Tag: Illawarra Hawks

Huskies slide into third ahead of finals, outlast Jets

IN an extremely tight-knit rendezvous of two of the top four teams in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown, the Auckland Huskies have held on just long enough to see off a tenacious Manawatu Jets side, to lock up third spot ahead of Finals Week.

The 93-82 win sets the Huskies up for a meeting with the winner of Tuesday’s elimination final between the Nelson Giants and the Canterbury Rams.

AUCKLAND HUSKIES 25 | 19 | 24 | 25 (93)
MANAWATU JETS 24 | 21 | 21 | 16 (82)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

Leading up to last night’s encounter, the Huskies had some writing on the game. A win would see them take on the winner of the first elimination final between the two bottom teams in the league, whereas a loss would see them face the Franklin Bulls, a team they only beat by four points last time out. So, it was safe to assume that Kevin Braswell’s side was looking for a victory against the second-seeded Jets.

Both teams made their shots count in the infant stages of the match, with each side seeing more than 60 per cent of their shots drop early on in the first half of the opening period, perfectly encapsulated by a beautiful turnaround fadeaway from Nelson Kirksey five minutes in. With both teams deadlocked through nine minutes of basketball at 20 points apiece, a pull-up three by Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa would give Auckland the one-point lead at quarter-time, 25-24, also thanks to the Huskies’ five second chance points and Leon Henry’s seven.

Continuing into the second term, neither side could effectively pull away from the other in the quarter. However, a couple of buckets from guards Haize Walker and Jayden Bezzant helped squeeze out a momentary lead just before half-time. Succeeding this, another three from Le’afa tied up the joust with 90 seconds yet to be played, tying the game at 43. A lovely running floater by a crafty Ashton McQueen, put the Jets up two with less than a minute to go in the half, shortly before a lone Isaac Miller-Jose free-throw cut the difference by one, rounding out a seesawing affair through 20 minutes.

In total, 11 lead changes took place in the first half, and it did not look like the pattern of scoring would not change anytime soon. With little to separate the two teams at the halfway point, it was the efforts of Le’afa and Hyrum Harris leading the way for their respective teams. Le’afa’s 15 points and three assists, shone through with a couple of triples, as Harris was putting in work early, stacking up the stat sheet with 11 points, seven rebounds and four steals.

Two quick buckets got the Huskies up and running, as they kicked off the second half with a 12-4 run and therefore putting themselves in the driver’s seat with 16 minutes to play. Each side struggled profusely to be accurate from three-point range and because of this, the contest would be a grind. Both sides had to fight for tooth and nail to get even a decent look at the rim, forcing scorers to earn their points more often than not in the key.

Eventually a breakthrough arrived and both offences started to flow, as Kirksey knocked down two consecutive threes, therefore returning command over the game back to Manawatu. Marvin Williams-Dunn answered back with one of his own to initiate a 7-0 run finishing off a strong response by a crafty Auckland side.

The Huskies grasped the slightest of leads with a quarter to go and only a strong, focused and diligent line-up would be needed to take the team to the finish line. Two layups in a row for Aaron Bailey-Nowell put the Huskies back on the right track, but for every attack Auckland made, Manawatu had a counterattack own – like Nicholas Fee’s three to answer back to Auckland’s.

But the exit of McQueen due to too many personal fouls and an early departure for Vodanovich, the Jets were without one of their best defenders and one of their best offensive threats, which made obtaining the win drastically more difficult. A beautiful assist to Fee and steal from Harris was a critical point in the contest with three and a half minutes left, taking a huge chunk out of their deficit.

Two further free throws from Harris tied the game, but Tohi Smith-Milner and Henry went for the jugular with two minutes remaining, fabricating an 8-0 run out of thin air and in the space of three possessions ending the game. Finding their form in the fourth and final quarter, the 93-82 result did not reflect the true character of the game for Auckland. The character could be described as an extremely close grinded out contest, with the Huskies only blowing the game out of the water in the last couple of minutes.

