- National Teams
The BBL regular season for 2015-16 concluded at the weekend, so we’ve put together our annual review of the campaign so far.
Leicester Riders wrapped up the BBL Championship with one game to spare to add to their BBL Trophy title with Newcastle Eagles finishing second having won the BBL Cup at the start of the year. The Playoffs race went down to the final day, and Leeds Force clinched their first ever post-season spot in the BBL.
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).
LEICESTER RIDERS (29-4)
Definitely a season to remember for the Riders as they not only returned to winning BBL silverware. but move into their new home – the spectacular LCS Arena. Re-signing the likes of Neil Watson and TrayVonn Wright early in the summer was a sign of intent, and the return of Drew Sullivan instantly made the Riders strong title contenders. Losing a large lead in a Cup Final could have proved a mental block, but the Riders bounced back stronger and defeated the Eagles four times in a row on their way to lifting the Trophy and Championship titles. The schedule mounted against them in the run-in, but barring a surprise defeat away at an inspired Leeds Force, Leicester handled it rather well with a dominant run of victories on the road particularly impressive.
NEWCASTLE EAGLES (28-5)
As the Eagles went through the first half of the season unbeaten and with the BBL Cup title defended in January, the thought of back-to-back clean sweeps began to emerge. A loss against Worcester Wolves in front of the Sky Sports cameras brought an end to the record-breaking win streak, and then they ran into a Riders backlash; losing all three league encounters as well as the Trophy Final. Joe Chapman returned from a stint in Japan as the only major summer change, and the Eagles have once again proved to be the team you need to beat and head into the playoffs with one title and as two-time runners-up.
SHEFFIELD SHARKS (20-13)
With three seventh place finishes in their past four seasons, the 2015-16 campaign marked an improvement from the Sharks. Captain Mike Tuck led the way again while Americans Jerrold Brooks and TJ Robinson had strong first-years in the BBL to propel the Yorkshire side to third in the league with 20 wins. After suffering six league defeats by the end of November, the Sharks began to hit their stride with a string of eighth consecutive victories. Back-to-back defeats in the South West in March did not end up proving costly as they secured a top-three finish in their penultimate game.
WORCESTER WOLVES (19-14)
It was all change for the Wolves in the summer with a mass exodus leaving just one returning player, in Disraeli Lufadeju. Previous BBL Championship winners with Leicester, Jay Couisnard and Pavol Losonsky were brought in with Orlan Jackman making a return to the BBL mid-season. A much-changed roster was intended to bring success in 2015-16 and Paul James’ side opened the campaign with a strong 7-2 record. They ended the unbeaten run of Newcastle Eagles in January, but untimely defeats derailed their Championship bid.
GLASGOW ROCKS (19-14)
Sterling Davis officially ended his playing career at the end of the last season and his first move in building his squad for the new season was to tie down Kieron Achara for the next two years. The GB veteran had a stellar campaign, winning the Molten BBL Player of the Month award on two occasions. It proved to be another 5th place finish for the Rocks, though they narrowly missed out on fourth due to an inferior head-to-head record with Worcester. The Rocks suffered two heavy defeats at home against Sheffield and Newcastle, but did produce some strong results including a 57-77 success away at Leicester in February.
LONDON LIONS (16-17)
While last season’s sixth place finish was considered an ‘underachievement’, this time around, it seems reasonable. The acquisition of Demond Watt was a big one, but injuries prevented the ex-Cheshire forward from being at his best. The Lions assembled a talented roster, boosted by the mid-season pick-up of Alex Owumi, but a lack of consistency resulted in their under .500 record. However, despite some indifferent results, the Lions did show how dangerous they can be and pushed the top two teams all the way in agonising defeats in the month of March.
CHESHIRE PHOENIX (16-17)
Despite a top-four league finish under the guidance of John Coffino, Cheshire decided in a change of direction as they re-appointed John Lavery for another spell in charge. Their early season struggles at their new arena proved damaging to their record and they were dealt a blow when Jordan Williams departed the club at Christmas having been the league’s leading scorer. Five wins from their last six league games ensured they qualified for the Playoffs for the third straight year.
LEEDS FORCE (14-19)
Four wins from their final four games including a shock win at home to the champions-to-be Leicester Riders saw Force pull of an unlikely surge into the post-season. The signing of Marek Klassen provided Leeds with the spark they needed and their impressive home form in the second half of the season was key. Their first season was a platform to build upon, and reaching the Playoffs was the perfect progression with a strong British core including summer signings Robert Marsden and Louis Sayers.
