Tag: Shawn Long

NBL Free Agency Update: Hawks, United and Breakers

IN the second edition of Draft Central’s NBL Free Agency update, we take a look at the signings and re-signings of the Hawks, Melbourne United and the Breakers during this year’s Free Agency period, as we prepare for the National Basketball League (NBL) 2020/21 campaign in December.

THE HAWKS:

For last season’s wooden-spooners, the team will look undoubtedly very different in the upcoming season including a new head coach and assistant but also welcome back some familiar faces with one of them Emmett Naar.

Naar, who has spent the better time of two years at the club, will be excited to give next season another crack with the team and work alongside new head coach Brian Goorjian. Next to Dan Grida and Sam Froling, Naar is one of three players currently to have locked themselves in for another season with the Hawks association.

Among the first to join the Hawks’ ranks was Deng Deng, an experienced veteran within the Australian basketball scene, most previously having served as an injury replacement player for the Breakers last season. Furthermore, Deng Adel, a highly sought-after prospect after previously playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers, has also committed to the city of Wollongong. Adel, who most recently endured a stint with the Brooklyn Nets G-League affiliate, the Long Island Nets, averaged 11.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game in his time over in the States.

Additional signings such as NCAA player Isaac White, Max Darling, Tyler Harvey and Justin Simon nicely round out the majority of the core group for the Hawks and gives Goorjian’s side some much needed depth. But perhaps the marquee signing for the NSW-based side, has to be the acquisition of former Chicago Bull and Boomer, Cameron Bairstow. Having represented Australia at the 2014 FIBA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, Bairstow brings a handful of professional experience to his new team.

With the departure of key individuals from last season such as Sunday Dech, Todd Blanchfield and Angus Glover, Goorjian and his new coaching staff, namely his assistant coach in Jacob Jackomas, will have their hands full to try and piece their new team together. But, given the signings they have obtained, the Hawks look set to take the league by storm if they can click from the get-go.

Contracted:

Nil

Re-signed:

Emmett Naar
Daniel Grida
Sam Froling

Signed:

Deng Deng (New Zealand Breakers)
Deng Adel (Long Island Nets)
Isaac White (Stanford University)
Tyler Harvey (Ratiopharm Ulm)
Cam Bairstow (Rytas Vilnius)
Max Darling (KK Vrijednosnice Osijek)
Justin Simon (Windy City Bulls)

MELBOURNE UNITED

With the departures of imports Shawn Long and Melo Trimble, United has looked to sign some younger names to put in their place. The first of two college recruits that Dean Vickerman and Melbourne’s administration have seen fit to sign is former Duke Blue Devil, Jack White. After four seasons in North Carolina, White finished his studies and his collegiate athletic career, after which he became one of the most highly praised and talked about Australian talents coming out of college. Luckily for Melbourne, they were able to win the race for his signature and came to a delightful three-year deal.

The second of two collegiate acquisitions and another three-year-deal to add to the books, is 23-year-old Eastern Washington alum Mason Peatling. The 23-year-old will be rostered on as a Development Player for his initial season, then upgraded to the core squad in the years to follow.

While Vickerman is investing in multiple youngsters to the franchise’s rotation, he has also gained valuable professional experience also. The signing of Japanese international Yudai Baba a month ago comes as a blessing. Baba, who spent a few seasons between 2017 to 2019 in Japan’s B.League playing for Alvark Tokyo, helped earn the team back-to-back titles. In the latter of the two, he was also rewarded finals MVP honours. Baba’s career took a massive step forward, as he was procured by the G-League’s Texas Legends, the affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks.

Other movements for Melbourne so far are the re-signings of league veterans, David Barlow and Chris Goulding and most recently Sam McDaniel on a one-year deal. Barlow extends his contract by a year, whereas Goulding will call Melbourne home for the next three.

