Oh Sweet, Sweet Lou

Don’t let the nickname fool you, because on the hardwood Lou Williams is anything but sweet.

‘Sweet Lou’, as he was endearingly coined back in his Philadelphia days, is the definition of the shoot first, think later player prototype. In fact, Lou may stretch that out to shoot first, second, third and then think. He is a professional gunslinger, who has unfortunately been a gun for hire for much of his NBA career.

After falling to pick 45 in the 2005 draft, Lou struggled out of the gates as his weaknesses were exposed against NBA caliber talent. At 6-foot-1 he was considerably shorter than the prototype shooting guard, his defense left much to be desired, his shot-selection was poor and his decision-making as a playmaker was even worse. He took the court in only 30 games of his rookie season and averaged a measly 1.9 points, albeit on an average of just under five minutes of game time.

Slowly but surely, and with the void opened by the departure of Allen Iverson, Williams started to earn more minutes and with it, more opportunities to unholster his gun and do what he does best. The shooting percentages made for ugly readings at times, but Lou managed to crack the double-digit scoring barrier off the bench and was in perennial conversation for the Sixth Man of the Year Award.

After averaging his highest scoring tally (14.9 points per contest) in the 2011-12 season, Williams was traded to the Atlanta Hawks and his journeyman career officially began. After spending his first seven seasons with the 76ers, he has pulled on five different jerseys in his last six seasons. After averaging just under 15 points through the second half of the season with the Rockets last year, Lou was traded to the Clippers as part of the Chris Paul deal.

To say Williams has taken his game to the next level this season wouldn’t do his phenomenal performance justice. With the Clippers never-ending injury curse, Lou has been left to shoulder much of the offensive load for Doc Rivers men. That’s a lot of pressure on the shoulders of a slender 175-pound man, but for Lou it just means more of an opportunity to shoot the ball. Something he has very willing obliged.

Lou Williams is averaging 23.1 points per game. He leads the Clippers in scoring and at the half-way mark of the season sits 16th in scoring across the league. With his recent 50-point outburst against the Warriors he joined Harden, Beal, DeRozen and LeBron as the only players to crack the 50 plateau this season. The only players to have notched more than five 35-plus-point games this season, Harden, Cousins, DeRozen, Davis and wait for it, ‘Sweet Lou’.

He is not just taking more shots, but he is making more shots at a career-high efficiency. His field goal percentage of 44.8% is the second-best clip of his career, surpassed only by his three-ball mark of 41.4%, which is the only time in his career that he has cracked the 40% barrier. Add a strike rate of just under 91% from the line and a True Shooting percentage (considers two-point, three-point and free-throw accuracy) of over 60% and you have one of the league’s premier efficient scorers.

Lou has not just developed into an elite scorer by chance or situation, rather every performance is an exhibition on how to merge the ball with the nylon. With so many different methods of attack, Lou is a defender’s nightmare from the second he crosses half-court.

Lou has always had the ability to attack the rim with a variety of crafty finishes.

Some of them bordering on plain ridiculous.

He also has a beautiful touch on his floater, which has allowed him to avoid the league’s tall timber despite his size.

Once again, don’t let the ‘Sweet Lou’ nickname fool you.

Lou loves to fade from his left, with an incredible ability to straighten his body and the ball trajectory while moving laterally.

After struggling from beyond the arc early in his career, Lou has developed into a knock-down shooter from three-point land. He has made 122 three balls so far this season, which has been bested by only four other players (Harden, Thompson, George and Eric Gordon).

With the Clippers point-guard brigade (Beverly, Teodosic and Rivers) all missing lengthy stints through injury, Lou has been forced to become the primary ball handler in many situations.

He is averaging a career-high 4.9 assists this season and has formed a rim-rattling connection with DeAndre Jordan on numerous occasions.

Lou really hasn’t changed over his career. Yes, his skill-set has developed as he’s honed his craft, but the core fundamentals of his game haven’t changed. He is still a lack-luster defender, still under-sized and still makes silly decisions at times. What has changed is how the league and his team have accepted and utilised him. Because for all his deficiencies, Lou has developed into a genuine All-Star candidate and Sixth Man of the Year front-runner.

While in all honesty he is unlikely to make the All-Star team in a stacked Western Conference, his recent play makes a fine resume that stands its own against the league’s best.

In his last 13 games, Lou is averaging 30.1 points per contest. Over that stretch the Clippers have lost just three games and have finally evened up the win-loss column, sitting just one game outside the playoff bracket. While others have contributed to the Clippers rise, much of the credit should fall on Lou’s shoulders.

However, as the trade deadline approaches, rumours still swirl around Williams future at the Clippers. Not because he isn’t good enough, but rather he may be too good for the future path the Clippers want to take.

So, despite his incredible season, ‘Sweet Lou’ may still be a gun for hire.

The rise and fall of James

Basketball can be a cruel game sometimes.

James Harden burst towards the rim in trademark style as the clock wound down at the Toyota Centre. It was an innocuous play, a move that Harden pulls off so routinely that there was a hush of disbelief when the ball caromed off the rim without scratching the score-sheet. However, only seconds later the Houston faithful had all but forgotten the missed basket as Harden gingerly limped up the court.

When the dust settled, Harden was diagnosed with a Grade 2 left hamstring strain. With 57 ticks left on the clock, Harden had a firm grip on the league’s most coveted individual award. With 55 ticks, he had lost the ball, his footing and his foothold on that elusive MVP trophy.

Prior to the injury, Harden was the clear favourite for the 2018 MVP trophy. After crossing the line second in 2015 (lost to Stephen Curry) and 2017 (lost to Russell Westbrook), Harden has taken his game to the next level and was finally the frontrunner for the illustrious trophy.

He leads the league in scoring (32.2 points per game), while still dishing out just over nine assists per game (second in the league). Throw in five rebounds per contest, 1.8 steals, 45% shooting from the field with a 39% clip from three and you have a near undeniable case for MVP.

For Harden, it now comes down to his undeniable case against a harsh reality. The last ten winners of the MVP trophy have missed an average of just 2.5 games over the course of the season. The only player since 1978 to miss more than seven games and still hold the MVP trophy aloft was Allen Iverson in 2001, who played just 71 games.

Harden is slated to be re-evaluated two weeks from the injury (would likely be the 16th of January), with an immediate return seeing him miss seven games. However, many doctors believe this is an incredibly generous return schedule for a Grade 2 hamstring strain. If Harden took the more likely three weeks to recover, he would miss ten games. Suddenly the weight of history would be against him.

Enter part human, part cyborg, LeBron James.

The likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are all piecing together phenomenal seasons. But if anyone was to wrestle the MVP away from Harden in 2018, LeBron would be the clear candidate.

At the age of 33, with 15 seasons, 1,316 games and over 51,000 career minutes under his belt, LeBron is arguably getting better.

Even superstars are supposed to regress at some point. You lose a step here or there, you can’t jump quite as high as you used to and you humbly hand over the baton when Father Time comes knocking on the door.

The season that LeBron is putting together quite simply beggar’s belief. Although he would want to hope that his performance yesterday (10 points on 4 of 8 shooting) against the Timberwolves was an aberration. Considering the last time he only managed 10 points in a game was in October 2007, I’d say he is fairly safe there.

TNT and NBA TV analyst Greg Anthony put it best when he said, “There’s never been a player in his 15th season who was unquestionably the best player in the league. It’s not just that [LeBron] is really good in his 15th year. He’s the best player.”

This season he is scoring at a higher rate than in his dominant Miami years, when he was supposed to be in his prime. His 27.2 points per contest is the third best in the league and his highest rate since the 2009/10 season.

He’s not only putting the ball in the basket more, but he’s doing it at a historic efficiency. As we creep towards the half-way point of the season, LeBron is having the second most efficient volume shooting season in league history. The only player to maintain a higher Effective Field Goal Percentage over an entire season, Steph Curry back in his blistering 2015/16 campaign.

LeBron is shooting 55.8% from the field, the third highest mark of his career. More impressively though, he is finishing through contact and tighter defenses with increased efficiency.

LeBron has always been able to absorb contact and finish at the rim, mainly because no-one has figured out how to stop a 250-pound freight-train with a crash course for the rim. This season, with defenders between 0 and 60 cm’s away (0-2 feet), LeBron is converting at 76% on 1.6 attempts. That’s a 3% increase from last season and a massive 15% increase from the season before.

After having his worst career free-throw shooting performance last season, LeBron has turned it around and is now having his second best career free-throw shooting campaign at 77.7%. LeBron credits much of this spike to his tweaked shooting form, which is just quietly turning his biggest weakness into another weapon in his endless scoring arsenal.

Over the off-season LeBron’s shooting elbow mysteriously swelled to the size of a tennis ball, despite X-rays finding nothing structurally amiss. LeBron was forced to tweak his shot form, which now has a noticeably higher release and to the terror of the league, a noticeably higher efficiency.

LeBron has never been a great three-point shooter. It has been one of the few knocks on his Hall of Fame career. Make LeBron a shooter and you have done the best you can was the cry in unison from coaches to their defensive troops.

This season, LeBron is shooting the three-ball at 39%, the second highest mark of his career. That’s 3% higher than the league average. He is shooting the three-ball at the same efficiency as Kevin Durant and James Harden. Kyrie Irving is shooting the long ball only 0.3% higher than him.

He is not only making more threes, but he is taking more threes. Just under 27% of his shots are coming from beyond the arc this season, the highest rate of his entire career. Beyond the numbers, LeBron’s three-ball is finally starting to pass the eye test. When LeBron casts up a three-ball now there is an expectation it’s going to rip the nylon, rather than the collective groan from years past.

LeBron has never really relied on a go-to, signature shot in the big moments. He is such a dynamic scorer he simply doesn’t need one. However, with the increase in his three-ball efficiency this is starting to change.

The step back three-pointer on the left wing. Earlier this season New York got a taste of the LeBron step back three as he sized up Kristaps Porzingis and delivered the dagger to the Knicks faithful. Seconds earlier Knicks commentator Clyde Frazier pleaded for his team to be wary of the three, “He’s going to shoot the three from there…He likes to shoot the three from this side.”