PLYMOUTH RAIDERS (13-20)
The Raiders receive more attention for their off-the-court issues than what they get up to on court. The high player turnover continued with Jay Marriott resigning as Head Coach shortly into the campaign with one of his summer signings from Australia, Daryl Corletto, instilled as player-coach. It was a dismal start for Plymouth, but the additions of Cory Dixon and Duane Bailey sparked a mid-season rally and the post-season beckoned. The controversial departure of fans favourite Josh Wilcher followed and a run of five defeats in six games allowed Leeds to sneak into eighth with a late run.
BRISTOL FLYERS (9-24)
A triumphant run to the post-season in their first year in the BBL was going to be hard to live up to, and they never really got going with injuries to their Americans taking their toll at times. There were returning faces mixed with new additions with Cardell McFarland arriving from Germany and the point guard was quick to make an impression on the league. The Flyers lost their first four league games before breaking their duck with a win in the capital, but were left to rue a poor run post-Christmas to leave themselves with too much to do to make a return to the playoffs.
MANCHESTER GIANTS (8-25)
When the player announcements came flooding in the build-up to the new season, the Giants looked like they were going to be left behind. However, Yorick Williams’ side came out with a point to prove with back-to-back victories to start the campaign. Fortunes quickly changed and the Giants claimed just one win in their next 14 to leave their Playoff hopes floundering. Some improved performances late on were coupled with two home wins against Bristol Flyers to climb off the foot of the table.
SURREY SCORCHERS (7-26)
The feel-good factor was back in Surrey as the club re-branded as the Scorchers following Surrey Sports Park’s acquisition of the franchise. The return of Creon Raftopoulos in charge on the sidelines proved a popular move and making Tayo Ogedengbe captain, equally so. Although the results didn’t quite match the optimism, the journey has begun to mould Surrey back into a strong franchise. The season began with three wins in their first five league games before a run of 15 defeats in 16 led to their bottom place finish.
Hoopsfix Most Valuable Player: Drew Sullivan
Mr. Dependable. GB’s 100-capped veteran was influential as ever for the Riders this season with Head Coach Rob Paternostro describing him as ‘the most impactful player in the BBL’ and it’s hard to argue with that. Sullivan averaged 12.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game in 32 outings, but it’s his overall influence on a game that makes him so invaluable. Not only is the 36-year-old able to come up with crucial scores and get his team-mates involved on the offensive end, but Sullivan is an elite defender on a team that set a new BBL record for the lowest Points Allowed Per Game average. According to RealGM’s statistics, Sullivan has the best defensive rating in the league with 86.4 with the top 12 players on the list unsurprisingly made up of Riders and Eagles players. Sullivan is now a 5-time winner of the BBL Championship and is a strong favourite to pick up his third BBL MVP award having taken his number of winners medals in the BBL to 17.
Hoopsfix All-BBL Teams
Joining Sullivan (12.6ppg, 6.6rpg, 3.3apg) in the First Team is Riders team-mate TrayVonn Wright (13.0ppg, 6.9rpg, 1.9bpg), who carried on from where he left off with an impressive full season in the BBL. The athletic forward receives a lot of attention for his high-flying dunks, but his protection in the paint has been key in leading the league in blocks. Rahmon Fletcher (14.3ppg, 3.1rpg, 5.5apg) had another strong season in what was his second in the BBL as he effectively orchestrated a free-flowing offence, while Jerrold Brooks (18.4ppg, 3.8rpg, 4.8apg) entertained with his lightning fast pace and was a key reason behind Sheffield’s strong campaign with a season-high of 33 points coming in December. Rounding out the team is another GB veteran in Kieron Achara (14.7ppg, 8.5rpg, 1.6bpg), who claimed back-to-back Molten BBL Player of the Month awards for February and March on his way to helping Glasgow to their respectable league finish in fifth.
Neil Watson (15.2ppg, 3.3rpg, 4.6apg) found a way to increase his scoring output this season on a deeper roster, and came up with a number of big-time shots including his late game-winner in victory against London Lions. Marek Klassen (17.7ppg, 5.8rpg, 8.1apg) proved to be a very astute acquisition by Leeds Force with the Canadian really driving the team on in their successful push for the playoffs, whilst producing a rare BBL triple-double. Daryl Corletto (19.8ppg, 4.8rpg, 4.1apg) displayed his strong pedigree from Australia in becoming the league’s top scorer, whilst dealing with a new challenge as player-coach shortly into the season. The annual defiance of his critics continued for Charles Smith (15.8ppg, 6.4rpg, 3.7apg) with another season as Newcastle’s top scorer. The 40-year-old’s production never wanes and even manages to step it up a gear when required when injuries take their toll around him. TJ Robinson (16.5ppg, 10.6rpg) was a double-double machine for the Sharks with a league-best tally of 19 – often in quick time too with a role of coming off the bench later in the season. Real GM’s per 40 minute stats place the American at the top of the points/rebounding charts, averaging 24 & 15.