Contracted:

Casey Prather
Jo Lual-Acuil
Mitch McCarron
Sam Short
Shea Ili

Re-signed:

Chris Goulding
David Barlow
Sam McDaniel

Signed:

Jack White (Duke University)
Yudai Baba (Texas Legends)
Mason Peatling (Eastern Washington University)

NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS

The majority of Dan Shamir’s side will look entirely the same for the upcoming season, keeping all of their core players for at least the next year with the contract extensions of Corey Webster, Jarrad Weeks, Rob Loe and Finn Delany. But to add to their cause, the Breakers have found several prominent individuals during this season’s signing period, that have persuaded the pundits to lean towards New Zealand as a title-contender before the season’s opening tip-off.

Perhaps the biggest transfer of this season’s Free Agency to this point, is the addition of current All-NBL First Team selectee Lamar Patterson and MVP-candidate to the Breakers’ roster. After earning numerous accolades in his NBL 20 season and providing almost unrivalled levels of production to the Brisbane Bullets, Patterson further proved his value to the rest of the competition.

After learning that former marquee player Scotty Hopson was considering other options, the Breakers moved in on the 28-year-old from Pennsylvania, as the two parties came together for a one-year-deal. Patterson’s numbers from last year concluded to 21 points, six rebounds and over four and a half assists per game.

Other acquisitions leading up to today include Webster’s younger brother, Tai, who has numerous years of international experience with Turkish Super League side, Galatasaray. Daniel Trist, who spent last season as an integral part of the South East Melbourne Phoenix’s inaugural season also dons the blue, white and black in 2020/21 and Kyrin Galloway has made his first professional signing (three-year-deal) with New Zealand, after concluding his time at the University of North Carolina (Greensboro).

Contracted:

Tom Abercrombie
Terry Li

Re-signed:

Finn Delany
Jarrad Weeks
Rob Loe
Corey Webster

Signed:

Tai Webster (Galatasaray)
Dan Trist (South-East Melbourne Phoenix)
Kyrin Galloway (UNC Greensboro)
Lamar Patterson (Brisbane Bullets)

For Draft Central’s Free Agency update on the 36ers, Bullets and Taipans – Click HERE

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: Seeds 5-4

AS we move higher up the list of Draft Central‘s National Basketball League (NBL) Top 10, we delve into the league’s top five. Here we look at two of the NBL’s most productive big-men and two of the biggest figures in the Queensland basketball scene, showcasing why both these players had seasons deserving of a First Team selection.

5. Cameron Oliver

Alongside Shawn Long, Cameron Oliver sits at the top of the NBL’s most athletic big men, known for his high-flying plays and a powerful style of basketball. Coming into the league for his first season, coach Mike Kelly was eager to bolster up his frontcourt presence, with Oliver seeming to fit the bill, working with the likes of Nathan Jawai and Kouat Noi. The 23-year-old also possessed a rather unique skill amongst bigs, which was the ability to shoot the ball from range. This ability to knock down the odd three-pointer would create havoc and confusion on the defensive end for opposition teams. From the outset, the Oakland native was able to make valuable contributions on the scoreboard, however he would only amass a single double-double in his first ten games. Following a 10 point and 10 rebound performance against the Illawarra Hawks in Round 8, Oliver started to grow into the efficient inside presence that he has presently. Further down the track in Round 11, the Taipans big-man secured a season-high 17 rebounds alongside 21 points against the eventual NBL Champion Perth Wildcats, thereby staking his claim as one of the league’s most imposing figures. Oliver’s second half of the season would be substantially better than his first, given that he averaged a double-double in his last 14 games on the court, putting up 17.6 points and 10.4 rebounds each time out leading up to the finals. Oliver would kick his play into next gear, when the semi-finals came around against the Wildcats, opening up his Game 1 performance with a phenomenal 19 points and 18 rebounds (a new season high). Another switch was clicked, as Oliver produced at an unprecedented level following a 22 point and 19 rebound Game 2 demolition job of the Wildcats at home to tie up the series. While his play would not hold up through Game 3, Oliver capped off his NBL 2020 season with a top-tier level of play (averaging 17 points and 9.1 rebounds), earning himself an All-NBL Second Team selection and the fifth seed in Draft Central’s top 10.

