NBL Team Watch: South East Melbourne Phoenix

WITH the National Basketball League (NBL) season edging closer by the day, we take a look at each team’s prospects heading into their upcoming NBL21 campaign. With an offseason full of eye-catching signings and roster improvements, teams will be looking for strong signs as the season approaches. Next up is the South East Melbourne Phoenix.

The Phoenix entered their second season with hopes of improving on an eighth placed finish in NBL19, and they did just this in 2020-21. The Phoenix finished the season with a 19-17 record, which was enough to edge out the Sydney Kings to claim the club’s first finals berth in only its sophomore appearance in the NBL. Despite mid-season hurdles such as the loss of key players due to injuries and personal matters, the team was able to push through the adversity to maintain a positive winning record.

While they were only able to sneak into the top four due to percentage, they still performed admirably in the playoffs. They were matched up against crosstown rivals Melbourne United, and while the Phoenix were the clear underdog in the contest. United took the victory in game one, but the Phoenix fought back in game two to even the series up, and suddenly the series was alive. United proved too strong in game three and did go on to be eventual champions, but the Phoenix showed some promising signs to be just one win away from the big dance.

The Phoenix look set to bring back a number of key players including Mitch Creek and Ryan Broekhoff, who both contributed strongly last season, but for various reasons, both did not play the full season. If these two can stay on the court, it will give coach Simon Mitchell plenty of confidence in his side’s chances at success. These two players were crucial to the team’s success, and will need to be fit and firing if they want to top last year’s efforts.

The club will also be eager to regain the services of big man Dane Pineau, who played just one game last season due to a series of niggling back and knee issues. While the Phoenix thrived on offence, first in the league for points per game, the team sorely missed Pineau’s rim protection and rebounding. Had Pineau been in the side in the finals series against United, the result may have been different. Regardless, he will be a welcome addition for the team’s upcoming campaign.

The Phoenix made headlines by signing Chinese big man Zhou Qi to a multi-year deal, in one of the biggest signings in the club’s history. Zhou spent time in the NBA with the Houston Rockets after being selected in the 2016 NBA draft. Zhou will bring some international attention to the club, and should provide a handy contributor if given ample opportunity on the court.

The side also acquired the services of import guard Xavier Munford, who should replace the NBA-bound Keifer Sykes as the Phoenix’s scoring ball-handler. Munford has spent time in the NBA, with tenures on the Memphis Grizzlies and the Milwaukee Bucks, and spent six years in the G-League, with a career-best season delivering 24 points per game. Munford was a crucial signing given the hole left by Sykes.

The Phoenix showed in NBL20 that they have the capability to go all the way in the next few seasons. With key player retention and some crucial player acquisitions, they may achieve this goal earlier than expected.

Photo: Getty Images

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