Import decisions for NBL powers to decide title threat

Chris Pike Columnist

By Chris Pike, Chris Pike is a Roar Expert

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    An injury to Casey Prather leaves Melbourne United with a difficult decision to make (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

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    The New Zealand Breakers and Melbourne United have big decisions to make in terms of their third import and it could very well determine whether they are genuine NBL championship contenders or not.

    It might be just past the halfway mark of the 2017-18 NBL season, but for the New Zealand Breakers and Melbourne United, they have a season-defining decision to make over Christmas.

    For Melbourne, it’s a decision forced upon them following an elbow injury to superstar small forward Casey Prather.

    That is likely to sideline him for the rest of the regular season and potentially beyond that meaning United have to find a replacement for the man who was a major part in the Perth Wildcats winning championships the past two NBL seasons.

    Then in the case of New Zealand, it’s simply a decision they have to make whether they use their third import spot or not.

    Prior to Thursday night’s narrow win over the bottom placed Sydney Kings, the Breakers had been struggling having lost four of their last five games since a nine-game winning run.


    (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

    The road win to open Round 11 moved them back to top spot on the table, at least until Perth plays Illawarra on Saturday night, but it’s a big call for them to make about if they need that extra injection of potency a third import could bring while getting the mix right of not upsetting the balance.

    Despite the defending champion Wildcats currently being without captain Damian Martin, last season’s minor premiers the Adelaide 36ers missing Mitch Creek and Anthony Drmic, and the in-form Brisbane Bullets without Anthony Petrie, those teams looked settled in terms of imports.

    They do appear the other three major title threats this NBL season along with Melbourne and New Zealand. That’s no disrespect to the Cairns Taipans and Illawarra Hawks, who are still capable of putting themselves back in the hunt while the playoff hopes of the Kings are already done.

    By securing the signature of Prather in the off-season and with fellow imports Josh Boone and Casper Ware returning, Melbourne instantly was installed as championship favourites coming into this season.

    It’s been an up and down ride since then, but they were just starting to build some momentum before Prather suffered a nasty elbow injury during last Saturday’s win in Wollongong over the Hawks.

    United was still impressive winning 84-78 to improve to an 8-6 record, but replacing Prather is going to be required with him being sidelined for at least the next eight weeks.

    Melbourne coach Dean Vickerman is happy that he has enough offensive firepower in his group already to cover the absence of Prather.

    But it’s at the defensive end that he’s concerned and it’s a defensive minded import that he will now look to bring in to replace Prather for at least at eight weeks and potentially until their 2017-18 finishes.

    “Casey has been a great addition to our team. He has a great work ethic and plays both ends of the floor so to try and replace that at this time of the season is always extremely difficult. Our medical advice is that he’s an 8-12 week recovery time so we’ve started our search,” Vickerman said.

    “This league is full of elite three men at the moment so we’ll go with a defensive mind set to start with.

    “We believe that the players that we have can all put points on the board but it’s really important that we find that defensive side that Casey gave us because we can probably cover the other side a little better.”

    The Breakers looked like a team far from needing to use their third import slot as they went on a nine-game winning streak, especially considering they had done a good job of creating depth in all areas.

    They put together a group with Alex Pledger, Rob Loe and Mika Vukona in the front court; Tom Abercrombie and Finn Delany sharing the three spot while helping in the four; Kirk Penney splitting time between the two and three; and the back court of Edgar Sosa, DJ Newbill and Shea Ili is up there with the best in the NBL.

    Alex Pledger and Shawn Redhage compete for the basketball

    (Source: Chris Pike)

    The fact that there’s no glaring weakness for an import to come in and fill a void is a great credit to the Breakers. But losing four of five games and then just scraping by the Kings on Thursday shows that an injection of an extra bit of talent might help the Breakers end up going all the way this season.

    If you had to narrow it down to a player to help, it would be a power forward type. In the Breakers’ championship years, they have had players like Gary Wilkinson and Ekene Ibekwe supporting Vukona and Pledger in that front court, and that is the type of player they could try and chase again.

    In fact, they could even end up chasing the same type, or same person, as Melbourne so it could be a race to sign someone between the two clubs.

    Following last week’s disappointing fadeout loss at home to Adelaide, Breakers coach Paul Henare did hint that they might seriously be considering using that third import spot.

    “Part of the planning was to have it there for a reason and if we feel that as a club we do need some help, then we have always got the option to bring that in. Coming in it was always injury cover of if needed,” Henare said.

    “I still have 100 per cent faith in the group that we have but there is always the option of bringing someone in. When you have a nine-game win streak and then you lose four of five, that’s going to be a tough pill to swallow.

    “Me personally, I don’t mind a good challenge and right now, we have got a good challenge in front of us.

    NBL Round 11 fixtures (AEDT)

    Sydney Kings 95 lost to New Zealand Breakers 98

    Melbourne United vs Adelaide 36ers at Hisense Arena 7:30pm

    Brisbane Bullets vs Sydney Kings – Brisbane Entertainment and Convention Centre 5:30pm
    Illawarra Hawks vs Perth Wildcats – WIN Entertainment Centre 7:30pm

    Adelaide 36ers vs Cairns Taipans – Titanium Security Arena 3pm

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    The Crowd Says (1)

    • December 22nd 2017 @ 9:02am
      Kavvy said | December 22nd 2017 @ 9:02am | ! Report

      IMO Prather at his best, is the best player at MU and probably the best player in the comp. This decision is massive for Melbourne United in terms of genuine title hopes.

      Truth be told, you feel, despite all the efforts of Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, we may get another NZ v Perth grand final or at least, the winner will come from one of those two teams.

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