4. Lamar Patterson

Continuously touted as the “workhorse” of the NBL, Lamar Patterson further validated this moniker throughout the NBL 2020 season, as he almost single-handedly carried his team to a postseason appearance, after leading his side in almost all major statistical categories. Throughout all 28 games of Patterson’s season, he consistently put up extraordinary numbers in helping his team. The second year forward, would score 20 points or more in his first five contests, quickly establishing himself as the team’s main producer. While Brisbane did not have any individuals that would consistently pull down 10 rebounds or more, Patterson would do his part on the glass. Next to teammates like Will Magnay and Matthew Hodgson, Patterson’s consistent demeanour on the basketball court, saw him grab four, five or six rebounds per game every time out. Despite the absence of large numbers on a consistent basis, Patterson would still collect a couple huge games, namely a 36-point, four rebound and six assist barrage against the New Zealand Breakers in Round 10, and two 35-point nights against Melbourne United and the Perth Wildcats in Rounds 13 and 14. Following their 36-point rout of the Cairns Taipans to finish off their 2020 season, just missing out on a postseason birth via percentage, Patterson finished as the team’s season leader in points (21.4), assists (4.5) and steals (1.1), as well as second in rebounds (6.0). As a result of Patterson’s exemplary season, he collected 43 All-NBL First Team selection votes to claim his second nomination in a row and came in third for this season’s MVP Award with 73 votes. A fitting end for the Pennsylvanian and a suitable seed in Draft Central’s top 10.

Draft Central’s Top 10 2019/20 NBL memorable moments: #5 – Greatest comeback in NBL history

WHEN you enter a playoff series, there is nowhere to hide, all eyes turn to the five players on court and the pressure mounts as the minutes tick by. All the coaching adjustments have been made and in the end it comes down to who will stand up under the pressure. But when you have two teams that are so evenly matched, with such equal dominance over the rest of the league, this might be a cliche but at a certain point, it just comes down to who wanted it more. In this case, it was the Sydney Kings that wanted it more. Up against Melbourne United who fought gallantly to make it to the post-season, the Kings dug deep to outmuscle their interstate opponents on home soil. It said a lot about the Kings when they went on that 24-2 run in the final six minutes to win the game 86-80, in what was one of the greatest comebacks in NBL history. 

But before that historic fourth quarter, Melbourne United were sitting comfortably all game. Thanks to the efforts of Shawn Long  (23 points, 11 rebounds) and Melo Trimble (34 points, five assists), United were up by nine at the end of the third. The onslaught carried on quickly into the fourth until Kings’ coach Will Weaver acquired a costly technical, sending United’s Trimble to the line as they led 78-62. While Weaver’s outburst may have caused some disruption it seemed to be just what the doctor ordered for the Kings, with the team kicking into gear. They saw it as a wake up call, a reminder that they were in a semifinals and that if they pulled together they could progress to the next stage. It was certainly a turning point in the game and changed the fate and momentum of the game. United made the mistake of getting comfortable in a finals game and within a blink of an eye the Kings scored seven straight points. 13,103 fans in the Arena – fourth largest in crowd history – stood up out of their seats to push momentum. United’s coach Dean Vickerman sensed this energy and smartly called a timeout.  But this was to no avail, as the Kings only continued to build off this energy to turn a 16-point deficit into a manageable six points with four minutes remaining.

The noise in the arena was heard around the country as Jae’Sean Tate knocked down another triple, slashing the lead to three points with three minutes remaining. After another Didi Louzada basket made it 15 straight points to the Kings. With 30 seconds remaining, Louzada would again drain another three giving the Kings their first lead since mid way through the second. By this time it was too late to turn momentum, and when the final buzzer sounded the arena was in a frenzy of cheering Kings fans. 

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

Draft Central’s NBL 2020 Top 10: Seeds 10-6

FOLLOWING an incredible season in the National Basketball League (NBL), Draft Central has compiled a list of ten exemplary individuals that performed at an elite level consistently throughout the 20 rounds of NBL20. Here are the first half of our selections, with the final five still to come.

