Tag: john roberson

NBL21 Round 1 preview: Taipans, Hawks and 36ers to double up in opening round

A FIVE-game opening round which features seven of the nine teams was eventually indicative of what became of the 2020 season. Just when it looked like 2021 was going to be a better version on its predecessor, the global pandemic reared its head once again, and the National Basketball League (NBL) was forced to make multiple changes in a week after finalising the first few rounds last month.

The NBL cancelled the all-Melbourne showdown between Melbourne United and South East Melbourne Phoenix, and then created two smaller hubs in Adelaide and Queensland to avoid the New South Wales and Victorian COVID-19 clusters. Whilst Brisbane then fell into a short state of panic with a three-day lockdown, the most recent NBL21 opening round fixture appears set after much conjecture.

The most notable features include three of the nine teams playing two games, and two sides playing no games, with New Zealand Breakers and Perth Wildcats now sitting out the first round which tips off Friday. Instead, Adelaide 36ers will now open the season against Melbourne United, playing a home game before a 40-hour break to welcoming the Phoenix on Sunday afternoon.

Queensland hosts the remaining three games as Brisbane Bullets – who only found out their opponent earlier in the week – take on The Hawks in Brian Goorjian‘s return game, before Cairns Taipans host a double-header in North Queensland. The Taipans take on last year’s grand finalists Sydney Kings on Saturday night, before hosting a standalone game two days later against The Hawks in what should be an entertaining contest.

NBL21 ROUND 1 FIXTURE:

Friday, January 15:

Adelaide 36ers vs. Melbourne United @ Adelaide Entertainment Centre

Saturday, January 16:

Brisbane Bullets vs. The Hawks @ Nissan Arena
Cairns Taipans vs. Sydney Kings @ Cairns Pop Up Arena

Sunday, January 17:

Adelaide 36ers vs. South East Melbourne Phoenix

Monday, January 18:

Cairns Taipans vs. The Hawks

 

PRESEASON:

In terms of preseason form, Adelaide 36ers had two good wins over Brisbane Bullets early in the off-season, before going down to Cairns Taipans in the last match of the season. Melbourne United won its only game against the Taipans on New Years Eve, meaning the Taipans head into the first round with a 1-1 record prior to the season. The Hawks split their games with Perth Wildcats 1-1 over in Western Australia, before losing to Sydney Kings in late December. In the other two games, Brisbane Bullets accounted for South East Melbourne Phoenix on the Gold Coast in thrilling contests, which meant the Bullets went 2-2 throughout the preseason.

Melbourne United are considered title favourites, coming in against one of the up-and-coming outsiders of the competition in Adelaide 36ers. The 36ers have few admirers, but can head into the season underrated with some good young talent – led by Josh Giddey – coming through the ranks. The 36ers will be hoping to score a win against South East Melbourne Phoenix, though both teams will have faith in taking home the points.

Cairns has been installed as second favourite to United, and will hope to establish themselves with games against the New South Wales sides at home. Two wins sets them on the right paths, especially against sides that are considered lower down the order in favouritism. The Hawks and Brisbane Bullets will be the interesting match of the round, with both having points to prove following mixed preseasons.

 

Adelaide 36ers vs. Melbourne United

The key to Adelaide’s success is hitting the triple-figures, winning all eight matches last season at home where they scored at least 100 points, whilst losing all matches that were in double-digits. Many will hope it is a repeat of the season opener from the 2017-18 season where United got up by just two points, 99-97 which resulted in the sides going all the way to the NBL Grand Final.

Dean Vickerman will coach his 100th game as United coach tonight, which was fitting considering his first match was that season opener, and has since won two NBL Coach of the Year awards and the championship in his debut season. For Adelaide, Donald Sloan celebrates his 33rd birthday on debut tonight, while fellow import Tony Crocker will do so on Sunday when the 36ers take on the Phoenix.

The keys to success for Melbourne lies in big man Jock Landale who has proved hard to stop over the preseason, with he and Jack White being welcome inclusions. Scotty Hopson has a lot more known about his ability having dominated for the Breakers in recent times. The 36ers have had a lot more change outside of their imports and young gun Giddey, with Isaac Humphries and Keanu Pinder returning, Sunday Dech crossing from the Hawks, and Conner Henry stepping to ex-coach Joey Wright‘s shoes.

Brisbane Bullets vs. The Hawks

The first match up in Queensland is as much about the men off the court as the ones on it, with legendary leader Brian Goorjian returning to the league having won more matches in it than any other. He steps up to take The Hawks role, and will face off against a former player of his in Andrej Lemanis. Both coaches are the only ones in history to lead their sides to three-peats, albeit with other teams in the New Zealand Breakers (2011-2013 for Lemanis) and Sydney Kings (2003-2005). As it stands in the head-to-heads, Goorjian leads 10-2 and will be hoping to build on that record that ended 12 years ago.

Brisbane have been hit badly losing their two biggest names in Lamar Patterson and Will Magnay. Whilst the Bullets had a promising season last season, they will be hoping new imports, Orlando Johnson and Vic Law can have an equal impact. Harry Froling and Anthony Drmic had good seasons in the Queensland State League (QSL) since crossing from the 36ers, as did Tanner Krebs a young player with plenty of potential. Nathan Sobey is always a crucial play and will look to team up with Jason Cadee in creating up the court.