Nevertheless, the Huskies eighth win of the campaign equals the record of the Taranaki Mountain Airs, but due to percentage, Auckland now lifts itself into the third seed. Because of this, the team now looks forward to facing either the Rams or the Giants on Wednesday night.

For the Jets, they conclude their NZNBL regular season with an overall record of eight wins and six losses and look to earn a semi-final position with a win over the minor premier Otago Nuggets on Tuesday.

Auckland had five players in double-digit figures for scoring, headlined by Le’afa who continued his terrific run of form in the late portion of the season. The 23-year-old locked up 26 points and six assists, as well as four shots from deep (40 per cent efficiency). Smith-Milner (19 points and 10 rebounds) and Henry (13 points and 13 rebounds) both enjoyed the spoils of war with each Husky nabbing themselves a double-double, whereas Bailey-Nowell and Nathan Wilson produced 12 and 11 points respectively.

For the season’s runners-up Jets, Harris collected another unconventional stat-line, falling three assists and one steal short of a quadruple-double in another all-around effort. The Illawarra Hawk from last season tallied 16 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and nine steals. Meanwhile Taane Samuel strung together a team-high 25 points through 33 minutes.

Hawks swoop on Goorjian

SIX-TIME National Basketball League (NBL) championship-winning coach Brian Goorjian will lead the league’s rebranded side in 2020/21 after being announced as head coach of The Hawks. Goorjian signed a two-year deal to take the reigns at The Hawks who were taken over by a syndicate last week.

Goorjian won a record six NBL championships as coach with the South East Melbourne Magic, Sydney Kings and South Dragons over two decades where he enjoyed a 70 per cent winning record. He was also the national team coach from 2001-2009 and spent the last 11 years coaching in China.

“I am very excited to have the opportunity to return to the NBL as the head coach of the Hawks,” Goorjian said after being unveiled yesterday. “I want the fans to know that I am totally committed to putting together a team and staff that the community will get behind and be proud of.

“Over many years I have competed against the Hawks and seen at first hand the passion of their fans. “I feel Wollongong and surrounding areas have a very strong basketball following. “Their fans are loud and have always shown outstanding loyalty to their team. “It’s definitely a basketball community and one that I will enjoy being a part of.”

The signing was made easier by the pre-established relationship between Goorjian and new Hawks’ co-owner Dorry Kordahi who owned the Kings when the master coach was on the sidelines.

“This is an exciting moment for our organisation and our fans. We have said all along we want to build solid foundations and a program that will be respected. “Success breeds success and our focus is putting the right pieces in place to achieve this. “Having Brian lead the way will give us this.

“Having been close friends with Brian for over 11 years at our time at the Sydney Kings, we have always said if I ever come back into owning a team again he would be there with me. So to see this come true is something special. “We encourage all our loyal and passionate Hawks fans and sports fans in general to get on board for what we believe is going to be an exciting journey ahead.”

Whilst the Hawks have struggled in recent years – winning the 2019/20 NBL wooden spoon – the inclusion of Goorjian has many fans expecting a turnaround in fortunes.

“Over time, I would like to build a winning culture with a team that is consistently in the top four, that has a chance each year of winning a championship,” Goorjian said of his intentions. “My immediate priority is to put together a staff that is highly skilled and committed to developing the players. “Obviously we are also trying to put together the best possible playing roster. “Not only do we want good players, it’s just as important to me that they are good people.”

NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger said the announcement was a huge milestone in the emergence of the rebranded club and Goorjian’s name was always associated with success.

“Brian Goorjian is the NBL’s most successful ever coach and one of the most respected and recognisable figures in the game. His decision to return to Australia and join The Hawks is a great endorsement of the NBL and our vision for it to become a club that people can be proud of on and off the court.”

Syndicate buys Illawarra Hawks licence

A SYNDICATE of three passionate basketball businessmen were awarded the Illawarra Hawks licence for the 2020/21 National Basketball League (NBL) season and beyond.

