BBL INSIDER: FIRST IMPRESSIONS COUNT

What have we learnt from the British Basketball League season so far? Here’s eight early impressions from the opening exchanges.

1. Bristol Flyers have had some smarts coming in

Whisper it quietly, but a BBL team has ‘a system’. And it’s the newcomer who have arrived in the top flight in impressive style by building properly on what they had before rather than a: relying on it and sinking without a trace, or b: blowing it up and making a horrible mess.

Andreas Kapoulas has won a number of admirers for adding the likes of Alif Bland, Doug Herring and Mathias Seilund to complement their core. With Greg Streete the best new Brit in the league, the Flyers will have a good rookie campaign, even if some of their initial gains will be lost as opponents scout their strengths.

2. Leeds Force haven’t had as much smarts

It’s not hard to figure out who will be propping the BBL this term. Leeds look over-matched at this level. However they’ve already picked up a win – which is more than Mersey or Birmingham managed over the past two seasons – and they look certain to be an asset in the long run.

3. Manchester Giants are a big fat question mark

Towards the end of last season, the Giants, I understand, were an unhappy camp. Players have left. Not a lot of quality has come in. Off the court, there remain issues which have had league officials demanding better. On nights where David Watts hits lots of threes, they might scrape by. But there are real fears about the BBL in Manchester again.

4. Plymouth Raiders and Surrey United won’t be much better

One rival coach’s take on the Raiders: “They don’t have enough talent to get by without it all being brought together. And there’s no-one there doing it.” That wasn’t a slight on Jay Marriott’s coaching, as much as a recruitment process which was almost done by the summer start. The results, so far, look a mess.

Joining them near the foot are Surrey, whose French offshoot (to no-one’s surprise) never materialised and who have only improved marginally on the floor. And Durham Wildcats might toil to match last term with a lesser line-up, even with the useful addition of Fran Urli who didn’t get a proper shake in Glasgow.

5. London Lions are going to be the most fascinating pre-Christmas tale

I watched the full Lions roster in action for the first time last Sunday in their Cup loss to Glasgow. It is, no doubt, loaded. It looks, I suspect, so loaded that it will tip over. There are too many players who need the ball, there’s a bench with some real sparks (Adrien Sturt) who are perfect complements but who might get buried. And a tonne of ego to be managed. Gut feeling? It won’t work. But it’s going to be fun seeing the process.

6. Glasgow will rise and fall with JaJuan Smith

When the Rocks eventually bring in Ali Fraser and insert him along side Kieron Achara and Tayo Ogedengbe, there’s the BBL’s best front line. It’s in the back that their problems rest. Tommy Freeman admits he’s suffering a confidence crisis. Danny Huffor could regress from his impressive stint in Durham if he gets sidelined. But everything hangs on Smith, who has looked positively disinterested at times, enough that Achara immediately got on his case at his first practice. He looked a lot better against London but can an itinerant journeyman who was always going to be a gamble sustain that spark?

7. Cheshire Phoenix talked themselves up too much

While Cheshire, under much-vaunted coaching hire John Coffino, were whipping their fans into a frenzy with title talk and storied signings, one league observer told me: ‘just you wait, all is not what it seems.’ And so it’s proven, with precious little promise from their start, a line up which is less than the sum of its parts, and a late signing in Taylor King who had more red flags than National Day in China.

8. Newcastle Eagles and Leicester Riders will duel for the title

The reigning champions hit a snag when Ricky Taylor begged out last week but superscout Dave Forrester will undoubtedly have alternatives ready to go. And they already look a notch above the rest.

Leicester had a lot of summer turnover but if there’s one coach who knows how to bring new parts together, it’s Rob Paternostro, even if Derrick Roland has been a huge disappointment.

Beyond them, Worcester Wolves have dipped a little and Sheffield Sharks even more, but they’ll be solid.

It’s going to be a fun six months ahead. And, as we’ve already witnessed, a few unanticipated twists and turns on the way.

The BBL Insider column appears every Tuesday on MVP

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