2017/18 SEASON IN REVIEW: DEAKIN MELBOURNE BOOMERS
DEAKIN MELBOURNE BOOMERS
Wins – 12
Losses – 9
Standing – Runners-Up
2016/17 result – 5 wins, 19 losses, 7th
Melbourne made their return to the WNBL playoffs for the first time since 2013/14 on the back of the best defence in the competition as well as the addition of Liz Cambage. They surrendered just 68 points per game which was two points less than any other side and eight points below the league average while at the other end of the floor, they shot 50% from two-point range compared to the competition average of 46.3%.
Jenna O’Hea was a major part of that, hitting 57% from inside the arc for 12.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game while her on-court leadership and veteran knowledge was an underappreciated part of the Boomers’ season. Brittany Smart (8.4 points, 2.9 assists per game) continues to grow into a star point guard, bringing energy to the team while her performance in the playoffs showed she is not afraid of the big stage. Bec Cole also stepped up in the post-season, averaging 15.5 points in the Semi-Finals off the bench and while Kalani Purcell did not always stuff the stat-sheet, her hustle and one-percent plays provided a major contribution throughout the year. Louella Tomlinson also made a successful return from an early-season injury to finish second in the club for blocks while Monique Conti continues to shine as one of the league’s future stars.
The Championship favourites coming into 2017/18, Melbourne still fell short of their ultimate goal despite returning to the playoffs for the first time in four years. They had their ups-and-downs through the regular season, not helped by an ACL injury to Courtney Duever four games into the year and owned just a 2-7 record against fellow top four teams while a nine-day stretch during Rounds 4 and 5 saw them drop three straight games. While their defence remained steadfast through the Grand Final series, they struggled to produce at the offensive end with an average of just 59.7 points at 34% shooting per game as their fifth-most efficient offence through the regular season came back to haunt them. There were off-field distractions too with Cambage enjoying her fair share of controversy, including a one-game suspension in Round 7 and a monetary fine ahead of Game 3 of the Grand Final series.
Despite those concerns, Cambage was still the standout for the Boomers in her return to the WNBL this season. She led the competition for points (23.8) and rebounds (10.3) per game, finished third for blocks (1.3) and shot 62% from the field. The centre put the Boomers on her back on several occasions, leading them to an overtime victory against Perth in Round 3 with 23 points and 23 boards, against Adelaide in Round 6 with 44 points and then in Game 2 of the Grand Final series by scoring the last eight points for Melbourne to finish with 19 points, nine rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block. Her four Player of the Week awards and seven Team of the Week nominations were both league-high’s and she capped off the season with a spot in the All-Star Five. Her form has caught the attention of the US as well with Cambage signing a deal that will see her return to the WNBA with Dallas later this year.
Melbourne have wasted no time in setting themselves up for next season. Having re-signed coach Guy Molloy, they will also see O’Hea, Purcell, Conti, Ash Grant and Chelsea D’Angelo return after all five players signed multi-year deals. The WNBL future of Cambage is up in the air though after the centre publicly stated she is unlikely to be back next season and without her, there is a large hole in the Boomers front court that they will need to fill with a rim protector as well as a big-time scorer.
Bumping her numbers up across the board, Ash Grant enjoyed her move to Melbourne from Perth this season as she featured in 19 games for 4.4 points and 2.3 rebounds per contest while shooting at 46% from the field. Coming up with some important defensive plays throughout the season, Grant also stepped up in the Semi-Finals against her old club when Cambage suffered foul trouble and with her strength and timing on blocks, she could help to fill the front court void if Cambage does not return in 2018/19.