The first half of the season has come and gone for the Ottawa BlackJacks, and I think I speak for all of us when I say, good riddance. Despite some standout performances and some solid performances to build off of, the first 7 games were mostly filled with heartbreak and disappointment.
Fortunately, better things appear to be on the horizon. The whole team is finally together, and they’ve had some time to find out which lineups work the best. Hopefully that means we can look forward to a few more wins in the second half of the year.
But before we can look forward, we must look back. Here’s how I graded the players and coaching staff performances so far.
Stats: 17.9 PPG 10.3 REB 1.3 BLK
Nick Ward was brought in to be the central figure of the BlackJacks, and he’s lived up to the job. He leads the team in scoring, the entire league in rebounds, and is tied for second in the league in blocks.
The offense revolves around their ability to get him the ball in the paint. When he’s able to use his size and superb footwork downlow, there’s no one in the league who can stop him. On defense, he’s been a rock that few can even attempt to go one-on-one against.
He gets knocked down a few grades because even at his best, he’s struggled in the transition game. Not to mention, there’s been times where his effort has been questioned. Also, he’s shooting just 58.7% from the free throw line, a number that was helped out substantially by him going 9-for-11 in his last game. He has to improve that number, especially if he’s going to fish for fouls from time to time.
Stats: 16.4 PPG 5.1 REB 4.1 AST
Kadre Gray has been one of the stories of the year in the CEBL. The former two-time U SPORTS Player of the Year has shone in his first professional season, and everyone is taking notice.
He’s top-10 in the league in scoring and assists and along with Ward, has been one of the team’s key contributors. He’s able to score at all levels, and does so efficiently. He’s also been able to pick up the pro game on the defensive side of the ball quickly.
His biggest problem so far has been turnovers. He has a tendency to try too hard to make something happen, which usually leads to the ball in the other team’s hands. But he probably wouldn’t have to do that if the team around him played better. He also had back-to-back games where he struggled to produce, but that’s to be expected of someone so young in their career. There’s going to be the usual growing pains, but Gray has the talent to be something special.
Stats: 20.5 PPG 3.0 AST 52.0 FG%
Johnny Buckets gets the highest grade on the team, but it comes with the substantial caveat that he’s only played in 2 games thus far.
When he is on the court, there’s few who can keep up with his shooting ability. Xavier Moon and Lindell Wigginton might be the only players in the league who can match him in that area. He also always seems to make the right pass, and his presence alone gives his teammates better looks as defenses gravitate towards him.
His availability is really the only area you can knock him for. He’s yet to play a game on the road, and it’s unclear if he will this season. The team is unquestionably better with him on it, and they’d be wise to take advantage of him whenever he is available.
Stats: 10.5 PPG 4.5 REB 3.5 AST
Since joining the BlackJacks after finishing his season in France, Archie has been a key member of the team.
His size means he can play down low with Ward, and the two of them have quickly learned how to play off each other. He also has the skill to work outside on the perimeter and nail timely three-pointers. His defensive abilities also stretch throughout the entire court, which is help for a team that has struggled on that side of the ball.
He had a rough outing in his first game, and he’s yet to have a showing where he completely takes over. However, it only seems like a matter of time before that happens. His continued play will be needed, as he’s filled in for a number of players who haven’t live up to expectations.
Stats: 7.6 PPG 3.3 REB 2.3 AST
While Gray’s collegiate career meant we probably should have seen his breakthrough coming, Louis has come out of nowhere to be a leader on this BlackJacks squad.
Louis was one of the last players signed to the roster, and was only able to do so because Berhanemeskel and Archie started the season abroad. He impressed enough in training camp to garner a look in the regular season and forced the team to keep him on the court. He’s incredibly strong for his size, and is able to drive into the paint and finish among the league’s biggest players. He’s also a dogged defender that makes the opposition work for their space both on and off the ball.
Like Gray, there’s been some adjusting to the pro league, which is even more understandable given that he’s still in school and will be for another year. He also has yet to show the well-roundedness on offense that we’ve seen from his fellow young star. Still, he’s been a bright spot on the team and filled in admirably for Berhanemeskel while he was in France.
Stats: 3.0 PPG 3.0 REB 45.5 FG%
While he’s been in and out of the lineup and hasn’t played a ton in his appearances, Johnson benefits from lower expectations and playing in his role.
I penciled Johnson in as the odd man out in my pre-season prediction, and in a way, I was right. However, Johnson did get some playing time early in the year, and looked good playing in his role. You could argue that he’s just been a guard with size and I wouldn’t argue with you, but that’s what the team needed him to be. He’s bounced between the 2 and 3 positions and has done a good job slowing his matchups down.
He hasn’t offered much on the offensive side, but he plays hard and has been a good rebounder. He’s a guy the coaching staff can trust to play a number of positions when others struggle, which is how he’s gotten the majority of his minutes. Sometimes you just need a guy who can come off the bench to shake things up and give the opposition a different look. Johnson has been just that, and you can’t fault him for much.
Stats: 4.0 PPG 1.9 REB 84.6 FG%
Being Nick Ward’s backup means you’re not going to see a ton of floor time, but Wright has made the most of what he’s given.
