Imports kayla thornton and tiffany mitchell are fighting it out. Image credit: Getty Images
With no WNBL games this week, teams will be assessing where they are after three rounds of play, and for some the catch has been happy so far, while others clearly have a lot to work on. It’s only so early in the season, but teams – and players – are already making big moves and separating themselves from the pack.
This includes imports all over the league, with many getting off to strong starts in their respective seasons, while others take a little longer to adjust to life in the WNBL. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how you can track imports.
The Adelaide Lightning may be sitting with a 1-3 losing record, but they endured a tough draw to start their season and picked up their first win on the board against Sydney over the weekend.
Even though they lost their first three games of the season, they fought hard in each of those matches and seemed capable of becoming a threat in the finals. Both imports, Kierstan Bell and Jacinta Monroe, seem to fit well into the Lightning system and provide coach Nat Hurst with a head start.
Bell, 22, is an exciting prospect, and after a rookie WNBA season with Las Vegas that ended with a title, but not a lot of playing time, she must be enjoying getting on the court and it certainly made an impact. At an average of 27 minutes per game, Bale shoots 45.5% from deep, and is key to playing alongside Steve Talbot, who will always find teammates on the perimeter.
She had her best game of the season so far in a win over Sydney, finishing with 22 points (4/7 from three), 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks. I can’t help but see it get better as it continues to find its feet in Australia.
Monroe is a seasoned veteran and has already shown that it will just work and be a reliable choice for Lightning. Shooting just under 60% from the field, Monroe knows she’s effective in the paint and doesn’t shy away from it as she has proven not to make a three-point attempt this season. Averaging 9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3 assists per game, Monroe will be an important factor as the Lightning look to pick up wins.
Bendigo is the only team in the league without an import, but that hasn’t slowed them down in the slightest as they boast an undefeated 3-0 record and new head coach Kennedy Kerima has the team playing exciting basketball.
What makes the Spirit proposal even more intimidating is the fact that they will welcome back former Opal Tessa LaVey – whose AFLW season with Richmond ended two weeks ago – in Round 4. She will have a huge role to play in the backcourt.
With young defender Gemma Potter out this season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury, star Jed Melbourne missing the moment with an ankle injury, and Brittany Smart not dressed for the match over the weekend against Melbourne, Canberra has been hit the hardest by injury. Bug and struggles to compete.
Having said that, the two Wards are fierce rivals and I was particularly impressed with their play against the Boomers. Despite the loss of the other monsters, Ray Burrell (15 points and 5 rebounds) and Dekia Cohen (16 points and 10 rebounds) continued to battle away and raise the Capitals flag — as did 19-year-old Australian rising star Chance Swain, who had real crack.
Clearly missing key personnel, Canberra will continue to rely heavily on Burrell and Cohen and through the early part of the season they appear to be imports willing to fight back and not back down from a challenge, regardless of the score line.
The defending champions are 3-1 down and once again look like a real title threat. With three Opals stars on the list, you might think that imports aren’t as important to Melbourne as they are to other teams across the league, but that’s far from the case.
Tiffany Mitchell took her game to the next level in her second season as the Boomer and with Tess Madgen out, she played a game-making role and showed that she was more than capable of running the team’s offense in long stretches of games.
She’s a legitimate do-it-all winger, averaging 23.5 points per game – on a very effective shooting 51.6% from the field and 50% on threes – as well as 6.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds. The only negative in Mitchell’s game so far this season has been her turnovers, as she coughs 4.5 per game and at times her drives to the basket are out of control, resulting in her being airborne with limited options.
There has always been a sense of being left out by Olivia Nelson-Oduda in the WNBL, and with four matches to go, she’s definitely still at that point. I think she will figure things out and be an integral part of Melbourne.
She began to find her footing in the second half of her WNBA rookie season with the Los Angeles Sparks and showed that she can be a real presence on both ends of the court. She can be a real difference maker on the defensive end and if she is able to take that aspect of her game forward I think her offense will flow from there.
Robbie Ryan is Perth’s sole import and although not a high-profile player, is showing encouraging signs of being a solid player for the Lynx.
Her playmaking will be key for Perth, with any pressure taken off Sammy Whitcombe’s shoulders being most welcome. After throwing out too many turnovers in her first two games (4 per game), Ryan has found the right balance in her last two games as she has reduced her turnover (1.5) and posted 4.5 assists per game.
Southside has only picked one import this season, but it’s clear they’ve chosen quality over quantity by bringing in Kayla Thornton. It took Thornton no time at all to look comfortable out there as she scored 21 points and 8 rebounds in Southside’s season-opening win over Adelaide and hasn’t looked back since.
Thornton is a beast on both sides of the court with her energy and wants to influence games. Whether she’s making attacking moves by making moves in the paint, changing games by diving for loose balls or grabbing big rebounds, Thornton is a perfect fit for a loaded Southside side because she doesn’t always need the ball in her hands to be a real contributor.
Thornton has been everything coach Sheryl Chambers could have hoped for in an import so far, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Flyers pull the trigger sometime this season to sign a second import, given their lack of depth at guard. . With only three guards on the roster, it’s perhaps the biggest question mark surrounding their quest for a title.
Sydney are winless at 0-3 and will need to find a better attacking pace if they have trouble with any of their next opponents in Southside or Bendigo.
Jocelyn Willoughby carried much of the offensive load when the Flames faced the Lynx in Round 3, accounting for a third of the Flames’ field goal attempts by kicking 25 times. She finished with 26 points on 44% shooting, but Sydney will need more around her if they are going to compete on a night out, night out.
Willoughby battled mightily from the field against Adelaide at the weekend, shooting just 7% (1/14) and as she failed to shoot, Sydney could not keep up with a lightning hot shot from deep and fell by 20 points, 87-67.
Hannah Cerven showed flashes of her potential in the early stages of the season, most notably against Perth when she tallied 10 points, 9 rebounds and 3 steals, but struggled to make an impact offensively for most of her minutes on the court.
The Fire got off to a hot start to their season, and while much of the credit is given to Australian backcourt duo Lauren Nicholson and Steve Reid (deservedly), Tiana Hawkins has been an integral presence on the inside.
With three games through, Hawkins seems to be a huge compliment to guards Nicholson and Reed, and as they all play more games together, I can only see their chemistry improving, which is a troubling notion for the rest of the league.
In Townsville’s thrilling win over Adelaide, Hawkins proved to be the game winner with 33 points (65% shooting from the field) and 10 rebounds. Averaging 20.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game, Hawkins makes an early case for being one of the biggest players in the league.
While Townsville would be thrilled with Hawkins, another import, Carly Samuelson, was also a positive influence. When Hawkins led the shot home against the Lightning, Samuelson also came to the front and delivered from long range – as we all know she can. Samuelson finished with 20 points, drained four times, and had a very healthy 50% depth percentage for the season.
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