By Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash
Should South East Melbourne's Mitch Creek be allowed to play? Photo: Getty Images
Mitch Creek shouldn’t be playing
Just like Scott Morrison, the NBL and South East Melbourne Phoenix have failed to read the room. With the state the country is in regarding sexual assault at the moment, allowing Creek back to play despite the charges against him, is very poor. The NRL have nailed it with their no-fault standdown policy, where any player facing criminal charges with maximum jail time of 11 years or more is sidelined. The fact Jordan De Goey is playing makes me uncomfortable and the fact Creek is returning makes me uncomfortable.
Grand Final Rematch disaster for the Kings
Sydney hosted Perth in round 11 in what was the 2020 Grand Final rematch. Throughout the offseason many associated with the Kings were upset the NBL awarded the 2020 championship to the Perth Wildcats, as the Grand Final series wasn’t complete. You would’ve expected Sydney to play with an extra chip on their shoulder in their first match in Sydney against the Wildcats since the Grand Final series. However, the Wildcats were all over them after half-time outscoring the Kings 43-21, and ultimately winning the match by 24 points 89-65, with Bryce Cotton putting on a show. The reigning back to back MVP finished with 29 points against fellow superstar point guard Casper Ware who finished with just six points. Sydney travel to Perth in round 12 where they’ll face the Wildcats in what is a massive opportunity to bounce back.
Bryce Cotton came out on top against Casper Ware in round 11. Photo: AAP
Casper Ware f*** you mentality
Every time Casper Ware plays Melbourne United he plays with such an edge that even he, a 177cm guard, is super intimidating. Every bucket he’s talking s*** to Dean Vickerman, he’s constantly going at his direct opponent and putting the defence under pressure. Then he goes and puts up six points, two rebounds and six assists on 20/0/100 shooting against Perth in a 24-point loss. He only shot the ball 10 times and got to the free-throw line twice. I want to see that f*** you mentality every game, especially against Bryce Cotton. He’s impossible to guard when he does and his physicality and mental edge rubs off on the team. If they’re going to qualify for finals they need bad man Casper.
You compare Ware to Bryce Cotton and there’s really no comparison. In the same game I mentioned earlier Cotton put up 29 points, three rebounds and four assists on 45/37/100 shooting, getting to the free-throw line six times. On the season he’s putting up 26 points, 2.8 rebounds and six assists on 43/35/89 shooting splits. All this while carrying Perth to a league best 13-4 record. The MVP and what Sydney need Ware to be for them.
Round 11 was a missed opportunity for the Bullets. Photo: Brisbane Bullets
The Bullets blow it
Going into round 11 the Bullets were looking good, sitting just outside the top four with a record of 9-7, at the end of round 11 they find themselves in sixth position with a 9-9 record after losing in overtime to the New Zealand Breakers at home, before being smashed by the Illawarra Hawks to finish off the round. Fortunately, the teams around them on the ladder didn’t have a great weekend either, however it’s a what could’ve been for Brisbane. If they won both games they’d be 11-7 sitting comfortably in the top four. With the league as close as it is it was an opportunity missed for the Bullets who had been in stellar form. They face the Kings next, who are also 9-9 in what looms as a huge clash in Sydney on Saturday night.
Cairns show a glimpse of what we expected in 2021
It’s been a horror season to date for the Cairns Taipans, however in their 79-65 win over the injury depleted Adelaide 36ers we were reminded of how good they can be when they perform. While Cam Oliver has had an inconsistent season to date, he finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, superstar combo-guard Scott Machado finished with 17 points and six assists and sharpshooter Mirko Djeric added 13 points. The Taipans were without starters Deng and Noi but this win reminded us of what they can do, maybe this win will give them some confidence going into the second half of the season? Two games against Melbourne United in round 12 is a big test to see if there’s any life left in the Snakes.
Cover Photo: Cairns Taipans
By Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash
Bryce Cotton had 36 points as the Wildcats cruised past the Adelaide 36ers. Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images
Wildcats taking over the league once again
After being written off by many and a shaky start to the season the Perth Wildcats are now clicking on all cylinders. They’ve won their past five games and sit at the top of the NBL ladder with a record of 11-4, something this organization is so used to. I wasn’t sure how they’d go without an import wing to compliment back-to-back MVP Bryce Cotton, however the balance of the team is perfect right now. John Mooney has had a great first 15 games in the league averaging 17 points and 11.7rebounds per game, while Todd Blanchfield and Mitchell Norton compliment Bryce Cotton nicely on the wings. This team knows how to get the job done regardless of the personnel and after Cotton’s 36 points and Mooney’s double-double against the Adelaide 36ers, the Wildcats look to be taking over the league once again.
In the NBA, the period between the All-Star break and just before the playoffs is a bit dead. The excitement of the start of the season is gone, the bad teams are bad and the good trams are good. Everyone is sort of just waiting for the playoffs to come. Same thing in the AFL from about round 10 to round 17. Melbourne United have entered that lull period. They’ve lost three of their last four, including a 28-point loss to Sydney in round 10. Am I worried? No. They’re just waiting for that excitement of the impending playoffs to come, then I think we see the best of what United has to offer.