10. Will Magnay

It is rather rare for a player as young as 21-year-old Will Magnay to crack any top 10 in a professional league of any sport. Yet Magnay has turned countless heads this season, which in turn has drastically developed the young centre’s prospects. When one looks at Magnay’s season statistics, nothing pops out instantly when it comes to the youngster’s offensive numbers. But defensively, it’s an entirely different ballgame, as Brisbane’s big man would go on to rank amongst the league’s top 20 in rebounds (six rebounds per game) and lead the competition in shot blocking by more than half a block (2.15 per game). On only three occasions throughout the NBL 20 season, would the 208cm Magnay go an entire game without a swat, also he would amount three blocks or more in seven different contests in what was a dominant season for the five man. Lastly, he would also collect an almost unprecedented seven blocks against the Phoenix, in the side’s final push to the finals and break an NBL record for most blocks in a two-game span with 13. But, for Magnay he would also be recognised for his season efforts as he was awarded at this season’s NBL Awards as the League’s Most Improved Player. More importantly though, Magnay would rank second in the competition’s Defensive Player of the Year Award, trailing only Dj Newbill in the votes tally. An impactful and surprising season by the Bullet was enough to crack this season’s top 10.

9. Nick Kay

The NBL 2020 Champion Perth Wildcats had many cogs in the machine that helped secure their fourth title in five years and fifth in seven. But, for the last two seasons in particular, Kay, has been the backbone for Perth’s play at both ends of the court. While Kay does not impose any ridiculous athleticism compared to other frontcourt players, the man’s diligence and effectiveness for 40 straight minutes is almost unparalleled, as Kay would again shoot over 50 per cent from the field for his fifth consecutive season. In addition, the 206cm big would average an all-around 15-point, three-assist and seven and a half-rebound stat-line for 2020, showcasing his ability to produce in all facets of a game. The Boomer selectee would obtain seven double-doubles throughout the season, including three straight games in early-December securing over ten points and ten rebounds. Although Kay would perform at an elite level, this run of form would carry over into the playoffs, with the Wildcats starter averaging 19 points per game in their semi-final series against the Taipans, and 20.3 points in the grand final series against the Kings. All in all, the 27-year-old would put away another productive season under the guidance of Trevor Gleeson, earning himself a second All-NBL First Team selection (second straight year) and earning the ninth seed in Draft Central‘s top 10.

8. Jerome Randle

One of the NBL’s greatest scoring guards, Jerome Randle continued his legacy of producing points at an exemplary level. Finishing fifth amongst the league leaders in scoring and averaging 19.75 points per contest, Randle took the majority of the 36ers offensive attempts through 20 rounds and for good reason, as the fifth-year Chicagoan import was good for 45 per cent of his shots. With Randle being aided by the likes of Daniel Johnson and Eric Griffin, he would also facilitate 4.5 assists every outing. Randle’s hustle also ventured outside his usual roles as point guard averaging more than three rebounds a game, was up there with the season’s best rebounding point men.  Randle went 26 games with double-digit performances until the 27th game where he would manage only nine points against the Taipans, which was followed by seven against the Wildcats the next time out to end the season. While Randle would not be selected to either of the All-NBL Teams to encapsulate the season, he would crack 20 points in 15 different encounters which puts him in this season’s eighth slot. But with Adelaide turning over a new chapter with the resignation of Joey Wright, the 36ers new identity come 2021 may prove fruitful for Randle and his team.

7. Shawn Long

Perhaps the NBL’s most dominant force and most powerful individual across all nine sides, Shawn Long sampled why he is known as “Mr. Double-Double”. From the get-go, Long earned six double-doubles in his first seven match-ups, but results were not falling Melbourne United’s way early on. But following a 1-4 start, United strung together six straight victories to become a title contender towards the end of the year. With Long’s numbers coming in droves, the Louisiana-born centre accumulated 14 double-doubles to conclude the season, securing himself as the league’s leading rebounder with an average of 9.43. Despite United’s eventual series loss to the Kings in the semis, Long continued to average high numbers, averaging 22 points and 10.3 rebounds through the three games. With these kinds of performances at such a consistent rate for such a long period of time, it is hard to fathom the 27-year-old was not recognised more for his efforts this season. Nevertheless, he makes the cut for seventh on our list.