In one of the biggest talking points of the NBL off-season, it was at one stage rumoured that future NBA star LaMelo Ball was set to buy the Hawks after representing them last season. Instead, a syndicate of Australian entrepreneur and former co-owner of the Sydney Kings, Dorry Kordahi, prominent former NBA executive Bryan Colangelo and US businessman and basketball influence Michael Proctor have taken over the Hawks’ licence.

In the announcement today, NBL Owner and Executive Chairman Larry Kestelman said it was an “exciting” time for the Hawks and further demonstrated the impact the NBL had on the world stage for international investors to show interest in a league club.

“There was widespread interest from a number of overseas and local parties, and we believe this is the best credentialed group to deliver long term success on and off the court for our proud foundation club,” Kestelman said in a statement today.

“They have a proven track record in business and basketball to be able to take the Hawks to the next level as the NBL continues on its strong growth trajectory after five consecutive years of record attendances and broadcast audiences as well as increased global recognition. “And the syndicate is still open to other business people from Australia and overseas to be involved.

“The decision in choosing the right owners was not an easy one and I want to acknowledge and thank all those who were part of the thorough process undertaken. “I would like, in particular, to thank LaMelo Ball and his organisation for the support and interest shown in wanting to achieve the best outcome for the team that has helped him have a chance at being the number one NBA Draft pick. “We hope we can explore future opportunities with LaMelo and wish him all the best for the NBA Draft in October and his ambition to be the best ever player in the game.”

A talking point during the announcement was what the team might be renamed to with a suggestion that the Hawks’ moniker would remain, but the Illawarra brand would be expanded to be more inclusive of a larger area.

“The intention is for Wollongong to remain the primary base for the Hawks, supported by positive discussions with Venues NSW about upgrading the WIN Entertainment Centre to ensure we have the best venue possible to deliver world class entertainment for Hawks fans,” NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger said.

““There are also opportunities for the Hawks to grow their fan base across the region following their success in taking games to Canberra in recent seasons. “I wish our newest team owners the very best for the coming season. “We are confident that once we get back out on the court, the Hungry Jack’s NBL is going to be as hotly contested as ever.”

Kordahi, a well respected businessman who has earned a number of industry awards co-owned the Sydney Kings by the age of 32. He is also a member on the Advisory Board of the NBL.

“This is an exciting opportunity for the syndicate and myself to positively contribute to the ongoing success of the NBL, give back to the local basketball community and embrace the rich history of the only founding club to create a team that fans can be proud of,” he said.

“Our goal and main drive are to grow the Hawks organisation and establish a respected program in the NBL. “We believe we have a unique collective of experience, knowledge and networks, both in basketball and business to deliver this.”

Colangelo has experience within the NBA, having spent time across three clubs, Phoenix Suns, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers. He hopes to bring that experience Down Under and make the Hawks a destination club, as well as a destination league.

“Australian basketball with its great history has been on a significant rise for many years now and the NBL has played a significant role in growing the sport’s awareness and participation levels, while developing some of the best athlete and coaching talent the world has to offer,” Colangelo said. “We are thrilled to be selected as new partners with the league and pledge to outperform the expectations placed on us and deliver for Hawks fans.”

“With the Next Stars initiative, the league has strategically positioned itself as a viable alternative for young athletes seeking a premium player development and athlete care model that best prepares them for competing at the sport’s highest levels. “LaMelo Ball, among others, serves as a great example of just how influential the NBL has become on a global basis.”

Proctor is a businessman, restaurateur and real estate developer based in St. Louis, Missouri. He has been involved with basketball from the NBA down to the NCAA where he spent time playing as a prospect himeself.

“The Hawks present such an exciting opportunity for our ownership,” Proctor said. “We view the league as one of the world’s best. “My hope is that we can make the Hawks a well-respected winner for years to come.”