As Frazier eluded to, Porzingis was not the first victim of LeBron’s step back three.

Even the Warriors aren’t immune to LeBron’s step back.

Over the last two seasons, LeBron is shooting 13 of 25 on step-back three-pointers. That’s a clip of over 50%, much higher than his 38% efficiency from beyond the arc in entirety over the same stretch.

All this and LeBron is still averaging a career-high 9 assists per game (equal third in the league), grabbing 8.2 rebounds a contest (second best season) to go with 1.7 steals and 1.1 blocks per game.

It’s a compelling resume, especially in combination with carrying a somewhat spluttering Cavaliers to the third-best record in the East. Unlike Harden, LeBron is also yet to miss a game this season.

LeBron would have to break the age barrier to hoist his 5th MVP trophy. Just under 80% of all the league’s MVP winners have been between 24 and 30 years of age. But if anyone could deny the ticking hands of time, it would come as no surprise to be the ageless LeBron.

If he were to ascend the throne for a fifth time, he would join an elusive group of legendary greats. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar holds the all-time record with six MVP awards, while LeBron would slot comfortably onto a pedestal with two others in second place.

One of them is the Celtics Bill Russell, and the other is slightly more likely to cause a few heated debates.

Don’t quote me, but I think he played for the Bulls.

Pelicans or Pelican’ts

The first All-Star ballots are in and if the voting ceased now the West starting line-up would feature one Rocket, two Warriors and two Pelicans. The NBAs best big men are lined up against the wall in traditional schoolyard style and Pelicans coach, Alvin Gentry has somehow ended up with the first two picks.

DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. Arguably the two best big men in the league are patrolling the paint and terrorising defenses, all while wearing the same uniform. So how are the Pelicans barely clinging to their playoff spot in the 8th seed, only one game above .500?

The Cousins and Davis experiment has now stretched into its tenth month. DeMarcus will be an unrestricted free agent come this summer and the rumours continue to swirl around Davis’s future at the Pelicans. Davis himself admitted in a recent interview that the clock is ticking on the Pelicans and their two stars.

“You can score, you can dominate. You can do whatever. But they calculate everything off winning. You know that. I know that. Everybody in the league knows that…For DeMarcus and me, this is the time. The time is now.”

In a league hell-bent on spacing, pace and small ball line-ups, the Pelicans are bucking the trend by pinning their hopes on two traditional big men. But while Davis (6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-6 wingspan) and Cousins (6-foot-11 and 270 pounds) may fit the traditional big man body-type, their play style is anything but old-school.

Both Davis and Cousins have handles the envy of many a guard in the NBA, which allows them to create opportunities previously unheard of for a big man. They can both run the point on a fast-break, surveying the options before dishing to an open teammate or taking the scoring responsibility themselves.

Here is Cousins running the fast break before finding Davis for the two-handed flush.

Here is Davis going coast-to-coast with ease on the Lakers defense.

While it may be common practice to see the likes of Steph Curry bursting around screens to create daylight for their shot, it’s somewhat uncanny to see the near 7 foot Davis nipping around the perimeter hunting for a three.

And because DeMarcus doesn’t want to be outdone, I’ll just leave this here.

Every night Cousins and Davis are a highlight reel waiting to happen, and while their dazzling moves leave fans searching for superlatives, the numbers also back up the eye test. Through 37 games Cousins is averaging 26 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists, while shooting 36% from beyond the arc. Davis is no slouch either, averaging 25.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks, while besting Cousins beyond the arc with a clip of 37% from three.

As you would expect, the Pelicans frontcourt has very few offensive issues to worry about. Their combined firepower has led New Orleans to the 7th best offensive rating in the league, while scoring just over 111 points per game (best for 4th in the league). That’s almost seven points more every contest than the Pelicans managed last season, in which they ranked 26th for offensive efficiency.

Credit needs to go to Gentry for evolving his offense to incorporate Cousins, but the Pelicans slightly misfit supporting cast deserve their time in the sun as well. Jrue Holiday has taken his game to the next level, averaging a career-high 18.3 points, while still dishing out 5.2 assists per contest. Behind the play of Holiday and the somewhat shaky addition of Rondo, the Pelicans have jumped to 2nd in the league in assists, averaging over 26 per game (up from 12th last season).

While they may not be household names, E’Twaun Moore and Darius Miller are leading somewhat of a three-point renaissance for the Pelicans. Moore (47% from three) and Miller (44% from three) have helped catapult the Pelicans from 19th in three-point percentage last season (35%), to 2nd in the league this campaign (38%). In the month of December, the Pelicans shot a scorching 43.2% from beyond the arc. The only team shooting threes at a higher clip then the Pelicans are the Golden State Warriors, which is not bad company for Gentry and his men.

So, the offense is anchored by two scoring giants, the team is top two in the league in three-point shooting efficiency and assists, which all combines for the 7th best offensive rating in the NBA.

This is the part where the dreaded ‘but’ enters the fray.

Unfortunately for Gentry and the Pelicans, basketball is a two-way sport. Offense is flashy, dominates the highlights reels and wins fans hearts, but without defense it all eventually crumbles to the ground.

DeMarcus Cousins is either incredibly unlucky and just always ends up on bad defensive teams, or there are some underlying issues on the other side of the floor for the three-time All-Star. Unfortunately for Cousins the numbers back up the latter.

The Sacramento Kings had a top twenty defense in exactly one of Cousins seven years there, and it was in Cousin’s rookie season. In the 2016-17 season, the Pelicans conceded just 106.4 points per game, ranking them as the 9th best defense in the league. With Cousins in tow, the Pelicans have slipped to conceding just under 111 points per contest this season, which ranks them as the 7th worst defense in the league. In the month of December, they had the 2nd worst defensive rating in the NBA.

The problems arise when Cousins is left to anchor the defense without Davis as his wingman. The Pelicans defensive rating with the pair both on the court is 104.3, which would be the 2nd best rating in the league. When Cousins is left to protect the rim on his own, the rating plummets to 112.9, which would be the 2nd worst rating the league.

Casting DeMarcus in the role of a traditional center is where the problems arise. While he fits the frame of a rim protector, he lacks the pace and lateral quickness to guard todays elite multi-dimensional scorers. While Davis can hedge out at Steph Curry to deny a three ball and then recover to contest his drive to the rim, Cousins simply can’t keep up defensively with the pace of the modern offense.

The results of Cousins left by himself speak for themselves. Here is Cousins low-light reel from a recent loss against the Rockets, in which Davis missed with a groin injury.

Cousins constantly gets stuck in no man’s land trying to defend the pick and roll. He has no idea whether to attack the ball or stay with his man and generally ends up parked below the rim waiting to collect the ball after it sails through.

Davis is the perfect Robin to Cousins Batman. He has the speed and agility required to play defense in the modern game and can clean up Cousins mistakes. The recipe for Pelicans success seems to be playing Cousins and Davis together, but that just presents another issue for Gentry.

Behind Cousins and Davis, the Pelicans are scrapping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to back-up big men. Omer Asiks jersey number is more than double his scoring average, and he wears number three. Cheick Diallo (pick thirty-three from the 2016 draft) has potential but is simply too inexperienced to anchor a line-up at this stage of his career.

Gentry has been hesitant to sit Cousins and Davis on the bench at the same time this season, and understandably so considering the inevitable offensive drop-off. But the key to the Pelicans short and long-term success seems to revolve around how best to hold the defensive fort when Davis takes a breather. Plan A was to rely on Cousins, but if they want the success they so eagerly crave come playoffs, Gentry better be reading up on his alphabet.

Unfortunately for the Pelicans, there is no magic answer to the DeMarcus Cousins riddle. How do you translate his incredible highlights and raw numbers into a winning formula? It’s the question that will be keeping Alvin Gentry and GM’s across the league awake at night.

The clock hand is ticking dangerously close to midnight for the Pelicans and the Davis and Cousins era.

As Davis said himself, “the time is now.”

The regular season that promised so little, yet delivered so much

Boring. Predictable. Pointless.

82 games of mediocrity as we are forced to watch the Warriors and Cavaliers tear the league to shreds.

This is what the experts moaned and the fans lamented as we headed into the 2016-17 NBA season.

The Cavaliers have no competition in the weak Eastern Conference, the Warriors with Durant in tow may go through the season undefeated.

Six months later and as the dust settles on the regular season, the naysayers have been forced to eat their humble pie.

Because the regular season we witnessed was anything but boring, predictable and pointless.

It was competitive, absorbing and quite simply, historic.

From the very first night of the season the script was turned on its head. The ever-reliable Spurs came to Oracle and spoiled Durant’s debut, drubbing the Warriors to the tune of 29 points.

Then began the year of the triple-double. Prior to the 2016-17 season, the record for most triple-doubles in a season was 78. James Harden, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James put up 77 on their own this season. The entire NBA, try 115 triple-doubles.

The human wrecking ball Westbrook averaged a triple-double. Words can’t do justice to how ridiculous that accomplishment is, not to mention he dragged the Thunder along with him into the 6th seed in the West.

harden:westbrook

Yet despite Westbrook’s video game like stat-line, he is by no means guaranteed the MVP award. Enter James Harden, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard.

Harden led the league in assists, was second in scoring and carried the Rockets to the third best record in the NBA.

LeBron reminded everyone why he is still the best player on the planet. He averaged career highs in rebounds and assists, while shooting a ridiculous 54.8 per cent from the floor.

The two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Kawhi Leonard, emerged into one of the most dominant offensive players in the league. He finished the season averaging over 25 points and led the Spurs to another 60-win season.

No wonder the MVP debates are getting heated. This looms as one of the tightest Most Valuable races in NBA history.

The 2016-17 season saw 31 players average more than 20 points per game. That number hasn’t been seen for over 30 years, just four years ago only nine players averaged the 20 mark.

One of those 31 players stands at just 5’ 9”. In a league full of tall timber, little Isaiah Thomas exploded onto the scene, averaging just under 29 points a game and leading Boston to the number one seed in the East.