6. Jae’Sean Tate

To round out the first half of Draft Central’s Top 10, number six is credited to the Sydney Kings’ most consistent producer throughout the entire season, Jae’Sean Tate. In his debut season in the NBL, following a brief stint in Belgium, Tate made it known that he could run with the big boys, and standing at 193cm and weighing 104kg, he certainly looked the part. Maintaining a high level of production in any league is an arduous task for most seasoned veterans, but Tate took the responsibility head on, as he scored double digits in 27 of his 28 games. This proved beneficial to the Kings, when their marquee point guard Casper Ware could not find his shooting stroke. Tate’s 16.4 points per game was a benchmark that he would constantly find a way to match, as his side would go from Round 1 to 20 at the top of the standings, the first time in NBL history for a team to do so. Given his 66 per cent shooting from the field during the regular season, the small forward from Ohio was pulling out all the stops in his quest for some championship hardware, averaging 18.6 points in the playoffs alongside five and half rebounds to match it. With the Kings going down in the finals to the Wildcats, it was not all doom and gloom for Tate, as he would earn an All-NBL First Team selection in his first year of play down-under. A task that very few have been able to complete, thus earning him the sixth spot of the top 10.

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: Melbourne United

HAVING made the postseason the last two seasons, Dean Vickerman’s Melbourne United was keen to make it three in a row, especially after finishing runners-up to the Perth Wildcats in 2019. But United lacked the pieces to really make a hard championship push throughout the NBL 2020 season, despite ultimately making the final four. Although for some, it was the unlikely heroes that provided the biggest sparks to a team that was quite lucky to make the postseason.

By the skin of their teeth

It was evident that United needed to make their presence known, as they were matched up with league newcomers, the South East Melbourne Phoenix. It was apparent early that the League’s new kids on the block were keen to make waves in the big leagues, as the Phoenix put on a scoring masterclass in the first ever ‘Throwdown’, knocking off United with a hard-fought three-point victory at Melbourne Arena. The misstep of game one of the season kicked off the slowest start to a United campaign in almost a decade, as Melbourne would lose back-to-back games to the reigning premiers and old foes, Perth Wildcats.

Melbourne’s first victory of the 2020 season wouldn’t come until game four, as they edged out a resurging Breakers side thanks to United’s Chris Goulding, Melo Trimble and Shawn Long’s 24 points each in a dominant performance from the trio. United’s 1-4 start to the season was one of the NBL’s biggest talking points in terms of performances, as many basketball punters picked United to be a top two or three team by season’s end.

Following the realisation of their team’s performance, the Black and White would start to pick up steam, kicking off a sizeable six-game winning streak, thereby erasing their horrifying start to the regular season, sitting with a record of seven wins and four losses prior to their eventual loss to the Taipans five days later. An 8-6 record would be the summary of United’s tumultuous first half of the season, in what was starting to be an exciting finish and the start of what would become known as the ‘mid-table logjam’.

Like many other mid-standings teams, Melbourne would undergo both winning and losing streaks in what would be a slow second half of the season, much like their first with a five win and seven loss start with the final round of the season still to play. For United to make the final four, they needed to win both of their remaining games with both contests being at Melbourne Arena.

The first of their two games were against the Taipans, a team that had made dramatic improvements since their previous season, and was also already locked in to finish third, following the remaining games of the season. After a runaway 31-16 fourth quarter and a 5-12 night from behind the arc from Goulding (23 points and four assists), Melbourne would take out the contest 99-83, setting the team up for a must-win final game three days later against the Phoenix.

With the Bullets and the Breakers a win ahead of United, but with Melbourne having a higher percentage, a victory was all that was needed for Vickerman’s men, and unlike their first matchup in the ‘Throwdown’, United would stick to their strengths. Thanks to four players scoring 18 or more points, strong first and last quarters would help United dominate their final game of the season, toppling the Phoenix 109-90, and earning Melbourne their third straight finals appearance.

