NBL21 mid-season summaries: Top 4

AS we approach the sixth round of this year’s National Basketball League (NBL) campaign, the nine teams vying for the four postseason seeds now have a clearer picture of where they currently sit and what objectives need to be tackled, in order to put themselves in the best position possible to secure a semi-final berth.

Draft Central delves into a summary of how each team has performed up to this point and who their key contributors have been following Round 5. Here are the summaries of the teams currently sitting in the top four.

1st – Melbourne United
Record: 6 wins, 0 losses, % – 1.000

Back in late-December, single-year signee Jock Landale stated that United has the “potential to go undefeated,” and given how Dean Vickerman’s side has performed up to this point, that estimate seems to be becoming more and more realistic.

Opening up their season with a dominant 24-point win against fellow top-four competitor the Adelaide 36ers, Melbourne began their season with their best foot first.

Following their first result, United backed up their start 10 days later edging out the Taipans at the Cairns Pop-Up Arena 87 to 85 and could look forward to going back home with two wins under their belt. Four more victories against cross-town rivals South East Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Illawarra rounded out United’s picture-perfect start to the season and are now hosting the defending champions this coming Saturday, looking to knock off the Wildcats one more time.

Chris Goulding is continuing his NBL legacy in fine form leading his side on the scoreboard once again, averaging a decent 16.8 points per game as well as a few rebounds each time out (3.2). Providing top-notch service on the glass, Landale is doing exactly what he was brought on board to do, collecting over 15 points and seven rebounds per game.

Further adding to the team’s success are two more new signings with former Duke Blue Devil Jack White and former New Zealand Breaker Scotty Hopson providing large amounts of scoring, rebounds and assists between the pair. White ranks third on the team in scoring (10.3) and second in rebounding (6.8), whereas Hopson seeds fourth in scoring (9.8) and second in assists (3.8) adding multiple weapons for Melbourne to utilise going forward.

 

2nd – Illawarra Hawks
Record: 5 wins, 2 losses, % – 0.714

Taking into account that the Illawarra Hawks have gone through a roster makeover, appointed a new head coach, undergone two franchise name changes and have averaged 88 points per game, the Wollongong-based team have had an event-filled past six months.

Illawarra’s good fortunes for the season began with two back-to-back victories in the space of three days, firstly knocking over the Bullets and then the Taipans in what was a rout of the two Queensland sides. New coach Brian Goorjian kept his cool following a wonderful 2-0 start to the season and stuck to his “defence-first” basketball mentality, which in turn yielded similar results as the Hawks managed wins once again against Brisbane and Cairns.

Identical results would not follow the team down south to Victoria, as Illawarra faced their first and second tastes of disappointment, losing out to the Phoenix and then United. But, an 85-82 victory over the Sydney Kings has reasserted them as powerful contender for NBL21 before their Round 6 double-header against the Taipans and the Breakers this week.

Taking the league by storm, Tyler Harvey has dismantled every team that he has crossed to date, which has led to an average of 21.8 points per contest (third highest in the NBL). The frontcourt duo of Cameron Bairstow and Sam Froling have dominated the rebounding battles each week with the two grabbing 11 points per game each and at least 7.8 and 7.7 rebounds respectively, while Justinian Jessup is impressing many with his sharpshooting this season, averaging 14.7 points.

 

3rd – Adelaide 36ers
Record: 5 wins, 4 losses, % – 0.556

Having already played nine games to date, the Adelaide 36ers have played the most games out of any other team this season – meaning that each game between now and the end of the season mean a little more. After frustratingly missing out on the postseason in the 2019/20 season, Adelaide looks poised to rectify last season’s missed opportunities and certain rookies are proving to be invaluable when the side is in good form.

Splitting the difference between the two Melbourne-based sides to open their season, then suffering a second loss to the Phoenix, the Sixers found themselves with just one win from three games. Making some schematic alterations to his playbook, Conner Henry helped his team to a winning streak of three following triumphs over New Zealand twice and then the Kings to conclude Round 3, before Sydney returned the favour in Round 4. Adelaide then split results with the Brisbane Bullets in Round 5 leading to the current record of five wins and four losses.

Before their matchup with Sydney on Sunday, it was clear that Adelaide’s successes came primarily from their bigs, more specifically Daniel Johnson and Isaac Humphries. Johnson’s reign down low has been essentially unmatched averaging 21.3 points and six rebounds, as Humphries has been almost as potent averaging 17 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.8 blocks (highest in NBL). Import Tony Crocker’s 10 points per game are the 36ers third highest amount from an individual, while young gun Josh Giddey is making a name for himself in his rookie season, leading the team in assists with 5.8 per game and contributing 9.2 points a contest in the process.

 

4th – South East Melbourne Phoenix
Record: 4 wins, 4 losses, % – 0.500

The best way to describe South East Melbourne’s start to their season would be the team absorbing one punch and then doling one out themselves, as in their back-to-back encounters with Adelaide and then Perth, the Phoenix would lose out in the first game then win the second. Testament to this pattern, the Phoenix started the season with a record of two wins and two losses looking to pick up their performances upon their return to Victoria.

Annoyingly for the league’s newest club they lost their derby meeting and local bragging rights against Melbourne United, 90-96, in their second game of Round 3. However, a motivating win over the Illawarra Hawks (98-82) put some wind in Simon Mitchell’s sails, before once again splitting the results against the Wildcats in Round 5, which was enough to secure them the fourth seed in the standings at this point of the season by half a game in front of the Kings (three wins and four losses).

As expected, Mitch Creek is setting the benchmark in scoring for the Phoenix, totalling 18.5 points, seven rebounds and three assists per game this season. Closely following him is Keifer Sykes who maintains averages of 18 points, seven assists and 4.5 rebounds. The only other double-digit scoring contributors for South East Melbourne are Kyle Adnam and rookie Yannick Wetzell, providing 13.8 and 10.4 points apiece.

Mid-Season team summaries for the remaining five clubs will be released tomorrow on Draft Central.

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