The Cairns Taipans have fallen down since their last finals appearance in NBL20, and although they've lost a couple of first-choice starters, a core group, including plenty of young talent, has all the makings of the franchise mixing it with the best yet again.
The Cairns Taipans were lead into NBL22 with a new head coach at the helm, former Sydney Kings head coach, Adam Forde. However, the Taipans remained in the bottom two at the conclusion of the regular season, though were able to string together a few important stretches of victories across the year.
In the off-season, a few of Taipans became free agents. They elected not to sign with the club again, which included two-time club MVP and captain Scott Machado, former captain, NBL Champion, and NBL08 Rookie of the Year Nate Jawai, and two-time NBL Champion Jarrod Kenny.
The Taipans didn't win a game in the NBL Blitz, losing to the Wildcats and JackJumpers, with a spirited comeback against the Bullets falling just short 76-77) amongst the other aforementioned other fixtures. The Taipans exhibited a fast game style, with contributions from all on the floor, including many ready to take their game to new heights.
How they did last year
9th (nine wins, 19 losses, 92.52%)
The Cairns Taipans started NBL22 off with back-to-back victories following an opening game loss - and were entrenched inside the top four -; however, from that point, they lost 12 of their following 14 match-ups to sit at the bottom of the ladder by the end of Round 12. Five wins in six games within the final month and a half of the season, heading into the last week of the home and away fixtures, showcased what the Taipans were capable of.
In the middle parts of the season, the Taipans were dampened by injuries to important players like Scott Machado - who suffered two separate stints on the sidelines, including a season-ending heel injury -, Kouat Noi, Nate Jawai, Tahjere McCall, and Mirko Djeric. That fixture postponements due to COVID-19, and illness surrounding it halted much of the early momentum the Taipans were experiencing.
NBA G-League Champion Tahjere McCall impressed in his debut season with the Taipans, earning the club's MVP award as their top-scorer (16.1 points per game) and assists leader (5.6 assists per game), the latter statistical category seeing him finish third across the league in NBL22. Keanu Pinder became the NBL's Most Improved Player, while Buol Kol was awarded the NBL Rookie of the Year.
How can they improve
Cairns was the worst three-point shooting team last season, shooting 30.6 per cent from beyond the arc and the second-worst field goal shooting team (42.0 per cent). With the off-season losses of Scott Machado and Stephen Zimmerman, point-scoring potential was looking sour, especially as Cairns was the second-worst points-scoring team of NBL22, averaging 79.6 points per game.
However, the team has addressed this issue regarding both shooting inside and outside of the key. D.J. Hogg and Sam Waardenburg are capable shooters from deep, whereas McCall, Pinder, and Kuol will be required to get in and under the basket while being damaging with enough free space on the floor also.
Returning: Tahjere McCall (Import), Majok Deng, Mirko Djeric, Bul Kuol, Keanu Pinder, Ben Ayre
Ins: Shannon Scott (Brose Bamburg), DJ Hogg (Cholet Basket - Import), Sam Waardenburg (University of Miami), Lat Mayen (University of Nebraska), Jonah Antonio (BK NH Ostrava), Joshua Davey (Lakeside Lightning - Development Player)
Outs: Scott Machado (Hapoel Eilat), Kouat Noi (Sydney Kings), Stephen Zimmerman, Nate Jawai, Jarrod Kenny, Jordan Ngatai, Marshall Nelson, Robbie Heath, Brayden Inger
Shooting guard: Shannon Scott | Ben Ayre
Point guard: Tahjere McCall | Jonah Antonio | Mirko Djeric
Small forward: DJ Hogg | Bul Kuol | Lat Mayen
Power forward: Sam Waardenburg | Majok Deng
C: Keanu Pinder | Joshua Davey
The biggest strength for the Taipans will be the potential for the younger stars, who have already become decorated players off the back of last season, to continue to have a more significant impact up for the franchise.
Kuol and Pinder both received awards at the completion of last season that stamped their authority on the league in different aspects, and with a more seasoned McCall in the captain's role, that chemistry will grow and get stronger and yield better floor rotation and awareness, for optimal shooting opportunities and buckets.
Cairns lead assists in NBL22 with 17.1 per game, with the side understanding each other's capabilities across the court and routinely scanning the floor for open teammates for the best looks to score. McCall was the leader in the category for the Taipans with 5.5 assists per game - third throughout the entire league.
The Taipans' depth may be tested at times throughout NBL23, especially if injuries plague the side yet again. Pinder and Haardenburg might be required to do much of the heavy lifting below the bucket both on offence and defence, as Stephen Zimmerman's departure will be felt.
The passing game of the Taipans is a specialty, with fast transition. However, the side will want to take great care in the future to avoid any turnovers, averaging 14.6 per game last season - the second-worst in the league. If the Taipans can become more controlled with the ball and their passing, it will result in more scores and more chances to record more victories overall.
After gaining a roster spot for NBL23 off the back of a short stint last season where he was a training player-turned-injury replacement player, Ben Ayre was impressive throughout the NBL Blitz, which included a 26-point outing against the JackJumpers.
Ayre made his NBL debut for the Adelaide 36ers in NBL19 where he was a development player, appearing in two games throughout the season. Last season, for the Cairns Taipans, Ayre appeared in eight games, averaging 16.6 minutes on the floor, with 6.6 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists.
Ayre might be behind import Shannon Scott in the starting shooting guard position but should be afforded more opportunities for game time over the course of the season, now with greater security within the squad.
Prediction for NBL23
Cairns will be hoping for some more continuity in its NBL23 season and hope to be less interrupted throughout the course of their campaign and generate more wins and hopefully a higher ladder position. Although they've lost some key players, the Taipans are building a more youthful list that will only get better as the years go on, with Adam Forde and Tahjere McCall leading the charge.
Predicted Round One Starting Five
The Cairns Taipans begin their NBL23 campaign away against the Tasmania JackJumpers at MyState Bank Arena on Monday, October 3, from 7.30pm AEST.
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