By comparison though, The Hawks have overhauled their list as part of the rebrand, looking to get off the bottom of the ladder. Goorjian replaced outgoing coach Matt Flinn, whilst the likes of Next Star Justinian Jessup, and imports Tyler Harvey and Justin Simon lead the list of inclusions. They should provide the depth in the back court, whilst Cameron Bairstow and Deng Adel round out the front court. Sam Froling will lock horns with his brother, and as potentially the only starter who was at The Hawks last season.

Cairns Taipans vs. Sydney Kings

In the battle of two finalists, Cairns Taipans will be keen to go better than their semi-final exit last season, whilst Sydney Kings fell at the final hurdle in an interrupted COVID-19 Grand Final series. These teams faced off last season in Round 1, with the Kings getting up by eight points, in what was the North Queensland’s side’s first ever Round 1 loss at home. The Taipans strength at home was notable though, winning every match there in the 2020 calendar year.

The Taipans have relatively stayed the same with DJ Newbill and Anthony Fisher the key outs, while Next Star Mojave King and New Zealand Breakers talent Jordan Ngatai lead the inclusions. King is the second youngest contracted player in the NBL this year behind Giddey and becomes the second youngest ever to play for the Taipans. With crucial re-signings in Cameron Oliver and Scott Machado working their magic, and having depth like Jarrod Kenny and Nathan Jawai coming off the bench in those spots, the Taipans look to be one of the teams to beat.

The Kings have lost a lot of quality over the offseason, with Jae’Sean Tate and Deshon Taylor out, the former heading to the Houston Rockets. Andrew Bogut called it a day, as did Kevin Lisch, with Lucas Walker also out of the side. They managed to pick up another import in Jarrell Martin, while Tom Vodanovich and Angus Glover joined from other NBL clubs. Martin is the only starting inclusion though, with the Kings picking up depth for roster rotation, and will again look to Casper Ware and Didi Louzada as the creators.

In the remainder of the round, the Taipans will go head-to-head with The Hawks as both sides double up, whilst Adelaide 36ers will take on a fresh South East Melbourne Phoenix in a standalone game on Sunday. Having covered the 36ers above, the Phoenix are a side that is hopeful of moving up the NBL table, having retained the crucial signature of Mitch Creek, and then brought in a number of starters who improve various positions.

Imports Keifer Sykes and Ben Moore will step into the side and provide experience at both ends, with Sykes able to replace the outgoing talent that was John Roberson. Moore can play that five role with great success, while fellow inclusions Cam Gliddon and Reuben Te Rangi have joined the Phoenix from the Bullets. They have more depth and top-end strength than season one, and while Roberson will be a loss – particularly from outside the arc – they seem to have a more balanced and all-round settled outfit.

NBL21 season previews: South East Melbourne Phoenix

THE National Basketball League (NBL)’s newest club, South East Melbourne Phoenix might have had a challenging first season after a strong start – finishing eighth with a 9-19 record – but were able to show at their best they could compete with the top sides. Now a year on, the Phoenix are better prepared as a unit, and aside from some retirements, have effectively kept a large portion of their list together, as well as brought in some exciting developing talents over the off-season.

Amongst some of the earliest retirement announcements, Tai Wesley and Ben Madgen both decided to call it quits at age 34 and 35 respectively, having been a part of the Phoenix’s foundation season. The announcements came following the re-signing of import Kendall Stephens, providing an established option for Madgen’s departure. Almost immediately following the back-to-back retirements, Cameron Gliddon signed on for a fresh start with the Phoenix.

The Brisbane Bullets guard gave the Phoenix an immediate starter in the back court, having been released from his contract with the Bullets a year early after not having the impact he could have late in his career. The 31-year-old has plenty of talent and was a Commonwealth Games gold medallist, so will be hoping to rekindle his form with the Phoenix.

Whilst not much basketball might have been going on in the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, New Zealand took centre stage with the NZNBL taking place. It helped hand Reuben Te Rangi and Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa contracts, the former on a full contract, the latter as a development player. They were joined by another Kiwi in Yannick Wetzell, who signed on then exercised his out clause to play in Germany, only to re-join the Phoenix after passport complications.

A couple of later import recruitments occurred late in the off-season, with Ben Moore and Keifer Sykes signing on. The American duo have plenty of experience across the globe, with Sykes playing in Turkey, Italy, China and Greece, while Moore also played in Turkey alongside a long stint in the G League having had a one-time two-way contract with Indiana Pacers back in 2018. Sykes was once touted by Forbes as the “James Harden of China” following a ridiculous 50-point game and averaging 34.6 points in that league.

Sykes brought the intrigue with his signing, and will replace outgoing scoring machine John Roberson who lit up the league on a number of occasions. American duo Terry Armstrong and Devondrick Walker also departed, while the re-signings were just as big as the signings. Mitch Creek remained on board in search of another chance in the NBA, with the forward one of the most dominant players in the league.

Alongside Creek, Kyle Adnam, Adam Gibson and Dane Pineau also remained at the club, to create a stable core of players from last season. Dan Trist headed to New Zealand to play with the Breakers, but the inclusion of Gliddon along with Te Rangi and Tristan Forsyth as a development player meant the depth in the front court is not a concern.

