- National Teams
The BBL regular season came to an end at the weekend and with the playoffs up next, we look back at the campaign – so far.
Newcastle Eagles have been the team of the season having already claimed three of the four available trophies, while Bristol Flyers and Leeds Force have been welcome additions to the league with the former clinching a spot in the playoffs.
Here is a team-by-team run through of the season followed by some end of regular season awards (*not related to the official BBL awards).
NEWCASTLE EAGLES (31-5)
Once again, it’s Fab Flournoy’s side that sit at the top of the BBL standings. Doubts were cast following a season-opening loss to Worcester at home, and American signing Ricky Taylor didn’t last long. Andre Jones was brought in as his replacement and the Eagles began to build momentum as they racked up an incredible 19 straight victories, before a second loss came at the hands of Worcester just days before lifting the BBL Cup title in Birmingham; sparking another lengthy win-streak. This time a run of 18 successive wins saw them beat Leicester Riders in the BBL Trophy Final and close on a seventh BBL Championship. Injuries threatened to derail their title charge, but they managed to seal another Championship with two games remaining. All five starters averaged double figures for the season, with Charles Smith leading the team in scoring from the bench with 18.6 points per game. Jones had 14.8ppg; Darius Defoe 14.3ppg; Scott Martin 14.2ppg; Andrew Thomson 13.0ppg and Rahmon Fletcher 12.7ppg. The strength in depth was once again key for the Eagles with so many options making them such a dangerous offensive side. Defoe, in particular, has perhaps never quite got the recognition he deserves, especially from a GB perspective, and the same can be said about Thomson.
LEICESTER RIDERS (30-6)
The Trophy finalists finished the season as one of the strongest in-form teams with a run of 12 straight league victories to push Newcastle close. However, they were always playing catchup given their schedule and also losing twice to the Eagles in February, before the agonising defeat in the BBL Trophy Final. The Riders also suffered Cup heartbreak when Kieron Achara sunk an unbelievable game-winner to end their defence of the BBL Cup title. Americans Neil Watson and Rashad Hassan had stellar seasons, while the decision to bring in TrayVonn Wright mid-season was inspired. Italian-American Tyler Bernardini was another smart acquisition with the shooting guard doing a bit of everything for the Riders as another key contributor to their stacked roster.
WORCESTER WOLVES (28-8)
After their historic treble-winning effort from last season, it quickly became apparent that league MVP, and Will Creekmore would not be returning. However, Paul James made two smart replacements in Chavis Holmes, and Robert Thurman and both players had impressive campaigns, backed up by captain, Alex Owumi and Jamal Williams. GB guard Paul Guede provided much-needed depth to their squad, and rising star Kalil Irving improved as the year went on as he overcame niggling injury problems. Worcester were the only team to beat Newcastle (while the Championship was still undecided) and did so on three occasions which will give them a psychological edge heading into the playoffs. The odd loss scuppered their title bid, and they suffered early defeats in the two cup competitions.
CHESHIRE PHOENIX (26-10)
Former NBA D-League Head Coach John Coffino took the reigns in the summer and expectations were high. A bumpy start quickly derailed Championship ambitions as several changes were made to get the right fit, although some departures were not handled well. Demond Watt took over from Victor Moses left off by dominating at both ends of the court; claiming four Player of the Month awards throughout the season and finishing with averages of 19.0 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. Former McDonalds All-American Taylor King was a late signing, but made an immediate impact and he would go on to be the league’s leading scorer with over 650 points at an average of 19.5 per game. Losses to Sheffield (Cup) and Plymouth (Trophy) prevented the Nix from mounting a serious challenge for silverware as their season included a club-record run of 11 straight wins.
GLASGOW ROCKS (21-15)
After missing out on the playoffs last season, Sterling Davis was keen to ensure there would not be a repeat scenario. The Rocks are heading into the post-season with some momentum with 12 wins from their last 16, but inconsistencies again let them down. BBL experience was recruited in signing Tayo Ogedengbe, Danny Huffor and Tommy Freeman, while the coup of Kieron Achara proved significant. Despite reaching the Cup final, the Rocks stumbled in their league form failing to put a run of wins together and Davis made a few more changes with the earlier released Paul Egwuonwu handed a second chance, while JaJuan Smith was replaced by Reggie Middleton. Rocks won six on the bounce in February/March and won their last four games to secure a fifth place finish. The run to the Cup final was sparked by Achara’s incredible game-winner against the Riders (see below):
LONDON LIONS (21-15)
The Lions were another team that went into the season with high aspirations having pulled off the double signing of Zaire Taylor and Drew Sullivan – the last two league MVPs no less. If Bristol were the ‘over-achievers’ then the Lions are the ‘under-achievers’. Sullivan was probably the Lions’ best player for the season, as they were hit with the loss of Rod Brown for the majority of the campaign. Americans Makal Stibbins and Lovell Cook showed signs of promise, but either foul trouble or an off shooting night left him too inconsistent at times. After his early season release, Joe Ikhinmwin came back with a point to prove and finished the season well as did Nigerian international captain Olumide Oyedeji, who has given the Lions sufficient back-up to Stibbins.
