Each week, ESPN.com.au's Jake Michaels looks at six talking points from the AFL world.
This week's Six Points feature Alastair Clarkson and the struggles of North Melbourne, the best one-two punch in the modern era, and why Collingwood is poised to thrash Carlton on Sunday afternoon at the MCG.
1. Alastair Clarkson is not the coaching messiah you've all been telling me he is
I usually spare this column of self-congratulatory segments, but I'm finding it near impossible to refrain from gloating about the minimal impact Alastair Clarkson has made thus far at North Melbourne.
What did I tell you? What have I been banging on about for years? Clarkson was never going to be the Kangaroos' immediate saviour, despite what you're all hardwired into believing. He doesn't possess magical powers and wasn't going to turn this mess around in a single off-season. For those of you thinking, 'I never thought that would be the case,' let me tell you, there were plenty who did.
Right now, the Kangaroos are a glorified VFL team which has lost seven straight games by margins of 19, 23, 75, 43, 90, 30 and now 70 points. Nothing -- quite literally -- has changed from last year, when there were constant calls for David Noble's head. North remains bottom two in points for, points against, scores per inside 50, uncontested possessions, points from clearance, and pressure, among a whole host of other key statistical categories.
The most disappointing, and concerning aspect to Clarkson's short tenure at the helm is the fact he's been unable to establish any identity. Are the Roos an attacking team? Defensive-minded? Clearance-based? Nobody knows.
You might say it's harsh and little time has been afforded for him to implement such changes, but it's worth noting that several other coaches have been able to stamp themselves on their new teams early in year one. Michael Voss immediately transformed the Blues into a team that was fixated on contested possession, Matthew Nicks quickly had the Crows as the best pressure team in the league and Justin Longmuir created an impenetrable defense at the Dockers, which proved to be the hardest to score against.
Admittedly, you can imagine a serious amount of time and energy has been directed towards explaining his role in the ongoing Hawthorn racism saga. The effects this process has had on Clarkson, both as a man and also as a coach, can't be understated.
Clarkson deserves an enormous amount of credit for steering the Hawks to four premierships, but the way in which he's put on a coaching pedestal and treated as the greatest tactical mind of all time is so overblown it's become ridiculous.
I liken it to Michael Jordan. Sure, he won six NBA championships and never lost in the Finals, but why are his other nine seasons -- when the help wasn't there -- basically ignored? More than half of Clarkson's coaching seasons have ended with his team either outside the top eight or with a straight-sets finals exit, and I'll forever argue the playing group was the catalyst behind the dominant Hawthorn years; the fact Clarkson's winning record is 65% with Sam Mitchell playing and 45% without him backs that argument up entirely.
A fun stat I like to trot out every now and then is that Ken Hinkley has a better winning percentage than Alastair Clarkson. Don't believe me? Look it up.
Now can Clarkson eventually right this North Melbourne ship? Possibly. I'm certainly not arguing he cannot and I'm not going to be surprised if he eventually does. But he's going to require two things: time and talent. He'll be given time, because he's Clarkson and in the eyes of many can do no wrong. The question is whether or not this club can piece together enough quality personnel to start climbing up the ladder.
2. Christian Petracca and Clayton Oliver have formed the best one-two punch of the modern era
The great one-two punches. If one doesn't get you, the other certainly will. When you think of the great combos in AFL history, it's usually forward pairings who spring to mind. You know, Peter Hudson and Leigh Matthews or Michael Roach and Kevin Bartlett. More recently, Lance Franklin and Jarryd Roughead.
But in the modern era, most of these dynamic duos seem to be midfield pairs. Here are my five best one-two punches in the game right now:
The table won't highlight it but there's daylight between Petracca and Oliver and the Bulldogs in second spot. Melbourne's star midfielders complement each other better than any other pairing, with Oliver playing the inside, contested role and primarily using the ball by hand, while Petracca does his damage by foot, taking metres and hitting the scoreboard.
But the beauty -- and impressive -- part of this pair is they are both more than capable of switching into each other's preferred role, something we certainly witnessed for periods during their 2021 Grand Final triumph.
This season, Petracca and Oliver both rank top two at the Demons for kicks, handballs, disposals, contested possessions, uncontested possessions, clearances, looseball-gets, hardball-gets, gathers from hitouts and score involvements. Since 2021, this is average of what you're getting each week from the Petracca-Oliver combination:
30 contested possessions
15 score involvements
12 inside 50s
4 goals/goal assists
Petracca and Oliver have combined for a staggering 137 Brownlow votes in the last three seasons. For context, my second-ranked pair of Marcus Bontempelli and Tom Liberatore have 66 in that time. Patrick Dangerfield and Joel Selwood, who many believed were the last dynamic midfield duo, have 43.
This year is no different. After nine weeks, I have Petracca and Oliver second and third, respectively, on my Brownlow Medal predictor.
3. AFL commentators' inability to correctly identify players is insulting
This past round, an experienced AFL commentator referred to Geelong champion Tom Hawkins as Jack Hawkins (his father) during the broadcast of the Tigers-Cats game. The name gaffe would be embarrassing if it were a first year player, but for Hawkins, who has amassed 336 games, it's indefensible. It doesn't matter in the slightest that his father also played in the league. Get it right.
I'm not going to single out any particular commentator, and it must be said this is certainly not the case with all of them, but you simply should not be commentating games of football if you cannot identify every single player on the ground and pronounce their name correctly. Period.
This year alone I've had to listen to Western Bulldogs midfielder Jack Macrae mistaken for Collingwood coach Craig McRae, Richmond's Maurice Rioli become Port Adelaide's Junior Rioli (and vice versa), and even Brisbane, the team, referred to as 'Essendon'.