Overall the Phoenix look stronger than last season, which should equate in a better season and move up the NBL21 ladder.

Picture credit: AAP

NBL Free Agency Update: Kings, Phoenix and Wildcats

TO wrap up Draft Central’s National Basketball League (NBL) Free Agency updates to this point, we delve into the moves made by the reigning premiers, the Perth Wildcats, and last season’s runners-up Sydney Kings. We also look deeper into how the NBL’s newest team, South East Melbourne Phoenix, is shaping up for their second season in the country’s top basketball competition.

SYDNEY KINGS

Even though the Kings have made minimal changes to their line-up for NBL21, last season’s minor premiers have still made some noteworthy signings for the upcoming campaign. Firstly, for Sydney, it was their decision to re-sign Craig Moller on the NBL’s newly introduced club option rule. Moller’s re-signing got the Kings going in regard to outlining what their squad would start to look like, currently holding Brad Newley and Jordan Hunter under contract. To help bolster their side with young and exciting faces, the Kings re-acquired one of the biggest surprises of last season, Shaun Bruce, as well as fully recovered Xavier Cooks to the fold.

With the retirement of potential Hall of Famer, Kevin Lisch, and the future of Andrew Bogut unknown, the allowance of new signings for the Kings has also increased. The poaching of another sought after NCAA graduate from the United States took place, as former Miami Hurricane, Dejan Vasiljevic, made his way down-under to continue his successful basketball career. The three-year-deal between the Kings and Vasiljevic embodies the next few years of transition that the purple and gold will undertake, as they start to bring in new talent. Furthermore, 21-year-old Angus Glover will make the hour and a half drive northbound to Sydney, after putting pen to paper on another three-year contact under Will Weaver. Having served as a key part of Matt Flinn’s rotation last season with the Hawks, Glover would average a modest 5.2 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game.

Contracted:

Brad Newley
Jordan Hunter

Re-signed:

Shaun Bruce
Xavier Cooks
Craig Moller (Club Option)

Signed:

Angus Glover (The Hawks)
Dejan Vasiljevic (Miami Hurricanes)

 

SOUTH EAST MELBOURNE PHOENIX

Following the retirement announcements of two of their most senior players and leaders in Tai Wesley and Ben Madgen, head coach Simon Mitchell now has his hands full to try and re-shuffle his squad for the NBL21 season. The additional losses of star shooter John Roberson to Spanish side Estudiantes and Dan Trist to the New Zealand Breakers, as well as promising young prospect Yanni Wetzell due to his European opt-out clause, does not make life easier for the Phoenix.

While the losses to this point have been sizeable, the Phoenix administration have made headway in reconciling this dilemma. The re-signings of Chicago-native Kendall Stephens and pivotal power-forward Dane Pineau, both of whom were members of the Phoenix’s inaugural season, will look to suit up in the green for at least one more fixture.

In terms of new additions, two members of the Brisbane Bullets can now look forward to some less consistent weather, as both Cam Gliddon and Reuben Te Rangi announced their intentions to move South. Gliddon, an Australian Boomer, has represented his country on numerous occasions, having served the green and gold at both the 2017/2018 FIBA Asia and World Cups. Linking back up with teammate Mitchell Creek will be an added bonus to the team’s morale when the season’s preparations start to ramp up. Te Rangi, who was a late inclusion in this year’s NZNBL representing the Canterbury Rams, looks to continue his rapid development in Australia’s top-flight. Te Rangi helped the Rams to an unexpected title run, which saw the team make it all the way to the competition’s semi-finals, despite finishing the regular season with a 4-10 record and finishing at the bottom of the standings.

Contracted:

Adam Gibson
Kyle Adnam
Mitchell Creek

Re-signed:

Dane Pineau
Kendall Stephens

Signed:

Cam Gliddon (Brisbane Bullets)
Reuben Te Rangi (Brisbane Bullets)

 

PERTH WILDCATS

After what was a hectic start to their off-season movements, with both Nick Kay and Bryce Cotton opting out of their contracts and then Cotton re-signing for three-years, the defending champion Wildcats have well and truly started to rebuild their squad, as they endeavour on yet another successful NBL season.

The first of many was the Club Option taken on big-man Majok Majok, as the Wildcats look to centre their offseason on obtaining big bodies and after Majok’s contributions last season, one would not argue how valuable he is to Trevor Gleeson’s squad. Next up in the batting order, is fourth-year player Todd Blanchfield, who has transferred to the West Coast after two years with the Hawks, averaging over 13.5 points and 45 per cent shooting from the field during his time in Wollongong.

To help reinforce Perth’s backcourt, 36ers guard Kevin White will help mentor his younger peers in his fourth year of NBL action. The 33-year-old will look to step in where Damian Martin left off after his Hall of Fame career came to a fitting end after winning his sixth NBL Championship and with the re-signing of Taylor Britt and purchase of John Mooney, some fresh legs will look to insert some explosiveness into the depth of Gleeson’s gang.