Andrew Bogut to take hiatus, Kings and Bogut part ways for 2020/21

FORMER NBA champion and 2019 National Basketball League (NBL) Most Valuable Player, Andrew Bogut, has made the decision not to re-sign with the Sydney Kings for the upcoming 2020/21 NBL season, but emphasises that this is by no means a retirement announcement.

This comes amidst what has been an unprecedented offseason so far in the NBL’s history.

In a tweet earlier today, Bogut cited, “With everything going on in the world the future does not look too clear, most notably in regards to sporting leagues worldwide.”

“This is by no means a retirement note, but simply saying any concrete decisions are too hard to be made at this point in time,” Bogut would add.

Obviously alluding to the effects that COVID-19 has unleashed upon leagues on an international level, the timing of Bogut’s hiatus does however afford the 35-year-old some benefits on a personal level.

In the tweet posted by Bogut, spending time with his family and affording his body some much needed rest are a couple of things that he will be expensing time doing.

“I have enjoyed being at home with the family and learning more about my kids than I ever could have previously.”

“My body is enjoying the break after playing basketball for 19 straight months and I hope to be back out on the basketball court in the near future!” he would add.

After helping lead the Kings to the NBL Grand Final series this past season and earning an All-NBL second team selection, Bogut would cap off his second season in the NBL with 8.2 points per game, alongside 8.8 rebounds and a field goal efficiency of 58.7 per cent.

With Bogut’s departure from the Kings for next season coming more than a month before the Free Agency period opens, the shock move presents the Sydney Kings much needed time to search for a replacement five man to lock down their frontcourt for next season’s campaign.

Bogut would conclude his announcement with, “The plan for moving forward? Spending time with my wife and kids, slowly getting back into physical shape, and finally making the most out of time we don’t traditionally get at home”.

The free-agency period for the National Basketball League will commence on the 1st of July.

Young Guns in the NBL: LaMelo Ball

OF all the National Basketball League (NBL) young guns, the top one from the season was clearly LaMelo Ball. He only played 12 games, but in every stop, Australian basketball fans flooded the stadium just to get a glimpse of the 6’7 point guard. Were the fans buying those tickets just so they could say they witnessed the pinnacle of a hype train? Sure, that was part of it. Australians do not get to see that many international stars, and they weren’t going to pass on seeing a potential NBA superstar at only 18-years-old.

But Ball’s season was much more than that. It took a lot of courage to turn down an NCAA scholarship and prove his worth against quality opposition. Players that typically were not fond of the attention he was getting and were determined to ball out in front of the millions watching around the world. But Ball proved something truly great, this season. Most importantly Ball proved it, not his undying fan base, not his reality TV show and not his outgoing father. What did he prove? To believe the hype.

He came into the season as a 17-year-old and left averaging 17 points per game – less than one point away from being the Illawarra Hawks’ leading scorer. But it  is not how much he scored but how he scored that speaks to Ball’s greatness. Snapping ankles, step back threes, posterising dunks, flashy layups – Ball’s season highlights reel is proof of the skill he has at such a young age, but what makes Ball’s games ‘must watch’ material is that he is so much more than just a scorer. Seven rebounds, seven assists, Ball does it all.

Including setting a NBL record for the youngest player to notch a triple double. That is crazy for a kid that young – but not as crazy as doing it again the very next game. These were 32-point and 25-point games – not your casual ‘just got enough in each category to set a record’ type of night. If it was not for his foot injury that ended his season prematurely, who knows what other records he could have broken. It’s not often a player can come into a league, play half the season, and be remembered as a record setter, a social media influencer and an all time leader in helping to grow the league of the NBL. This season surmounted Ball’s legacy as an NBL legend.

NBL Free Agency – May: How each team stands after contract opt-outs

LAST month the National Basketball League (NBL) announced it would need to reduce player payments across the board, slashing contracts by up to 50 per cent and reducing the maximum amount of imports to two per club. This had a ripple effect on the clubs and we take a look at who has fared best and who is not looking so good as of May 4 – the close of contract-opt outs. The information has been compiled thanks to Aussie Hoopla’s NBL free agent tracker and recent announcements by the clubs and league.