My blood begins to boil when I hear Caleb Daniel called Caleb Daniels and then Brent Daniels called Brent Daniel. The same happens with Dylan Shiel and Liam Shiels - two players who have combined for 472 games.
But the worst case of ongoing mistaken identity has to be the fact that few seem to understand Jack Payne and Jackson Paine are indeed two different people. Payne, aged 23, is a current defender for the Lions. Paine, 29, played for the Magpies and Lions, but literally hasn't been on an AFL list since 2016.
Those who are broadcasting just have to get better. There's no excuses and this must be stamped out immediately.
4. Why Collingwood is going to humiliate Carlton on Sunday afternoon
If I'm going to be uber critical of commentators, it's only fair I acknowledge a line from Dwayne Russell this past weekend, which I immediately jotted down. "Mitchell, he's almost got too many options," said Russell, deep into the fourth quarter of Collingwood's drubbing of GWS.
He's spot on. The Magpies just seem to be working harder in all facets of the game and it spells disaster this weekend for the struggling Blues, who have crashed back down to earth after the Round 7 slaughtering of West Coast.
There's a real contrast between these two famous clubs and the way in which they attack. For the Pies, it's swift, confident, decisive movement. They never second-guess a pass or a teammate, always trusting the next link in the chain. It's the total opposite for the Blues. Too slow, too stagnant, and far too indecisive. Carlton ranks 14th for moving the ball from half-back to forward 50, and 15th for direct, corridor use. There's constant uncertainty and, seemingly, a lack of trust in each other.
One of the great myths in modern day footy is that a high mark, play-on percentage equates to a fast game style. After nine weeks, the Pies rank 11th in that category and the Blues are sitting fifth. I know which of these teams is bringing speed and intensity each week, and it ain't Carlton.
Defensively, it's the Pies who also have the advantage, and not just because it's conceding nine points fewer per game. Craig McRae's side is the best team in the league at forcing the turnover before it reaches their opponent's attacking 50, meaning there's far less reliance and strain being put on the back six. They swarm with pressure when they lose the ball and force their opponents into coughing it back up.
So if Collingwood can advance the ball forward more efficiently, dominate the corridor and nullify Carlton's ability to go end-to-end, it could be a long afternoon for Michael Voss and his Blues. Oh, and did I mention the Pies are 16-1 at the MCG over the past 12 months, with the only loss coming in last year's qualifying final to eventual premier Geelong?
Carlton's only real hope in this game is to keep it as contested and congested as possible, and even then it feels like a tall order. Collingwood by 40-something points.
5. A draft lottery system is not the answer for the AFL
The question of whether or not the AFL should introduce a draft lottery was thrown to me on the ESPN Footy Pod this week, and my immediate reaction was that I'd be in favour. But upon reflection, and with a little more time to look into the nitty gritty, I'm not as convinced.
Draft lotteries are commonplace in North American sport whereby teams who finish a season with the worst record are not guaranteed the No. 1 draft pick, which is the case in the AFL. Instead, they enter a Keno-like lottery along with the other poorly performing teams, and landing that top pick all comes down to chance. This is done primarily to avoid tanking.
The 14 teams which missed the NBA playoffs this season will soon enter the draft lottery. Each of them have a varying chance of securing the highest pick, based on how they performed that season. The Detroit Pistons had the worst record in the NBA and have a 14% chance of scoring the top pick, all the way down to the New Orleans Pelicans at 0.5%.
So if you're the worst team in the league, there's an 86% chance you won't get the No. 1 pick. The math will also tell you you're a 52% chance to not get a top five selection. On the flip side, a team that was battling for the playoffs until the final day of the regular season could end up with pick No. 1. This feels a touch unfair and I highly doubt it would fly in the AFL, where equality is paramount.
Given there's 12 fewer teams in the AFL, if such a concept was introduced it would potentially only apply to the bottom four or six teams, rather than the 14 the NBA is rolling with.
The problem I can potentially see sprouting up is the exact one you're trying to avoid. By adopting this method in an effort to reduce tanking, you may find you invite more of it. A case study would be a team sitting in 15th position heading into the final fortnight. If it can increase its chances of securing the top pick by 5-10% by finishing a rung or two lower on the ladder, why would they try and win its last game or two? Tanking could very quickly become something which we see in the lower third of the ladder, as opposed to something exclusively at the very bottom.
6. Tim Taranto has been an underappreciated, brilliant recruit for the Tigers
Despite recording a shock win over the highly fancied Cats in Round 9, Richmond's season (to date) has been a total disappointment. I don't just say that because I had the Tigers winning it all in 2023, but even those lukewarm on Damien Hardwick's squad would be surprised they sit 13th, with a percentage below 100, after nine weeks.
If there's a positive, it has to be the recruitment of Tim Taranto.
Right now, I've got Taranto as the top recruit of 2023, edging out Tom Mitchell and Josh Dunkley. The former Giant has taken his game to another level this season, basically becoming the one-man engine room of the Tigers. I suspect he would be leading the club's best and fairest by a wide margin.
Just 11 players in the competition are averaging 25 disposals, five tackles and five clearances per game this year. Here's the list: Clayton Oliver, Tom Green, Caleb Serong, Tim Taranto, Tim Kelly, Patrick Cripps, Brad Crouch, Rory Laird, Tom Liberatore, Marcus Bontempelli, and Touk Miller.
Make it 30 disposals, six tackles and six clearances and that list shortens to just Taranto, Bontempelli, Liberatore, and Miller.
Rating Taranto's impact and influence has been a polorising topic. Some media pundits believe he provides tremendous value, while others (until very recently) didn't have him in the top 150 players in the league. It remains murky and unclear when looking at the various game score metrics. Taranto ranks third overall -- behind Tim English and Clayton Oliver -- for total Dreamteam score and eighth for ranking points. But for rating points, he comes in at No. 141!