Contracted:

Clint Steindl
Jesse Wagstaff
Luke Travers
Mitchell Norton
Wani Swaka Lo Buluk

Re-signed:

Bryce Cotton
Majok Majok (Club Option)
Taylor Britt

Signed:

John Mooney (University of Notre Dame)
Kevin White (Adelaide 36ers)
Todd Blanchfield (The Hawks)

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 Top 10 2019/20 NBL memorable moments: #3 – John Roberson’s 21 points in last six minutes to win game

FANS across the nation played witness to a John Roberson masterpiece in Round 11 against Cairns Taipans. South East Melbourne Phoenix fans got front row seats to one of their teams most spirited comebacks in their short history. Up by as much as 10 points throughout the clash, the Phoenix’ night looked all but over down by six with 12 seconds remaining. With the win looking out of reach for the home team some could be forgiven for thinking it was time to leave the stadium and beat the traffic. But the Phoenix had other plans unleashing one of greatest clutch shooting streaks in NBL history.

On this night, Roberson knocked down back to back threes to send the game into overtime. To tip that off, he scored a mind-boggling 21 of the last 23 points to win the game. This game was neck and neck from tip off. Both teams grew leads but they were never substantial enough to release the building tension. Towards the final minute, a fatigued home crowd began to feel the intensity of their efforts being squandered as losing grew increasingly more anticipated. This would have been their sixth loss in seven games. As a brand new franchise, the fans knew that each loss moved the team closer and closer to a possible expiration. 

With 18 seconds left on the clock, Phoenix’s offence turned to a scramble as Ben Madgen missed a good look from corner three. Mitch Creek ran all the way from the arc to tip the ball back in the air, while bulldozing two Cairns players as they dived to the floor. Dane Pineau came up with the ball and dished it to Adam Gibson in a frenzy. He swung it to Roberson who nailed the shot. The crowd went berserk. All of a sudden a small hope of victory manifested itself through Melbourne Arena.

Even though they were down three points, without possession, and their backs against the wall, Phoenix fans knew there was a chance to see a rare win for the South East team. With Jarrod Kenny inbounding, the noise of the stadium could not get any louder. That was until Pineau got a finger to the pass and handed it to a running Roberson. Roberson ran to the right side, faked a handoff to Creek and nailed a running off-balanced jumper to send the game to overtime. 

To start the extra period, Roberson nailed another three and would not slow down from there. Knocking down six three pointers in three minutes and 40 seconds, he would score 15 in the extra period and finish with 32 points, while going 8-14 from three. That goes beyond feeling hot. But apart from Roberson’s decision to go video game mode on the Cairns, as well Pineau’s clutch rebound and steal. Credit must be given to Gibson for draining five three pointers of his own in a vintage 25-point display as well as Creek who put up a spectacular 25 points and nine rebounds. However, this night will be remembered in fan’s minds as the most exciting end to an NBL game. 

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

Draft Central’s Top 10 moments 2019/20 NBL memorable moments: Phoenix upstage United in opening round

THE 2019/20 season of the National Basketball League (NBL) had plenty of momentous occasions with some close encounters, star recruits joining the ranks and a new team introduced. Draft Central has created a countdown of the top 10 moments throughout the season starting with the inception of South East Melbourne (SEM) Phoenix. 

It was arguably the most action packed NBL seasons to date, with the league unveiling SEM Phoenix and pitting them against cross-town rivals Melbourne United in their inaugural game. If that was not exciting enough, throw in the fact that the new kids on the block actually won against the grand finalists proving they were the real deal. While Melbourne United (previously called the Tigers), have seen loads of competing teams come through Melbourne, they have always been the more successful side. Sure, some fans rooted for the alternative Melbourne squads, but they never really gave the fans much to root for. Teams like South East Melbourne Magic, the North Melbourne Giants, South Melbourne Saints, and South Dragons all had their moments, but none were as consistent and as dominant as the Tigers, forcing Melbourne to look only one way. 

Coming off a season where they led the league in wins and fought in the grand final, it looked like Melbourne was doomed for another era of having one great team and one subpar team occupying the same space. But when South East Melbourne Phoenix beat Melbourne United, one of, if not the most storied franchises in NBL history, who have participated in a staggering eight NBL grand finals, it was a huge statement to the league. It was a statement that echoed to every Melbournian and every fan of the NBL in general that said: ‘we are for real’.   

Although it was the only victory Phoenix held over United all season, it was a story of the underdog and gave them plenty of confidence heading into the rest of the season. South East Melbourne gave their new fans plenty to cheer about in the opening game, with a host of fans rallying behind fan favourite and superstar Mitch Creek and the rest of the boys in green. When you share a city, a fan base and an arena, a rivalry is almost unpreventable and that was shown from the very first encounter with neither side leaving anything to chance. So when Phoenix came out on top by just three points, on the back of a 28-11-4 night from Creek, it was a huge milestone for the NBL. And it lamented Creek as the new franchise player for the rest of Melbourne to support. While Creek had a game to remember John Roberson also flexed his muscles for his new club dropping 20 points while former Sydney Kings youngster Kyle Adnam also hit the scoreboard with 11 points. It was a full court effort from the Phoenix shutting down the likes of Melo Trimble to get their side over the line. But all in all it was a historical night for the Phoenix running out with a three point victory 91-88.

