Thursday, December 22, 2016

2016-17 London Lightning Season Preview

Courtesy: Morris Lamont, LF Press
One of the powers of the NBLC, London has been a top team in NBL Canada since the league's inception. However, after failing to make it out of the first round in 2014-15, the good vibes seemed to wear off for the Lightning, especially with their rivals, the Windsor Express, matching their feat of winning two straight championships.

It was under these circumstances that coach Kyle Julius was brought in, with the hopes of returning the Lightning to the upper echelon of the NBLC. The team found a successful mix of league veterans, like Garrett Williamson, Ryan Anderson and Nick Okorie, and younger players who were ready for the spotlight, like Stephen Maxwell, and rode them right to the top of the Central Conference. Boosted by the late season addition of veteran point guard Akeem Scott, the Lightning stormed all the way to the NBL Finals. Once there, they took on the Halifax Hurricanes, but after a tough, seven game series, the Lightning failed to win their coveted third championship.

While the end result was a disappointment, the season as a whole was one that restored faith for the Lightning fan base. It was a sign that the team was headed back in the right direction, and had a recipe that could lead them to one day adding another banner to the Budweiser Gardens rafters. With the Lightning retaining some key pieces in Williamson and Anderson, plus the addition of some new players with intriguing pedigree, the Lightning again set their sights on a title.

* - Denotes Canadian player

BACKCOURT: Garrett Williamson*, Ryan Anderson, Junior Cadougan*, Joel Friesen*, Fredrick Edmond, Kareem Canty, D'Vonne Pickett

The Lightning brought back two key pieces in Garrett Williamson and Ryan Anderson. The two NBLC veterans and former All-Stars were injured to start last season, and never really reached 100% until near the end of the year. This season, both are healthy, and should be major contributors.

Junior Cadougan is a former member of the Canadian national team, and was a standout at Marquette. He is an efficient ball handler, and will be the first option to handle the point guard duties. He likely won't "wow" anybody, but he is smart at choosing when to take the shot and when to feed his teammates.

Last season, the Lightning made a "if you can't beat them, sign them" move in picking up Anderson. This season, that player is Joel Friesen, who's defence gave the Lightning fits during the finals. His ability to knock down threes should also make him a good fit.

Rounding out the backcourt are Fredrick Edmond, a tough player, whose cuts to the rim are reminiscent of former Bolt Emmanuel Little, Kareem Canty, an Auburn grad who loves to shoot the ball, and D'Vonne Pickett, a shorter point guard who plays an efficient brand of basketball.


FRONTCOURT: Royce White, Julian Boyd, Troy Gottselig*, Tony Criswell, Marvin Singleton, Marcus Capers, Taylor Black*

Obviously the first name is the biggest one, with the Lightning adding a former NBA player in Royce White. As a stat sheet stuffer, he brings an ability to pass out of the post that few NBLC bigs have been capable of. His ability to play with his back to the basket is something the Lightning didn't have last year either.

Julian Boyd plays a game that has more than a passing resemblance to former Bolt Marvin Phillips. Both are strong, 6'7 power forwards who can also drift to the 3-point line to knock down a shot. For a Lightning team that isn't loaded with interior players, his rebounding will be important.

Canadian Troy Gottselig is a 6'9 forward who is capable of stretching the floor. He played briefly for the Island Storm in 2011-12, so it will be interesting to see how he performs since then. He is joined by former Hurricane Tony Criswell, a crazy athletic forward, and Marvin Singleton, a young Northern Iowa grad that has been making noise in camp.

The Lightning could also have Marcus Capers and Taylor Black from last year's team, but their situation is unclear, stemming from charges issued by the police earlier this month.

OUTLOOK

The Lightning again seem primed for another go at an NBL Canada championship. While they obviously will miss a lot of the players that took them to the Finals, the reinforcements are impressive, to say the least. There are concerns with whether they can have much of an interior presence, but with an influx of talent, and key returnees in Anderson and Williamson, the Lightning appear to have the pieces needed to make noise in the Central Conference.