SHEFFIELD SHARKS (19-17)
At one stage, it looked like the Sharks might struggle to make the post-season. A mid-season change shook things up as former league MVP, Mike Cook was brought in to replace Allen Payne, and his gradual re-integration coincided with Sheffield going on a run of eight straight victories as they climbed the ladder. Despite coming into the season as runners-up the year before, it did appear that the Sharks had been left behind somewhat with the teams around them all strengthening, while Atiba Lyons retained the bulk of his squad. The Sharks began to build some timely momentum by winning eight straight as they pushed for a top-5 finish, and could have done so but for a couple of late defeats. The likes of Mike Tuck, Olu Babalola and BJ Holmes are experienced players and ensured their side made the post-season, while Nick Lewis was key from the bench.
BRISTOL FLYERS (13-23)
The dream start to life in the BBL for Andreas Kapoulas and his side. It proved to be lucky win #13 as they clinched a top-8 finish with victory in their final game of the season following a run of six straight defeats. The Flyers were rocked by the loss of top scorer Doug Herring, but eventually steadied the ship with the addition of Bryquis Perine, who quickly settled into the style of the BBL. Captain Greg Streete was influential throughout the campaign, while Alif Bland was huge at both ends of the floor and Doug McLaughlin-Williams was one of two players to make more than 100 3-pointers in the regular season. Dwayne Lautier-Oguneleye is heading to the NCAA with Bradley Braves next season, but made the most of his chance to shine in the BBL. They also reached the semi-finals of the BBL Cup.
MANCHESTER GIANTS (12-24)
Since making their return to the BBL, the Giants have been embroiled in three close races for the playoffs, and been unsuccessful on two occasions now. Just as their playoff fate returned to their own hands, the Giants suffered defeats against Newcastle and Sheffield and would end up in ninth as they lost nine of their last 10 games. Manchester made a strong start, particularly at home with wins against Sheffield and Worcester as they soon established a 5-3 record. Their form on the road was again a worry with just four victories on their travels all season, and first-round exits in both domestic cup competitions. Ingus Bankevics top scored for the Giants, alongside Stefan Gill, upon being a late addition with the Latvian averaging 15.2 points per game. The Giants struggled on the glass, and the deadline-day signing of Robert Marsden wasn’t quite enough to clinch a top eight spot.
PLYMOUTH RAIDERS (11-25)
Jay Marriott was determined to prevent a repeat performance from finishing 10th in the league last season after quickly snapping up the 2013-14 top scorer Brent Benson and Division 1 MVP Josh Wilcher barely a month into the off-season. The Raiders rattled through filling their roster, but once the season started it was a familiar story with a number of exits. Late on, they picked up GB internationals Gareth Murray and Ben Mockford, but they couldn’t help improve their fortunes as the Raiders quickly fell out of playoff contention. They also reached the semi-finals of the BBL Trophy, but the less said about their first league in Newcastle, the better. The lack of opportunities presented to Louis Sayers was particularly surprising giving his impressive first season in the BBL, while the season ended with a possible glimpse to the future with academy prospect Jason Carr reportedly set to earn his chance with the pro side next season. A summer of change could be on the cards.
LEEDS FORCE (9-27)
They might not have made the playoffs like fellow new-boys Bristol, but Matt Newby’s side can definitely label their first season in the BBL as a success. They claimed some major scalps on the road including top-four opponents Cheshire, whilst also coming close to a huge result in Newcastle before losing in overtime. Rookie point guard James McCann did very well leading the offence, while Leeds were arguably the best defensive team in the league. They were unlucky to lose Zak Wells early to a season-ending injury, while the exciting game-to-game capture of Devon van Oostrum lasted just one. Will Hall impressed throughout the campaign, but the former GB under-20 was hampered by injuries. Nine league wins marks a very solid debut season for Leeds, and there is a platform to build upon for the club. They reached the Cup quarter-finals after beating Manchester in the first round, which was also their first win of the season.