Wright has built his season around one thing and one thing only: defense. At 6’9” and 245-pounds, there’s no one who can back him down when he stands his ground. He’s also a better athlete than Ward, which means he’s able to keep up in the transition game. As well, he is an expert at the small things that don’t show up in the stat sheet, like setting screens and help defense.
The biggest knock on Wright is his limited offense. He offers nothing outside of the cylinder and struggles mightily at the line. There’s a reason he’s shooting over 80% on the season: the only time he even tries to score is when he has a clear lane to the basket.
With the exception of one or two games, the team has always won the minutes Wright is on the floor by a large margin. However, his inability to create for himself means he needs others to step up for him. For the most part, the team has been able to step up, but the team has also gone on long droughts with him on the floor.
Stats: 7.7 PPG 2.0 REB 1.7 AST
When he’s hot, Green can be as impactful a player as there is in the CEBL. The problem has been, those moments have been few and far between.
His consistency has been a big problem this season, both for him personally and the team. The BlackJacks need him to be better, particularly from deep. His range is desperately need on a team that does most of their scoring in the paint. When he can’t find his groove, it makes the whole offense stale and predictable.
If he’s not going to score – which again, the team needs him to do – then he has to provide something else, and he hasn’t done much of that either. He spends a lot of time on the perimeter, which means he doesn’t rebound well for someone who is 6’7”. He also relies a lot on being a catch-and-shoot player, which means he doesn’t set up much for his teammates.
Green can be a real X-factor, as we’ve seen for a few stretches this season. But if he can’t get things rolling down the stretch, he might find himself on the bench and the team could be out of the playoffs.
Stats: 6.3 PPG 3.1 AST 2.0 REB
There’s no player on the BlackJacks roster that I have a harder time getting a read on than Earl Calloway.
For the most part, he doesn’t contribute much to the scoresheet. But even then, it’s not like he looks out of place on the floor. But at the same time, it’s not like he’s going off when he is making his shots. So for the most part, you just have a guy who kind of… plays basketball.
That being said, he’s show that his floor is high. At his worst, he still plays smart, responsible basketball that the rest of the team can work off of. He hasn’t show to have a very high ceiling though, as his three-point shooting has been lacking and he does most off his scoring off the ball.
There is something to be said for the leadership he offers on the court. He was voted team captain and clearly has the respect of everyone in the locker room. He also isn’t afraid to be publicly critical of his team, which is something they need. Still, when your greatest contributions are off the court, there’s only so high of a grade I can give you.
Stats: 7.7 PPG 2.7 AST 2.1 REB
Cadougan has been one of the best scorers for the BlackJacks coming off the bench. But man, has his defense struggled.
He doesn’t have the best size, and he’s not in the best shape. He’s also 31, which means he doesn’t have the legs that he used to. Add all those things together, and the result has not been good. Cadougan either is called for fouls as he’s forced to grab the man in front of him, or they blow by him completely.
He’s able to find way to put points on the board, but it doesn’t matter much if the team is being outscored every time you’re on the floor.
Stats: 4.7 PPG 2.3 REB 28.6 FG%
It pains me to give Joseph the lowest grade on the team. But at the end of the day, I have to be objective and put personal feelings aside.
The former NBA draft pick has struggled to get his offense going at all this season. He has yet to score more than 6 points in a game, and is shooting under 30% from the field and beyond the arc.
For the most part, he and Ryan Wright have been brought on to lock down the perimeter and pain, respectively. He did a well enough job at the beginning of the season that it cancelled out his poor offensive play and he would have probably earned a high-C. However, he struggled mightily on the floor in the last two games he played, and was held out in the most recent contest.
Joseph is capable of much more than we’ve seen so far this season, and I’m confident he will bounce back in the second half if he can regain the coach’s trust to be put back in the lineup.
Team Stats: 86.7 PF 93.0 PA Team Record: 2-5
Despite a disappointing record thus far, Charles Dube-Brais and his coaching staff get a middle-of-the-road grade in my book.
First off, the BlackJacks have only had their whole roster available to them for a total of one game. Secondly, the record is a bit deceiving, as they should have won their last game against Guelph and the game against Hamilton was close. A couple more bounces go their way and this team is above 500. However, that didn’t happen, and the coaching staff deserves their share of the blame.
The team knows what they want to do: get the ball to Nick Ward on offense, let him do his thing, then take advantage of the gaps it creates when the defense collapses inside. The problem has been that they haven’t come up with enough creative ways to get Ward good looks in the paint, and they don’t have a definite plan B in place.
The same can be said for the defensive side of the ball. They know they have to prevent fast breaks and force the other team to play in the half court, but even when they do that the closeouts on three-pointers have been sloppy, allowing teams to get on massive runs.
Because the coaching staff knows how to utilize their players and what they need to do to succeed, their grade gets bumped up. We’ve seen lots of teams in many leagues who clearly don’t understand how to best use their players, and that isn’t the case here. The biggest problem has been consistency.
When the team is able to execute their gameplan, it’s clear they can be one of the best in the league. However, those moments have been few and far between, which is why they find themselves near the bottom of the standings. It’s up to the coaching staff to get the best out of their players every night, and they haven’t been able to do that so far.