Buyer Be-WARE

All season long, Sydney’s Casper Ware had been relentless against his old club, controlling the floor at both ends of the floor against Melbourne. However, United would buck that trend as they would inject tactics to limit Ware’s output in their semi-final series against the Kings, as evidenced in Game One. Ware would go 3-14 from the field scoring a mere seven points. But, Will Weaver’s guys would share the load as Jae’Sean Tate, Xavier Cooks and Brad Newley would combine for 53 points, stealing the opening game of the series, 86-80.

When it comes to a three-game series, losing that first game can be exponentially demoralising, as it means it’s a team’s final chance until they are eliminated. But no one expected Melbourne United to do what they would do in their Game Two outing. Over the second and third quarters of Game Two, a 38-0 scoring run would ensue for Melbourne, ultimately leading to an astonishing 50-point lead at one stage. This, coupled with six different individuals reaching double-digit scoring totals and Shawn Long’s impressive 26 point and 11 rebound double-double, would lead to a 125-80 demolition job of this season’s minor premiers, setting the series up for a decisive Game Three back in Sydney.

Game Three of the Kings/United semi-final series would reach its summit in an exciting deciding third game. A strong finish to the first half would have United up by five at the main break. The Kings, however, would crawl back into the fold, going basket for basket with last year’s runners-up until the final two minutes, as Kings’ captain and leader Kevin Lisch would nail a dagger from deep to put the Kings up by two with two minutes remaining. Following Lisch’s three, Tate would drive down the lane to extend his side’s lead by four with a minute and a half left, allowing the Kings to hold on by two (89-87) and end Melbourne’s title run at the end of an enduring series.

Sydney would go onto their team’s first Grand Final appearance since 2008.

United to the end

Chris Goulding

Many had thought that the peak of Chris Goulding’s career had finished three seasons ago when he last averaged 17 points per game. The following two seasons, Goulding had averaged just over 14 points per game which left many fans in limbo, as to whether or not the 31-year-old would remain an integral part of the Melbourne United basketball club.

He would go on to make a statement in regard to this point, averaging more than 17 and a half points per game (the most productive he has been since the 2015-16 NBL season). He would also undertake 31.5 minute per game, a three-and-a-half-minute increase compared to last season. Due to these facts, it is safe to say that the Boomer selectee might still be one of the League’s best shooters, and one that a team could still be based around.

Melo Trimble

When ex-Taipans guard Melo Trimble made his way down to Victoria, Melbourne had that key piece in their backcourt that they needed due to the missing Casey Prather. Trimble for the most part, was consistently putting up 20-point games and a boatload of assists to come along with it. Despite that statistical impact, Trimble would go through struggling times late in the season going through a string of games without making double-digits. Nevertheless, Trimble would regain his form late in the season finishing his second season in the NBL on a high note. He would go on to average 19.4 points per game along with 4.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds.

Shawn Long

While United had plenty of weapons in their backcourt, there remained few in their frontcourt. This meant that the load Shawn Long had to carry was immense throughout the whole season. Long would take on the task with tremendous consistency, earning himself the title ‘Mr. Double-Double’, for his statistical dominance on the scoreboard and the glass. Long would secure 18.1 points per game, finishing amongst the League’s top twenty. He would also claim the rebounding title for the season, leading the entire League in rebounds, with 9.4 per game.

The Coach’s Corner: Dean Vickerman

Despite being rather fragmented as a group for the majority of the season, Vickerman has stated how proud he was of his group and the way they came together, especially in the last portion of their 2020 journey.

Following their elimination, Vickerman voiced his commendation of his group post-game and their resilience in the face of adversity.

“I’m really proud of our group over the last month, and the way that we came together. “We kind of looked at yesterday and said that this was our seventh elimination game and we won five of them,” talking back to their run to the final late in the season. “I loved our mindset and the way we stuck together really well and yeah I’m really proud of them.”

Kings overcome half-time deficit to book grand final spot

SYDNEY Kings are through to the National Basketball League (NBL) decider for 2019/20 after defeating Melbourne United in a thrilling third and final game in the semi-finals series last night. Back on their home court at Qudos Bank Arena following the debacle that was Game 2 for the Kings, Sydney looked a lot more comfortable and it showed across the court. A number of players who had quiet games in the previous outing stepped up, and with Melbourne also not going down without a fight, it made for some entertaining basketball.