DURHAM WILDCATS (8-28)
During the season, veteran player-assistant admitted that the annual summer overhaul of the squad leaves the Wildcats playing catchup with the rest of the league, and it was another season of inconsistencies that proved costly. With a 7-11 record, Durham looked well placed to mount another charge towards the post-season, but they would win just one of their last 18 games in a woeful finish to the campaign, despite some battling performances along the way. Ralph Bucci led the way on all fronts again, while American Chris Jones certainly had a stronger first half of the season than the second. After battling injuries last season, Joel Madourie continued to make improvements to his game in what was his fourth season in the BBL. Visa issues left the Wildcats without three key players for the final two games, and that is something that will be need to be addressed in terms of recruiting for next season.
SURREY UNITED (5-31)
It was to be another season of disappointment for Jack Majewski’s Surrey United. They added an extra win to last year’s win tally, and were far from the worst bottom placed team the BBL has seen in a while. If the likes of Anthony Downing and Dominique Coleman had been there from the start, the season might have had a different outlook for United. After picking up back-to-back wins for the first time in January, Surrey had an equally poor finish to the season as Durham with 17 defeats in their final 18 games. Kramer Knutson was named Player of the Year, and was a consistent performer in his second season in the BBL with 25 double-doubles to his name, whilst leading the league in rebounding with 12 boards per game. After being upset by Bristol (Division 1 at the time) last season, they avoided another shock by overcoming Essex Leopards in the first round of the Trophy.
Most Valuable Player: Charles Smith
Last year the decision was between Will Creekmore and Zaire Taylor, this year it’s Newcastle duo Rahmon Fletcher, BBL Cup Final MVP, and Charles Smith, BBL Trophy Final MVP. Arguably, Cheshire Phoenix once again had the most dominant player in the league with Demond Watt racking up points and rebounds galore just as his predecessor Victor Moses did – averaging 19.2 points and 11.6 rebounds per game; shooting 65.4% from the field. But the best player, isn’t necessarily the most valuable. Fletcher has been so instrumental for the Eagles this season; orchestrating the offense and attacking the basket with ease with a FG% of 60 inside the arc and 40 from 3-point range.And what more can you say about Smith that’s not already been said hundreds of times before. Over 400 BBL games with over 6500 points, and still prolific as ever as a 39-year-old coming off the bench with 18.6 points per game throughout the season. And Smith was huge in helping the under-manned Eagles wrap up the league title playing full minutes in four straight games (165 minutes) including an overtime win against Leeds; scoring 106 points in that spell of important games. Case closed. Multiple Finals MVPs and now Smith more than deserving of the league MVP crown for the first time – also the obvious choice for the Sixth Man of the Year award. Riders duo Neil Watson and Rashad Hassan round out the top 5 in contention, and complete the All-BBL first team line-up.
All-BBL 1st team: Rahmon Fletcher, Neil Watson, Charles Smith, Rashad Hassan, Demond Watt.
All-BBL 2nd team: Chavis Holmes, Tyler Bernardini, Taylor King, Darius Defoe, Robert Thurman.
All-BBL 3rd team: Josh Wilcher, Pierre Hampton, Scott Martin, Kieron Achara, Kramer Knutson.
Honourable mentions- Makal Stibbins, Tayo Ogedengbe, James McCann, Alif Bland, Mike Cook, Andre Jones, Ingus Bankevics, Anthony Downing, Jordan Clarke, Andy Thomson, Brent Benson, David Aliu, Doug Herring.
Coach of the Year: Andreas Kapoulas.
It’s almost unthinkable to overlook a coach that has led his side to a pending clean sweep with three trophies already in the bag. However, Andreas Kapoulas deserves special credit for what he has achieved after guiding Bristol Flyers to the playoffs at the first time of asking in their inaugural BBL season. It wasn’t done with a radical overhaul of the squad; it was done playing the Flyers way with their well-organized set-up where British talent was given the opportunity to play starring roles. Not only did they make the playoffs, but not to be forgotten was their run to the BBL Cup semi-finals, which included the early scalps of Plymouth and Worcester. Fab Flournoy is no doubt one of the best coaches the BBL has ever seen, and further strengthens his legacy at Newcastle Eagles, and would perhaps be the obvious award winner for most. Rob Paternostro and Paul James also get mentions after dealing with the loss of key players in the summer to still deliver top-3 finishes with the Riders play-caller edging the third spot in the award.