Yes, you read that correctly, the number one seed in the East. After bursting out of the blocks, the Cavaliers limped across the finish line and lost the number one seed to the Boston Celtics.

After January 10th, the Cavaliers completed the home-stretch with a 23-23 record. The Brooklyn Nets won as many games as the Cavaliers in the month of March. For those who are unaware, the Nets have the worst record in the entire league.

The Cavaliers did however win a Christmas day classic against the Warriors. Richard Jefferson turned back the clock with two monster dunks, before Kyrie Irving had Warriors fans feeling all sorts of deja vu. It was one of the games of the season, possibly a precursor for things to come in the playoffs.

This season we also saw a record ten players score 50 or more points in a game. Klay Thompson erupted for 60 points in just three-quarters before the 20-year-old, Devin Booker, dropped 70 points in a losing effort for the Suns.

DeMarcus Cousins scored 55 points for the Kings back in December, but made bigger headlines when he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans for Buddy Hield and a few draft picks.

Joel Embiid showed us why the Sixers fans need to ‘Trust the Process’, Dirk Nowitzki reached the 30,000 career points plateau and Paul Pierce hit a 3-pointer with his final shot at the Garden.

All of this and we’ve barely scratched the surface of how great this season truly was.

Even Dion Waiters was on fire and dropping game winners left, right and centre at one point. Nobody can argue that isn’t historic.

So, with the groundwork laid and the home-stretch upon us, let’s get these playoffs started.

If there anything like the boring, predictable and pointless regular season, then we should be in for an absolute treat.

Shanks, shockers and set shots

Bad kicking is bad football.

While it may be an age-old cliché, it still rings true in the modern game.

There is no greater pressure cooker for an AFL player than the dreaded set shot.

The heart rate quickens as you pace backwards, searching for the perfect spot to begin your run-up. You look up, only to be met by a sea of eyes transfixed on your every move. A subtle move-it-on by the umpire and its down to business. The mouth-guard into the sock, the grass into the air and the Sherrin onto the boot.

The ball cuts through the frosty MCG air, careening off course and slams into the goal-post. Your head drops as a collective sign is cast over the ground. Living rooms across the country form a chorus of less than constructive criticism, while the old-timer chuckles and proclaims that back in his day they never missed their set shots.

It’s an all too familiar tale and the old-timer might be onto something.

In 2000, goalkicking accuracy was at 60.2 per cent. In 2016, the goal kicking accuracy across the competition was 58.6 per cent. In 2000, set shot accuracy was 64.2 per cent, in 2016 it had fallen to 60.9 per cent.

While the drop off is not shocking by any means, it is concerning when considering the rise of players wages and professionalism.

In 2000, the average listed player was earning $126,996. In 2017, that figure has jumped to $309,208.

We rave about the players being faster, stronger and better. Yet it seems to be the more we pay them, the worse they kick for goal.

Strip Australian Rules Football down to its core and scoring is the main object of the game. If you can’t score more points than the opposition you will never win a game, plain and simple.

Despite the modern player’s collective struggles, there are a few diamonds in the rough when it comes to set shot kicking.

The often-unheralded Bulldog, Tory Dickson, is one of the most accurate kicks for goal the league has ever seen.

Through his 79 career games, Dickson has a goalkicking accuracy of 73.8 per cent. That is third all time for players who have had 50 or more shots on goal, behind only Michael Murphy (76.8 per cent) and Matthew Capuano (74 per cent).

tory dickson

Dickson has booted 138.49 over his career, but more impressive is his 65.16 record from set shots.

When asked about the secret behind his success, Dickson stressed the importance of keeping the process as simple as possible.

“I wouldn’t say it comes easy to me, but I don’t have a total routine step wise…I bring my heart rate down with a few deep breaths, make sure my momentum is always going forward and just go through with it.”

Another exponent on the art of the set shot is former Saint, Ahmed Saad. Over his career, Saad averaged a conversion rate of 64 per cent in front of the big sticks, with a return of 48.27 over his 33-game career.

More impressive however was his set shot goal kicking. In 2012 Saad kicked 14.2 from his set shot opportunities, drawing attention due to his unique run-up style.

Saad paces back roughly 27-30 steps before beginning his run up, not cantering into a jog until his finals steps.

Despite the criticism, Saad stuck with the routine and still uses it today with his current club, West Preston Lakeside FC in the Northern Football League.

It’s clear that there is no perfect science to the set shot. It’s a unique part of our game, which will challenge player’s ability and fans nerves for years to come.

The fate of a game and even premierships can be decided by a team’s ability to convert their opportunities in front of goal.

In the 2013 Grand Final, Ross Lyon and the Dockers trudged to halftime after kicking 1.6 through the first two quarters. They would finish the game with a score line of 8.14 and fall to the more accurate Hawks (11.11) by 15 points.

In 2008, the Cats were left with a Saturday in September they desperately didn’t want to remember. Geelong came into the Grand Final as heavy favourites, but would butcher the ball in front of goal, finishing with a score line of 11.23 (89) to the Hawks 18.7 (115).

With quality shots on goal so hard to find in the pressure-packed modern game, set shots are one of the rare opportunities a player gets to take their time and make it count on the scoreboard.

The message from the experts and best set shot kicks in the league is clear. Take a moment to compose yourself, before falling back on a simple routine.

Then its once again down to business. The mouth-guard into the sock, the grass into the air and the Sherrin straight through the middle.

Just like the good old days.

No more doubting Thomas

Isaiah Thomas stands at just 5’ 9”. He is the shortest player in the league, yet is making a habit of standing tall when the Celtics needs him the most.

Players with Thomas’s frame rarely make the NBA, let alone compete at the All-Star level that Thomas is producing on a nightly basis.

With the city of Boston behind him, Thomas is terrorising defences with his deadly speed, incredible passing ability and his uncanny talent of finding the bottom of the net.

Thomas seems completely unfazed by his stature, regularly taking the ball headfirst into the paint and challenging the leagues tall timber with an array of acrobatic layups.

When he’s not streaming towards the basket, Thomas is using his handle to create separation from defenders and free himself for the shot.

Leave your opponent to collapse on the Celtics point guard and Thomas will find the open shooter through the hoard of defenders, regardless of the degree of difficulty on the pass.

Thomas’s scoring prowess defies conventional basketball logic and simply needs to be seen to be believed.

As we approach the All-Star break, Thomas is averaging 29.7 points and 6.4 assists per game. The only man to average more points than Thomas this season is Russell Westbrook.

On top of his incredible averages, Thomas is having a career season in terms of efficiency. He is shooting an impressive 39% from beyond the arc and 47% from the field. All while having the fifth-highest usage percentage in the league.

Yet despite these incredible statistics, Thomas’s most impressive attribute this season has been his performances in the final twelve minutes of tight games.

His ability to perform time and time again in crunch-time has helped carry Boston to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.

There’s a reason why Thomas has been dubbed the ‘King of the Fourth’. He leads the NBA in fourth quarter production, averaging an incredible 10.3 points per fourth quarter.

When the score is within five points during the final five minutes, Thomas is averaging 5.2 points during that period, second only to Russell Westbrook.

When the lights get brighter and the crowd gets louder, Thomas’s efficiency rises in correlation with his scoring output. In the final 12 minutes the season, he is shooting 49.5% from the field and 47% from beyond the arc. Both of which are significant spikes from his averages over 48 minutes.

These numbers are not just impressive in relation to the current season, they hold their own on a historic level.

In the last twenty seasons since 1996-97, there have only been eleven seasons in which a player has averaged eight or more points in the final period. Thomas leads all comers with his 10.3 point average.

The opposition knows it’s coming, yet the script doesn’t change. Every fourth quarter Thomas brings the ball up and creates a quality look for Boston and as of half-way through the season, no-one can stop him.

He may be just 5’ 9”, but come the fourth quarter there’s no more daunting challenge than stopping Thomas from ripping the game away from you.

Despite his offensive fire-power, Thomas has some obvious deficiencies. While he has mastered the art of using his small stature on the offensive end, his defensive ability leaves a lot to be desired.

He simply doesn’t have the reach or height to defend the other elite point guards in the league and often ends up stuck on taller, more physical players who can bully him in the paint.

Thomas ranks 441st amongst all players in Defensive Real/Plus Minus (This statistic rates a player’s impact on the defensive end of the court per each 100 possessions played). For those who are not aware, there is no 442nd ranked player, Thomas is dead last.

The Celtics defence allows 12.8 more points per 100 possessions when Thomas is on the court. He is arguably the hardest player in the league to cover for on the defensive end and unfortunately for Thomas it’s not something he can easily change.

Despite his deficiencies, Thomas’s positive impact on the Celtics is undeniable. He is the face of the franchise, the player the whole team looks to when their backs are against the wall.

From the last pick in the 2011 Draft to the ‘King of the Fourth’, Thomas’s story of perseverance, determination and heart are as inspiring as they come.

Thomas is yet to finish writing his story, the twenty-seven year old still has plenty of big shots to hit in a city yearning to return to the top of the basketball mountain.

The NBA’s biggest and best stand in the way of the leagues smallest player and the ultimate success, but if Thomas has taught us anything so far it’s to never underestimate the little guy.

Dane Swan – The unexpected superstar

“With pick 58 the Collingwood Football Club select, Dane Swan from Calder Cannons.”

The year was 2001, Swan was still celebrating schoolies on the Gold Coast and Collingwood had just unknowingly discovered a diamond in the rough.

Swan quickly acquainted himself with the media and newspapers, although unfortunately for Collingwood he often found himself on the front page, rather than the back.

After refusing to leave schoolies to visit his new club, Swan floated through his first few years according to his father, Billy Swan.

Had it not been for his father’s memorable 300 game career with Port Melbourne, Swan may have never earned his place on an AFL list.

Yet the young larrikin almost threw his short career away on one eventful evening in December 2003.

With his cousin, Aaron Ramsey and Kade Carey, Swan was caught in an altercation with a local cleaner in Federation Square.

Mick Malthouse and the club decided to give Swan one last chance, a chance that Swan has turned into a phenomenal career.