The Brisbane Bullets are a contender as the finals race heats up. Photo: Chris Hyde/Getty Images
The finals race is well and truly heating up
We could see the ladder shake up a fair bit from the way it stands now, however the most intriguing battle at the moment for me is third through to sixth. Currently in order of how the teams sit right now it includes the South-East Melbourne Phoenix, Illawarra Hawks, Brisbane Bullets and the Sydney Kings. Each of these teams are playing really good basketball right now with both the Phoenix and Kings on winning streaks. All four teams have looked good enough to mix it in the finals at their best, however there are only four spots in the finals. You’d expect both Perth and Melbourne to finish first and second unless things seriously fall apart. That leaves third and fourth open for most likely one of these four teams. With only a game separating third to sixth as we enter round 11 the finals race is well and truly on. Who will peak at the right time?
Rookie of the Year battle
I’ve seen discussions lately on the rookie of the year battle at the moment and it’s an interesting one. Josh Giddey is probably the leader for most putting up 10.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.3 steals on 41/30/67 shooting. Vasilijevic is putting up 17.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists on 49/46/87 shooting. Giddey is filling the stat sheet, I’ll give you that. He can’t shoot though. Vasilijevic however, is playing the perfect shooting guard role this season. Elite shooting (almost the amazing 50/40/90), decent rebounding for a 190cm player and passable defence. Close battle, but Vasilijevic is the man.
Ben Moore was massive for the Phoenix in Mitch Creek's absence. Photo: Getty Images
He’s an On The Pine man and he’s had an impressive season off the bench after a slow start to the season. He put up 23 points, 10 rebounds and five assists and 8-9 from the field and 7-8 from the free-throw line against Adelaide as he replaced Mitch Creek in the starting line-up. On the season he’s been a great energy guy for South East Melbourne however, in his first start we saw the dominance he can display too. If he wants to return, he’ll be a sought after product in the NBL for years to come.
The Breakers need their new signings on the court as soon as possible
The 2021 NBL season has been quite simply a disaster for the New Zealand Breakers so far. For a team that is stacked with so much talent it just hasn’t worked. Being stuck in Australia without a home base has made it really tough for them and obviously it is something out of their control. However, it’s not just not having a home base that has contributed to the disastrous start to the season. The rotations have been all over the place at times, it didn’t work out with star import Lamar Patterson who they eventually parted ways with last week, as well as injuries to star guard Corey Webster. The season had so much promise for the Breakers and while there is still a long way to go they’d be desperate to get Levi Randolph and Will McDowell-White into the lineup as soon as possible as their depth has taken a real hit with things simply just not going their way.
Cover Photo: Sydney Kings
By Ollie Nash and Liam Melrose
Mitch Creek will be a huge loss for SEM, is their season done? Photo: Getty Images
The Phoenix slip is coming
No Mitch Creek means no South East Melbourne. Creek has been charged with assault and will cease training and games while the matter if before the courts. What that means for the Phoenix is the beginning of the end of their season. They face Adelaide in round 10, still a very winnable game but they face Melbourne United in round 11. With the ladder as it is, games are going to become even more important and the Phoenix won’t have the cattle to take it to the finals.
United sent back to the pack
Melbourne United entered round nine with a win loss record of 10-2, two games clear of the Perth Wildcats who sit second on the NBL ladder. They finished round nine with a record of 10-4 and suddenly they’re only one win clear at the top of the ladder. Since round five United has been in clear air with the best record in the league by a long way however, after losing three straight games they’re suddenly back in the pack. It doesn’t get any easier for United as they face the Sydney Kings on Friday night in Sydney who won’t be beaten easily. They’ll return to Melbourne to face the Illawarra Hawks on Sunday at John Cain Arena who defeated them on Saturday night by eight points.
Josh Giddey has exceeded the hype heaped on him in the pre-season. Photo: Getty Images
Josh Giddey has lived up to the hype
Going into the season I wasn’t reading into the Josh Giddey hype. I knew he was extremely talented, however the jump from junior basketball straight into a professional league with grown men isn’t easy, especially with all the extra attention he was drawing. However, he has lived up to the hype and round nine was a perfect example. Across two games he averaged 16.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 12 assists. Let’s not forget he is only 18. He also led the NBL Cup in assists per game, averaging 7.4 across eight games. In my eyes, he is actually playing at a higher level than LaMelo Ball did in his twelve games played with the Hawks last season. Ball was taken by the Charlotte Hornets with pick three in the 2020 NBA Draft, therefor there’s no reason why Giddey can’t be a lottery pick if he continues playing like this for the remainder of the season.
