Nine players and assistant coach have been asked to explain their actions as the NBL attempts to tidy up in the aftermath of it’s most-watched moment.
South East Melbourne Phoenix look set to continue their rapid rise to become champions in just their third season in the NBL heading into the new season.
With tip-off just days away, all 10 teams are putting the finishing touches on their preparations for the 2021-22 season after surprise packets Adelaide won the pre-season Blitz with Sunday’s 72-67 win over second-placed Brisbane, ahead of Illawarra in third.
Pre-season form is notoriously fickle and a couple of COVID-19 scares forced the Hawks’ clashes with the Breakers and Sydney to be cancelled so it’s even harder than usual to get an accurate gauge on all teams heading into the season.
The Phoenix, who were bundled out of the semi-finals last year by their cross-town rivals and eventual champions Melbourne United, look to have assembled a squad which can go all the way.
However, they face stiff competition on several fronts.
Melbourne won’t surrender their crown without a fight and have added Boomers legend Matthew Dellavedova after an eight-year stint in the NBA, runners-up Perth are perennial contenders and are more than capable of going one better, while Illawarra and Sydney each have an all-round roster capable of collecting a trophy.
1. South East Melbourne Phoenix
They didn’t bring their A game in the pre-season but they look the team to beat heading into the new season. Their squad is packed at every position and has enviable NBA experience with Ryan Broekhoff, Mitch Creek and former Houston Rockets centre Zhou Qi the three main focal points.
2. Perth Wildcats
If not for three-time MVP Bryce Cotton’s untimely injury prematurely ended his campaign last season, Perth may be entering the new season as defending champs rather than runners-up. They have a new coach and a couple of new faces but only extremely brave or foolish pundits will predict the demise of the Wildcats’ 35-year playoff streak.
3. Illawarra Hawks
Brian Goorjian has a playoff record in the NBL that rivals Perth and after dragging the Hawks from the basement to a semi-final exit last season, he’s tinkered with his squad to have them primed to take the next step or two. The addition of Boomers behemoth Duop Reath gives Illawarra size in the paint they’ve never had the luxury of enjoying.
4. Melbourne United
Mathew Dellavedova will give them plenty of energy, defensive nous and playmaking but the big question for United is can they replace San Antonio recruit Jock Landale’s 16.4 points per game otherwise a heavy scoring burden will land on Chris Goulding’s shoulders so they need Jo Lual-Acuil to step up as well as Jack White when he returns from his Achilles tear mid-season.
5. Sydney Kings
There are great expectations on new import Jaylen Adams to get the Kings over the hump, replacing Casper Ware on a team which just missed the top four last season. Rising star Xavier Cooks should get an increased role this season after injuries have cruelled his progress the past couple of years.
New coach CJ Bruton got the Sixers off to a great start by winning the Loggins-Bruton Cup in the Blitz and if Adelaide can supplement the scoring of Daniel Johnson – fourth in the NBL last season with 19.5 per game – they could surge into playoff calculations.
6. New Zealand Breakers
They are a bit of a wildcard after the bizarre nature of last season when they had to travel between Melbourne, Hobart and Launceston as their home base. They’re on the road at least until January and start their season with a thorough test of their credentials against the Phoenix at John Cain Arena on Saturday.
7. Brisbane Bullets
Another team which exceeded expectations in the Blitz. Bullets guard Nathan Sobey was only outscored by Bryce Cotton last season but Brisbane import Lamar Patterson’s form has been erratic in recent seasons so he will need to find some consistency if this team is to compete for the playoffs.
8. Cairns Taipans
Former Kings mentor Adam Forde needs to take a long-term approach to turning around the fortunes of the wooden spooners – hopefully new import Tahjere McCall lives up to the hype to lead the Taipans back to respectability after last season’s 8-28 train wreck which led to coach Mike Kelly being shown the door.
9. Tasmania JackJumpers
With three imports – Josh Magette, Josh Adams and MiKyle McIntosh – who haven’t played in the NBL there is an unknown quantity to the new franchise – centre Will Magnay will be a dependable presence in the five spot. A winnable game in the season opener against Brisbane is crucial to the JackJumpers building on their encouraging fan base in Tassie.