Swan himself acknowledges that it was after the 2003 brawl that the “penny dropped” and he decided “playing AFL was something he wanted to do”.

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By 2006 Swan had cemented his place in Collingwood’s best 22, as the late bloomer finished sixth in the Copeland trophy.

With his trademark waddle and laid-back charisma, Swan quite literally stumbled into the spotlight.

As interchange rotations reached an all-time high, Swan’s burst style of play was proving unstoppable.

The “untaggable” machine went from strength to strength and won his first Copeland Trophy in 2008, an award that he would hold for three consecutive years.

The 2010 and 2011 seasons proved a golden period for the Magpies and Swan, who added a Premiership and Brownlow medal to his bulging trophy cabinet.

Despite the nonchalant façade, Swan has unashamedly proclaimed it’s the 2010 premiership he is proudest of.

As for the Brownlow, well its “stuffed away in the cupboard” with his numerous All-Australian trophies.

After a self-confessed “putrid” 2014 season, Swan responded the following year in stunning fashion. He silenced the critics, averaging 29 disposals and finishing runner-up in the 2015 Copeland trophy.

Tragically, his 2016 season and career was ended in a matter of seconds in the opening round.

As the tattooed champion lay helpless on the SCG turf, football lost a superstar and personality the league will likely never see again.

Swan has always done things his way, never content to simply tow the party line. While it has landed him in hot water over the years, it’s also the very fabric of the legacy he leaves behind.

With his trademark humour, unforgettable waddle, endless tattoos and most importantly, his serious case of leather poisoning, Swan has undeniably left his mark on the football world.

And for that, every Collingwood fan, and football fan for that matter, is forever grateful.

The rise of the super team

Stephen Curry. Klay Thompson. Kevin Durant. Draymond Green.

Together this collection of perennial all-stars, scoring champions and MVP’s have formed the leagues newest “super team”.

In fact, on paper this may be the greatest team the NBA has ever seen.

However, history tells us that these “super teams” often struggle to translate their talent from the paper to the hardwood.

While the Warriors story is yet to be written, many “super teams” have come and gone before them.

While some have claimed their spot in the annals of American sport, others have fallen short, relegated to the “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve” teams of years past.

So before looking ahead to the Warriors potential, we must first look back at the “super teams” of yesteryear.

1984-1985 – Los Angeles Lakers

Commonly referred to as “Showtime”, the 80’s Los Angeles Lakers are arguably the most iconic super team in NBA history. Led by their 6-foot, 9-inch mercurial point guard, Magic Johnson, they dominated the league throughout the decade. Kareem Abdul Jabbar and James Worthy combined with Johnson to form an imposing big three, while the likes of Byron Scott, Kurt Rambis and Michael Cooper were invaluable contributors.

Perhaps their greatest season was in 1984-95, in which they ran riot during the regular season to finish with a 62-10 record. Spurred on by their back-to-back titles loses in 1983 and 1984, they went on to defeat the Boston Celtics in the Finals and cement their place in NBA history.

1996-1997 – Houston Rockets

After winning two NBA titles in 1994 and 1995, the Rockets added the former MVP Charles Barkley to their squad, hoping to atone for their loss in the 1996 NBA Finals. Combined with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler they formed a fearsome core, which saw immediate success. They started the season with a 21-2 record, yet fell away late in the season, finishing third in the West.

However, they were undone in the Western Conference Finals by the Utah Jazz, who knocked the Rockets out with a John Stockton game winning three. Drexler went on to retire a year later and Barkley would never obtain that elusive ring.

2003-2004 – Los Angeles Lakers

On paper this team looked unstoppable. Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Gary Payton and Karl Malone. It was a squad the envy of the nation, yet turned out to be complete disaster. They finished the season with a 56-26 record, yet it was a year marred with off-field scandal, injury and intense scrutiny.

Despite all these hurdles, the Lakers made it to the NBA Finals, only to implode on the big stage. They were beaten in five games by the Pistons, with their only victory coming in an overtime thriller.

Payton and O’Neal were both traded that off-season, while Malone retired shortly after. However, Kobe Bryant remained and the seeds of a new super team were planted.

2007-2008 – Boston Celtics

The 2006-2007 season was a franchise low for the Celtics, with the once proud team reduced to an incoherent rabble. They finished with the league’s second-worst record, and featured an inglorious eighteen game losing streak.

Yet, in one off-season the team completely revamped itself from cellar dwellers to champions. Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett were introduced to the squad and formed an imposing line-up with Paul Pierce.

The Celtics were dominant throughout the season, finishing with a 66-16 record and were crowned 2008 NBA Champions after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.

boston2010-2014 – Miami Heat

They entered in a cloud of smoke and exited with four consecutive Finals appearances and two NBA Championships. From LeBron announcing his decision on live television, to their rock-star entrance and larger than life antics, the Miami “Big Three” were always destined for greatness.

However, the lethal combination of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh initially struggled for cohesion and consistency. They started the 2010-2011 season with a 9-8 record, before bringing it together to finish with the second seeding in the East. They progressed to the Finals, before being stunned by the Dallas Mavericks in six games.

Spurred by this defeat the Heat went on to bring the Larry O’Brien trophy to South Beach in 2012 and 2013. While they didn’t fulfill LeBron’s promise of “not one, not two, not three” championships, they were and still are one of the greatest and most successful teams the league has ever seen.

2012-2013 Los Angeles Lakers

With Kobe Bryant’s peak form on the decline and his swansong period approaching, the Lakers took one more home-run approach to another championship push. They signed all-stars Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to join stalwarts Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to form a fearsome line-up.

On paper these were great additions. Nash would be the point guard that Kobe never had, while the three-time defensive player-of-the-year, Dwight Howard, would form an imposing frontcourt with Pau Gasol.

However, the season turned out to be less “Showtime” and more Soap Opera for the ailing Lakers. Dwight experienced teething issues throughout, Nash broke his leg and Kobe’s Achilles injury was the final straw in a tumultuous season.

Despite all their issues the team still made the playoffs before being swept in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs. Howard fled to the Houston Rockets, Gasol would eventually join the Chicago Bulls, while injuries forced Nash into an early retirement.

2016-2017 – Golden State Warriors

“I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.” With one simple sentence, Kevin Durant turned the NBA on its head and ushered in the era of a new super team. While these superstars are yet to pen their legacy, the mix on paper is daunting to say the least.

The most intimidating factor surrounding the Warriors squad is that in contrast to previous super teams, Durant fits the 73 and 9-win team to perfection. The combination of Steph, Klay and Durant behind the arc is a planning nightmare for opposition coaches. They will spread the floor greater than any team in league history, leaving the lane wide open for the likes of Draymond and Igoudala.

Thankfully for the remaining 31 teams in the league, chemistry is an intangible that cannot be bought or created from thin air. It will take the Warriors time to fit Durant into their usual offensive and defensive sets. However, the Warriors have 82 games to find that elusive chemistry, and when they find it, strap yourself in for an offensive juggernaut.

Crashing the offensive glass and pounding the paint will be the staple to beating the Warriors. On paper it looks to be the only chink in their armour. However, identifying a weakness and exploiting it are two very different tasks.

The Warriors have a chance to leave a lasting impression on the NBA, to cement their place in basketball history. While many are furious at Durant’s decision, there is no denying that the Warriors will be must watch television and their destiny is truly in their own hands.

AFL Season Preview – Part 2

Hawthorn

Ins: Jake Fitzpatrick (Melbourne), Ryan Burton (2015 Draft: Pick 19)

Outs: Jed Anderson (North Melbourne), Matt Suckling (Western Bulldogs), David Hale (retired), Brian Lake (retired)

Last year: H/A – 3rd Position (16 wins, 6 losses) Finals – Premier (3 wins, 1 loss)

Best & Fairest – Josh Gibson

Leading goal scorer – Jack Gunston (57 goals)

Big Question: Can Hawthorn be the first team in the 18-side competition to win four flags in a row?

For – The Hawks will go back-to-back-to-back-to-back!

In the modern era of equalisation it is almost unthinkable that a team could be aiming for its fourth straight premiership. Hawthorn has the odds stacked against them in 2016, however you can never write off this team of champions.

The Hawks have built a dynasty through a combination of unstoppable ball movement and elite kicking skills. Facing the Hawks is death by a hundred cuts, as they slice defences to shred with precision offence.

The Hawks have their fair share of injuries and challenges heading into 2016, with the likes of Roughead, Shiels and Hill set to spend considerable time on the sidelines. They also have an ageing number of champions, who will likely need rest sometime throughout the season.

Irrelevant of where the Hawks finish at the end of the home and away season, they cannot be discounted in the finals. Hawthorn are big game performers, in recent years they have put together some of the most clinical Grand Final performances in AFL history.

If Clarkson can get the Hawks into September at full strength, they are every chance to further etch their names into sporting history.

Against – The Hawks era of dominance ends in 2016

All dynasties must come to an end and 2016 looks like the year the Hawks finally relinquish their hold on the premiership cup. This year the Hawks will face their toughest, as West Coast, Fremantle and North Melbourne will remain competitive, while Geelong and Port Adelaide will return to premiership contenders.

Another negative the Hawks face this year is their ageing list, which is the third oldest in the competition and with the cap on interchanges, the Hawks will need to ensure their players over 30 still have endurance.

The Hawks will also need to break tradition if they are going to win four consecutive premierships. No team since Collingwood in 1930 have won four premierships in a row, with Brisbane in the early 2000s the closest to equalling the Magpies.

The injuries to Jarryd Roughead and Bradley Hill will also make the title defence more difficult and could all but end the Hawks chances this season.

Melbourne

Ins: Thomas Bugg (GWS), Ben Kennedy (Collingwood), Jake Melksham (Essendon), Clayton Oliver (2015 Draft: Pick 4)

Outs: Jeremy Howe (Collingwood), Jimmy Toumpas (Port Adelaide)

Last year: H/A – 13th Position (7 wins, 15 losses)

Best & Fairest – Bernie Vince

Leading goal scorer – Jesse Hogan (44 goals)

Big Question: Should Simon Goodwin be handed the coaching reigns this season?

