Saturday, June 25, 2016

8 Defining Stories From The 2015/16 NBLC Season

The 2015/16 National Basketball League of Canada season was considered a banner year for the league. Coming into its fifth season, following a number of high-profile incidents, many wondered what would happen to this league this season. While there were no Deadspin articles written about it, there were still a number of massive storylines to keep fans hooked all season long. New franchises, new powerhouses, new ownerships, and emerging talents helped make this fifth season one of the best in the NBLC's short lifespan.

1. Dramatic Finals

When London managed to beat Halifax in Game 1 of the 2015/16 NBLC Finals at Scotiabank Centre, many within the league were shocked. In fact, they were only the third team (Saint John, Windsor) to win in Halifax all season. When top-ranked Halifax took three straight, including two wins in London, and had London on the ropes, it once again sent shockwaves through the league. This series was the most exciting in NBLC history. Save for Game 5, when London managed to shoot the lights out to send the series back to Halifax, each contest was incredibly close. No team could get a substantial advantage, slogging it out over seven games. The most exciting moment of the whole series came in the following contest, when Stephen Maxwell’s last-second putback sent London in a frenzy. In the end, Halifax took down the Lightning at home, as their depth, especially in the front court, was simply too much for the short-handed Bolts. But as someone wise once said, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”

2. Halifax's Depth

From the first weekend of the 2015/16 NBL Canada season, it was clear that the Hurricanes were something special. From Clifford Clinkscales’ veteran leadership, to Canadian Joel Friesen's efficient contributions, to the massive Mike Glover, the Halifax Hurricanes sported the deepest roster seen in the NBLC since the 2013/14 Windsor Express and 2012/13 London Lightning. Six players averaged above 10ppg in the playoffs, bringing in an average of 78 points per contest between them. Whether it be Glover, who picked up sixth man of the year through 24mpg, Kyle Hunt, Billy White, or Kevin Loiselle down the stretch, their forwards routinely wore down defenses before striking with fresh legs. In the end, of the only 17 players that suited up for them this season, all but one averaged more than 12mpg. Not only does that show Hugo Lopez’s tactile coaching, but it also showcases how deep this club was well into May and June.

3. Bill Jones' Return

League officials had a soft spot for those who stuck around following the brawl that ended the 2014/15 season so abruptly. Cliff Clinkscales and Tony Bennett both made quick returns to their respective clubs despite how last season ended, while Tyrone Watson found a new home in Orangeville. However, no reinstatement was as significant as the one handed to Bill Jones. Following an appeal, league officials allowed Jones to return to the Windsor bench that was manned by his brother, Tony. While many disagreed with the decision, and the two-time champ’s appearances at games despite his one-year ban, league officials saw his admission of guilt as an important piece of the recovery process.

4. Niagara’s First Season

With another Ontario franchise on the horizon, there’s no doubt that league officials and those with the new Waterloo team will look towards the River Lions for inspiration. After launching the team last summer, this franchise has done everything right; impressive team media, fantastic community engagement, business sponsorships, impressive gate receipts, and marketable players have made Niagara a flagship NBLC market. Richard Petko and co. have been incredibly visible during the season, making even the casual fan feel their involvement. While second seasons are always a tough slog for new franchises, the River Lions are set to thrive in 2016/17.

5. Moncton’s Ownership

Speaking of franchises, this was a crucial year for the Moncton Miracles. Entering another season under league ownership, fans of the club were eager to find another group willing to keep the NBLC original in the Moncton Coliseum. Commissioner David Magley found that local ownership near the end of the moderately successful season on the court, where the fast and exciting play of Paul Mokeski’s version of the Miracles helped contribute to a banner year for the franchise.

6. London's Playoff Run

When an undersized London Lightning stumbled through April on their way to first seed in the Central, there were many doubters. How could the Bolts, who lost big men Nick Evans and Chad Posthumus, handle playoff basketball with either Akeem Wright or Stephen Maxwell, both 6’7”, having to man the front court? Well, size didn’t matter for Kyle Julius, who got the most out of his key contributors down the stretch. With ”The Akeems” of Akeem Scott and Wright posting incredible numbers through the first two series, nothing else seemed to matter. Scott’s drives to the rim made him an instant fan favourite, even though he had only joined the team a month before their playoff run. Other heroic performances by veteran Garrett Williamson and rookie Maxwell etched their names in the Lightning’s history book alongside NBLC greats like Tim Ellis and Gabe Freeman, despite the fact they fell short in the final game of the season.

7. Logan Stutz

The Niagara River Lions were blessed in their inaugural season with a level of individual impact that we haven’t seen in the NBLC for a number of years. 2015/16 MVP Logan Stutz exploded out of the gate for the River Lions, averaging an incredibly even 22ppg through the month of January on a team that failed to win many games during that span. While his point production was impressive enough, the London Lightning camp invitee was also nearly perfect on the boards, averaging nine rebounds per contest throughout the season. While his numbers dropped near the end of the campaign, there is no doubting how valuable he was to a struggling team — and how much more impressive his numbers are considering that.

8. Saint John’s Veteran Experiment

With arguably the most experienced lineup in NBL Canada history, it looked as if Saint John would be a lock for their first NBLC Finals appearance when the season started in December. Gabe Freeman, Al Stewart, and Anthony Anderson offered a “big three” reputation while bringing MVP awards and extensive NBLC experience with them. The decision to go to veteran talent was seen as an experiment by Rob Spon and the Mill Rats — considering how the level of play in the league has increased year-over-year. Despite a disastrous end to the season, the Mill Rats were always considered one of the top teams in the league, proving that veteran leadership can take you places in the NBLC.