The Roar
The Roar


Is replacing Williams enough to right United?

Melbourne United have defeated the Sydney Kings. (Chris Pike)
3rd November, 2016

The most obvious step for Melbourne United to begin to right its NBL ship this season is to release and upgrade on underperforming big man Devin Williams. But the bigger question is if that will be enough?

Melbourne has put together a squad chock full of high reputation talent this season with imports Williams, Ramone Moore and Cedric Jackson, Olympians David Andersen and Chris Goulding along with Majok Majok, Todd Blanchfield and Tai Wesley.

That is a group based on individual abilities that is the second best across the NBL – behind raging champion favourites the Sydney Kings.

But having enormous individual talent is nothing new for Melbourne United. Ever since the decision was to create the new brand and identity and break away from the Melbourne Tigers, bringing in talent has not been an issue.

Going back to the 2014-15 season there was talent galore with Goulding, Mark Worthington, Dave Barlow, Jordan McRae, Daniel Kickert, Daryl Corletto and Stephen Dennis.

That should have been enough to match the grand finalists of that year, New Zealand and Cairns. But things never clicked for the group and the results were 13 wins and them sitting out of playoff action.

Then last season, Goulding and Kickert were retained with Majok Majok, Blanchfield, Stephen Holt and finally NBA veteran Hakim Warrick joining. Things went better under new coach Dean Demopoulos with Melbourne finishing as minor premiers with 18 wins.

But come the semi-finals, they looked nothing but a team of individuals up against the well-oiled and motivated machine of the Breakers who eased by them in two games.


Now Demopoulos has been retained as coach for a second season with Goulding, Blanchfield and Majok Majok the key returning players.

Williams was hired to fill the gap left by the departed Warrick with Andersen returning from Europe to step in to replace the departed Kickert along with Wesley.

Jackson was the big name import signing to take over the point guard role following three championships, another grand final and an MVP award with New Zealand. Moore was then icing on the cake as another scoring threat to Goulding and the emerging Blanchfield.

Goulding’s ankle injury saw him miss last week’s losses to Perth and Brisbane, and will keep him out of this weekend’s double against New Zealand and Illawarra.

But Jackson hasn’t been too far off his career numbers, Moore has had his moments scoring important points, Blanchfield has improved particularly his three-point shooting, Wesley is showing good value and Majok Majok is working hard doing the grunt work inside.

Andersen so far hasn’t quite delivered what Melbourne would have been hoping with just 10.1 points and 4.4 rebounds a game. But he is a proven performer and there’s no question he will prove valuable the longer the season goes on.

That leaves the two big question marks hanging over Melbourne being import big man Devin Williams and coach Dean Demopoulos.


Based on numbers with Williams only delivering 4.1 points and 3.3 rebounds in just 12 minutes of game time it’s an easy decision to replace him.

The 22-year-old out of West Virginia clearly hasn’t fitted into the NBL so far and at times has looked disinterested when on the floor. He has given Demopoulos little reason to play him more or show more faith in him.

Maybe some of that is the fault of the coach. But with more talent than ever in the NBL this season, every player has to earn their minutes and give their coach no excuse to leave them on the bench. Williams has done none of that.

He has failed to have any sort of impact on a game aside from the second game of the season against Adelaide. Over the past five games, he has a total of 10 points and 14 rebounds. That’s what he should be close to averaging a game.

That’s what he was signed for as well. Compared to Warrick who came in and helped Melbourne become the minor premiers, Williams is a major disappointment.

But there is also no use releasing him unless there is a suitable replacement who can arrive straight away.

Looking around the rest of the league, and Adelaide (Eric Jacobsen), New Zealand (Akil Mitchell), Illawarra (Michael Holyfield), Perth (Jameel McKay) and Sydney (Josh Powell, Greg Whittington) have all done better in finding an import big.


Williams likely has this weekend to make a case to stay the rest of the season. And with Melbourne having won just three of seven games so far, he needs to help them beat both the Breakers and Hawks to be a chance of keeping a job.

If the Kings can bring in the likes of Powell and Steve Blake, there’s no reason Melbourne can’t take a glance at current NBA free agents like Chris Kaman, Nazr Mohammed, Kendrick Perkins, JJ Hickson, Andrea Bargnani, Tyler Hansborough and James Anderson, and try their luck.

But there remains a big question mark over whether Demopoulos has what it takes to get a hugely talented group of players to succeed in the NBL.

There is no doubting his basketball IQ, credentials and background as a great teacher of the game. But clearly he doesn’t understand basketball in Australia or the NBL to any great degree, and has shown little interest in doing so.

There has been countless occasions where his assistant Mike Kelly has had to point out things completely foreign to him that wouldn’t be happening to Rob Beveridge, Joey Wright, Aaron Fearne, Andrej Lemanis or Trevor Gleeson.

But having that outside perspective to bring to the NBL and a different approach to the game isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Too many teams in the league now play too similarly, so a different look from someone from the outside like Demopoulos has the potential to work.

However, there were murmurings last year that the playing group didn’t enjoy his style and had little faith that he had enough understanding of the NBL to create a team that could win a championship.


He has his strengths and his love and passion for the game is obvious as is his basketball knowledge. But whether that equates to success in Australia remains unproven.

He has enough talent to work with. And after a disappointing end to last season after promising so much, three wins so far this season is a great underachievement.

Like Williams, he needs a big weekend coming up over the Breakers and Hawks or his position for the rest of the season could very well be in jeopardy.

Melbourne United v New Zealand Breakers – Hisense Arena 7.30pm

Cairns Taipans v Sydney Kings – Cairns Convention Centre 7.30pm
Perth Wildcats v Adelaide 36ers – Perth Arena 9.30pm

New Zealand Breakers v Brisbane Bullets – Vector Arena 1.00pm
Illawarra Hawks v Melbourne United – WIN Entertainment Centre 3pm

Sydney Kings v Cairns Taipans – Qudos Bank Arena 7.30pm