Battle for third and fourth
The top two spots are lined up, Melbourne United and Perth will be the one and two seeds, the order of the two is yet to be determined. The battle for third and fourth is intriguing, however. As it stands, Illawarra are third at 9-6, South East Melbourne are fourth at 9-7, Brisbane fifth at 8-7 and Sydney sixth at 7-8. All four well and truly in the hunt, all four have had great stretches and poor ones this season, we’ve seen their best and their worst. We can’t forget about New Zealand either, who are way back in eighth at 4-9, but it’s feasible they could make the finals. This race has become the new season in the season. My pick; Illawarra third and Sydney fourth by seasons end.
Lamar Patterson's return to Brisbane might not necessarily be a good thing for the team. Photo: AAP
Why interfere with something that’s working?
When I saw the Brisbane Bullets had released Orlando Johnson to make way for Lamar Patterson I was surprised. The Bullets have been in red hot form and as the NBL Cup progressed it looked as though they had finally clicked. Nathan Sobey is playing at an MVP level, Vic Law has been a terrific find and the bench has been excellent providing strong minutes. Orlando Johnson may not have been putting up huge scoring numbers but he was a good fit defensively and could score the ball if he had to. If you have players like Sobey and Law next to you as well as your reserve options being scorers in Cadee, Drmic and Hodgson you can’t be expected to put up large scoring numbers. The addition of Patterson isn’t ideal as he now has to find his way back into their system under an injury cloud while also being out of form. Before his injury, he was struggling immensely with the New Zealand Breakers averaging just under 11 points per game. Why tamper with something that’s firing on all cylinders Brisbane?
Cairns three-point shooting
It was clear from the opening couple of games of the season that Cairns were going to live and die by the three. They put up the most in the league, 30.8, but shoot the third worst percentage at 34.6 per cent. The way modern basketball is played, this is a recipe for disaster. They put up 7-24 against New Zealand in round nine and lost. They were better against the Phoenix at 10-20, but the damage has been done, their confidence is shot and the seasons done.
Cover Photo: NBL
By Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash
Jason Cadee drives past Jo Lual Acuil in Brisbane's upset win over Melbourne United. Photo: Brisbane Bullets
Here come the Bullets
A lot of people had written the Bullets off early in the season, however any team that is coached by Andrej Lemanis and captained by Nathan Sobey is always going to put up a fight. Going into the NBL Cup the Bullets were sitting at 3-4, they’re now 7-6 and are a massive chance to finish in the top three of the Cup with just two games remaining against both Adelaide and Sydney. More importantly though, they find themselves in the top four on the NBL ladder for the first time this season and above .500. Nathan Sobey is in career best form, Vic Law has been consistent throughout the first eight rounds, Orlando Johnson is starting to find his feet in the line-up, and key reserves Jason Cadee, Anthony Drmic and Matt Hodgson have provided strong minutes off the bench throughout the season. The team is extremely balanced and after defeating the two best teams in the league so far this season to date in Melbourne and Perth in round eight, there’s no reason why Brisbane can’t feature in the finals in 2021.
Kyle Adnam taking the opportunity
It’s amazing what trust and opportunity will do for a players’ confidence. While Kyle Adnam is not someone who has lacked confidence to this point in his NBL career however, he is taking his new starting role with both hands. In the three games he has started he’s put up 15.6 points, three rebounds and six assists. Give a player significant time and watch them flourish. Will there be growing pains? Probably. However, regular opportunity does a lot to a players’ confidence. They’re assertive in what they do on the floor, they get used to the speed and physicality of the game and they become productive. Some won’t, of course, but I can guarantee more do than don’t when given the chance.
Chris Goulding has settled into his new role nicely. Photo: Getty Images
Chris Goulding transition
It’s been fun to watch Chris Goulding’s transition from a heavily relied on star player to the impactful role player that we see today. When I say role player, I’m talking the highest grade of role player. Across the past two seasons we’ve seen him handball the responsibility to the likes of Mitch McCarron and Jock Landale, while he focuses on what helps Melbourne United the most. Spacing the floor and hitting threes. Sunday’s 21 point and six threes performance was the perfect example. Making the most of his touches and impacting the scoreboard. In the upcoming games, he may not get the same looks because the defence will be more attached to him, which open the lane for Landale, McCarron and Yudai Baba. The perfect transition from a star player; seamless and effective.
Space Cam has crashed
Cameron Oliver has been one of my favourite players since he entered the league last season because of how athletic he was around the ring, the way he crashed the boards and his presence on the defensive end of the floor. However, while still averaging 16.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game in 2021 he isn’t having that same impact. Cairns played two games in round eight, the first was a win against the Sydney Kings 96-92, while the second a ten-point loss to the Adelaide 36ers 71-81. Against the Kings, Oliver had just 12 points and four rebounds, against the 36ers he managed only eight points and six rebounds. These numbers are very unlike Cam Oliver, and as a whole the Taipans looked flat against Adelaide, however this is when players like Oliver need to step up the most, his highlight plays can lift the group but when there’s no energy there there’s no fuel for Space Cam to take off. I hope he can re-capture his best form and the Taipans can get their season back on track, as he is one of the best players in this league at his best.
