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36ers unlock multi-dimensional offence in Craig Randall's absence

Addition by subtraction.

In parting ways with one of the league's most explosive individual scorers, the Adelaide 36ers have unlocked a multi-dimensional offence while beginning to show real signs of accountability on the defensive end.

2-1 since the FIBA break, Adelaide have made some distinct changes in the absence of Craig Randall II, with head coach CJ Bruton praising the attitude shift since the resumption of the season.

"Always playing the right way, controlling the tempo, playing at your pace," Bruton told reporters in Perth after a comprehensive road win over the Wildcats.

"Taking good shots leads to good outcomes even if the ball doesn't go in. The buy in is key and I thought I had that from start to finish."

The 36ers have made three major changes. The first is putting the ball in Mitch McCarron's hands as the point guard. The second is unlocking Robert Franks as an MVP calibre offensive force. The third is inserting local players more prominently in the rotation with a desire to defend.

The offensive changes

There is significant noise associated with a three-game sample, though the data marries up with the good old fashioned eye test.

With an offensive rating of 117.1 (best in the league) since the FIBA break, the 36ers are scoring 8.6 more points per 100 possessions than they did in the Randall era.

Flash in the pan or here to stay?

While the rate of scoring and efficiency has climbed, it's interesting to note that the 3-point rate has tumbled (percentage of field goal attempts that are from 3-point land).

Remember the 3-point barrage against the Phoenix Suns in the preseason?

The day provided a historic moment for the league that was never going to be sustainable as a mode of operation throughout an NBL campaign.

"To get our open shots, we don't shoot 35 threes, we keep moving the ball and if they present themselves, we'll take them. We were finishing very well around the rim and it led to the results we had tonight," Bruton said.

Finishing well around the rim is an understatement, with the 36ers 88-for-127 (69 percent) on the season, 10 percent above league average.

You can make a strong argument that Franks is still an underutilised resource for the Adelaide offence, with the import big man second in the league for two-point percentage (63.3 percent on 90 shots) among the 42 players with at least 40 attempts (only trailing Dererk Pardon at 65.2 percent on 69 shots).

That number for Franks includes 76 percent finishing at the rim (17 percent above league average) and 65 percent finishing in non-restricted area paint attempts (26 percent above league average). Connecting on only 27 percent from long range this season (down from 40 percent last season), Franks should find himself in the MVP conversation by season's end when that number reverts to the mean as could be reasonably expected.

(Side note: The Sydney Kings much vaunted defence heavily restricted Franks in their one matchup, holding him to a season-low two attempts at the rim and a season-high ten attempts from three - all above the break. Read more about the Kings defence here)

"At the start of the season, we weren't sharing the ball as much as we'd like to," 36ers guard, Anthony Drmic said. "I feel like we have a strength down low with Franks and (Daniel Johnson) so sharing the ball and moving off that, it's getting us some open looks and it's fun to play that way."

It turns out that four players watching one on offence was not an enjoyable game style for those standing in the corner.

Sixers playing defence?

Nine of the last eleven NBL champions have held a top-two defence. The other two ranked third and fourth respectively. While the ability to trade buckets was entertaining, the 36ers needed to figure out the defensive end if they were to seriously challenge in NBL23.

In Antonius Cleveland, the 36ers have one of the most destructive defensive players in the league, with the team only now showing signs of building line-ups around the import star to unlock maximum chaos on that end of the floor.

"That takes time. We're still trying to find our groove," Bruton said after the win over Melbourne last round.

"We're missing players, still trying to find our identity or build our vision for that identity, we're nowhere near a finished product."

As I mentioned during the FIBA break, Adelaide's defensive chops were likely to receive a boost by increasing minutes for Drmic and Sunday Dech, with the local pair known for their defensive tenacity.

Drmic has seen the most significant boost, sliding into the starting line-up with his minutes per game jumping from 19.8 pre-FIBA break to 27.6. Kai Sotto, Hyrum Harris and Kyrin Galloway have also seen increased opportunities, providing valuable minutes for Bruton.

Across comparable sample sizes, replacing Randall with Drmic alongside regular starters in Franks, McCarron, Johnson and Antonius Cleveland has produced dramatically improved numbers on the defensive side of the ball.

Drmic a lock as a starter?

"With Craig gone now, there's that role that needs to be filled. I'm trying to start the game and set the tone defensively and bring everything I've got," Drmic said.

Last in the league for transition defence by a long way, Adelaide have slashed opposition fast break points, with live ball turnovers also tumbling and the overall giveaway count of 12 in each of the last three games a season low.

"Clearly you win by playing defence and I thought we did a very good job on the defensive end of the floor. Overall, our turnover count has gone down from the start of the year which has gone a long way to us winning ball games," Bruton said.

What's next with the roster

Given it has only been three games, the transformation of the Sixers into a possible title contender is in its infancy and should be met with caution.

With one week until their next game, a home matchup against the Cairns Taipans, Bruton and the 36ers front office will continue to scour the import market to finalise the roster for the back half of the season.

"I'm not enjoying any break. I'm back at work, we've got to find an import and talk with our team and see where we're at," Bruton said. "Continue to keep building so we can be successful and be in the hunt for the playoffs."

From the outside, the club seem to have flicked a chemistry switch over the FIBA break, which brings with it a genuine question over the type of player the roster needs.

"You see the depth of our team. Everyone can play and everyone can contribute. If I bring someone in here, it takes away from something that I've already got and then everyone is wondering why you won't play that guy," Bruton said.

While adding an import midseason could be tricky, leaving a major asset on the table in the form of an import slot would be unwise, with last year's champions a perfect example.

The Kings added Ian Clark midseason in what appeared to be adding to an embarrassment of riches on a stacked Sydney roster. By the time the Grand Final series rolled around, Jaylen Adams had suffered a hamstring injury and Clark slotted seamlessly into the starting line-up.

Assuming perfect health and a speed bump free ride to the postseason is a foolish idea, while finding a player with the ability to fit in seamlessly like Clark presents an interesting challenge.

For now, the 36ers are playing like a team and appear to have the blueprint to build a two-way identity. Any addition to the roster will need to complement what the post FIBA 36ers have unlocked.

Stats for this article were sourced from spatialjam.com