For – Goodwin should lead the Demons in 2016

Defence is crucial to success in today’s day and age, however offence is what wins premierships and it’s what the Demons lack under Paul Roos.

Under Roo’s last season the Demons were league’s worst offensive squad, averaging just under 72 points a game. They struggled to generate quick ball movement and transition from defence to offence and the scoreboard accordingly suffered.

While it’s a small sample size, Goodwin took over the Demons for the NAB Challenge and the improvements were significant. Over three shorter length match’s the Demons averaged 91 points per game and showcased an aggressive, attacking transition style that left Demon fans speechless.

The Demons have an impressive list of young talent emerging and it is crucial that the right principles for success are instilled early. Roo’s defence style is not what will lead the Demons back to the finals and therefore it is the perfect time for Goodwin to take the lead and Roo’s to take a back seat in 2016.

Against – Goodwin’s time will come, run the course and leave Roo’s as coach in 2016

Melbourne had an outstanding preseason under the guidance of Simon Goodwin, winning all three games in the NAB Challenge. The Dee performances led many to believe Paul Roos should hand the reigns over to Goodwin a year early. But a decision like this can only have major downfalls and disrupt the transition from coaches.

Roos may have the title of ‘head coach’ but Goodwin will be running the show at the Demons. Similar to the structure at GWS when Kevin Sheedy was handing the reigns to Leon Cameron, Roos will be the face of the club and the one to take the heat when performances a poor, while Goodwin will be the coach behind the scenes, planning for the future of the club.

Another season under the guidance of Roos will also benefit Goodwin in the long run. Roos is a top coach, with over ten years of coaching experience. Whenever Goodwin feels as though he is out of ideas or needs an encouraging voice, Roos will be there.

North Melbourne

Ins: Jed Anderson (Hawthorn), Farren Ray (St Kilda)

Outs: Ryan Bastinac (Brisbane), Daniel Currie (Gold Coast), Nathan Grima (retired – Essendon)

Last year: H/A – 8th Position (13 wins, 9 losses) Finals – 4th Position (2 wins, 1 loss)

Best & Fairest – Todd Goldstein

Leading goal scorer – Jarrad Waite, Drew Petrie (42 goals)

Big Question: After falling short two seasons in a row, is it Premiership or bust for the ageing Kangaroos?

For – The Roo’s premiership window is quickly closing, the time to strike is now

North Melbourne are a curious case heading into season 2016. They boast the second oldest list in the AFL and seem to be stuck between the contenders and pretenders category.

On paper the Roo’s have a talent stacked list, however lack the x-factor required to split games open on a regular basis. North will be hoping that a rejuvenated Wells will be able to provide the spark through the midfield, however his injury history is concerning at best.

Unfortunately the Roo’s list is not getting any younger and the time to strike is nigh. North must improve their team defence, especially their ability to win defensive one-on-one contests, of which they were worst in the league last year.

If Scott can find a way to stop the leaking of goals and the Roo’s senior players can stay fit throughout the season, they will provide a real threat in September once again. However, with their list profile, the Roo’s need to be doing more than just making up the numbers in 2016.

Against – The Roos plan and list run deeper than Premiership or bust in 2016

The stats don’t lie. North Melbourne have the oldest list in the AFL. The Kangaroos must show their premiership credentials this year but is it the end of the world if they don’t make it?

The list will have a significant overhaul in the next two seasons when the likes of Harvey, Petrie, Dal Santo, Firrito, Waite and Wells call time on their careers.

The Roos have already started the rebuild by recruiting three key defenders in last years draft. The likes of Zibell, Atley and Cunnington are in the age bracket to become the leaders in the next few seasons.

Ben Brown, Kayne Turner, Mason Wood and Taylor Gardner are impressive young forwards and with eleven players under the age of 21, the Roos will continue to challenge for the flag in the years to come.

Port Adelaide

Ins: Charlie Dixon (Gold Coast), Jimmy Toumpas (Melbourne)

Outs: Kane Cornes (retired), Andrew Moore (Richmond), Paddy Ryder, Angus Monfries (12 month ban)

Last year: H/A – 9th Position (12 wins, 10 losses)

Best & Fairest – Robbie Gray

Leading goal scorer – Chad Wingard (53 goals)

Big Question: Will 2016 see the Power storm back up the ladder, or is there 2014 form behind them?

For – The Power’s 2014 season was a flash in the plan, it will be more of the same in 2016

It seems inevitable that the Power will surge up the ladder this year. After beinn a whisker away from making the 2014 Grand Final, the Power were favourites to win last years Premiership, but ended the year in 9th position.

Many in the media believe last year was a minor hiccup and the Power will return to their best, like Geelong when the missed the finals in 2006 and won the premiership a year later.

But as the competitiveness of the competition increases, can the Power stand alone as the best side in the competition as Hawthorn has done in recent years?

Today’s competition is much more even than the one Geelong dominated in 2007. A single slip up can be the difference for a side finishing fourth and ninth. The power have talent like Hamish Hartlett, Chad Wingard, Travis Boak, Ollie Wines and Robbie Gray to win the premiership, while Sam Gray and Brendon Ah Chee are on the up.

It is the pillars as either end where the Power struggle. Jay Schulz’s best is behind him and Charlie Dixon is yet to show consistency in his game. John Butcher is surely on his last chance and the losses of Paddy Ryder and Angus Monfries will be felt.

Down back, the Power rely on Alipate Carlile and Jackson Trengrove. If one misses numerous games, the structure of the team becomes unbalanced.

Port can improve this year but it will be difficult considering 13 teams are fighting for a top 8 spot.

Against – The Power will surge back up the ladder in 2016

In 2014 the Power were one kick away from a Grand Final. They were the jealousy of the league, selling out Adelaide Oval weekly and ripping teams to shreds with exhilarating face-paced football.

Unfortunately for the Power, 2015 saw a dramatic fall from grace. Opposition went to work on their run and gun game plan and seemingly found the solution. They played wide, denying the Power the corridor and easy transition and Port crumbled.

Now in 2016 the challenge sits squarely with Hinkley and his men, can they regain their franatic pressure and ball movement to challenge the best once again. The loss of Ryder hurts, although gives Lobbe a chance to regain his 2014 form. Dixon could be anything, however injuries and discipline issues leave question marks over his ability.

Port Adelaide has an elite list, impressive leadership and a rare home-ground advantage. If they can find their best football once again, the Power will be their when the whips are cracking in September.

Richmond

Ins: Andrew Moore (Port Adelaide), Jacob Townsend (GWS), Chris Yarran (Carlton), Daniel Rioli (2015 Draft: Pick 15)

Outs: Nathan Foley (retired), Chris Newman (retired), Chris Knights (retired)

Last year: H/A – 5th Position (15 wins, 7 losses) Finals – 7th Position (0 wins, 1 loss)

Best & Fairest – Alex Rance

Leading goal scorer – Jack Riewoldt (54 goals)

Big Question: Can they win the elusive final?

For – Richmond will find the missing piece of the puzzle and taste September success

After shedding the infamous 9th position curse, the Tigers now face a new mental demon, the September curse. Plain and simple, Richmond has failed to win a final in three consecutive post-season campaigns.

However, it is not all gloom and doom for the Tigers in 2016. With a few game-style tweaks and the acquisition of a running half-back (Chris Yarren), the Tigers look primed to mount a serious assault on the top 4.

The Tigers are a stellar defensive team, conceding an average of only 73 points a game last year. However, they are slow to take the game on and generate fast ball movement, which is leading to a lack of scoring power.

The Tigers need Yarren’s re-bound off half-back to generate fast ball movement, as well as to unearth an elite small forward to help lock the ball inside forward fifty and relieve the scoring pressure of Riewoldt.

The Tigers still lack the polish and final touches to truly contend for a premiership, however 2016 will be the year the leaders stand up and the Tigers bury their demon and win that elusive final.

Against – The September curse will continue for the Tigers

Richmond must win a final in 2016. For three years the Tigers have competed with the best teams in the AFL but have fallen short in the finals. Some may call it a curse, while others will say the side is not talented enough.

The 2015 post-season saw Richmond linked with every player looking for a new club, including Adam Treloar, Steve Johnson and Harley Bennell. In the end the Tigers brought in Chris Yarran, Jacob Townsend and Adam Moore. The inability to recruit an A-grader is what will prevent Richmond from winning a final. Sure, all three recruits will do a job but would they be selected in a team like Hawthorn or West Coast.

Richmond is an outstanding defensive team, conceding merely 73 points a game in 2015. Attacking wise they struggle, scoring 100+ points in only six games. Apart from Jack Riewoldt, the forward line setup is poor. Steve Morris was tested as a small forward but failed. With scores expected to increase, Richmond must develop a forward setup that doesn’t rely on Jack Riewoldt to kick three goals a game.

St Kilda

Ins: Jake Carlisle (Essendon), Nathan Freeman (Collingwood), Jade Gresham (2015 Draft: Pick 18)

Outs: Farren Ray (North Melbourne), Adam Schneider (retired), Ahmed Saad (delisted)

Last year: 14th Position (6 wins, 15 losses, 1 draw)

Best & Fairest – Jack Steven

Leading goal scorer – Josh Bruce (50 goals)

Big Question: Can St Kilda replicate the form of the Western Bulldogs from last season?

For – St Kilda are primed to jump up the ladder in 2016

No one expected the Western Bulldogs to play finals last season, just like no one expected Port Adelaide to surge in 2013.

St Kilda have been rebuilding for the past five years and in that time they have secured some extremely talented youngsters like Josh Bruce, Jack Billings Hugh Goddard and Paddy McCartin. Added to this they have retained the services of club veterans, Nick Riewoldt, Leigh Montagna, Sam Fisher and Sean Dempster.

Riewoldt is an inspiring captain in the mold of Robert Murphy. The inspiration and guidance he brings to the youngsters is something money can’t buy.

Rapid development in the young players will help the Saints surprise a few teams and could see them make the finals.

Against – St Kilda are still years of challenging for a top eight position

St Kilda are still clearly rebuilding after their last brigade failed to steal a premiership in the 2008-11 era. Richardson has the game style and pieces of the puzzle to take the Saints back to the top of the table, however they are still a few years from challenging the top eight.