Nathan Sobey is putting together a career year for the Brisbane Bullets in 2021. Photo: Brisbane Bullets
MVP battle down to two
I may be calling it way too early, but Nathan Sobey and Bryce Cotton are my two locks for MVP candidates to this point. Sobey; 23.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists on 49/38/90 shooting splits with his team fourth on the ladder at 7-6. Cotton; 24.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.6 steals on 42/34/89 shooting splits with his team second on the ladder at 7-4. Splitting hairs at this point and while I love the efficiency of Sobey’s scoring, I’m going to stay with my pre-season pick and go with Cotton … for now.
The Jack White injury has paved way for Mason Peatling
Prior to Jack White dislocating his finger against the Adelaide 36ers in round seven Mason Peatling had only seen more than five minutes on the court so far this season once. In round nine Peatling played 17 minutes against the New Zealand Breakers, finishing with eight points and five rebounds providing big minutes off the bench for an injury depleted Melbourne United. In United’s second game of the round against the Brisbane Bullets, Peatling finished with six points and four rebounds in 16 minutes. With Jack White expected to be out for at least three more weeks Peatling will likely continue to see at least 15 minutes per game as the backup power forward, and if he continues to provides strong minutes off the bench like he did in round eight Melbourne United’s incredible depth just got deeper.
Cover Photo: Brisbane Bullets
By Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash
Tai Webster was incredible finishing with 29 points and 11 assists as the Breakers defeated the 36ers by 44 points. Photo: Getty Images
NZ flick the switch
Going into this season I had the New Zealand Breakers finishing in the top three. However, things haven’t worked out as expected for the Breakers in the early part of this season, going into round seven they found themselves sitting in last position on the NBL ladder with a dismal record of 1-6. On Saturday night they flicked the switch, stunning the Adelaide 36ers 106-62 and warning the rest of the league how good they can be. The way they played on Saturday night is what we expected them to play like going into the season. The Webster brothers were magnificent against the 36ers, combining for 58 points, seven rebounds and 14 assists. This win may well and truly ignite the Breakers season.
Kings got swagger
Sydney didn't get the win against Melbourne in round seven, but they got my attention. They have swagger and that f*** you mentality. United are the best team in the league and the Kings went into John Cain Arena as if they were undefeated and they were best players in the world. I love that. Casper Ware and Dejan Vasiljevic especially took it at Melbourne. After every bucket, talking s*** to Dean Vickerman, to the crowd, and every United player that would listen. When you're the underdog, you have to do this. Act 10 feet tall because it may just throw them off their game the slightest bit, enough for you to take advantage. It didn't work for Sydney on Saturday night, but it may pay off down the line.
With Mitch Creek in career best form, how far can the South East Melbourne Phoenix go in 2021? Photo: South East Melbourne Phoenix
Mitch Creek taking the Phoenix to new heights
South East Melbourne superstar Mitch Creek is in MVP form. Across his past three games he has averaged 25.6 points, nine rebounds, and just over four assists per game. He is the Phoenix’s marquee player, and they look a lot more dangerous when he is playing at this level, and when he is in this kind of form they can beat anyone. On the back of Creek's purple patch of form the team has found themselves in the top four, and with the addition of Ryan Broekoff to the team as early as next week, and Keifer Sykes expected to come back into the lineup, how far can the Phoenix go this season?
Hawks in trouble but can turn it around
Illawarra flew out of the blocks, beginning the season 4-0 and finding themselves atop the NBL ladder. However, after winning their first four matches they suddenly look flat and have since won only two of their past seven games, which sees them now sitting fourth with a record of 6-5. Brian Goorjian had the Hawks looking so well balanced with their systems flourishing in the opening rounds of the season, they looked to be a lock for the top four based on how well they were playing as a group. No matter who was on the floor at any given time, everyone looked as though they understood their role and it was working perfectly. It’s vital they regain that early season form as soon as possible, otherwise the season will slip away. However, with Goorjian at the helm I’m confident they’ll turn things around and remain in the top half of the ladder.
Isaac Humphries is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a foot injury. Photo: Getty Images
Humphries injury sucks
The big fella was in MVP form but a 4-6 week injury crushes that dream. It sucks to see. Humphries was enjoying a standout offensive year, adding to the defensive/rebounding parts of his game that he's always had. Putting up 15.5 points, eight rebounds and three blocks per game. He has been shooting at 59.6 percent from the field and 61 percent from two point range. Impressive numbers for a player not known for his offensive game. 2021 has been impacted, but this won't be the end of the young man's offensive burst ... I hope.
Cairns are done
I gave them every chance to turn it around, but Cairns are finished. Two 20-point losses in round seven takes them to 3-9 and well and truly bottom of the ladder. Worst still, they've played 12 games, more than every other team bar Adelaide. Sydney to start round eight doesn't help their case, and even Adelaide to finish is no easy beat. Sorry Taipans fans, season 2021 is finished.