The Kings started off strongly, leading by two points at the first break, before Melbourne showed some of the signs that forced a deciding game in the semi-finals series by dominating the second term, 28-21. Now facing a five-point deficit at the main break, Sydney had to claw its way back into the contest and set up an absolute ripping final term by scoring 23-18 in the third and levelling the scores by the final break buzzer. The lead was never more than four points throughout the tense final 10 minutes of the term, with Sydney always just nudging ahead until a Melo Trimble driving layup put United in front with two minutes, 17 seconds remaining on the clock – the first time the visiting side had been in front since the eight-minute mark of that term.

A three-pointer from Kevin Lisch handed the Kings the lead back with two minutes left, and when Jae’Sean Tate converted his jump shot – following a Trimble miss – the score was 89-85. Shawn Long and Didi Louzada both traded missed three-point opportunities, and United did not hold back in going straight for the win with Trimble and Long both missing a couple more long-range attempts. The pressure in the last 20 seconds was immense with the usually slick Casper Ware and Goulding both coughing up turnovers. Will Weaver made the choice to sub out his scorers of Andrew Bogut, Xavier Cooks and Tate in favour of a more defensive approach with Lisch, Brad Newley and Daniel Kickert all coming in off a timeout with 12 seconds remaining. Melbourne finally broke through in the last second of play with a Mitch McCarron layup but ultimately they needed long-range chances with that effort only bringing the deficit back to two, and with no time left on the clock, Sydney enjoyed a remarkable 89-87 win.

Tate led from the front again and was Sydney’s leading player across the court with 20 points, six rebounds and three assists, whilst Bogut and Cooks got back to their rebounding bests, combining for 24 points and 17 rebounds in the win. Ware finished the match with 15 points and four rebounds, while Louzada also recorded double-figure points with 10, as well as three rebounds. The Kings were tidier when it came to foul trouble, recording 12 less fouls, whilst picking up six more assists and shooting marginally better from the field. For United, it was McCarron whose last bucket moved him up to 18 points on the night to go with five rebounds and two blocks, but they too shared it around, as Chris Goulding (19 points, four assists and two steals), Long (17 points, nine rebounds) and Trimble (17 points, two steals) were all busy.

In the end it was Sydney’s famed depth that got the Kings home, with 32 points coming off the bench. The Kings now begin the best-of-five grand final series against Perth Wildcats with Game 1 at Qudos Bank Arena this Sunday, March 8.

2019/20 NBL Semi-final 3 preview: Sydney Kings vs. Melbourne United

FOLLOWING their fourth quarter disintegration back in Game 1, nobody expected the retaliation that Melbourne United was going to release upon a visiting Sydney Kings side at Melbourne Arena in Game 2. A retaliation so severe that one might ask, “how are Sydney meant to bounce back from this?”

Moving on from their monumental 45-point blunder on Monday, Sydney heads back to their fortress Qudos Bank Arena, a place they have only lost at twice in 15 encounters. Given their stellar record at home and thousands of raving Kings fans, barely any teams have been able to crack the code of getting an away win at Sydney Olympic Park.

For United, they have two decisions to make if they are to put themselves in the best position to go to the grand final series for the third consecutive year. Either follow the same strategy that almost got them over the line in the series’ opening game, which included a dribble first slashing playbook that spread the Kings thin in almost every area of the half court. Or, United goes with the high-octane shoot first and early blitz offence that completely shocked the Kings on Monday in Game 2. Either way Will Weaver will need to be ready to adapt to whatever situation comes his way like he has done the entire season.

The main downfall for the Kings has most certainly been the absence of point-guard Casper Ware throughout the opening two games. Averaging a miniature eight and a half points, Ware has been nothing more than a shadow on the court compared to the production of Melbourne’s Melo Trimble. Ware, who averaged close to 20 points per game in the regular season, is in desperate need of finding his stroke as he has forty minutes to do so in what could be an anti-climactic end to a somewhat impressive season.

