Deakin Melbourne Boomers 2020 WNBL season preview

Below I take a look at the impact of the condensed tournament style fixture on the Deakin Melbourne Boomers 2020 WNBL season, do a mini-review of their 2019/20 season and preview their 2020 season.

2020 season structure and the Deakin Melbourne Boomers ability to adapt

Due to the impact of COVID-19 the 2020 WNBL season will have a very different structure to recent seasons and imports aren’t eligible to play in the league this season.

All eight WNBL clubs will be located in North Queensland for the duration of the 2020 WNBL season which will be played at three locations, Townsville, Cairns and Mackay. The regular season has been condensed to five weeks commencing 11 November with each team playing 14 regular season games. The top four teams will contest a four game final series with each final being a single game rather than a three-game series and the Grand Final will be played on 20 December.

All 60 games during the 2020 WNBL season will be broadcast on Kayo, 10 games including the Grand Final will be shown on free to air network ABC and 21 games including all four finals will be telecast on Foxtel.

Two critical factors for teams during the 2020 WNBL season are having a stable roster and being able to adapt to playing in a hub. The Deakin Melbourne Boomers tick both boxes. Eight players return from their 2019/20 roster whilst two of their off-season recruits in guard Tess Madgen and forward Ashleigh Karaitiana have both been coached by Boomers head coach Guy Molloy who is also the coach of the New Zealand Tall Ferns team. The Melbourne Boomers 2020 team includes five Tall Ferns players – New Zealand captain Kalani Purcell, Stella Beck, Toni Farnworth, Penina Davidson and Ashleigh Karaitiana who all averaged at least 17.5 minutes per game for the Tall Ferns at the Asia-Oceania Olympic Games Pre-Qualifying Tournament in November 2019. The Melbourne Boomers also include three members of the Australian Opals silver medal team from the 2018 World Cup in Cayla George, Ezi Magbegor and Tess Madgen whilst shooting guard Maddie Garrick has had great success with the Australian women’s 3×3 team.

In 2020 Molloy will be coaching the Boomers for the eighth consecutive season and assistant coaches Paul Flynn and Larissa Anderson are also returning for their fourth and second season respectively in the role. Flynn is also the Head Coach of Nunawading’s NBL1 women’s team whilst Anderson is the Head of the Melbourne Boomers Academy.

With the 2020 WNBL regular season condensed to five weeks and played in hubs it will be far closer to a tournament style of play than a traditional WNBL season and there will be less time between games to have training sessions and build team chemistry. Having a stable roster and nine players that have considerable experience playing for Australia or New Zealand will make it easier for the Deakin Melbourne Boomers to adjust to having a much shorter turn-around between games than a typical WNBL season.

Deakin Melbourne Boomers 2019/20 season mini-review

All five Boomers starters averaged at least 11 points per game in 2019/20 comprised of Lindsay Allen (14.8 points per game), Cayla George (14.3), Ezi Magbegor (13.0), Sophie Cunningham (11.5) and Maddie Garrick (11.1). Four starters averaged between 29 and 32 minutes per game with Magbegor being the exception with 23.5 minutes per game. Point guard Allen was the only starter that missed multiple games, being ruled out of four games late in the regular season and played restricted minutes in some other games due to a knee injury.

The Deakin Melbourne Boomers had a core rotation of 10 players that each played at least 19 of the Boomers 24 games and averaged at least 7.0 minutes per game. With the starters being joined in this category by four New Zealand Tall Ferns players – Kalani Purcell, Stella Beck, Antonia Farnworth, and Penina Davidson along with Australian dual sport athlete Monique Conti who left the Boomers late in the season to focus on her AFLW commitments with Richmond.

The Boomers finished third at the end of the regular season with 15 wins and six losses and were defeated by the eventual champions the University of Canberra Capitals two games to one in the semi-finals with the home side winning each game.

Power forward/centre Cayla George was the Deakin Melbourne Boomers standout player in 2019/20 leading the club for total points, rebounds, assists and blocked shots and ranked second for steals. George finished third in the WNBL Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award, won the Michele Timms Medal as Boomers MVP and on 12 January 2020 became the third player in WNBL history to take 2,500 rebounds in their career, joining Rachel Sporn and Suzy Batkovic in this select group.

Deakin Melbourne Boomers 2020 roster

Returning:   Maddie Garrick (co-captain), Cayla George (co-captain), Ezi Magbegor, Kalani Purcell, Stella Beck, Antonia Farnworth, Penina Davidson and Rachel Brewster

Seven of the eight players returning were part of the Boomers 2019/20 core-rotation with the exception being development player Rachel Brewster. Co-captains Garrick and George along with 21 year-old Magbegor will retain their position as starters. Returning Tall Ferns players Purcell, Beck, Farnworth and Davidson will have increased playing opportunities in 2020 due to two starters being unable to return and the condensed fixture.

Arrivals:       Tess Madgen (Townsville Fire), Ashleigh Karaitiana (Bendigo Spirit 2017/18), Izzy Wright {nee Chilcott} (Perth Lynx 2015/16) and Rachel Antoniadu (Dandenong Rangers 2017/18)

The most significant of the four additions to the Boomers roster in the off-season was the return of guard Tess Madgen after spending the past two WNBL seasons playing for the Townsville Fire. From 2013/14 to 2015/16 Madgen played three seasons for the Boomers with Molloy as the head coach and was the Boomers captain in 2015/16.