Note: The below rankings are not saying this is the ladder positions, but more how they have fared in terms of the quality lost or uncertainty over the lists for next season. The least impacted to the hardest hit.

#1 South East Melbourne Phoenix

There is not much more you could ask of the Phoenix thus far, having re-signed their star player in Mitch Creek and the bulk of the list being retained thus far. A perfect off-season would be retaining John Roberson and then seeing if they could snatch a third big name such as Terrico White. There is not much to write other than the Phoenix are in a good spot thus far coming into season two.

#2 New Zealand Breakers

With more players linked to the Breakers than departing, the New Zealand-based side could take advantage of a number of the Australian teams losing quality imports. The Breakers have been rumoured to consider an All-New Zealand side which would be an interesting move, but one that could help in terms of long-term success and continuity. The experienced Tom Abercrombie, as well as Corey Webster, Jarrad Weeks and Finn Delany are all signed up for next year, and a lot will depend on what happens with Scotty Hopson, but the Breakers are looking alright.

#3 Cairns Taipans

If there is a side that would be nervous about the unknown of the pandemic, it would have to be the Taipans. They got their act together on court this season, largely thanks to the likes of Scott Machado and Cameron Oliver doing their thing up either end of the court. While both have either agreed or are expected to return, there would be a question mark over them given the current circumstances. If they re-sign them, Cairns could be title favourites with the sides above them all having players opting out of contracts.

#4 Illawarra Hawks

As it stands, the 2019/20 wooden spooners at least will have continuity in their list for next season. While LaMelo Ball is obviously a huge – but expected loss – the starting line-up that carried the team through the second half of the season remains intact. They have likely lost Daniel Grida due to an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, and are waiting to see what happens with a number of uncontracted players. The only way is up for the Hawks next season and perhaps having continuity in the side will help.

#5 Adelaide 36ers

While the 36ers might have lost a coach over the off-season, they have replaced Joey Wright with Connor Henry who signed a three-year deal for the club. Everything looked good for the next season until Jerome Randle devastatingly did his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in Europe. With him all but certain to miss next season and doubts on Eric Griffin as well in terms of re-signing, the 36ers will put plenty of weight on the younger brigade such as incoming recruit Josh Giddey and the ever-improving Harry Froling. Had Randle stayed fit, the 36ers would be in the top four at this point of the untouched preseason, but the injury hurt them badly.

#6 Brisbane Bullets

On face value, the Bullets have signed up most of their quality starters. But there is a Lamar Patterson-sized question mark over their list for the 2020/21 season. Patterson was expected to re-sign for another season prior to the pandemic, but like many it is unknown what impact the contract reductions and restrictions will have on the imports. If he signs, they could easily fly into the top four, if he does not, then they lack that dominant big man. Especially with Matt Hodgson opting out of his contract.

#7 Melbourne United

United have been able to re-sign those players who had multiple-year deals which is the first step towards season 2020/21. The reason they are lower down on the list is two of their best players are either departing or are expected to depart in Shawn Long (South Korea) and Melo Trimble (one-year deal). They missed out on Giddey and could be losing veteran Chris Goulding in a year. Basically, United will look to try and sign up a few more names to give some certainty about the look of their roster next season.

#8 Sydney Kings

The Kings have lost Casper Ware and Xavier Cooks at this stage, with both players opting out of their contracts and looking elsewhere. Andrew Bogut and Jae’Sean Tate are among those out of contract and of course Didi Louzada is headed for the NBA. Just a lot of question marks over what their 2020/21 roster could look like at this point in time. After a huge season and showing what the Kings were capable of a mix of bigs and smalls, the grand finalists will have some work to do in order to get back to the pointy end of the season.