Cover Photo: Getty Images
By Liam Melrose
Wildcats center John Mooney was on fire against the Sydney Kings. Photo: Getty Images
Mooney steals the show from Cotton and Ware
Looking at the round six match-up between the Perth Wildcats and the Sydney Kings you’re immediately drawn to the battle of the superstar point guards in Bryce Cotton and Casper Ware. However, it was Wildcats center John Mooney who stole the show. Mooney finished with an incredible stat line of 30 points, 18 rebounds, four assists and two blocks, while shooting 12/13 from the field. He is the first player in NBL history to finish with 30 points and 18 rebounds while shooting at least 90% from the field with one three-point attempt. Ware and Cotton both had really strong games scoring 34 and 30 points respectively, however it was the Perth rookie John Mooney who well and truly put himself on the NBL map.
Hopson seriously lacking confidence
In our round five six pack I spoke about how good Melbourne United star Scotty Hopson looked against the Illawarra Hawks, however fast forward just over a week and Hopson looks to be lacking confidence yet again. In United’s round five win against the Hawks he finished with 21 points and nine rebounds and looked to be back to the Scotty Hopson we’re used to seeing. Going into round six there were high hopes he had recaptured his 2019/20 season form, however in Melbourne’s loss to the Perth Wildcats he scored just 10 points shooting a lackluster 5/16 from the field and 0/6 from behind the three-point arc. In United’s second game for round six against the Cairns Taipans he was no better, finishing with just eight points while shooting 4/12 from the field. Against the Taipans, Hopson looked to have little confidence often looking to pass mid-shot, in one instance even passing the ball out of bounds while in the midst of an open shot. That is an obvious sign of someone who is playing with little to no confidence. He is a star of this league as he showed with the New Zealand Breakers last season, and while there is still a long way to go this season he needs to turn it on as soon as possible, to lift both his confidence and ultimately his team.
Mitch McCarron continues to lead from the front for Melbourne United. Photo: Melbourne United
McCarron and Baba a perfect match
In the absence of Chris Goulding and Shae Ili, Yudai Baba has filled a void and the backcourt of Mitch McCarron and Baba is a perfect fit. In United’s round six match against the Taipans the pair combined for 34 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds, and six steals, McCarron had the bulk of the steals and assists however as a starting shooting guard Baba has slotted in perfectly. He is great defensively, he can attack the ring and can also shoot the ball as well. McCarron has been terrific as a stand-in captain for Chris Goulding, playing the extremely tough brand of basketball he is known for attacking the basket, while also getting his teammates involved with a number of open looks. Mitch and Yudai are building quite the back-court tandem.
The Taipans let another one slip
Cairns looked to be all over Melbourne in round six, leading at the first break 25-17 and looking to be in control of the match for a majority of the night. However. they were overrun by United in the fourth quarter, something Taipans fans have become used to through the first part of this season. Across their first ten games they’ve only managed to win four final quarters. Three of those matches they led going into the fourth quarter, if they had won those three final quarters from each of those games they’d find themselves sitting in the top four with a record of 6-4. However, as a result Cairns currently sit second last with a record of 3-7, and while they’re definitely not the eighth best team in this league that’s what happens when you struggle to finish off games.
Matt Hodgson took his game to another level with a career high 20 points in round six. Photo: Brisbane Bullets
Matt Hodgson is back
Matt Hodgson has shown how good he can be at different stages throughout his career. In Brisbane’s round six match against the South-East Melbourne Phoenix, Hodgson put up 20 points along with nine rebounds in just over 20 minutes. The Bullets have struggled to find a consistent center in the early part of this season with both Harry Froling and Tyrell Harrison sharing the starting role, however after Hodgson’s performance against the Phoenix he deserves the opportunity to start.
Louzada the key to success if he can stay healthy
Didi Louzada has been injury plagued ever since he came into the league last season, however when he's healthy he is one of the best players in the NBL. In round six against the Perth Wildcats Louzada provided a spark off the bench for the Kings, finishing with 19 points, shooting the ball at 53.8% from the field, including 5/9 from behind the three-point line. Louzada hit some incredibly tough shots, and reminded the league just how good he can be when he is injury-free. If he can avoid any further injuries this season he significantly boosts Sydney’s hopes at a championship.
Cover Photo: Sydney Kings
By Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash
Mitch McCarron put in a captain's performance in round five with 17 points and seven rebounds. Photo: Melbourne United
Mitch McCarron leading from the front
Mitch McCarron is known as one of the league’s best combo guards, can shoot the ball but can also pass the ball extremely well and isn’t afraid to crash the glass either. As the stand-in captain for the injured Chris Goulding in round five, McCarron took his game to another level finishing with 17 points, seven assists and three rebounds. He plays like a leader and this really showed on Wednesday night. If he can continue this form through the NBL Cup, Melbourne United already have one hand on the silver wear.