Top 10 NBL 2019/20 moments countdown so far:

#10 Phoenix upstage United in opening round

Aussies Abroad: Dejan Vasiljevic (Miami Hurricanes)

IN an Aussies Abroad first, we look at a player with dual nationality in Dejan Vasiljevic. The 190cm shooting guard qualifies as both Canadian and Australian after being born in Calgary, but grew up Down Under. Having finished his Senior year with Miami, Vasiljevic has a big decision to make about his future, but also the fact that there is still much uncertainty about when any basketball competition in the world will return to the court in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The biggest asset Vasiljevic has is his three-point shot which in 2019-20 returned an accuracy of 34.3 per cent, with a two-point efficiency of greater than 50 per cent. He played 30 games and averaged 33.7 minutes per match in them, putting up numbers of 13.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game. In his most recent games, Vasiljevic put up back-to-back 17-point games as well as as average of 4.5 rebounds in that time. His best game from that perspective came back in November against Quinnipiac where he recorded a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds, then the next week dropped 25 points on Missouri State.

His shooting has improved over time, and Vasiljevic has shown great resilience to come back from a stress fracture in his foot which he suffered in his Sophomore year. The injury helped him recover stronger and came back with better numbers than before in his Junior year. He continued that form into his Senior season, but the future is still unknown for the Australian big. He was a member of the Emerging Boomers side that played at the 2019 World University Games, averaging 20.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists there.

He might not be headed to the NBA, but with his college experience in the States, do not be surprised if Vasiljevic ends up back in the National Basketball League (NBL) where he can be a deadly force from beyond the arc. Given his three-point shooting is something clubs have in high demand – just look at John Roberson at the Phoenix – then expect there to be a few phone calls if he decides to return home.

Opinion: What would happen if five Australians returned home to play in the NBL?

WHAT would happen in a reality where five of the best Australian NBA players returned to their home towns to play basketball in the NBL? Why? Maybe the NBA gets shut down because of the coronavirus, maybe they all just consequently and simultaneously become so patriotic for Australia that they take their talent to the Aussie leagues. It may sound silly, but Troy Hanning explains what it could mean for the NBL.

1 Ben Simmons (South East Melbourne Phoenix)

If you put Ben Simmons on the Melbourne Phoenix, it is a guaranteed championship. It is that simple. The only thing Simmons cannot do is hit a jumper from 10 feet away from the basket. 

But in a league where defenders are just a little slower to react and maybe a little shorter at the rim, Ben would average 40,15 and 10 by driving down to the rim and either dunking it or dishing it off to open cutters. Ben’s number one asset is that he is a point guard in a small forward’s body. He can dribble and dish at an elite level, and to add onto that, is 6’8″. That’s like being the most skilled driver in a race, and having the best car. If Ben was not 6’8″, with his elite dribbling skills and ability to find the open men, Ben would still be an elite point guard. Although his inability or insecurity to shoot long range jump shots is sometimes comical, the best of the best defenders have all taken a step back, anticipating the drive and still got scored on. So it is not like this limitation impedes on his impact on the game. 

Simmons clearly has confidence issues because it is not that he cannot shoot, it is that he choose not to. There are plenty of videos showing Simmons hitting threes at training or at a pre-game warm-up, efficiently. In fact his shot is actually pretty nice, but he has refused to shoot every year, which only adds to the pressure to shoot more. But when he comes to the NBL, he will have a little less media coverage and a little less attention. Maybe that lack of pressure serves to help Simmons’ shot. But even if he never gets better at shooting, or even never gets better at basketball, he is already a top 20 player on the planet, at only 23-years-old. So his biggest concern should not be his shooting, but his teammates, and that’s why South East Melbourne Phoenix is a perfect destination for the star. Simmons could have just as easily been signed by Melbourne United in this reality, but the temptation imagining him playing alongside John Roberson and Mitchell Creek, two men feared for their long range abilities, was just too much. 

Because for as great as Simmons is, we have never really seen him play in a system built to maximise his abilities. Which is honestly a compliment to Ben because he has been this good with teammates that constantly clog up the middle of the floor. If Ben was put in a team surrounded by four knock down shooters, the potential would be unlimited. Not to mention having the best shooter in the league in Roberson by your side, is a great way to start.

2 Dante Exum (Melbourne United)

In this reality, not only does Dante Exum sign with Melbourne United, but he also gets a completely new makeover, jumping from the point to the small forward. Do not get me wrong, Exum is a good point guard, but after contemplating every scenario of Exum at the one, the consensus was that the team is just too built around the backcourt of Shawn Long and Melo Trimble, to alter anything there. But surprisingly, this really works. Exum would be replacing Mitch McCarron’s spot in the rotation, who, while is a fairly decent scorer for the team, is just the one to make way in the starting five. Exum, who is a 6’6″ guard with a 6’9″ wingspan, would be used as a versatile small ball three who can make plays and defend nearly anyone on the court. World renowned as a phenomenal defender, who is athletic, long and quick, capable of shutting down anyone in front of him. It is fair to say that United would be lucky to have him in their arsenal. 

Although whenever anyone talks about Exum, it is never about what he’s done in the pros, but about his potential. But to be fair, he has never been put in a position to succeed. When he was drafted to the Utah Jazz, they already had point guard Trey Burke, so immediately Exum was coming off the bench. And once Burke left, the Jazz, while also prompted by the starting of Rudy Gobert, became one of the best defensive teams in the league. But that progress was stunted with an unfortunate torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). He then was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers who are simply a poorly run organisation, especially for a young player. That’s why in this reality, Exum can get as far away from Cleveland as possible, and be put on a team where he is given more attention, hopefully elevating his growth. With Melbourne United, Exum will be for the first time in his career, put on a team that highlights his strengths. 