#9 Perth Wildcats

It has been a real gut-wrenching period for the Wildcats thus far, losing their two best players in Bryce Cotton and Nick Kay who have opted out of their contracts and look at other opportunities for the 2020/21 season. With White also rumoured to be considering a move to Victoria, the Wildcats unbelievable reign in the NBL finals could be in danger. But we know how well the organisation is run, and with more space opening up, expect them to poke the eyes out of quality local talent.

Draft Central’s NBL 2020 Top 10: #1 – Bryce Cotton

Given that this season’s League MVP would go on to win the NBL Title, the Finals’ MVP and lead the competition in scoring and steals, it would make perfect sense that Bryce Cotton would rank at the top of the pack in this season’s edition of Draft Central’s NBL Top 10. However, the decision to put Cotton at number one was not so clear cut.

Season performances from the likes of Scott Machado, Scotty Hopson, Lamar Patterson and others, made the decision to put Arizona-born guard at the top of the list, one that wouldn’t be decided until the postseason. While 22.48 points per game (league leader) is all well and good, Cotton’s consistency separated himself from his piers during the season, as only once would he put up single digits in all 27 of his games, scoring four points against the Breakers back in early-November. He would also hold himself responsible to a 42 per cent field goal accuracy rate, one of the best amongst guards and forwards collectively.

Defensively, Cotton would once again lead the competition in another major statistical category, this time in steals. On eight separate occasions, Cotton would accumulate three or more steals during a contest, which would help him attain an average of 1.75 steals per game throughout the season. Cotton’s contributions carried his team throughout 27 encounters, as on several separate days he would put up monumental performances. Notably his 36 and 39-point efforts against the Sydney Kings in Rounds 6 and 13, his 34 points against the Breakers in Round 7 and his 42 points against the Taipans in Game one of their semi-final series.

As the Wildcats would grind away at the Kings’ ladder-leading position throughout the season, their ability to not fall into losing slumps helped the Wildcats maintain an ongoing winning form. Not losing three games in a row, helped Perth secure second position and home-court advantage leading into their series with the Taipans. Following their 85-72 win over the Brisbane Bullets, Cotton would receive his second MVP Award as well as his third All-NBL First Team selection alongside teammate Nick Kay. But the individual accolades were trivial compared to the major prize of a potential championship.

The 27-year-old made his intentions known in Game One against Cairns as mentioned earlier, but Games Two and Three required a different approach of play by Cotton. With the Wildcats going down by 11 to Cairns away from home in Game 2, Cotton would walk away with a measly 11 points, three assists and two rebounds. In Game Three, however, he would facilitate the ball in a fashion that had not occurred all season, as he dished out eight assists in the deciding Game Three contest, aiding his side in the 11-point triumph.

Moving on to face the Kings, all that could be said in the Grand Final series was Sydney’s inability to stop the scoring of Cotton. Putting up 30-point games on two separate occasions would set the reigning-MVP up for a 30-points per game series win and the defining performance for him and his team, winning their fourth title in five years. While Cotton awaits to hear back from the Australian government in regard to his citizenship request, as mentioned to the Arizona Daily Star, he was relieved to receive the title given the unfortunate fashion that it was obtained. “It felt just as amazing to be acknowledged as the champions,” said Cotton. “It was almost like watching Selection Sunday. We were just kind of sitting around waiting to see what the verdict was going to be.”

The guard had cemented his own dynasty with his third chip in his extensive NBL career thus far. Of course the news coming through yesterday was that Cotton had opted out of his contract with the Wildcats for season 2020/21 after the NBL’s decision to cut player payments by up to 50 per cent and limit import numbers. The agreement put in place is that Cotton will search for opportunities overseas, however the Wildcats have retained his rights should he choose to honour the contract for next season. In other words Wildcats fans, he cannot play for another NBL team. It will be Perth or international for the star guard.

