This is part one in an 8-part series leading up to the 2013 Kronum regular season. We’ll cover each of the seven teams as well as offer playoff predictions.
2011 Results: 9-1 Regular Season, 2-0 Playoffs, League Champion
Key Losses: Joe Petrino (to Evergreens), Matt Kump (to Work Horses)
Key Additions: Ryan Tressler (from Throwbacks), Tyler Blood, Jesse Barone, Rich Schafer
As the old saying goes, “Success breeds enemies”. In regard to the Nimble Jacks, the Yankees of Kronum, if you aren’t one of their die-hard supporters, chances are you openly root against them at every turn. The loudest cheer of the 2011-12 season was heard throughout the league when the Throwbacks upset the Nimble Jacks in Week 6; that loss ended the Jacks’ 24-game winning streak stretching across three seasons. Unfortunately for the rest of the Kronum league, the Jacks shook off that misstep and went undefeated the rest of the way in claiming their third consecutive Kronum championship.
Looking back, it’s extremely difficult to point to one thing as the key to the Nimble Jacks’ success over the years. The Jacks certainly buy into a team concept; they shared the ball better than any other team, leading the league in both assists per game (30.3) and assist % (57.1%), which denotes what percentage of made shots came via an assist. They also scored in a variety of ways, ranking first in flex shots made and second in dunks per game (3.7), trailing only the above-the-rim Jet Sets. Combined with enough cross and wedge zone shots to keep defenses honest, the Jacks truly attacked from all angles and made defensive gameplanning a near-impossibility. After moving defenses around and out of position, the Jacks also shot the ball extremely efficiently, with a 2nd-ranked team shooting percentage (45.8%, just behind the Jet Sets’ 45.9% mark). The Jacks were particularly deadly in the flex (47.8%) and wedge (51.9%) zones, leading the league in marksmanship from both areas, while having the lowest off-goal shooting percentage in the league (17.9%).
Like most championship teams, the Jacks were no slouch on defense either. 3 of the 10 all-star wedgebacks last season wore the rabbit on their jerseys. Sean Kennedy and Pete Weiss ranked first and second in saves per game, at 12.9 and 10.7, respectively, while Ben Hutchison would probably perenially lead the league if opposing shooters weren’t so afraid to enter his quadrant. Additionally, crosser Jay Shegda is widely regarded as a top-three field defender in Kronum.
Going forward, continuity will be key for the Nimble Jacks as they return 11 players from last season’s championship roster, and 12 returning professional league players overall; both marks are tied for most among Kronum league teams. Of course, the 165-pound elephant in the room is the loss of Rookie-of-the-Year ranger Joe Petrino (editor’s note: While Rookie of the Year honors actually went to Stephen Vandenberg, Petrino is still ROY in my heart. Must have been that anti-Jacks bias). We’ll discuss what Petrino brings to the table more in detail during our Evergreens preview; suffice it to say, it’s very difficult to replace the 7th leading scorer in the league (22.7 ppg), who also had the 7th best shooting percentage in the league at 51.4% (min. 20 total shot attempts). That sort of efficient production doesn’t grow on trees (although the Evergreens may try).
Nevertheless, the Jacks will have to replace the nearly 20% of their points that went out the door with Petrino and will look to a variety of sources to do so. Veteran ranger Ryan Tressler and rookie ranger Rich Schafer will enter the rotation and have the ability to put the ball in the chamber. It will also mean increased roles within the offense for returning players such as Shaun Stevens and Sean Kennedy. For all that, two main factors will determine whether the Nimble Jacks can overcome the loss of Petrino and ultimately continue their reign atop the league.
First, can Dan Geiger assume the Petrino-role within the offense? Geiger’s rookie season got off to an inauspicious start with a 5-game suspension for his role in a physical altercation during the preseason. The layoff hurt as he struggled to carve a place in the rotation and a role in a Jacks’ offense that was then firing on all cylinders. Nonetheless, Geiger picked his moments, showing a strong arm and coming up with some big shots during the team’s playoff run. Since then, the offseason has been a revelation in terms of Geiger’s progression within the game. He has become an automatic weapon from the flex zone in preseason play; one sorely needed for a Jacks’ team that has struggled at times during the offseason. If Geiger can carry his strong level of play into regular season and put together an elite-scorer profile, it will answer one huge question mark for the Nimble Jacks.
The other big question entering the season is whether Jared O’Donnell will fulfill his enormous potential. O’Donnell combines a level of athleticism, creativity, and skill that only Kevin Clark and a couple others in Kronum possess. Now, I know what you’re thinking. O’Donnell was already 4th in the league in scoring per game (23.6), the most efficient shooter in the league at 62.1% (min. 4.0 shot per game) and 12th in the league in assists per game (4.1). What more could the man do? However, shockingly, O’Donnell was also the league’s most underutilized player. O’Donnell had the largest gap in Kronum between the percentage of his team’s points and his usage rate, or percentage of his team’s shots.
As much as he did for the team already, he was still scoring more efficiently than anyone else in the league, so have him do more. Part of this sub-utilization falls on the team’s gameplan and need to get the ball in his hands more often and part falls on O’Donnell’s tendency to go through games a little too passively at times. But if the Nimble Jacks figure out how to best utilize their most dangerous weapon, the rest of the Kronum league better watch out.
With all that in mind, it will be up to captain Scott Kennedy to fit the pieces together both from a managerial standpoint and out on the field where he acts as the floor general for the Jacks offense (2nd in the league at 6.7 assists per game). It may be a difficult task, but he has done it before and I wouldn’t bet against Scotty Kronum.
Regular Season Prediction: 8-2 (1st place)
The loss of Petrino and the growing pains associated with integrating some new blood (both metaphorically and literally with Tyler) will cause a couple hiccups along the road. In spite of those obstacles, the Jacks ultimately have too much talent and experience to give up their spot atop the standings quite yet.