Because the potential of Exum is a real thing. His performance in the FIBA Under 19s Championships where he led the Emus to the semi-finals is evident. Along with him finishing second in the lane ability drill at the NBA Draft Combine, literally a test to see how quickly you can sprint, shuffle and back pedal around the key. In United, with Trimble, Long and Chris Goulding all averaging over 17 points a game, Exum just needs to be reliant on defence. This role would suit his playing style almost perfectly, as by being the leader of the defence, he is contributing to the teams success immediately while being able to take his time to work on the offensive fundamentals patiently. The upside of this reality is endless, but even if Exum can never quite find his groove offensively, every team wants a ‘stopper’, who can lock up anyone, and Exum just fits this role naturally.

3 Aron Baynes (New Zealand Breakers)

With lineups getting smaller and smaller every year, and bigs becoming less relevant from one generation to the next, some people are beginning to question whether a team centred around a big, can still be a serious contender. The answer is that the evolution of the game has not led to the extinction of a valuable big man. Rather, it has fostered a period of evolution. Luckily for New Zealand, Aaron Baynes is the poster boy of a big man that has evolved successfully with the changing times. From attempting a combined seven threes in his first five seasons to 168 this season, the progression is evident. That’s a 2400% difference, keep in mind the season ended prematurely. A lot of the time bigs who can shoot are lanky, awkward ‘athletes’ who can’t hold their own with the physicality and toughness required in the paint. That is not Baynes. If coach Shamir wants a player to protect the paint, grab boards, then either hit an open three or bully his way to a bucket. That is Baynes. 

You can already picture it, Baynes setting a brick wall screen for Corey Webster, faking the roll, getting it and splashing it from the top of the three. The only real knock on Baynes (and nearly every other big man), is that he cannot create his own shot. Lucky for Baynes, the Breakers are full of selfless playmakers like Scotty Hopson and Sek Henry. But what stands to benefit the Breakers more than anything is Baynes’ esteemed experience. How often do you sign an upstanding veteran, whose played on four incredibly different teams with different expectations. From playing in two NBA finals to tanking, Baynes has seen it all, and has gathered a squeaky clean reputation. Nothing is worse than when you make a big free agent signing and the guy rolls in thinking the team revolves around him just to quickly become dismissive and deterred when things do not go his way. But Baynes’ teammates have had nothing but praise for the big man in each one of his stops, leading us to believe that his induction and progression with the Breakers would be more the same. If only this signing happened one year earlier, who knows, maybe RJ Hampton would stay another year. Baynes provides a similar physical presence to the likes of Andrew Bogut, and that guy has a pretty successful resume in the NBL. Just a classic bruiser in the paint who can attack the basket, hit a mid range and be a defensive nightmare for slashing guards.

4 Joe Ingles (Adelaide 36ers)

Having been born in the suburbs of Adelaide, the 36ers are the lucky team to sign Jinglin’ Joe Ingles. The former NBL Rookie of the Year left the league in 2009, and with his recent decline in minutes and his move to a bench role in the NBA, a return to the NBL might be more imminent than some believe. Ingles would be an asset to any team he plays on, because fortunate for Ingles, his skill set mixed with his size is exactly what every team in the modern NBL or NBA is looking for. A 6’8″ small forward who can be a team’s best playmaker while also shooting a career 40% from three. That’s because every value Ingles possesses, is transitional to any team or league Ingles is on. So when he joins the 36ers, he will still be an elite shooter, who can run an offence while also rebounding well, hence he will make the team better. Because of this versatility, he would also be the focal point of the offence, an important label every team needs yet the 36ers struggle to have, as the top three scorers of the team are all within five points difference of each other. Clearly Adelaide has the talent, but when you finish seventh in a nine team league, the roster just needs a superstar, a guy who can be the best player on a championship team in the NBL, that is Joe Ingles. 

What is crazy is that Ingles might actually be getting better. While the 32-year-old’s stats might only show a steady pace, Ingles limited experience in the NBA hints he still has more to learn, especially compared to other similarly aged athletes in the league. A great example of this development is in how he has been getting his three point shot off. In his first five seasons, 85 per cent of his threes came off assists, where Ingles would be waiting patiently somewhere on the three point arc for a driving cutter or fellow wing to whip him the ball, giving Joe an open shot. However this year, we have seen the Aussie begin to actually dribble into three-point attempts, coming down the court in transition or around a screen. This added element has not only expanded Ingles’ offensive skill set, making him a more lethal shooter from outside, but is evidence that Ingles still wants to grow as a basketball player. That desire to improve at his age, where he has already reached the NBA, and is already famous, and already has a bountiful salary, is a much less rare commodity then people would believe. That attitude is contagious and would really benefit a player like Harry Froling, who like Ingles, won the Rookie of the Year in 2019, and might have aspirations to one day play in the NBA. Coming from similar backgrounds, Ingles’ mere presence on the team might keep the future centrepiece satisfied and in 36ers jersey for a long time. 