Draft Central’s Top 10 2019/20 NBL memorable moments: #2 – LaMelo and RJ go at it

EVERYONE just knew the game between the Illawarra Hawks and New Zealand Breakers – the first clash between likely top 10 NBA Draft selections LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton was going to be huge. What fans received was nothing short of expectations when in the very first possession for the Hawks, Hampton swatted Ball’s shot nearly into the stands. Every fan watching at home was on the edge of their seat as the large American audience tuned in for a battle between the future stars of their league. What other way could you explain the most-watched NBL game in history? Hampton, a silky smooth combo guard with size, going up against Ball, a flashy playmaker who also might be the most well known teenage basketball player outside the NBA. The two future stars put on a performance in Illawarra, showcasing exactly why they are ranked as some of the best basketball recruits on the planet. 

The night might go down as the first of many, many meetings between the two as they progress throughout their careers. The expectations for the duo ranged from just quality NBA players to carrying basketball entertainment for generations. Since the prospects decided to shake up the college and professional basketball landscapes by opting to play in the NBL, they have strengthened the league more than anything else ever could. In fact just Ball’s debut game for the NBL was at the time, the most watched game in NBL history. The duo drew over a million new fans on the NBL’s Facebook page, but could only play face-to-face once all season, making this moment all the more special.  

The showdown took place in front of 16 NBA scouts. That is more than half of the NBA having a representative to watch a Round 4 matchup between the two lowly ranked sides in Illawarra Hawks and the New Zealand Breakers. That is how much magnitude these stars behold just playing on the same floor. But Hampton looked to be as relaxed as ever, as his Breakers led a one-sided first quarter ending at 30-18. It was more of the same in the second, and even with Ball hitting back-to-back threes within the space of a minute, New Zealand had all but killed off any chance of a comeback, blowing its lead out to 27 points to end the fourth. But Ball was not going to leave without giving his fans something to remember. After a contested layup from Aaron Brooks missed, Ball came flying in from the baseline before throwing down a huge one handed put-back dunk. Even the Breaker fans got out of their seats. What a historic moment in NBL history.

Top 10 NBL 2019/20 moments countdown so far:

#10 Phoenix upstage United in opening round
#9 Scotty Hopson’s consecutive buzzer beaters
#8 Bryce Cotton drops 39 points in grand final preview
#7 Bryce Cotton hits game winner in grand final rematch
#6 Casper Ware torches former team in regular season
#5 Greatest comeback in NBL history
#4 LaMelo Ball posts back-to-back triple doubles
#3 John Roberson’s 21 points in last six minutes to win game
#2 LaMelo and RJ go at it

Draft Central’s NBL 2020 Top 10 #2: Scott Machado

THIS season’s main facilitator and the second Cairns Taipans player in Draft Central’s top 10, Scott Machado takes out second spot on the countdown after an impressive 2019/20 campaign. His journey goes all the way back prior to the season’s opening tip, following the signing of Cameron Oliver to bolster the Taipans’ frontcourt. Mike Kelly and his coaching staff were in need of someone to control the flow of games and elevate the offensive performances of those on the floor at any given time. The decision was Machado, who was signed with the Los Angeles Lakers G-League affiliate, the South Bay Lakers at the time. The signing would strengthen Cairns’ backcourt, as Machado would go shoulder-to-shoulder with DJ Newbill, who was a part of the Cairns’ side that went 6-22 the season prior and was eager to make this time round a very different story.

Despite Cairns’ good intentions, they lost their opening three encounters, but a hard fought 99-76 blowout win against the Wildcats got the ball rolling for the Taipans. Machado’s 18 points, seven assists and five rebounds were a significant factor in that game. Falling to 2-6 after a debilitating loss to the Illawarra Hawks in Round 6, the Taipans faced a crossroads on whether this season would turn out similar to last, or if they were to change the way they conducted themselves on the court and start to climb the standings. They chose the latter.

Led by Machado, the Taipans won five of their next six contests with their point guard obtaining two double-digit assist games over this period. It was rather a big shock to the Taipans faithful when they had back-to-back losses handed to them in Round 11, falling to the Wildcats and the Phoenix, but the way Cairns bounced back would define their season. In their remaining 12 outings, the Taipans would go on streaks of five and four games, losing once to the Kings and twice to finish their season, with the third seed already locked up by that stage.