The Saints have built their game style around manic pressure and pure effort. They surprised everyone with their six wins last year and at times looked incredibly dangerous. However, there is a clear gap between the older players and youngsters, the later of which will take time to develop.

The young list of Bruce, Billings, Lonie, Dunstan and McCartin are guns in the making, while Richardson’s off-season focus on quicker ball movement should allow them to prosper in their roles.

Whether the likes of Riewoldt, Montagna and Fisher can hang on while the youth develop is yet to be seen, regardless the future is bright at the Saints. Richardson will be looking for his squad to hit the 8-10 win mark in 2016, but expecting them to jump into the eight is incredibly optimistic.

Sydney

Ins: Callum Sinclair (West Coast), Matthew Talia (Western Bulldogs), Callum Mills (2015 Draft: Pick 3)

Outs: Lewis Jetta (West Coast), Craig Bird (Sydney), Adam Goodes (retired), Mike Pike (retired), Rhyce Shaw (retired)

Last year: H/A – 4th Position (16 wins, 6 wins) Finals – 5th Position (0 wins, 2 losses)

Best & Fairest – Josh Kennedy

Leading goal scorer – Lance Franklin (47 goals)

Big Question: Can Franklin find his form and return to his dynamic best?

For – Franklin will re-discover his Coleman Medal form in 2016

Lance Franklin is one of the most dynamic and exciting player the competition has seen for some years and will re-discover his best form in 2016.

The 2015 season was Franklin’s worse goal return (47 goals) for 10 seasons and his fewest disposal count for eight years. However, Buddy was clearly struggling with a back-ailment throughout the season, as well as facing his own personal battles.

With the addition of Sinclair, the Swans now have another big man to take the pressure off Buddy. Franklin will be given ample opportunity to shine and looks fit and raring to go after a big pre-season.

Many believe the Swans will fall in 2016, yet seem to forget about the Swans star-studded midfield, elite young talent (Heeney, Mills) and potent forward line. If the mid-field can give Buddy enough of the ball, the competition will quickly remember just how damaging Franklin can be.

Against – Franklin’s best days are behind him

This is a crucial year for Buddy and the Swans. In his third year at the club, Buddy still has another six years to run on his contract. But what was shown last year will not give hope to either Buddy or the Swans that he will be playing in 2022.

The personal reasons that sidelined Buddy for the finals campaign was unfortunate and will not be the cause of concern for his future.

His form and recurring injuries will be what keeps the Swans coaches and officials awake at night.

Last year was not the Buddy that we have come to love. It was a thicker Buddy, who didn’t have the urgency around ground which was on show in 2014.

Whether it was a plan by the fitness staff or the niggling back injury that was the reason for the thicker Buddy is still unknown.

So far this year, Buddy has appeared leaner and has had more urgency in his game. But as the months get colder and the body begins to ache, will Buddy stay fit? More importantly, can Buddy carry on playing for another six years?

Time will tell what is in store for Franklin and the Swans.

West Coast

Ins: Jonathan Giles (Essendon), Lewis Jetta (Sydney), Jack Redden (Brisbane)

Outs: Matt Rosa (Gold Coast), Scott Selwood (Geelong), Callum Sinclair (Sydney), Beau Waters (retired)

Last year: H/A – 2nd Position (16 wins, 5 losses, 1 draw) Finals – Runner-up (2 wins, 1 loss)

Best & Fairest – Andrew Gaff

Leading goal scorer – Joshua Kennedy (80 goals)

Big Question: Can the Eagles handle the pressure and expectations from last season?

For – The Eagles will be back amongst the September action in 2016

In 2015 Adam Simpson unleashed his team defensive strategy, commonly referred to as the ‘web’, and the results were immediate and impressive. The Eagles jumped every hurdle on their way to the Grand Final, although ultimately crumbled on the biggest day of the year.

In 2016 the Eagles will see the return of Eric Mackenzie as well as the addition of Jetta, Redden and Giles. Simpson has this list exactly where he wants it, with the perfect mix of youth and experience.

The Eagles are the games best contested ball team, the most damaging post-clearance team and feature the most dynamic forward line in the league. Simpson has flexibility in all positions on the ground, in addition to great depth throughout the list.

This list is primed for success in every facet and something would have to go catastrophically wrong to deny the Eagles September action. Last years Grand Final loss will purely act as motivation for this squad, a squad that the entire competition should fear.

Against – The Eagles will not be able to replicate their 2015 performance

Last year the Eagles were able to surprise teams with this so called ‘web’. This ‘web’ and slick ball movement surprised so many teams that the Eagles made it all the way to the Grand Final.

Expectations and pressure will be increased this year, making it difficult for the Eagles to remain a premiership contender

The returns of Eric McKenzie and Mitch Brown will boost the Eagles defence, but could also affect the defensive setup that proved so successful last season.

Other teams have had an entire preseason to break down the Eagles game plan, meaning Adam Simpson must continue to innovate to remain a premiership threat.

Western Bulldogs

Ins: Matt Suckling (Hawthorn), Jed Adcock (Brisbane), Josh Dunkley (20155 Draft: Pick 25)

Outs: Michael Talia (Sydney), Jarrad Grant (Gold Coast), Ayce Cordy (delisted)

Last year: H/A – 6th Position (14 wins, 8 losses) Finals – 8th Position (0 wins, 1 loss)

Best & Fairest – Easton Wood

Leading goal scorer – Jake Stringer (56 goals)

Big Question: Is 2016 the year Boyd’s performance matches his pay packet?

For – Boyd will finally find his feet in season 2016

Tom Boyd was handed the deal of a lifetime, but unfortunately it also came with a lifetime of responsibility and crushing expectation.

Season 2015 was one to forget for Boyd. Fourteen game for a return of only sixteen goals, as well as being dropped to the twos throughout the season. One million dollars for a return of only sixteen goals is not acceptable, however Boyd is still developing and his best is still ahead of him.

Key Forwards generally take the longest time to develop and Boyd, 20 years old, is still in his football infancy. He showed his potential throughout the NAB Challenge, showcasing great hands and finish around the goals.

If Boyd is given the opportunity in 2016, he looks primed to hit the 30-35 goal mark. While this still seems measly for his contract, it will provide him with the confidence going forward.

Boyd has the potential to spearhead the Dog’s attack, alongside Stringer, for years to come. We are still a few seasons off seeing his full potential, however Boyd looks set to make his mark on the field in 2016.

Against – Boyd is still developing and is years off his best football

It usually takes a key forward five years to develop into his body. Boyd is in his third year and has shown glimpses of his potential.

Last year more was expected from Boyd, who only played 14 games and kicked 16 goals. Expectations were enormous on Boyd for the fact that he has a million dollar contract.

But apart from his salary, Boyd is just like any other young forward. The Bulldogs did not expect to play finals in 2015 and Boyd was brought in for the future and not for the present.

Supporter and the media will continue to have high expectations on Boyd but they must lower their eagerness because like all young forwards, it will take time.

Written by Daniel Freeman and Christopher Chrysostomou

AFL Season Preview – Part 1

Adelaide

Ins:

Curtly Hampton (GWS), Dean Gore (Geelong), Paul Seedsman (Collingwood), Troy Menzel (Carlton), Wayne Milera (2015 Draft: Pick 11)

Outs:

Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong), Sam Kerridge (Carlton), Brent Reilly (retired), James Podsiadly (retired)

Last year:

H/A – 7th Position (13 wins, 8 losses) Finals – 6th (1 win, 1 loss)

Best & Fairest – Patrick Dangerfield

Leading goal scorer – Eddie Betts (63 goals)

Big Question:

Will Patrick Dangerfield’s departure leave a hole too large to be replaced, or can the Crows cover for the loss of their superstar?

For – The Crows will cover for Dangerfield

Losing Patrick Dangerfield will hurt the Adelaide Crows. Unfortunately for Crows fans there are no denying the facts. Only Matt Priddis, Nat Fyfe and Josh Kennedy (Sydney) won more contested possessions last year then Dangerfield. Much of Adelaide’s top three ranking in contested ball last year was due to the Dangerfield effect. However, life after Dangerfield is not all gloom and doom and one would be silly to write the Crows off just yet.

The Crows have one of the most dynamic forward lines in the competition. Last year they were fourth best in converting an inside 50 entry into a goal. Walker (59 goals in 2015) Jenkins (46 goals) and Lynch (32 goals) compliment each other perfectly, throw in Betts (63 goals – equal second for Coleman), Charlie Cameron and Troy Menzel and you have a top-shelf forward line.

The defensive end is still young, but with continued development the likes of Talia, Laird and Brodie Smith will give opposition forward lines nightmares for years to come. The midfield is going to be hardest hit, especially with the fact that Adelaide ranked second last for disposal efficiency (70%) in 2015. Don Pyke is counting on getting the ball into the forward line as quickly as possible and letting his forwards do the rest. It will be exciting, break-neck football that will challenge the best. Dangerfield is undeniably a loss, but Pyke will be hoping, in fact banking on, the system covering his absence.

Against – The loss of Dangerfield is too great to cover

Patrick Dangerfield is one of the game’s most elite players. Averaging 27 disposals a game, Dangerfield also contributed 21 goals last season and averaged 1.1 score assist a game. Added to this is his ability to find the ball in congestion, ranking third for contested possession (15.2 per game) and seventh for clearances (7.1 per game), Dangerfield is a freak. The Crows may have recruited strongly in the off season with the inclusions of Troy Menzel, Paul Seedsman, Curtly Hampton and Dean Gore but all four players have not proven to have the potential of Dangerfield. Paul Seedsman is likely to replace Dangerfield in the midfield but he is more of an outside player, with only 25.4% of his possessions being contested. The Crouch brothers are the likeliest to cover the loss of Dangerfield but Brad has already been reprimanded for failing team standards, while Matt has not had shown any consistency at AFL level.

This will be a year the Crows will have to rebuild their midfield to move forward in the years to come.

