Monday, December 26, 2016

2016-17 Island Storm Season Preview

 By: Dan Weryha

After appearing in the National Basketball League finals in back-to-back years, the Island Storm followed up with a season to forget. With only one returning player on the roster, the Storm hoped a fresh group assembled by coach Joe Salerno could keep the streak of championship berths alive. Instead, the Storm found itself in the midst of its worst statistical season to date, eventually finishing tied for the worst record in the NBLC. With three returning players, a few key acquisitions and the coach with the most wins in NBLC history returning for his sixth straight season at the helm, The Storm will look to prove last season was nothing more than a small blip on an otherwise spotless track record.

Poised to regain what was lost two seasons ago, the Storm made a big splash over the offseason, bringing in former Arizona State University guard Jahii Carson. The 5’10” Arizona native played two seasons with the Sun Devils where he averaged just over 18 points-per-game and is expected to give one of last season’s worst offences a much-needed boost. The former Pac-12 co-Freshman of the Year shot an impressive 39 percent from beyond the arc in his final season with the Sun Devils. He also showed his ability to move the ball, averaging slightly over four and a half assists-per-game. In addition to the Division 1 convert, the Storm welcomed some familiar faces to training camp, most notably veteran combo guard Nick Okorie who has returned for his second stint with the team after being traded last year for a pair of players who are no longer on the team. Okorie is joined by Ryan Christie, Leon Gibson, Demitri Harris and Wayne McCullough who were brought in to shore up the lacking front court. Former Storm guard Shawn Vanzant took part in camp, but was among the finals cuts.

* - Denotes Canadian player

BACKCOURT: Jahii Carson, Al Stewart, Jackson Trapp, Nick Okorie, Terry Thomas*

Last season, the Storm ranked as one of the worst in scoring offences in the league largely due to their inability to create good opportunities by getting people open. The Storm finished second in three-point percentage, but sat dead last in made three-pointers. Guard play, primarily from a point guard perspective, lacked as the Storm ranked 6th in assists per game.

The Storm set out to correct some key issues surrounding their backcourt in the offseason and appear to have done so.

With the addition of Carson, the Storm will likely ride the young guard’s keen ability to handle the rock so that Okorie, who is more of a natural scorer, can work off the ball. Despite his proven ability to put the ball in the hoop, Okorie is streaky and has a habit of shooting his team out of games when he is cold. Coach Salerno will need to keep Okorie on a short leash if they want to get the most out of their backcourt. Carson and Okorie are joined by a pair of returnees in 33-year-old Al Stewart who will likely split time as the primary ball carrier and Terry Thomas who will serve as backcourt depth. Stewart’s role on the team hinges on how effective Carson proves to be. Stewart is no spring chicken, but he’s a two-time NBLC defender of the year and despite his diminutive stature, a good on-ball defender. If Carson struggles, Salerno will lean on Stewart to stabilize his backcourt. Jackson Trapp will start the season on the injured list with a foot fracture.

FRONTCOURT: Tirrell Baines, Al Richter, AJ Stewart, Wayne McCullough, Ryan Christie*, Leon Gibson, Demitri Harris*, Brad States*

The one name that stands out in the Storm frontcourt is basketball journeyman Tirrell Baines. Baines, who played his college ball at Marshall and spent a couple years in the D-League, is returning for his second season with the team. The 6’7” power forward was one of the few bright spots to come out of last season. He went 19 straight games with double-digit scoring and shot 46 percent from the field. The main concern with this unit is size, specifically at the five. The Storm are relying on A.J. Stewart and Leon Gibson to play the bulk of its minutes at the center position. Standing 6’8’” and 6’9” respectively, The Storm big men will face a tall task when they matchup with the league’s bigger centers.


Coach Salerno and the Storm believe they’re contenders and they’re not wrong to think that. The team made leaps in their backcourt over the offseason to compliment a frontcourt that dominated the boards a season ago. If Salerno is the coach we think he is, he should be able to get the most out of this much improved Island team, meaning it’s championship or bust for the Storm once again.

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