Machado averaged an elite level 16.4 points, 6.7 assists and 3.9 rebounds in his side’s monumental run to the finals, helping Cairns secure a 16 win and 12 loss record at the end of the season, locking up a matchup with the Wildcats and MVP Bryce Cotton. Game One would prove to be massive for Machado, as he would shoot a massive 61 per cent from the field, whilst collecting 31 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in 39 minutes of play, arguably his best individual performance all season. Machado would continue to put up solid numbers for his team in Games Two and Three, averaging 16 points per contest. But, Trevor Gleeson’s side had too much depth, as they snatched Game Three and moved on to the Grand Final Series to face the Kings and defend their title.

To encapsulate Machado’s breakout season, he was awarded some consolation as the NBL Fans’ MVP, averaging 16.1 points per game in NBL 2020, as he led the league in assists with 7.9 dimes being dished out every time out for the 29-year-old. He also earned himself a spot in the NBL’s All-NBL First Team and runners-up in the MVP votes count behind Cotton. Whether the “big-three” returns again next season for the Taipans or not, it is without a doubt Machado was to be ranked second in Draft Central‘s top 10, if not first, had he edged out the Wildcats in the semi-finals.

Draft Central’s NBL Top 10 #3: Scotty Hopson

WHEN it comes to some of the most under-recognised players in the National Basketball League (NBL), Scotty Hopson’s name might spring to mind. This comes hot off the heels of two major snubs at this season’s NBL Awards night. Hopson who averaged 19.1 points per game (ninth overall), 5.8 rebounds (third amongst small forwards) and 4.7 assists (fifth overall), was denied an All-NBL First Team selection and failed to qualify for the top three in this season’s NBL MVP tally.

Despite missing out on seven games this season due to injury, Hopson still proved to be a constant contributor to New Zealand’s offence. From his first game of the season, Hopson made sure he would become an integral part of this season’s Breakers side, piling on 27 points, seven rebounds and three assists against the Kings in Round 1 to kick off the season, despite losing the contest. But this performance would set the tone for the import’s debut season in NZ. With the forward missing out on all of November with injury, Hopson’s return come December marked the start of the beginning of the Breakers’ resurgence in the second half of the season. Upon his return in Round 13 against the Brisbane Bullets, Hopson would again provide all-around contributions to the rest of his squad, with a quiet 14 points and six rebounds to help secure the 96-85 victory. However, it was not until a week later that the former-Oklahoma City G-League prospect had his coming out party, as he dominated at both ends with 24 points, nine rebounds and three assists against a struggling Phoenix outfit. During this collection of games, New Zealand conducted some of the best runs of form in the franchise’s history. With Hopson on the floor from Round 10 to the end of the season, the Breakers’ record would stand at 12 wins and just four losses, proving just how much of an effect the Kentucky-born baller had on the side. Finishing the season the way he started, Hopson’s 23 point, 10 rebound and five assist double-double capped off a very successful season for Dan Shamir’s side, and if the dominos had fallen a different way in regards to the mid-table teams, the Breakers could have faced off with the Sydney Kings in the semi-finals instead of Melbourne United.

While Breakers’ fans everywhere would love Hopson to make a return to the NBL 2020-21 season, the 30-year-old still has plans for the NBA, returning back to the NBA G-League’s Oklahoma City Blue continuing to play back in the States. In a conversation with News Hub NZ, the Breakers’ club MVP said that whether he is to return to the Breakers for the upcoming season is to be decided at the conclusion of the G-League campaign. “When that season [G-League] is over, I will evaluate all possible opportunities in the NBA, as well as the Breakers.” Hopson’s position as third in Draft Central’s top 10 is well-earned and if he is to return next season, the Breakers should settle for nothing less than a finals appearance in 2021.