Cody Ellis found some back-end form, whilst a second import with some athleticism would’ve been a nice tonic for them to add to the mix and strengthen their depth. These issues have been addressed over the off-season with three imports signed and more options available up front, but Kevin Lisch and Kirk Penney’s departure leaves the offense with plenty to prove. Rotnei Clarke gives them their elite shooter but the rest of the personnel appears geared to shifting the inside-outside focus closer together than last season (8th in paint scoring, 1st in jump-shot scoring).

POINT GUARD

Rotnei Clarke delivered a similar performance in his debut season to that of Jerome Randle. His style of play was easy for the average fan to get behind and he was given free rein to play to his strengths without having to hesitate. With Kevin Lisch and Kirk Penney departing, Clarke will again find himself in an ideal situation to contribute in a big way. Everything starts with his truly elite high volume three point shooting where he will happily pull up and bury it out of a pick and roll situation, or spot up and let it fly when given a tiny bit of space (39.6% off the dribble and 45.2% spotting up in 2013-14 with the Hawks). Aside from his long range bombing, he’s just as accurate from mid-range (42.9%), was a league average finisher in the paint and finished second among guards in FGM in the non-restricted area part of the paint. Given his size, he’s a little bit of an awkward fit with the rest of the guards on defense but they’ll be aggressive on that end and have some legitimate size and rim protection to help cover the mistakes.

Mitch Norton has been progressing along nicely over the years without making a significant jump in one particular season. The minutes have increased and he’s started to round out his game and play with more control. The main calling cards of Norton are his ability to defend and apply pressure up the court, as well as being able to use his speed to penetrate to the rim and get to the free throw line. He’s still finding his way a little on offense at this level with not much of an in-between game, plus the fact that he’s been a below average (and low volume) three point shooter in four of his past five seasons. Like Clarke, he’s only about six foot in height so the ability to slide between both guard positions like Kevin Lisch could last season on defense isn’t quite there.

Rhys Martin has more size than the other two point guards and this should allow him to log plenty of minutes alongside one of them. He’s now 30 years old and not an incredible athlete but he plays with a high IQ, quick hands, uses his hesitation moves, and can pick a defense apart with passing. Injuries have played their part in recent years and a slow start to last season left him scratching to find his shot for most of the year.

WINGS

Marvelle Harris is a strongly built guard (with a good wingspan) who will be able to slide up to small forward and fill minutes at both wing spots. He likes to create with the ball in his hands, as evidenced by his diverse scoring numbers last season (6.8 FTA and 5.8 3PA), as well as his above average assist numbers for his position. His high usage didn’t come with the same TS% of Lisch or Penney but his low turnover numbers are quite impressive. Hoop-math’s numbers had him attempting around a third of his shots from each of, the rim (where he finished 62%), non-rim twos (29.1%) and three point range (32.5%). Creating out of isolation or in the pick and roll was his main option as more than half of his threes were unassisted and over 80% of his two point baskets were self-created. How well he does as a spot up shooter will be vital given the roster changes and Oscar Forman’s reduced role, whilst defensively he looks a good fit in Rob Beveridge’s aggressive system.

Tim Coenraad is a long range gunner off the bench that attempted over half of his shots from beyond the arc last season with his trademark confidence falling perfectly in line with Beveridge’s seemingly ‘let it fly’ approach. He’s a big small forward who can rebound, spend some time as the stretch four in the right situation and capably fill in as the starter when injuries strike.

Kevin White is a low minutes returning starter that has definite limitations at this level on offense with little shot creation and a still unproven three point shot that puts a cap on his minutes. He’s a tenacious defender who will throw himself into any match-up, whether that’s on the smaller guard or the bigger small forward. Harris’ arrival gives the Hawks an upgrade on the wing with his two-way potential being better than what they had last season and this could put a squeeze on White’s minutes.

BIGS

AJ Ogilvy is a monster at this level with his lightning speed for his positon allowing him to put pressure on the ball, recover for blocks, and beat his man up the court the other way. He owned the basket at both ends last season, in terms of finishing on offense and knocking the ball off the rim on defense, and he’ll be happy to see a player like Harris enter the fold on the wing to shore up the perimeter. Beveridge intends to get some power forward minutes out of Ogilvy this season but these may be few and far between given Michael Holyfield has only ever played minutes in the teens. AJ’s shot outside of a few feet isn’t all that convincing although he did hit some mid-rangers last season at a solid percentage. Regardless, he has some definite help in the paint this season and the minutes shakeout will be one to watch to further determine their style and success.

Nick Kay is tough, will crash the offensive glass, and can move up and down the floor to a better level than you might first expect with his sneaky good athleticism. He gives the Hawks the two-way consistent power forward that they lacked last season and should fit in well with Beveridge’s style of play. He stretches the floor a little (43.5% on limited non-paint attempts last season) but still needs work on rounding out that part of his game so the fit next to Ogilvy and Holyfield is more reliant on offensive rebounds or beating slower bigs up and down the floor.

Michael Holyfield is the true ‘luxury third import’ with center minutes limited, given the collection of other bigs and the All-NBL first team center already on the roster. Illawarra will have a rim protecting, rebounding and dunking big on the floor at all times which will free up the guards to be aggressive in the passing lanes and driving towards the hoop. Holyfield is a career backup with foul trouble and shaky free throw shooting reducing him to being an impact player off the bench with his power play. He’ll play hard every minute with his rebounding, shot blocking and dunk rate being at the top of the league.

Oscar Forman is slowing down and was only able to log around 20 minutes per contest last season. He’s still valuable as a floor spacer on offense but his out of this world 3P% has tumbled to a more normal percentage over both of his past two seasons. Defensively, he’s not much of a mover, teams like to go at him in the post, and he’s a poor rebounder. He’ll have his moments this season when he hits a flurry of three pointers, and he certainly brings a skill that they will need at times when the offense dries up, but he’s definitely a reserve in the rotation this season based on the Hawks recruiting.

Cody Ellis was poor to start last season before coming home with some encouraging form. The end result though is that the Hawks have recruited players that will eat into his minutes as a big, which could force him to log a minute or two at small forward (not a position I’m thrilled with him playing). As a big, his shooting and movement on defense can be an asset when he’s playing well, but slide him down to small forward and it’s not.

OUTLOOK

Beveridge has reiterated that his style will stay the same and that the results will once again be there despite the shift in personnel. The extra backstops for their aggressive defense, the added rebounding, and the import arrivals make them a playoff contender on the back of an improved defense. The step back on offense is one to track as they have such high standards to try and meet after Kevin Lisch turned in a truly incredible shooting season and Kirk Penney was lethal from deep again. Rotnei Clarke needs to be shooting at his MVP best whilst if Marvelle Harris is inefficient they may take a decent step back on that end of the floor.

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