Nathan Sobey has got the grit
Last season I implored Nathan Sobey to take the leap and become an MVP front-runner and lead Brisbane to the finals. I got it in small glimpses. 2021? I’m getting it in spades and I love it. Sobey isn’t taking any sh**, and is carrying the load of the team on his back. He’s leading the league in scoring with 24.3 points a game and managing nearly four rebounds and four assists a game. While also tossing up 48/34.5/86 shooting splits. If he can manage to lift his three-point shooting to around the 38 percent mark he’ll be really taking his game to another level. Teamwise the Bullets sit sixth with a 3-4 record, but they’ve shown promising signs and Sobey is leading them the right way.
South East Melbourne and Perth played twice in round five with both teams winning one game each by large margins. Photo: South East Melbourne
The round five Yo-Yo
If you look at round five of the NBL season it could best be described as a Yo-Yo round. On Thursday night, the Perth Wildcats defeated the South-East Melbourne Phoenix by 31 points, however on Sunday afternoon it was the complete opposite, with the Phoenix getting the job done by 25 points. Both games were played on the same court. Another example was the two games we saw between the Adelaide 36ers and the Brisbane Bullets. On Saturday, the 36ers defeat the Bullets by 15 points in Brisbane, however on Monday night the Bullets toppled the 36ers in Adelaide by 19 points. If round five is anything to go by, the NBL Cup is going to be extremely hard to predict.
Sam Froling has the tools
He’s shoulders are a little hunched over and he kind of runs funny but I’m a big Sam Froling fan. He can do most things pretty well. Had some great defensive moments against Jock Landale during the Hawks match-up with United in round five, and hurt them on the other end at stages. He’s not setting the world on fire by any stretch with 11.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and a block per game. However, he has nice footwork offensively, can find his way to the rim and finish and he can defend. Oh, and he’s only just turned 21. He has a very bright future if he can develop a three-point game, and can get to the free-throw line more consistently.
New Zealand's Lamar Patterson is struggling to find his 2019/20 season form. Photo: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images
Lamar Patterson … ouch
I don’t want to jump too hard on the big fella, who knows what else is going on in his life. However, it’s grim reading at the moment. 10.4 points on 33/20/56 shooting splits. A tad over four rebounds and just over two assists per game. To top it all off, the wildly pre-season fancied New Zealand Breakers are bottom of the table at 1-4. Lamar playing terribly, not in shape and the team performing badly, not an ideal to start a new year.
Hopson stands up to propel United past the Hawks
Prior to round five, star Melbourne United import Scotty Hopson had experienced a shaky start with his new club. However, he turned it on against the Illawarra Hawks to propel his team to victory. Finishing with 21 points, nine rebounds and three assists he looked somewhat back to his old self, the Scotty Hopson we’re used to seeing. With no Chris Goulding for a few more weeks expect Hopson to continue to feature in the scoring column.
Cover Photo: South East Melbourne Phoenix
By Liam Melrose
Yudai Baba lifted Melbourne United over the Perth Wildcats in round four. Photo: Melbourne United
The Yudai Baba show was on full display at Bendigo Basketball Stadium in round four. Baba came off the bench to finish with 14 points, three rebounds and two assists, however he did it at both ends of the floor with his length on show, managing two blocks and two steals. With superstar Chris Goulding going down with a calf injury, United needed someone to step up with the match in the balance, and the explosive Japanese guard did just that. With Shae Ili and Chris Goulding expected to miss up to four weeks, I expect we’ll see Baba slot into the Melbourne starting unit for more Baba Brilliance.
Deng and Noi lift to slither Taipans past Breakers
Majok Deng and Kouat Noi combined for 39 points on Monday night as the Cairns Taipans defeated the New Zealand Breakers 84-69. Over the past two seasons the bulk of the Cairns scoring has come from Scott Machado and Cam Oliver, however Deng and Noi are both proven scorers and they reminded us just how dangerous they can be on Monday night. The balance of the Taipans starting unit was back to their best in round four and if they can keep this up they’ll get their season back on track.
Jarrell Martin was at his best on Saturday night as the Sydney Kings cruised to a 94-75 win over the Adelaide 36ers. Photo: Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images
Casper and Jarrell an almighty combination
Casper Ware has had somewhat of a shaky start to the 2021 season, however on Saturday night he was back to his best. After a scoreless first quarter, the superstar went on to finish with 27 points, 14 of those coming on the back of a phenomenal fourth quarter performance. His stat line also included 6/10 from behind the three-point arc, he was back to the Casper Ware we have become so used seeing to over the past few seasons. While Ware finished off the 36ers, it was Sydney’s other import Jarrell Martin who started the game superbly on his way to 23 points, as the pair combined for 50 points as they cruised to a comfortable 94-75 win.
