The NBL 2021 season is finally upon us, after months of delays due to the ongoing COVID situation that is not only affecting our country, but also the world. I’m sure we are all excited to watch some basketball, but it’s time to get to the serious stuff!
There has been so much movement from players and teams this season, but the NBL needs to be commended with the retention of import players into the NBL, even though the import spots were changed from three per team to two. This shows that the NBL, Australia and New Zealand are seen as safe places to work and a legitimate pathway to the NBA.
Nevertheless, there is still an NBL championship up for grabs this season – here are my predictions.
1. Melbourne United
Dubbed again as the team to beat, Melbourne United will bounce back after a poor season by their standards. Even though they lost two talented imports, United’s front office were proactive and made some key signings with Boomer Jock Landale and former New Zealand Breaker Scotty Hopson headlining them.
Those signings, teaming up with United’s star players such as Chris Goulding and Mitch Mccarron, makes United’s starting line-up arguably the best in the league. Further additions to the squad rounded out the roster and have ensured United have strong players also coming off the bench. This should see Melbourne United get to the top of the ladder this season and potentially win the championship.
2. New Zealand Breakers
Due to the ongoing COVID situation, the Breakers will not see many home games this season, which is why I have this team placing second even though they have a stacked roster. A lack of home games will put the Breakers at a slight disadvantage. The loss of Scotty Hopson in the off season was a heavy blow, but he was replaced by a now-proven performer in this league – former Brisbane Bullet Lamar Patterson.
Centre Colton Iverson was also acquired by the Breakers and is highly regarded in Europe. Corey Webster and Tai Webster will put high scores on the board on a consistent basis. Dan Shamir is a great coach and the ownership group has instilled a great culture for this franchise. You can disregard their current pre-season form; this is the year the New Zealand Breakers can contend for the title.
3. Cairns Taipans
A lot of people were left with egg on their face (including me) as they believed the Taipans would finish dead last in 2020. However, they made the play-offs, and luckily for them they have virtually kept the same roster that got them there. The COVID situation hasn’t troubled the Cairns region, so they haven’t faced the same implications as other teams.
The return of both Scotty Machado and Cam Oliver on two-year deals were crucial from a talent stand point, but also a culture stand point too. The loss of defensive player of the year, DJ Newbill is a heavy blow but it’s been stated that Kouat Noi will take his position and he now has experience and is healthy enough to transition to playing more minutes on the court.
Mojave King will add excitement and electricity and the Taipans can return to the play-offs, and even have the ability to also win the title.
4. Perth Wildcats
Another season where everyone has written the Wildcats off. This is one of the least talented Wildcat rosters we have seen in a while, but the reigning champions will make the playoffs. Bryce Cotton is the best player in the league and his pending Australian citizenship could be a huge factor and see the Wildcats gain another import player.
The loss of Terrico White is tough for this team, especially seeing as though he has not been replaced. Todd Blanchfield struggled for The Hawks last season and I’m unsure the Wildcats will get the same production out of him as they did with White.
John Mooney is the second import and he is quite unknown, so it’s unclear if there will be a big contribution from him either. Nevertheless, if the Wildcats can play some games at home with a huge crowd this season they are always in with a huge chance.
5. Sydney Kings
The combination of injuries, the loss of their coach, the loss of key players and the inability to replace them has them missing the playoffs. Losing Andrew Bogut, Jae Sean Tate, Kevin Lisch, Deshon Taylor and now Xavier Cooks to injury wasn’t going to be easy to replace and they have not done a well enough job.
Sydney will be heavily reliant on returning players Casper Ware and Didi Louzada. New import Jarrell Martin is a nice addition, but will be also required to have high production from the get go in a brand new league. The loss of head coach Will Weaver to the NBA hurts the Sydney Kings the most as he instilled a game style and culture that is hard to replicate.
The Sydney Kings do not have enough talent or depth in their roster to make the playoffs this season.
6. The Hawks
New name, new ownership group, new coaching staff, new players: entirely new team.
This team is completely new from head to toe and this will see a huge improvement from last year, but still won’t be quite enough to make the playoffs this year. This is mainly due to the amount of changes that have happened in such a short period of time.
The return of Brian Goorjian to the NBL as The Hawks head coach has rejuvenated this franchise and has brought of lot of great players to this team. Deng Adel, Justinian Jessup, Tyler Harvey, Justin Simon and Cam Bairstow headline this group of recruits and they will be a threat for every single team and it won’t be a night off like it has been in the past.
Although they have a better roster and coach than the Kings, The Hawks will not take the next big step and make the playoffs this year, but it definitely will be a step in the right direction moving forward.
7. Brisbane Bullets
Brisbane Bullets are one of the least-hyped teams this year and rightfully so. They lost huge names in the likes of Will Magnay and Lamar Patterson and haven’t really replaced them.
This is another team that lacks depth and their imports of Vic Law and Orlando Johnson are currently unknown. The Bullets have a few nice players and a highly-rated coach in former Boomers head coach, Andrej Lemanis. Lemanis seems to get the most out of his players and this could be another team that could cause a couple of upsets. These are the only reasons why they’ll finish higher than the 36ers and Phoenix.
8. South East Melbourne Phoenix
Last year, Phoenix gave away more points than any other team and they haven’t done anything this off-season to ensure that doesn’t happen again. They also didn’t find a replacement for their centre woes and have instilled trust in Dane Pineau, who is now injured.
John Roberson is a huge loss, but has been replaced by Keifer Sykes, who is a really good replacement. However, John Roberson had to play his tail off every night and produce huge scores and they still finished in eighth last season. Cameron Gliddon and Rueben Te Rangi are good role players and a healthy Mitch Creek will be great additions, but don’t expect much from South East Melbourne Phoenix this season.
9. Adelaide 36ers
After a horrible season which saw the integrity of the Adelaide 36ers questioned, they are now in full rebuild mode after a clean out of the whole franchise.
New coaching staff who will seek to develop players for the future will sadly most likely mean losing too many games to compete for playoff spot. New Australian recruits Josh Giddey and Isaac Humpries will be stars this year and new import Donald Sloan will ball out this season, but there is no depth, which again will be a key component to winning this year.
It should still be an exciting season for 36ers fans as they can watch the future of their franchise grow right in front of them, but don’t expect any miracles in 2021.