British Player of the Year: Darius Defoe
One of the most consistently over-looked players in the league, Defoe has been a huge part of the success at Newcastle over the years. The 30-year-old finished with 14.3 points per game along with 7.7 rebounds before missing the final stretch of the season with an injury. Narrowly edged out in second is GB forward, Kieron Achara, who has a made a huge difference to Glasgow Rocks in his first full season in the BBL as he also claimed the Player of the Month award for November. Fellow GB international veteran, Drew Sullivan had another solid season in the BBL despite the disappointing campaign for London, and the two-time former league MVP winner averaged 14.4 points per game. The league saw a growing presence in the number of GB internationals playing this season with Paul Guede making an immediate impact at both ends upon joining Worcester, while Gareth Murray and Ben Mockford ended up at Plymouth, and there was also a single appearance at Leeds for Devon van Oostrum. Tayo Ogedengbe really came into his own in the second half of the season and finished the regular season in style with 34 points and 9 rebounds. While Nick Lewis isn’t a natural point guard, he deserves to make the team given his importance to Sheffield this season. The former GB under-20 international made a big difference in his role off the bench and was a key scorer with 13.8 points per game, also playing the point role at one stage in the absence of BJ Holmes, where he features in the All-British team.
All-British Team: Nick Lewis, Tayo Ogedengbe, Drew Sullivan, Darius Defoe, Kieron Achara
Off the Bench: Conner Washington, Stefan Gill, Paul Guede, Will Hall, David Aliu, Andy Thomson, Ben Eaves
Rookie of the Year: Neil Watson.
The 24-year-old impressed throughout his rookie season, out of Southern Mississippi. Watson led the league in assists (7.9 per game) after dishing out 10+ in a game on 12 occasions with a season-high of 17 coming against Leeds. The American wasn’t afraid to shoot either, putting up 251 attempts (3rd in the league) from 3-point range, whilst making 85 and finishing with 14.2 points per game. In his first 10 games, Watson had eight 20+ games, before beginning to take less shots and create more for his team, with just two more 20+ games for the rest of the season as his assist numbers rocketed. James McCann had an impressive season out of the University of California San Diego, averaging 12.6 points and 5.3 assists, while sharp-shooter Lovell Cook also deserves a mention in the category.
Sixth Man of the Year: Charles Smith
It’s not too often that the league MVP award goes to someone coming off the bench, but that’s further indication of just how important Charles Smith is to Newcastle. Aside from when injuries stuck, when Smith stepped up to play a key role from the start with a run of four straight games playing the full 40 (+45) minutes consecutively, he came off the bench. Conner Washington and Anthony Rowe had strong second halves to the season at Leicester, while 19-year-old Dwayne Lautier-Ogunleye impressed in his debut BBL campaign at Bristol. Barring the aforementioned spell as point guard, Nick Lewis spent the majority season playing a key role off the bench for the Sharks and that leads on to the next two awards.
Young Player of the Year & Most Improved Player: Nick Lewis.
Another combined award as former GB under-20 international Nick Lewis made a significant improvement this season, whilst still being one of the youngest in the BBL. The 22-year-old led the Sharks in scoring, outside of Mike Cook who only played 12 games, with 13+ points per game, up on his averages of 7.8 last season. Roy Owen improved in his role at Bristol throughout the season, and Tayo Ogedengbe made his return to the BBL as a stronger player. Conner Washington is becoming more and more dependable for Leicester Riders, while another Rider, Rashad Hassan had an even better second season in the BBL, as did Newcastle’s Scott Martin. Another BBL returnee Kramer Knutson stepped up in his second season and led the league in rebounds. As for the younger players, Conner Washington and Dwayne Lautier-Oguneleye certainly showcased their talent this season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Alif Bland
The Bristol Flyers big-man is a fierce protector of the rim and he showed that by leading the league in blocks with 2.3 per game. Bland was able to hold his own inside against the other leading bigs in the league and was hugely effective for the Flyers on the defensive end. Drew Lasker had the best Defensive Rating (92.0) according to RealGM, while team-mate Andre Jones is in contention for the award along with Worcester’s Chavis Holmes. Drew Sullivan remains one of the most elite defenders GB has produced, while team-mate Zaire Taylor led the league in steals with 2.2 per game. Another GB international, Paul Guede, starred on the defensive end for Worcester, while Jamell Anderson’s versatility makes him a very handy option for the Riders on the defensive end.
Keep an eye out for our top 10 plays of the season, coming soon..
Image credit: Ahmed Photos
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