The Third-Team consists of Akeem Ellis (17.7ppg, 5.5rpg, 3.6apg), who made the most 3-pointers of any player this season with 93 and shot the lights out on several occasions, while Tyler Bernardini (12.0ppg, 5.4rpg, 2.6apg) grew from strength to strength as the season progressed, particularly during the Riders’ tough run-in. Scott Martin (14.1ppg, 7.4rpg, 2.1apg) was back for his third season and without grabbing the headlines, the American did his job with a solid campaign. Kinu Rochford (18.4ppg, 10.1rpg, 3.0apg) has been a dominant force in the paint for Cheshire and also staked his claim as one of the best passing bigs in the league whilst finishing the regular season in style with a league-high 40 points. Also, Perris Blackwell (17.6ppg, 9.1rpg) was another effective player around the basket with a 58.4% success rate from inside the arc and an overall key contributor for the Wolves.
Hoopsfix All-BBL 1st team: Rahmon Fletcher (Eagles), Jerrold Brooks (Sharks), TrayVonn Wright, Drew Sullivan (both Riders), Kieron Achara (Rocks).
Hoopsfix All-BBL 2nd team: Neil Watson (Riders), Marek Klassen (Force), Daryl Corletto (Raiders), Charles Smith (Eagles), TJ Robinson (Sharks).
Hoopsfix All-BBL 3rd team: Akeem Ellis (Phoenix), Tyler Bernardini (Riders), Scott Martin (Eagles), Kinu Rochford (Phoenix), Perris Blackwell (Wolves).
Hoopsfix Honourable mentions- Cory Dixon, Demond Watt, Cardell McFarland, Mike Tuck, Tyrone Lee, Warren Gillis, Danny Huffor, Jay Couisnard, Andy Thompson, Callum Jones, Jordan Williams.
Hoopsfix All-British Team: Callum Jones (Giants), Daryl Corletto (Raiders), Drew Sullivan (Riders), Kieron Achara (Rocks), Rob Marsden (Force) (Off the Bench): Nick Lewis (Lions), Danny Huffor (Phoenix), Jamell Anderson (Riders), Orlan Jackman (Wolves), Andy Thompson, Darius Defoe (both Eagles), Will Hall (Rocks).
Hoopsfix Coach of the Year: Rob Paternostro.
It’s been a great year for the Riders on-and-off the court and Paternostro is at the heart of his side’s return to the winner’s circle. The ever-passionate Connecticut native did a great job in managing his side down the stretch; finding the right balance of minutes and rest in the midst of a hectic schedule for their Championship run-in. The decision to use Sullivan coming off the bench worked to great effect with the GB captain having a fantastic season. Should Paternostro win the official BBL accolade for a third time, he would move closer to Eagles player-coach Fab Flournoy and Kevin Cadle, who have won the award on five occasions. Matt Newby also deserves a lot of praise for guiding Leeds Force into the BBL Playoffs at the second time of asking. Injuries and the delay of player arrivals stunted their progression at the start of the season, but Newby never stopped believing his side would come good and the pick-up of Marek Klassen midway through the season proved to be a masterstroke as they grabbed eighth spot with a timely late-season burst.
Hoopsfix Most Improved Player: Jerelle Okoro.
The 24-year-old joined Manchester Giants in the summer on the back of a strong season in D2 with Loughborough and with very limited BBL experience. Minutes were hard to come by in the early parts of the campaign, but Okoro continued to work hard to earn more opportunities and ended the 2015-16 season as one of the Giants’ top performers in the starting line-up. Okoro enjoyed somewhat of a breakout game with 21 points against Plymouth at the end of February before setting a new-high of 25 points a few weeks later against Newcastle. It was marked as a transition season for the Giants under new player-coach Yorick Williams, and the emergence of Okoro will go down as one of the real positives.
Hoopsfix Defensive Player of the Year: TrayVonn Wright
The Riders pride themselves on their defence and the award could go to a number of players on their roster including the aforementioned MVP Drew Sullivan, a great stalwart on the defensive end. However, our award goes to TrayVonn Wright. The athletic forward used his large wingspan to disrupt opponents and impressed as a strong rim protector with just shy of 2 blocks per game to lead the league. Wright’s Defensive Rating of 87.5 was second only to Sullivan as they combined to set the foundation of a tough team to break down.
DISCLAIMER: These are not the official BBL awards. Selections based on personal opinion of the author based on large number of games watched this season. Statistics via the BBL and Real GM are used to provide context rather than pure justification of a selection.
Agree? Disagree? Have your say, and leave your thoughts in the comments below!