Looking back at the week from heaven in the NBL

Chris Pike Columnist

By , Chris Pike is a Roar Expert

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    Melbourne United star shooting guard Chris Goulding. (Chris Pike)

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    A week into the NBL season and once again we are in for an unbelievably close and exciting season, but more importantly, Melbourne United showed just how far the league has come against the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.

    The opening round of the NBL season was brilliant, starting with two thrillers, then Bryce Cotton showing why he has the Perth Wildcats as favourites for a three-peat. But what Melbourne United did up against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the wee hours of Monday morning could be the best thing to happen to the NBL in a long time.

    Getting the chance to play NBA teams during their pre-season campaigns is one thing and the Sydney Kings did hold their own in the first such encounter up against the Utah Jazz.

    But for Melbourne to give Oklahoma City such a competitive hit out with the Thunder prevailing by just a single point, it’s truly significant. It turned out to be a tremendous match to watch, and now the benefits could now be wide-ranging for the NBL.

    Suddenly NBA clubs will be more than happy to welcome NBL teams to play in future pre-seasons because they know they will be guaranteed competitive hit outs as they prepare for their own season to tip-off later this month.

    It also could also make it a possibility for NBA clubs to do pre-season tours of Australia in the future.

    Don’t be surprised if as early as 2018 we see at least one NBA club go on a tour in late September or early October to play a string of NBL teams as part of their season preparation. That’s unlikely to have happened unless an NBL went to the United States first and proved their competitiveness.

    bryce-cotton-perth-wildcats-nbl-basketball-2017

    (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

    The other thing it does is further open the door for NBL players to maintain aspirations of playing in the NBA. Torrey Craig proved that already by now signing with the Denver Nuggets after turning into the best all-around NBL player last season.

    If NBL players can continue to shine, many more could be taken seriously to fulfil roles on NBA teams now that the US knows they deserve to be taken seriously if they are playing in Australia.

    Then there is the added bonus for the NBL that American players hoping to earn a gig overseas and further their case to get into, or back into, the NBA will know that coming to Australia more than ever before will give them a tremendous opportunity of doing just that.

    It was just one pre-season game, I understand that. Winning or losing didn’t matter for Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the Thunder squad. Melbourne was in the same situation though, plus, they weren’t at full strength and missing their best player – Chris Goulding.

    The NBL is taking massive steps forward, and now thanks to Melbourne’s effort in Oklahoma City, the progress is only sure to continue.

    Let’s not ignore what happened closer to home in the opening round of the NBL season proper though.

    Despite Melbourne losing Chris Goulding for its season-opener in Adelaide, United got off to the perfect start winning by two over last season’s minor premiers. But the quality and excitement of the contest meant it was a blistering opener for the league.

    The excitement was just as prominent as regional teams Cairns and Illawarra did battle on Friday night.

    Despite the Snakes losing Nate Jawai after he had an ominous start, it was another veteran Alex Loughton who stepped up in the 88-87 win over the Hawks. Loughton could step up significantly with the Taipans this season after Mark Worthington’s retirement.

    nate-jawai-cairns-taipans-nbl-basketball-2016

    (AAP Image/Brian Cassey)

    But there was plenty to like for Illawarra in the form of imports Demitrius Conger and Delvon Johnson, especially considering they made the grand final last year with one star import, Rotnei Clarke. Especially impressive, with Marvelle Harris hit and miss and Michal Holyfield virtually a wasted roster spot.

    Coming off their trip to Utah, Sydney struggled in their season-opener on Saturday, losing to Adelaide by nine points. All it did was highlight the Kings need for a genuine point guard and centre. Both were glaring omissions from the squad coming into the season.

    Then in Perth, Bryce Cotton reminded everyone why he is the best player in the NBL and why the championship will again be going to the Wildcats.

    Cotton lifted the Cats from bottom spot to a dominant championship win in half a season and now with a full season to work with, the sky’s the limit in Perth. To go along with Perth’s for, he is easily the favourite to win MVP this year too.

    The Taipans then showed on Sunday why they will continue to defy the odds this season. Despite losing Jawai and having to take on a fresh Breakers in Auckland, the Snakes were superb in the 11-point win to finish the round in top spot.

    NBL Round 1 Results
    Adelaide 36ers 97 lost to Melbourne United 99
    Cairns Taipans 88 defeated Illawarra Hawks 87
    Sydney Kings 96 lost to Adelaide 36ers 105
    Perth Wildcats 96 defeated Brisbane Bullets 86
    New Zealand Breakers 71 lost to Cairns Taipans 82

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