By Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash
Bryce Cotton and Casper Ware will again be thereabouts in the race for the NBL's MVP award in 2021. Photo: News Corp Australia
After what has been the longest NBL off-season in history, the 2021 season is finally here. With so many uncertainties on how the season will pan out due the ongoing COVID-19 situation and the talent pool looking incredibly deep, we may be in for one of the most competitive seasons ever.
Liam Melrose and Ollie Nash have put together their season predictions making up our 2021 NBL Crystal Ball.
CHAMPIONS - MELBOURNE UNITED
Melbourne United are stacked. On paper this team wins the championship with ease, they have depth at every position on the floor. However, championships aren’t won on paper, and while they have an abundance of elite power, it is vital they pull it all together and gel as a group. They retained the face of the franchise Chris Goulding who signed a three-year deal during the offseason, as well as managing to secure import Scotty Hopson who is arguably the best two-way wing in the NBL right now. They also managed to pull off the biggest signature of the offseason signing Boomer Jock Landale who is one of the most prominent centers in Australian basketball right now. These new additions will join proven United stars in Mitch McCarron, David Barlow and Shea Ili. A starting five that will most likely include McCarron, Goulding, Hopson, Landale and either David Barlow or Jack White shouldn’t be losing too many games. However, in saying that the pressure is hotter than ever on Melbourne United in season 2021.
On paper Melbourne United are in the box seat to claim their second title in three years. Photo: Getty Images
RUNNERS UP - CAIRNS TAIPANS
Chemistry is huge in this league, and with the Taipans retaining the majority of their 2019-20 roster which finished 4th and came agonisingly close to a Grand Final berth, there is no reason they can’t go one step better in 2021. They have the best import combination in the NBL. Scott Machado is the most dynamic point guard in the league, and Cam Oliver is arguably the best player in the NBL at his peak. If these two fire consistently, the Cairns Taipans will go a long way in 2021.
MVP – SCOTT MACHADO (CAIRNS TAIPANS)
Scott Machado was my MVP last season simply because he does everything, while passing the ball is his greatest strength, he can score, as well as grab a rebound and he is a lock to be active on both ends of the floor every night. Last season he led the Taipans from the bottom of the NBL ladder back into the finals, and while it wasn’t just Machado, he was a massive part of the Snakes’ rise. Last season he averaged just over 16.1 points, 7.8 assists, and just over three rebounds per game. There are a number of players that could win the 2021 NBL MVP award, however armed with a successful 2019-20 season under his belt, I can see Scott Machado putting together another impressive campaign for the Cairns Taipans and being crowned the NBL MVP in 2021.
Scott Machado is returning to the Cairns Taipans for a second consecutive season. Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
WOODEN SPOON - THE HAWKS
It’s very hard to pick a team for the wooden spoon when the league is stacked with so much talent, I’m also a big believer in the way Brian Goorjian coaches so this is a tough choice. I wouldn’t be surprised if this team shocks us and ends up featuring in the business end of the season. The Hawks have a lot of talent, however it’s almost a whole new roster, meaning they may not click straight away resulting in a slow start to the season, which has really hampered teams in in the past. They only have one player that has played more than 100 NBL games and only three that have played over 50. They played more preseason games than any other team and they showed some very positive signs, however with a fair amount of unproven talent on this roster it’s hard to get a gauge on how far this team will go in 2021, and while I’m not completely writing them off just yet, The Hawks are my wooden spoon for now.
BIGGEST SURPRISE - PERTH WILDCATS
The Wildcats have made the NBL finals for 34 straight seasons, a feat that is arguably one of the greatest in Australian sport. However, in 2021 they may struggle to make the top four. There will be a lot of pressure on two-time MVP Bryce Cotton to perform at his best every night and there is no reason why he won’t. Whilst they might scrape into the finals, without the help of another strong established import, I see them in that 5-9 range, and therefore not featuring in the finals for the first time in 35 years.
Perth are looking to make the NBL Finals for a 35th consecutive year. Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images
1st. Melbourne United
2nd. Cairns Taipans
3rd. New Zealand Breakers
4th. South East Melbourne Phoenix
5th. Perth Wildcats
6th. Brisbane Bullets
7th. Sydney Kings
8th. Adelaide 36ers
9th. The Hawks
CHAMPIONS – MELBOURNE UNITED
All the pressure is on Melbourne United in season 2021. With the additions of Scotty Hopson, Jack White, Jock Landale and Yudai Baba, they have got talent at every position. Alongside proven stars Chris Goulding and Mitch McCarron, the recruits should fit in seamlessly, with the ability to space the floor and make teams think twice about helping defensively and leaving shooters open.
Cam Oliver and the Cairns Taipans will likely feature deep into the NBL Finals in 2021. Photo: Getty images
RUNNERS UP - CAIRNS TAIPANS
Haven’t lost too much, haven’t gained too much, but have another pre-season under their belt together. Finished last season superbly and in hindsight should have beaten Perth in the semi-final series and gone on to win the championship. As long as Scott Machado and Cameron Oliver are in town, the Taipans will be there abouts in 2021.
MVP – BRYCE COTTON
The MVP race is stacked this season, but a lot of players have competition on their own team with some star teammates. Bryce Cotton has the luxury of still being on a good team, without too many teammates likely putting up big numbers and taking stats off him. The perfect recipe for back-to-back MVPs.
Bryce Cotton must have another MVP calibre season for the Perth Wildcats to be any chance of a three-peat. Photo: Getty Images
WOODEN SPOON - ADELAIDE 36ERS
Turmoil inside the four walls after a messy break-up with former coach Joey Wright spells danger for me. Captain Kevin White is gone amongst others and the culture has no doubt taken a big hit. New coach Conner Henry may be able to begin the building of a new chapter for the 36ers, but with their roster as it stands, it just doesn’t stack up with the rest of the competition.
BIGGEST SURPRISE - THE HAWKS
It shouldn’t really be a surprise because their roster is really good and Brian Goorjian is a winning coach wherever he goes, but after a 5-23 record last season, they’ll be the biggest surprise in 2021.
Brian Goorjian will be looking to take The Hawks back into NBL Finals action in 2021. Photo: ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale
1st. Melbourne United
2nd. New Zealand Breakers
3rd. Cairns Taipans
4th. Perth Wildcats
5th. Sydney Kings
6th. The Hawks
7th. South East Melbourne Phoenix
8th. Brisbane Bullets
9th. Adelaide 36ers
Cover Photo: Getty Images