Brisbane

Ins:

Ryan Bastinac (North Melbourne), Tom Bell (Carlton), Jarred Jansen (Geelong), Josh Walker (Geelong), Josh Schache (2015 Draft: Pick 2)

Outs:

James Aish (Collingwood), Jack Redden (West Coast) Matthew Leuenberger (Essendon), Jed Adcock (Delisted)

Last year:

H/A – 17th Position (4 wins, 18 losses)

Best & Fairest – Dayne Beams, Stefan Martin, Mitch Robinson, Dayne Zorko

Leading goal scorer – Joshua Green (25 goals)

Big Question:

Will Brisbane return as the Kings of Queensland?

For – They will finish ahead of the Gold Coast

It is a crucial period in the history of the Brisbane Football Club. For too long now the club has been in the football wilderness, failing to make finals and failing to entice fans to attend games. The Lions are just as important for the Queensland market as Sydney is for New South Wales. And with the Gold Coast also in the bottom threshold of the ladder, Queensland needs a team to improve. Thankfully Brisbane is on the up. After years of not being able to hold onto young promising players, Brisbane now have a core group to build a list around. The Lions have the youngest list in the competition, with only one player over the age of 30. Captain Tom Rockliff is only 26 and with the aid of Daniel Rich, Dayne Beams, Dayne Zorko and Mitch Robinson, the Lions have an impressive midfield group, which should improve their contested possession differential, losing the count by -10.3 per game. Tall forward, Josh Schache will be key to the future of the Lions and will take time to develop and support from Josh Walker, who has shown he can be a handful up forward.

Because the Suns are also a poor side, it won’t be difficult for the Lions to finish higher on the ladder. Six to eight wins this season should do the job.

Against – They will again succumb to the heat of the Suns

The state of football in Queensland will once again be a major issue for the AFL in 2016. Brisbane is undergoing a tedious rebuild and the Suns are staring down the barrel of there first rebuild only five years after entering the competition. However, Brisbane will struggle to compete with Gold Coast’s raw talent for the immediate future and will once again play second fiddle to the Suns.

Brisbane has the youngest and most inexperienced list in the AFL. Their top tier-talent, such as Rockliff and Hanley, have both struggled with injuries in recent years and their ability to generate a winning score is shaky at best. Joshua Green has led their goal-kicking for the past two seasons, which not taking away from his talents, is an embarrassing statistic for Lion forwards. The likes of Schache and McStay will provide Lion’s fans with hope for the future, but for the here and now there is a clear lack of scoring power.

With the return of Ablett, Gold Coast looks likely to jump up to around the 8-win mark, which Brisbane is still a few seasons away from reaching.

Carlton

Ins:

Daniel Gorringe (Gold Coast), Sam Kerridge (Adelaide), Jed Lamb (GWS), Jacob Weitering (2015 Draft: Pick 1)

Outs:

Tom Bell (Brisbane), Lachie Henderson (Geelong), Troy Menzel (Adelaide), Chris Yarran (Richmond)

Last year:

H/A – 18th Position (4 wins, 18 losses)

Best & Fairest – Patrick Cripps

Leading goal scorer – Andrejs Everitt (31 goals)

Big Question:

Is this the first step in the creation of a Carlton dynasty?

For – This team will lead Carlton to a premiership

Carlton’s path to rebuild has reminded me of Richmond when they appointed Damian Hardwick in 2009. Both sides selected a coach from the reigning premiers, Hawthorn to lead the rebuild and both coaches quickly stamped the imprint on the club by shelving the dead wood and heavily relying on the national draft.

Though Richmond have not won a premiership yet they are on the right path and that’s what will give Carlton hope.

The Blues have targeted their big man department in last years draft, recruiting Jacob Weitering, Charlie Curnow, Harry McKay and Jack Silvagni. These four players will take time to develop but Carlton know this is a long term rebuild.

The results will be ugly this season. Last year the Blues conceded 107 points a game, while only managing to score 69.3 points on average, the lowest in the league.

Everyone expects Carlton to finish bottom four once again this season. But is that really a bad result? Another poor season will enable the Blues to again select the best young talent in Australia, that will help them return to the top of the tree.

So strap yourselves in Carlton supporters, because the seeds for success have already been planted.

Against – Carlton will continue to struggle in the years to come

Carlton have the raw core of a team on the way back up the ladder. The likes of Weitering and Cripps will provide Blues fans with glimpses of hope for years to come, however the rise up the ladder is not imminent for Carlton.

2015 was a disastrous year for Carlton, they sacked their coach, finished dead last and played devoid of spirit and fight. Brendon Bolton is an inspired choice for coach, however he doesn’t have the personal he had at Hawthorn to work with. The Blues lack structure on the field, they lack leadership and they lack attacking prowess. Casboult is an exceptional mark, however lacks the kicking ability and Walker has not been able to find his best form in recent years. This leaves Andrejs Everitt as their leading goal scorer (team high 31 goals in 2015), which is not sustainable moving forward.

The Blues have managed to put together a few pieces of the puzzle in rebuilding this broken club, however their road back to premiership contention is a long and windy one. Blues fans are unfortunately in for more of the same in 2016 and for the foreseeable future.

Collingwood

Ins:

James Aish (Brisbane), Jeremy Howe (Melbourne), Adam Treloar (GWS)

Outs:

Nathan Freeman (St Kilda), Ben Kennedy (Melbourne), Paul Seedsman (Adelaide)

Last year:

H/A – 12th Position (10 wins, 12 losses)

Best & Fairest – Scott Pendlebury

Leading goal scorer – Jamie Elliott (35 goals)

Big Question:

Is it a failed season if Collingwood miss the finals again in 2016?

For – After starting 8-3 for two consecutive seasons and fading late, Buckley’s men must make finals in 2016?

While the 2016 season is not a case of make or break for the Magpies, there is a justified level of pressure on Buckley’s men ahead of the coming season. After getting off to 8-3 starts in 2014 and 2015 they have fallen away in the second half of both seasons. The excuse of youth, inexperience and injuries is wearing thin, it’s time for the Magpies to stand up.

Collingwood has openly stated that this teams premiership window is 2017-2019, however going into that window without any finals experience for the majority of the squad is a concerning issue.

There are no excuses on the quality of the Magpies list. They have a stellar midfield, arguably one of the best collection of under 22 year olds in the game and a superstar in Scott Pendlebury. They have shown in previous years they can match it with the best, only falling one or two goals short of the likes of Hawthorn, Fremantle and Sydney last year.

The Pies have shown the faith in Buckley, who recently received a contract extension, however it is crucial the Pies and Buckley make an appearance in September this year. The Collingwood faithful need to see the development the club has boasted of, as well as providing crucial finals experience to the young players who will carry this team for years to come.

Against – Collingwood’s development does not necessarily mean finals in 2016?

When Buckley took the reigns from Malthouse, it was clear that significant change was looming at Collingwood. Out with the rat-pack and in with the elite youth, as the Pies traded experience for young, uncapped talent. At their best, the Pies have shown they can match it with the competition elite, but they are yet to show the consistency required for finals footy.

The Pies have all the pieces for long-term success. Darcy Moore has the makings of a superstar, the mid-field is stock full with A grade talent and the defence is young but developing quickly. They have shown an increased focus on quick ball-movement throughout the NAB Challenge, although still struggle clearing the ball from their defensive fifty.

Collingwood could play finals in 2016, in fact some believe they could do more than just make up the numbers. However, from the outset the coming season looks incredibly even, with twelve teams genuinely fighting for top eight spots.

Buckley’s men are still one or two seasons away from fully realising their potential, and with the logjam of talent fighting for finals this year, it would not be a failure of a season if the Pies sit out September once again.

Essendon

Ins:

Matthew Leuenberger (Brisbane), Craig Bird (Sydney), Darcy Parish (2015 Draft: Pick 5), James Kelly, Matthew Stokes, Matt Dea, James Polkinghorne, Ryan Crowley, Jonathon Simpkin, Mark Jamar, Sam Grimley, Nathan Grima (Top up players)

Outs:

Jake Carlisle (St Kilda), Jonathan Giles (West Coast), Jake Melksham (Melbourne), Tom Bellchambers, Travis Colyer, Dyson Heppell, Michael Hibberd, Heath Hocking, Cale Hooker, Ben Howlett, Michael Hurley, David Myers, Tayte Pears, Brent Stanton, Jobe Watson (12 month ban)

Last year:

H/A – 15th Position (6 wins, 16 losses)

Best & Fairest – Cale Hooker

Leading goal scorer – Joe Daniher (34 goals)

Big Question:

Will Essendon be the first team in the AFL era to complete a winless season?

For – Essendon will be the first team in AFL history to go the season winless

Essendon’s 2016 season is in shambles before it even begins. The list has been gutted by the WADA ban, leaving Essendon with a bare-bones squad which will most likely struggle for form and consistency.

Forget inexperience in the midfield and gaping holes in the defensive line, Essendon’s greatest issue lies in their forward line. Last season the Bombers only managed an average of 72 points a game, its lowest points average since 1956. Upon entering the forward 50 they generated a score only 42% of the time, the worst in the AFL. Take away their elite ball users, such as Watson and Heppell, and scoring will become significantly harder. This year will be a true test for Joe Daniher, who will be asked to lead the forward line and handle the bulk of the scoring load.

The last team to go an entire season winless was Fitzroy in 1964. Worsfold has his work cut out to save the Bombers from entering the record books for all the wrong reasons.

Against – Essendon will find a way to avoid a winless season

Let’s put it in perspective, no team has gone winless for an entire season since Fitzroy in 1964. Even the 1996 Fitzroy side and the St Kilda and Melbourne of the late seventies, early eighties won at least one game. The reality is Essendon have a poor team this season but it is infallible to believe they will not win a game this season. Essendon supporters looking for inspiration can look no further than Melbourne in 2012. In the 2012, Melbourne lost the first nine games of the season by an average margin of 57 points. In round ten they upset Essendon, who had won eight of their first nine matches. If Essendon are going to win a game however they will be relying on Joe Daniher to perform. Daniher is the one threat in the Essendon attack but he will also need some assistance from the other big men. Sam Grimley has shown in the NAB Challenge he can take a strong mark but will need to improve his kicking.