5 Thon Maker (Perth Wildcats)

While Maker was born in South Sudan, he and his family moved to Perth at the age of five. He already has experience on the international scene for the Boomers and has an Australian passport. For this experiment given his hometown, Maker would qualify to play for the Wildcats. Maker is listed at seven feet and has a career accuracy of 32 per cent from three-point range. If that is not all you need to know about Maker before understanding how valuable a player like he is, he also possesses great leaping ability to go with his super-elite reach and wingspan. He can also run the floor, showing good ball-handling, passing, and shooting tools.

For other teams, there might be a little friction when a NBA player comes in and takes your spot, but this is one of the rare occasions where the team and the player just fit perfectly. In terms of dropping Maker at the five, it would look like the Perth Wildcats would have two options about how to execute it. First is to put Miles Plumlee at the four, accompanied by Maker at the five. This twin tower dynamic would wreak havoc in the paint. Just imagine Bryce Cotton sliding through massive screens to get a shot off, confident that one of the two giants will get the offensive rebound. Or if Cotten cannot get the shot off, since they are screen heavy, one of the two will likely have a mismatch they can exploit in the low post. However, having two slow centers risks the team being a liability when opponents inevitably try and switch the big fellas on the quicker guard. 

Although another plan of attack would be to just throw Plumlee on the bench. This is not an insulting adjustment because Plumlee has now more responsibility than ever. He is now the leader of the second unit and as a veteran with lots to contribute, he would thrive in this role.  When he subs in, there are going to be mismatches everywhere for the Wildcats to capitalise on. Since every contending team has at least one person sacrificing their talent for the better of the team, Plumlee would have to take the step back in order to win.

No matter how it happens, this team is much better with Maker than without. One of the Wildcats’ few flaws is their rebounding, so having a seven-footer who despite lacking strength, does not shy away from contact, is a clear advantage. The little to big dynamic of Cotton and Maker would sell out arenas, not just because it is an entertaining novelty, but there really is no ceiling to how good they can be. If they could master the pick and pop, they would be unstoppable. That is not an exaggeration, it would nearly be impossible to get over a screen from Maker fast enough to deflect him getting it and then trying to disturb the seven-footer shooting a jump shot. Maker and Cotton would be the evolution of the pick and roll. For him to ever reach this ceiling, it would take an incredible work ethic, which by all accounts Makers has, and a surge of confidence, which a league like the NBL can help foster.

2019/20 NBL season review: South East Melbourne Phoenix

A SIGHT for sore eyes within the NBL community, as a ninth team would enter the competition to begin the NBL 20 season. For the first time since the dissolution of the South Dragons, there was once again a Victorian team to combat Melbourne United. But this time, instead of red and black it would be green and black.

The South East Melbourne Phoenix came into the League with high-expectations, and given their opening round matchup with United, it was the perfect occasion to announce their entry into the NBL.

New Boys on the Block

To begin their season off, the NBL’s first ‘Throwdown’ was set to take place in Melbourne Arena. It was clear after their performance against United, that the Phoenix’s style of play started to shine through. After going 12 of 23 from downtown and toppling United by three points, it would set the tone for the rest of the season, as South East Melbourne would go on to become one of the NBL’s most efficient and high-octane offences throughout the season.

Following from their Round 1 victory, the Phoenix would keep it rolling, knocking over the Bullets and the Hawks at home, tipping off their inaugural season with a handsome 3-0 record. Despite the Phoenix taking home victories against relatively good teams, their first real challenge came in Round 4, as they sized up against the reigning premiers at RAC Arena. Following a very lacklustre first half against Bryce Cotton and his team, the Wildcats would go on to rout the newly formed team, ending their season opening winning streak.

After their trouncing in Western Australia, results would become a lot less consistent, going down to the likes of the 36ers, the Kings and twice to United. But following on from their good start at the beginning of the season, it was paramount to head coach Simon Mitchell, that his side “take it one game at a time”, saying this constantly throughout press conferences in the first half of the season. Coming to the mid-way point of the season, the Phoenix were the definition of average at this point. Sitting just outside the top four with a record of six wins and six losses. The rest of the season was now in the hands of the NBL’s youngest franchise. But the next ten rounds would prove to be anything but smooth.

In the next 16 matchups for South East Melbourne they would go on to accumulate an abhorrent three wins and 13 losses, while also finishing their campaign on an eight-game losing streak. With 20 rounds of basketball completed, the Phoenix would nestle into eighth position with a final record of nine wins and 19 losses. While South East Melbourne would compete relatively well at home, it was their inability to take on opponents on the road. This task of winning on the road was only able to be done a mere three times in 14 contests, which really set back the side in the standings.

The biggest flames

John Roberson

From the beginning of the season, John Roberson was one of the NBL’s most venomous offensive weapons. Leading from the point when Kyle Adnam was on the bench, Roberson was more times than not responsible for the Phoenix’s efficiency from the floor. This is further evidenced by the statistics of his debut season in Australia’s topflight in basketball. Averaging more than 20 points per outing whilst shooting at an impressive 46 per cent for the season, Roberson proved to be a reliable source of production for his side. Not only was Roberson effective from the field as a whole, but the majority of his damage came from beyond the arc. Averaging four three-pointers a game. He would go on to lead the league in this category.