Kings find the Key to getting past 36ers
The Adelaide 36ers were on a roll going into their round four match-up with the Sydney Kings, having won four of their last five games including their most recent over the Kings a week earlier. However, the Kings found the key to stopping the 36ers on the offensive end, put the clamps on Isaac Humphries. With Humphries in career best form and arguably Adelaide’s best player right now, they have looked to be one of the better teams in the league. On Saturday night, the Kings limited him to just four points and in doing so shut the 36ers down completely.
Cam Gliddon finished with 15 points on the back of 5/11 shooting from behind the three point line against the Illawarra Hawks. Photo: Martin Keep/Getty Images
Sharpshooting Gliddon finds his range
South East Melbourne’s Cam Gliddon has been one of the league’s best shooters for a number of years. However, prior to round four he hadn’t found his range, with the guard/forward really struggling. On Sunday against the Illawarra Hawks he flicked a switch, hitting five threes and reminding us of how dangerous he can be when he is at his best. The Phoenix look a whole lot better when he is hot.
Alarm bells for the Breakers
The New Zealand Breakers were tipped by most to finish the 2021 season in the top three. However, at the moment they look a long way off it. On paper they’re one of the most talented rosters in the league, however currently sitting at 1-3 it’s simply not working, and they could very well be 0-4 if it wasn’t for a late rally to pull off a come from behind win against the Taipans on Saturday. It seems as though the Breakers coaching staff isn’t sure what their best rotation looks like. It's simply a shambles and while it’s only early days, they need to turn things around quickly otherwise the season will get away from them.
Cover photo: Cairns Taipans
By Ollie Nash and Liam Melrose
The Hawks depth has been a key reason for their early season success. Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images
The Depth of the Hawks nest
If you watch The Hawks right now whoever is on the floor can play at both ends. The depth is incredible. The starting unit of Tyler Harvey, Justin Simon, Justinian Jessup, A.J Ogilvy and Sam Froling is so well balanced. When Brian Goorjian rests his starters, players such as Isaac White and Deng Deng are coming off the bench and having an impact, propelling what the starters have setup. In most cases when a team takes off its star players you might expect them to fade a little, however The Hawks are looking settled and the depth they have means no matter who is on the court, they are going to swoop. Keep in mind they have been without Deng Adel and Cameron Bairstow for the most part who you’d expect to slot into the starting unit only increasing what is already an incredible amount of depth.
Oliver/Machado putting up numbers, but Cairns can’t defend
If you looked at Cam Oliver’s and Scott Machado’s stats, you would think Cairns would be a top four team. 18.8 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2 blocks on 53/32/69 shooting splits for Oliver and 16.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 8.8 assists on 40/36/64 splits for Machado. There’s some negatives in there, Oliver’s three-point and free-throw shooting isn’t great and Machado’s field goal and free-throw percentage are below average. However, the stats are decent and they pass the eye test. What’s letting them and the team down is their defence. 93.2 points allowed per game is the second worst in the league. They’re lowest points allowed through six games is 86 against Sydney in round one. Since then, they have allowed 92, 99, 87, 90 and 105 points. Their start has included five games at home, meaning the schedule only gets harder from here for Cairns.
Victor Law's heroics against Cairns helped Brisbane to a 2-0 weekend. Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images
I was wrong Brisbane
In the round two six pack I said Brisbane were the most irrelevant team in the NBL and I didn’t see them beating Sydney or Cairns in round three. I was wrong. They grinded out a win on Tuesday against the Kings 90-87 and thanks to Victor Law’s heroics at the buzzer they went on to beat the Taipans 105-103 on Saturday. Both great games to watch and two clutch wins by the Bullets. They somehow managed to re-bunk both my claims from last week. Not only did they win, they won the hard way in must-see basketball. Now back on track with some relevance in the league.
The Jack White Impact
Going into this season four positions of the Melbourne United starting lineup looked a lock, Mitch McCarron at the point guard spot, Chris Goulding the shooting guard, Scotty Hopson at small forward, and Jock Landale at centre. However, there were question marks over who would play that four position, would it be United veteran Dave Barlow or ex-Duke University captain Jack White? United elected to go with White, and its proven to be a great move. He looks right at home at the power forward spot and is providing great balance to a starting unit that has a number of players that can shoot the ball. White has been great on the defensive end, however it was on the offensive end in round three where he played his best game for the season so far with 22 points and six rebounds in just over 22 minutes on the floor. If he can keep up this level of play he is right at home in the Melbourne United starting unit.
Bryce Cotton has started right where he left off last season, beginning 2021 in MVP form. Photo: Getty Images
Bryce is proving me right with MVP start
I don’t want to go the early crow but in my pre-season prediction, I picked Bryce Cotton for MVP. Why? He’s the best player on a team that will be competitive and doesn’t have other stars around him to take shots off him. Valid, it’s only been two games. However, 29.5 points, 6.5 assists and 2.5 steals on 49/36/90 shooting splits is a hell of start. As long as Perth can win enough games and be around the top four mark, Cotton will do his thing and in my eyes, will be the MVP.