It will be a difficult season for Essendon but expect them to win at least one game this season.

Fremantle

Ins:

Harley Bennell (Gold Coast)

Outs:

Ryan Crowley (delisted), Luke McPharlin (retired)

Last year:

H/A – 1st Position (17 wins, 5 losses) Finals – 3rd Position (1 win, 1 loss)

Best & Fairest – Aaron Sandilands

Leading goal scorer – Michael Walters (44 goals)

Big Question:

Can Fremantle taste the ultimate success with the defensive-minded Ross Lyon at the helm?

For – Ross Lyon can lead the Dockers to their first flag

Can defence win a Grand Final? Well, looking at the NFL it certainly can. The Denver Broncos won this year’s Super Bowl with the best defence in the competition, defeating the Carolina Panthers, who had the best offence. Ross Lyon will look at this and continue to have faith in his philosophy. Fremantle are a consistent side finishing in the top four for three consecutive years under Ross Lyon. In the 2013 Grand Final, inaccuracy prevented them from winning their maiden Premiership, but since then they have failed to reach the Grand Final. Last year saw a change in the Ross Lyon philosophy. For the first nine weeks when the Dockers were undefeated they averaged 94 points per game, the sixth highest in the competition at the time. As performances began to slide, the Dockers scoring reduced to end at an average of 84.4 a game. Though the Dockers attack varied, their defence remained resolute, having the second best defence in the competition (71.1 points against). Fremantle’s stingy defence allowed them to end the season on top of the ladder.

But will defence lead to a premiership for the Dockers? Of Course it can. The issue facing Fremantle is their inability to score from turnovers. Fremantle were 15th in the competition for scores from turnovers, averaging 44.1 points. If they can improve this area of their game and continue to defend well than they can win this year’s premiership.

Against – Fremantle will never be premiers under the defensive-minded Lyon

Ross Lyon is a historically stubborn coach. His philosophy is rooted in a defensive heavy game-plan, which has ultimately fallen short against the offensive powerhouses of the competition.

In his time at the helm of the Docker’s, Lyon has led Fremantle to twenty final appearances. His side has conceded 100 points only three out of the twenty finals, which is the perfect platform for September success. Unfortunately, in those twenty finals the Docker’s have only scored over 100 once. Lyon’s defensive game-plan may work throughout the home and away season, however when it comes to Grand Finals against powerhouses such as Hawthorn, the system crumbles.

If Fremantle is to win a flag under Lyon they must adopt a more aggressive, attacking game style. Scoring 85-90 points in a Grand Final against a Hawthorn style team just won’t hold up, no matter the defensive pressure. The clock is ticking for the Dockers, who enter the 2016 season as the oldest team in the AFL, and the pressure is squarely on Lyon’s shoulders.

Geelong

Ins:

Patrick Dangerfield (Adelaide), Lachie Henderson (Carlton), Scott Selwood (West Coast), Zac Smith (Gold Coast)

Outs:

Dean Gore (Adelaide), Jarred Jansen (Brisbane), Dawson Simpson (GWS), Steve Johnson (GWS), Josh Walker (Brisbane), James Kelly (retired – Essendon), Jared Rivers (retired), Matthew Stokes (retired – Essendon)

Last year:

H/A – 10th Position (11 wins, 9 losses, 1 draw)

Best & Fairest – Mark Blicavs

Leading goal scorer – Tom Hawkins (46 goals)

Big Question:

With their offseason recruits will Geelong bounce back into premiership contention, or are there unrealistic expectations on the 2016 Cats?

For – The expectation for the 2016 Cats is unrealistic  

In 2015 Geelong missed the finals for the first time since 2006, which would normally signal the beginning of a rebuild. However, the Cats have seemingly skipped the rebuild phase with numerous off-season acquisitions.

The additions of Dangerfield, Henderson and Zac Smith are undoubtedly great additions to any list, however it does not necessarily correlate with an immediate jump back up the ladder. Dangerfield will significantly assist Geelong in the critical clearance area, which they were league worst in 2015. However, as Hawthorn has showed it is team over individual that brings ultimate success, and Dangerfield will not be sole solution to Geelong’s issues.

Geelong will most likely rise up the ladder once again in 2016. They will most likely make finals and could possibly send a scare through the top four. However, there is more water that must go under the bridge before Geelong are true premiership contenders again. And not even Patrick Dangerfield can change that.

Against – The Cats will find themselves back in September action once again

2016 will be a year of change in the AFL. As the gap between teams continues to reduce, Geelong has done everything possible to return to finals action and emerge as a premiership contender. A ruthless trade period saw the Cats snare players who will automatically make the side better. Patrick Dangerfield is arguably the game’s best player and has already shown his value in the NAB Challenge. Lachie Henderson will be a handy acquisition to the Cats defence while Zac Smith is an upgrade on Dawson Simpson and Hamish McIntosh. Last season saw the end of the Cat’s era but allowed them to test some of their youth. Jackson Thurlow, Darcy Lang, Nakia Cockatoo, Jake Kolodjashnij and Cory Gregson showed they have potential to become top class, while Josh Caddy finally showed signs of being a star in the competition.

Apart from Hawthorn, who are in a league of their own, all teams bar last years bottom four have a chance of making the finals this year. If Geelong can manage to scrape in and potentially finish top four then they certainly can win this year’s premiership.

Gold Coast

Ins:

Daniel Currie (North Melbourne), Jarrad Grant (Western Bulldogs), Matt Rosa (West Coast), Callum Ah Chee (2015 Draft: Pick 8)

Outs:

Harley Bennell (Fremantle), Charlie Dixon (Port Adelaide), Zac Smith (Geelong)

Last year:

H/A – 16th Position (4 wins, 17 losses, 1 draw)

Best & Fairest – Tom Lynch

Leading goal scorer – Tom Lynch (43 goals)

Big Question:

Will the return of Ablett correlate with a rise up the ladder, or is it more of the same for Gold Coast in 2016?

For – Gold Coast will continue to struggle in season 2016

A horrendous year ended with a disappointing trade window, which saw the Suns lose Harley Bennell and Charlie Dixon. Gold Coast have to start performing if they are going to have any significance in a market not accepting of sport teams. The Suns are in a rebuild, five season after they entered the competition. Rebuilding for a second time will not increase supporters expectations on an improved season. The list looks devoid of leadership, with Gary Ablett and Michael Rischitelli the only two leaders in the team. Nick Malceski has been a failure and seems to only care about his retirement fund.

The Suns season rests in the hands of the little master. Ablett must play an entire season if they are going to prevent finishing in the bottom four. The return of Ablett would also be a boost for players like Aaron Hall, Jack Martin, Touk Miller and Callum Ah Chee, who will feel a foot taller. Attacking wise, the Suns need to find an option outside of Tom Lynch. Sam Day has had numerous opportunities but has failed to impress.

If Ablett can play an entire season then the Suns may improve, but it appears difficult as the talent around him does not seem capable of improving.

Against – The return of Gaz will spark the Sun’s into action

The fate of Gold Coast season and future lies solely on one mans shoulders. Ablett is the life-blood of the Suns and history has shown that his performance directly correlates with the team’s performance.

Under Ablett is an elite crop of young talent, who with the correct leadership can blossom into excellent players. The likes of Lynch, Prestia, Saad, Hall, O’Meara and Kolodjashnij will carry this team for years to come, however much of their talent is being wasted sitting on the pine recovering from injury.

If Eade can get his best team on the park every week Gold Coast is a team to be feared. The Suns desperately need on-field, off-field leadership and a healthy Ablett to succeed, if they can achieve that the future is bright.

Greater Western Sydney

Ins:

Steve Johnson (Geelong), Dawson Simpson (Geelong), Jacob Hopper (2015 Draft: Pick 7)

Outs:

Tomas Bugg (Melbourne), Curtly Hampton (Adelaide), Jed Lamb (Carlton), Jacob Townsend (Richmond), Adam Treloar (Collingwood)

Last year:

H/A – 11th Position (11 wins, 11 losses)

Best & Fairest – Heath Shaw

Leading goal scorer – Jeremy Cameron (63 goals)

Big Question:

Will GWS make the finals in season 2016?

For – GWS will take a giant leap into September

The Giants are on track to beat the Suns to September, and with their developing list the Giants could become September regulars for years to come.

GWS has a list the envy of any team competition wide, a perfect mix of developing talent and mature elite players guiding the team forward. The Giants play an exciting brand of football and look to catch defensive units off-guard by lightning ball-movement up the ground.

The loss of Treloar will hurt the Giants, although there is ample young talent to replace his position. A more pressing issue for the Giants is the health of Shane Mumford, who has already seen an injury scare throughout the NAB Challenge. Mumford is undeniably the Giants most important player, as seen through his injury affected season last year. The Giants won 7 of the 11 games Mumford played last year and only 4 out of 11 without him. He is a vital cog in their team and must stay fit to see the Giants playing in September.

If injuries go the Giants way, and Stevie J can co-exist with Jeremy Cameron and the Giants forward line, then GWS are on the way to their first finals appearance.

Against – Still not ready to play finals

GWS will push to make their first finals series this season. After a 7-3 start to the season, the Giants won only four games for the season. The drop in form occurred at the same time Shane Mumford injured himself. No matter how many star midfielders the Giants have their most important player is Mumford. The Giant ruckman is a leader who controls the game but can he stay fit is the question. Any other year and the Giants would probably play finals. But this year with the competition so even, a single slip up could cost a team a top eight finish.

The Giants midfield is strong but they will miss the class of Adam Treloar. On paper a stockpile of tall forwards looks impressive, but the questions still hover over Jonathon Patton’s ability to stay fit, while Cam McCarthy may not play this year and Jeremy Cameron is suspended for the first four games of the season.

Down back is where the Giants look vulnerable. Phil Davis has had a horror run with injuries and Joel Patfull will be 32 later this year.

The Giants will make the finals in the coming years but don’t expect them to make it this year.

Written by Daniel Freeman and Christopher Chrysostomou