Other categories worth mentioning include being the League’s fourth highest scorer and third in the category of assists, averaging 5.8 per game. He would also go on to break the NBL’s record for overtime points in a game (15) and also the single-season record for three-pointers, which he did back in late-January. If the Phoenix are to keep Roberson on for the 2021 season, then it is almost certain that they will base their 12-man squad around him.

Mitchell Creek

With Roberson taking care of the Phoenix’s backcourt, Simon Mitchell needed someone who could make a difference from the wing, but also be a presence inside if needed there. That someone would be Mitchell Creek. Standing at six foot five inches and weighing 95 kilos, the bulky slasher was exactly the right fit. After gaining NBA experience with the Brooklyn Nets, mostly in the G-League, his skills would become very productive throughout the NBL season, consistently collecting statistics in numerous categories.

Amongst being one of the League’s top-scorers alongside Roberson, Creek would also crack the top 10 in rebounding and steals. In conclusion, Creek would average 20.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals a game in a season compounded by stat-filling play.

Dane Pineau

The story of Dane Pineau’s NBL 20 season is not one of stat-stuffing phenomenon, but a story of miraculous development. Pineau had joined the Phoenix following two seasons averaging three and half minutes a game as a bench player/reserve at the Sydney Kings. Following his transition to Victoria, he immediately increased his workload to that of an NBL veteran.

Pineau would go on to play in 26 minutes of each Phoenix contest as his undersized efforts would start to garner attention across the nation. His efforts on the defensive end would be recognised by his peers later on in the season, as he would be nominated for the Most Improved Player award come the end of the season. Obtaining a whopping 49 votes within the category, he would fall just four votes short to Brisbane’s Will Magnay, but it would still be a season to remember.

The 25-year-old would average 8.1 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per contest, all dramatic increases compared to his seasons at the Kings, making him one of the League’s best power forwards at the moment.

Coach Mitchell’s remarks

Following his side’s loss to Melbourne United in Round 20, coach Mitchell had these comments to say about the first season of the South East Melbourne Phoenix.

“What I just asked the guys before [the game] is to look each other in the eye and just savour the moment,” Mitchell said. “We’re a pretty tight-knit group but we won’t be the same group next year and we never will be. But no one else will ever be the first roster of the South-East Melbourne Phoenix, so that’s something these guys will have forever, and I just want them to take a moment to reflect upon that.”

2019/20 NBL Team of the Week: Round 20

TWO teams fighting over fourth spot in the final round earned multiple Draft Central National Basketball League (NBL) Team of the Week player nominations for Round 20. Both Brisbane Bullets (three) and Melbourne United (two) had multiple players in our team for the final round of the season, while five other sides – those in the top seven – had one apiece, with just South East Melbourne Phoenix and Illawarra Hawks missing out on a player for the last round.

Brisbane’s trio of players included two starters in Nathan Sobey and EJ Singler. Sobey put up 30 points, six rebounds, six assists and two steals in the Bullets’ win over Cairns Taipans, while Singler sank 21 points, and had nine rebounds, six assists and three steals with the second best shooting percentage of the starters with 64.3. Also on the bench is Brisbane’s Cameron Gliddon, who made the side along with Melbourne United duo, Chris Goulding and Shawn Long; those two were named in the guard and center position on the bench respectively.

The other starting guard is New Zealand’s Scotty Hopson, with a double-double effort in the Breakers’ win over the Phoenix, recording 23 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and a steal, while up the other end of the court, Perth Wildcats’ Nick Kay cemented his spot in the starting line-up thanks to 23 points, seven rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks, with a shooting percentage of 66.7. Rounding out the starting team is Adelaide 36ers’ Daniel Johnson who had a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds, as well as three assists.

Looking to the bench, Cairns Taipans’ Cameron Oliver was a lone hand in a disappointing weekend for the third placed North Queensland side, named in the 10-player team with Sydney Kings’ Jae’Sean Tate – who had the best shooting percentage of anyone in the team thanks to 77.8 per cent from the field. There were a number of unlucky omissions from the side for Round 20, including Melbourne duo, Melo Trimble and David Barlow, Illawarra guards Sunday Dech and Angus Glover, South East Melbourne’s John Roberson and Tai Wesley, Cairns’ Majok Deng, New Zealand’s Robert Loe and Perth’s Miles Plumlee.

STARTING FIVE:

G: Nathan Sobey (BB) – 30 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, 0 blocks, 47.6 FG%
G: Scotty Hopson (NZ) – 23 points, 5 rebounds, 10 assists, 1 steal, 0 blocks, 44.4 FG%
C: Daniel Johnson (AD) – 18 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 47.1 FG%
F: EJ Singler (BB) – 21 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, 0 blocks, 64.3 FG%
F: Nick Kay (PW) – 23 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks, 66.7 FG%

BENCH:

G: Chris Goulding (MU) – 25.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.0 blocks, 56.7 FG%
G: Cameron Gliddon (BB) – 25 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, 0 blocks, 47.1 FG%
C: Shawn Long (MU) – 16.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.0 blocks, 42.9 FG%
F: Cameron Oliver (CT) – 16.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.0 steals, 1.0 blocks, 50.0 FG%
F: Jae’Sean Tate (SK) – 19 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 0 steals, 0 blocks, 77.8 FG%