Believe – How the Perth Wildcats go against NBL logic

The Perth Wildcats have taken down 5th seed S-E Melbourne in the NBL Play-In Series. (Via: NBL)

*All advanced stats are taken from

‘Offence may win games, but defence wins championships,’ is what many people within our great league think. 

Whether it is all-time greats like Damian Martin, coaches like Trevor Gleeson, Dean Vickerman, or even current Perth Wildcats coach John Rillie.

Throughout pre-season from the very minute Rillie was appointed as coach of the Wildcats after the shock resignation of Scott Morrison, he has preached about how defence and rebounding win championships in the NBL.

“If your defence is not good and you can’t rebound the basketball, you’re not going to play free-flowing offence. It’s going to be very stagnant, and you’ll be taking the ball out of the net,” Rillie said in his first press conference as Head Coach.

“In [defence and rebounding] we are going to be striving to be in the upper echelons of the NBL.”

However, Perth has been anything but a force on those ends. 

The Wildcats average the least rebounds in the league across their 29 games (33.5), while they allow the second most rebounds from their opposition (38.7).

They also have the worst defensive rating in the league with 117.5, while having the worst defensive rebounding percentage at 69.5%.

You look at these stats alone and you would never believe that they would be in the last five teams left in the competition. A position they got into by 0.06% on the ladder, or just one field goal over Melbourne United.

Finishing the regular season with a record of 15-13, Perth scrapped into the league’s new play-in series in sixth place.

Their incredible offensive game got them into that position, off the back of three-time MVP Bryce Cotton and a great second half of the year from New Zealand great Corey Webster, NBA draftee Luke Travers and big men TaShawn Thomas and Brady Manek.

They currently average the second most points in the league with 92 per game, with the least number of turnovers with 10.6. This sees them with a huge offensive rating of 117.6, the highest in the league. 

But numbers aren’t everything. 

I had a conversation with myself in the Wildcats’ post-game press conference, that basketball and sports in general aren’t always about numbers. We do not live in a ‘Moneyball’ world, which Billy Beane and many others might want to think. 

It’s about moments that impact the game. 

“We had great contributors like Travers. Big three, offensive rebounds. Tai Webster comes in and changes the pace of the game a little bit by getting downhill for us. So different guys step up. TaShawn’s two free throws. But that allows Bryce to do MVP-like things,” the man called JR said.

Perth was down by 13 in the very early stages of the fourth quarter. Cotton at the time with only 6 points. However, he would finish the game with 26. Leading the Wildcats to a 41-point final term and beating the Phoenix 99 to 106.

South-East Melbourne could have easily run away with the game in the first half if it wasn’t for Brady Manek and his 19-point first half.

He was a catch-and-shoot machine before the main break. Shooting five of eight from ‘the land of plenty’.

“One thing that I value in him as a player is his shot-making ability, in the moment. In the big moment. We’re getting towards that stage of the season. He’s performed at that level at his previous stop,” Rillie said about Manek.

“So, when we were putting the team together, that was one of the ingredients that you need to have. Bryce needs guys like that around him to allow him to do that. TaShawn, Travers, so all the pieces come together.”

The Wildcats now take on Cairns in what essentially is their third ‘play-in’ game in a row, after their last-day heroics vs Sydney.

After that game, Rillie walked into his press conference wearing a tee shirt, with the character of Ted Lasso on the front.

A show that is all about Belief and getting the best out of people, not only on but off the field.

After putting back on his Wildcats polo, he said, “When we were five and seven, lost five in a row there was only a room full of guys that believed. So that’s what I’m most proud of about this team.”

The shirt which was a Christmas gift from his son has sparked belief across not only the Red Army faithful but the NBL community in general.

How this team of non-defenders and high-usage scorers are still winning games of basketball is remarkable. It is honestly confusing how this team has achieved where they are on the ladder, with how they are playing under a rookie coach.

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