Whilst the Boomers other three off-season acquisitions in Ashleigh Karaitiana, Izzy Wright (nee Chilcott) and Rachel Antoniadu didn’t play in the WNBL during the 2019/20 season they have all played in the WNBL previously. Karaitiana is one of several mum’s along making their return to the WNBL in and her 17 month old daughter Kalea will be travelling with the Boomers team this season.

Departed:    Lindsay Allen (import), Sophie Cunningham, (import), Monique Conti (Southside Flyers) and Paige Price (Bendigo Spirit)

Due to being American imports two of the Boomers starters from last season in point guard Allen and small forward Cunningham were unable to return to the club this season. Pure point guard Allen was composed, an accurate shooter and adept at providing assists to her team-mates. Allen was  named in the WNBL All-Star five and won the Boomers club MVP in 2018/19 and despite being hampered by a knee injury still averaged 5.0 assists per game in 2019/20. Feisty small forward Cunningham ranked third at the Boomers for minutes played and fourth in scoring last season.

Ruled out for season due to injury: Chelsea D’Angelo (Achilles tendon)

At training on 14 July, 2020 Chelsea D’Angelo suffered a season ending Achilles injury. D’Angelo played five games for the Boomers as a development player in 2019/20.

Preview of the Deakin Melbourne Boomers 2020 season

George has a diverse skill-set as highlighted by being the only player in the WNBL to rank in the top 15 for scoring, rebounds, steals, assists and blocked shots per game in 2019/20. On the 2020 WNBL season being played in Far North Queensland George commented to WNBL.com.au on 20 October “It is a really significant opportunity for the region and for me selfishly, I am stoked that I do not have to go too far. For the region to see top-level Australian basketball, there are no imports this year so just Aussie players, it is going to be a great opportunity for the youth in Cairns to look up to these athletes.”1 The Boomers will play four regular season games at the Cairns Pop-Up Arena.

In her third WNBL season in 2019/20 athletic power forward/centre Ezi Magbegor ranked second at the Boomers for rebounds (6.6 per game) and blocked shots (1.2) behind fellow power forward/centre and Australian Opals representative George. Despite being the youngest player in the WNBA during 2020 Magbegor won a WNBA championship with the Seattle Storm and averaged 6.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per regular season game whilst shooting the ball at 56.9% from the field. The experience of playing in the WNBA and training with and scrimmaging against one of the best players in the world in Breanna Stewart will be very beneficial for Magbegor.

Shooting guard Garrick ranked fourth in the league for three-pointers made during the 2019/20 regular season with 2.1 per game and second for total steals with 39. In her five seasons with the Boomers Garrick has consistently been among the league leaders for three-pointers made, making a total of 248 shots from behind the arc during this time, making more than 40 three-pointers in all five seasons. In July Garrick had surgery on her left ankle which had hampered her since late in the 2018 season and is expected to play in Round 1 and build her match conditioning throughout the season.  

Playing for the Townsville Fire in 2019/20 guard Tess Madgen averaged 12.1 points and 3.6 assists and 31.4 minutes per game. Madgen had the best WNBL season of her career at Melbourne in 2014/15, being named in the WNBL All-Star five alongside George who was playing for Townsville.

Forward Purcell and guard Beck each averaged 18.1 minutes per game and finished second and third respectively in the league’s sixth woman of the year award and both players will play more game-time this season. During 2019/20 Purcell played quality defense and ranked third at the Boomers for rebounds, blocked shots and steals per game and fourth for assists.

When Lindsay Allen missed games with a knee injury last season Stella Beck was the Boomers starting point guard and relished the increased playing opportunities. In 2019/20 Beck averaged 5.8 points per game, shooting the ball at a very accurate 60.9% from the field and made 18 of her 35 three-pointers at an accuracy of 51.4%.

Madgen and Beck are both 183 centimetres tall and can play as a point guard, shooting guard or forward which provides Guy Molloy with flexibility in terms of the line-ups he can use. Whilst Madgen will be the Boomers starting point there will be times when they are on court together that Beck will be play as the point guard and Madgen will play as a shooting guard or forward.

With the shorter turn around between games and needing to spread the minutes more having five New Zealand players on the roster and Guy Molloy having the dual roles of Boomers and Tall Ferns coach will reap benefits. Whilst guard Farnworth and forward Davidson averaged only 10.6 minutes and 70.1 minutes per game respectively for the Boomers in 2019/20 they have played more prominent roles for the Tall Ferns under Molloy and will play increased minutes in 2020. Fellow Tall Fern Karaitiana averaged 21.3 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists for RedCity Roar in Division 1 of the Queensland State League (QSL) in 2020.

Izzy Wright and Rachel Antoniadou have both played for the Nunawading Spectres in NBL1 under Head Coach Flynn since their previous WNBL seasons with Perth Lynx in 2015/16 and the Dandenong Rangers in 2017/18 respectively. The Boomers roster is completed by Rachel Brewster who played three games for the club in 2019/20.

The Deakin Melbourne Boomers have a tall roster with Antoniadou (173 cm) being the only player under 179 centimetres tall and have players capable of playing multiple positions which makes it easier to switch. The Boomers greatest strength is front-court duo George and Magbegor (both 193 cm tall) who will be a difficult proposition for opposition teams to negate due to their size and respective skill-sets with Magbegor’s athleticism complementing George’s versatility and outside shooting ability.

The Deakin Melbourne Boomers are the only WNBL team that has made the finals in each of the past three seasons from 2017/18 to 2019/20 and are well placed to increase their finals streak to four seasons and challenge strongly for the 2020 WNBL championship.  

By Dean Andrews

Twitter – @DeanAndrews7777

1 https://wnbl.basketball/blog/news/change-means-star-feels-more-at-home/

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