The Kings’ only constant up to this point, has been the performances of wing-player Jae’Sean Tate. Averaging over 20 points per game at a rate of over 50 per cent in the series, the responsibility to step up falls to Ware, and also Andrew Bogut, who so far has been covered by Jo Lual-Acuil and Shawn Long (has scored a total of three points in both games). With the main objectives for the Kings being some form of improvement from their marquee players, it will come down to if these players can rise to the occasion.

Back-tracking to Melbourne’s key performers, a major emphasis has been placed on defence as evidenced by the statistics surrounding the Kings’ most prolific players. The headlining names in this retrospect are Mitch McCarron, who has been a defensive anchor all season for United, and Shea Ili, an up and coming ballplayer who is quickly making a name for himself as a result of his coverage on Ware this series.

Offensively, United holds strong position players at the point, the perimeter and inside. More specifically Trimble, Chris Goulding and Long. Trimble, who experienced a slump of his own during the late stages of the season, has picked himself up and has showcased his abilities so far in the postseason, averaging 22.5 points in the semi-final series. For Goulding, he has failed to put on a spectacular shooting show at this stage, however, averaging 17 and half points per game whilst shooting at 42 per cent clip throughout the season should be enough to worry any opposing side, including the Kings. Lastly, Long has displayed his dominance as an inside force, a monster on the boards and a perimeter shooter, averaging 24.5 points and 10.5 rebounds.

If United can click on these facets of the game with these players, stopping this side would be an arduous task for the Kings.

NBL Semi-final review 2: United destroy Kings in record-breaking night

MELBOURNE United has forced historians to pour through the history books after an unbelievable performance in the second of a best-of-three semi-finals series against the Sydney Kings. United not only broke finals records, but season ones as well, with the home side winning by a whopping 45 points – the most ever recorded in the 40-minute era of the National Basketball League (NBL)

Along with the biggest ever winning margin, United posted its highest ever score of 125, led by the most at half-time of any side this season (27 points) and held the highest three-quarter time score by any team in the 40-minute era (103 points). If this was not enough, the sheer dominance within the game saw United go on an absolute tear and sink 38 consecutive points in a mind-boggling display of skill. The home side was as impressive as the visitors were terrible, in a night they would rather quickly prefer to forget.

A second quarter where the Kings only scored seven points all but ended any chance they had of mounting a comeback in a similar vein to Game 1, trailing by 27 at the half. Melbourne reached triple-figure points by the end of the third term, and despite Sydney’s best efforts – were unstoppable on offence with 45 points in the quarter. With both sides well aware the game was over, the benches came on in the final term which Sydney won by three points to avoid an even worse losing margin by the final buzzer.

Shawn Long picked up yet another double-double with 26 points and 11 rebounds, dominating opposition center and NBA talent, Andrew Bogut (0 points, three rebounds and four turnovers). Melo Trimble led the way from the smalls with 21 points, two rebounds and two steals, while Shea Ili showed again he could have the better of Casper Ware, with the former Breakers star nailing 14 points and three assists, outscoring Ware who finished with 10 points and two assists. American import, Stanton Kidd put up 18 points, four rebounds and one block, while Jo Lual Acuil made the most of extra court time to record 17 points, five rebounds and three assists. Veteran, Chris Goulding also reached double-figure points, one of six United players to do so, which did not include Mitch McCarron‘s effort of five points, five rebounds, six assists and three steals with game-highs in both assists and steals.

It was not a night to remember for the minor premiers, but Jae-Sean Tate was a lone hand, shooting 18 points as well as six rebounds and an assist, while Didi Louzada (10 points, three rebounds, two assists and an equal game-high three steals) and Lucas Walker (10 points, three rebounds) were also solid on the night. Xavier Cooks was still prominent off the boards with seven rebounds to go with six points, while Brad Newley managed six boards with just two points.

It is hard to read into the result, with Melbourne stunning both the Kings and fans in attendance. Melbourne arguably could have already been through to an NBL grand final after letting Game 1 slip away in the fourth term. United certainly made up for it in Game 2, but they have to carry that momentum into Game 3 this Thursday at Qudos Bank Arena from 7.30pm for the deciding game in the series.