Adelaide raising eyebrows
Most pundits wrote the Adelaide 36ers off before the season even began, with many questioning the level of talent on the roster. So far the question marks people had have been answered. After their opening night thrashing at the hands of Melbourne United it looked as though the only scorer the 36ers had was Daniel Johnson. However, following that game Adelaide have won four of their last five games and the unit as a whole is looking much stronger than expected. Isaac Humphries is sending shockwaves around the league with his early season form, while 18-year-old NBA prospect Josh Giddey is living up to the hype. Giddey’s form has even relegated NBA veteran Donald Sloan to the bench, something none of us would’ve expected. If Johnson, Humphries and Giddey keep putting up the numbers they have as well as Sloan providing strong minutes off the bench, there is no reason why Adelaide can’t play finals in 2021.
Cover Photo: Getty Images
By Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash
Jock Landale finished with 19 points on Monday night as Melbourne United defeated the Cairns Taipans by 2 points. Photo: ESPN
Jock Landale the perfect fit
Jock Landale has slotted in perfectly to this Melbourne United lineup. We’ve only seen two games, however his ability to stretch the floor and be active on both ends was a big reason Melbourne got over the line against Cairns on Monday night. The star big man finished with 19 points and seven rebounds on 70 percent shooting including 2/4 from behind the three-point arc. Hitting both of his threes back-to-back within a minute showed how dangerous he can be away from the ring. It looks as though Landale is comfortable with his role and is happy to let the game come to him.
Patterson needs to slim down/Delany a star
I’m not too worried about New Zealand’s 91-94 loss to Adelaide on Friday night, so let’s discuss a positive and negative from the game. Finn Delany is a star and as soon as he left the floor with an injury, the Breakers fell apart. Outscored by 11 in the fourth quarter and overtime without Delany on the court, they didn’t have the ability to spread the floor or bring the energy he provides on both ends. He’ll be a key part of their championship run. On the negative side, Lamar Patterson needs to slim down. He’s able to do so much on the court and dominates with his size and strength, but just imagine him 10kg lighter. A bit more agile and quick but still able to power his way inside. I can see so many positives from losing some weight and so many negatives come the end of the season if he doesn’t.
Bryce Cotton began his 2021 NBL campaign in his usual MVP form finishing with 27 points to lift the Wildcats past the Phoenix. Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images
Perth lose stars but gain reliable pieces
When a team loses their greatest ever leader, star shooting guard and dominant big man, you can be excused for expecting a significant drop off. That’s what separates Perth from a lot of teams. Will they win their third straight championship? I don’t think so. However, they know how to continue to be competitive. It’s about getting great team players that buy in to your system. John Mooney, Todd Blanchfield and even Luke Travers who has been a development player for the team in the past, are the perfect fit for this squad. To put it simply, they play really hard on both ends, think team first all the time and understand their role. With a superstar like Bryce Cotton, having guys like this around him is so important and proved beneficial in the Wildcats opening game.
There’s a lot to like about Isaac Humphries
Although he didn’t play in the NBL last season, right now he is my most improved player. Humphries has taken his game to another level in the early part of this season besides the 36ers opening night loss to Melbourne United. Since that game, he has been on fire and has helped lift Adelaide to two nail-biting wins. In round two we saw the best game of his NBL career to date, as he put together 24 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks and two steals. Humphries has been known for his defensive presence, however after four games he is averaging just under 16 points per game shooting the ball at just over 67 percent. His energy has been vital for the 36ers in their two wins and if he continues this level of form Adelaide will continue to be a red-hot chance on any given night.
The Cairns Taipans have slumped to 1-3 to begin the 2021 NBL season. Photo: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images
There’s trouble at the Snag Warehouse
Alarm bells are beginning to ring for the Cairns Taipans. After four home games to open the 2021 NBL season they’ve only managed to find one win, and just. If it wasn’t for a Casper Ware game-winning attempt missing the Snakes would find themselves 0-4 at the bottom of the NBL ladder. After bringing back almost the same roster from their 2019-20 campaign that saw them one win from making the NBL Grand Final, there is trouble in the Snag Warehouse. While they haven’t played that poorly the reality is they’ve let three home games slip and as we’ve seen in the past with this league, if teams struggle early they often find it difficult chasing the pack. If they do sneak into the playoffs it’s often a first-round exit. Fortunately for Cairns they’ve still got plenty of time to turn it around, they’ve got the talent and they’ve got the chemistry, however they need to act quickly before this season slips away.
Same old story for Brisbane
Brisbane would have to be the most irrelevant team in the NBL at the moment. Lost their superstar Lamar Patterson and key role player Cameron Gliddon, sit last on the ladder at 0-2 and don’t look like getting a win in round three against Sydney and Cairns. I’m a huge Nathan Sobey fan and Victor Law has been great to start the year, but that’s about it. After a finals run in 2018-19, they missed out last year in what should have been a shoo-in finals campaign and this year they have slid back into mediocrity to start.
Cover Photo: Getty Images