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
By Ollie Nash and Liam Melrose
Daniel Johnson has started the season in MVP-type form for Adelaide. Photo: Perth Now
The DJ impact
Most people wrote the Adelaide 36ers off before the season even began. The favorites for the wooden spoon with many saying their lineup doesn’t stack up with the rest of the competition. Insert Daniel Johnson. He has been a star of the NBL for the best part of a decade, however in the opening round he took his game to another level. Averaging 30 points on 66.7% shooting, 4.5 rebounds and two assists. While it was only two games, the signs are strong for the 36ers veteran to have a career best year. With the defence becoming so focused on trying to stop Johnson it only opens up the floor for the rest of the team, providing more open looks for Adelaide’s shooters. If DJ continues to put up these numbers throughout the season don’t be surprised if the 36ers win a lot more games than people expect.
Hunter becomes the hunted
Cairns, the hunter of the 2019-20 season, has become the hunted. With a similar roster coming back, which clearly helps with chemistry and cohesion, they also leave themselves open to be worked out by other teams. The Hawks are the opposite. Completely new roster, new coach, new ownership. Teams don’t know much about them, so they are going to catch other clubs off guard a lot, as they did on Monday night against Cairns in their 92-76 win. I see no issue with the Taipans intent or aggressiveness in their opening two games and I still see them as a finalist. However, life is harder as the hunted and Cairns will need to be hungrier than last season every night to go one step further.
Josh Giddey has been superb in his opening two NBL games. Photo: Mark Brake/Getty Images
Impressive Josh Giddey
The NBL world nearly lost its mind on Sunday afternoon and for a good reason. Josh Giddey was impressive, playing a major role in Adelaide’s 116-108 win over South East Melbourne. 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists to go along with 10 free-throw attempts, an underrated part of his game that NBA scouts will love. He has some work to do with his handles package and athleticism to match NBA defenders, but his IQ is there which gives him such an advantage entering the league.
Could Yanni Wetzell be the find of the season?
South East Melbourne have found themselves a special player in Yanni Wetzell. The 208cm big man was huge for the Phoenix in their 116-108 overtime loss to the Adelaide 36ers, finishing with 24 points and 10 rebounds. With the absence of Dane Pineau until at least mid-February, it couldn’t have worked out better for the Phoenix. Deemed ‘Mr Reliable’ by Corey ‘Homicide’ Williams, Sunday’s game was the first of Wetzell’s professional career, and it couldn’t have started any better. If he keeps up this level of form, South East Melbourne will have some serious headaches selecting their lineup when Pineau returns from injury.
Melbourne's bench was a big source of energy in their opening round win over Adelaide. Photo: Melbourne United
The Melbourne United pine
Melbourne United’s bench was as prominent as their starting unit on Friday night. The energy off the bench was phenomenal, led by Yudai Baba and Shea Ili. United have been hoping for 'Tall-Blacks Shea Ili' since the 2019 FIBA World Cup much like 'Boomers Patty Mills', and it was on show against the Adelaide 36ers, as he finished with 13 points and four rebounds. Explosive Japanese recruit Baba finished with 10 points and four rebounds in just 17 minutes. Jo Lual-Acuil was also great off the bench finishing with 16 points and 12 rebounds in just 17 minutes. The balance of this United team looks perfect, and if the bench can continue to put up numbers like they did on Friday they are going to be incredibly hard to beat in 2021.
I’ve bought Dejan Vasiljevic stock
As a veteran or a coach all you want from your young players is consistent effort and confidence. Dejan Vasiljevic brings that in spades and he showed it in Sydney’s one-point loss to Cairns on Saturday night. He finished with 15 points and four boards and whilst he only shot 46 percent from the field and 20 percent from three, it was the little things I noticed. He came off screens with urgency and created open looks for himself that may not have originally been there. He doesn’t look scared of anyone or any big moments on the court. He wants all the smoke. His shooting will come, he was a 37 percent three-point shooter in his four year career at the University of Miami. However, you can’t just start doing all the little things that he does, that’s something engrained in his personality. I’m excited to see him grow with the Kings.
Cover Photo: The Hawks
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