The Aron Baynes era in Brisbane is off to a rocky start, while there were teething problems at Melbourne United, but a new face saved their blushes with an overtime stunner. ROUND 1 WRAP
A new NBL season is upon us and already there’s signs that last season’s formlines can be thrown out the window.
Catch up on all the results from the opening round so far.
Cotton and the Cats silence Baynes’ Bullet debut
The Aron Baynes era at Brisbane failed to start with a bang as the peerless Bryce Cotton started Perth down the road to redemption with the Wildcats claiming an 87-73 win over the Bullets at RAC Arena on Sunday.
After coming off the 2021/22 NBL season when Perth missed the play-offs for the first time in 35 years, Cotton and the Cats were men on a mission as they overcome a fast start and a brief second half rally from the Bullets to start their campaign with a convincing victory.
Cotton had 23 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and six steals to brilliantly lead Perth while Australian Boomers star and 522-game NBA veteran Baynes started his NBL career on the wrong side of the ledger.
The man mountain finished with 11 points, seven rebounds, one assist and one steal in his first competition match since suffering a career-threatening injury at the Tokyo Olympics.
Baynes’ contribution cannot be measured in raw numbers alone. His leadership, experience and sheer presence – both physical and reputational – have been and will be significant to Brisbane.
Import Devondrick Walker was Brisbane’s leading scorer with 16 points while fellow American Tyler Johnson had 13 for the visitors.
But Brisbane simply could not match the Wildcats when it counted as their defence broke down too often and failed to look after the ball.
The Bullets silenced the normally rabid RAC Arena faithful with a blistering 11-2 start but the Wildcats steadied to level the scores at 22-all by quarter-time.
An 8-0 run to start the second term helped the home side roar to a 13-point buffer by halftime with Cotton dominating proceedings as Brisbane got sloppy with the ball and paid the price.
For all the NBA experience and other elite talent entering the NBL this season, the road to
the MVP still must go through the ever-silky Bryce Cotton. The Wildcats superstar meant
business early with Perth’s first two buckets of the game on the way to 10 points by quarter-
time and 17 by halftime after leading the Wildcats’ critical charge at the start of the second
term. He set the tone and maintained the rage.
Turnovers killed Brisbane last season and they came back to haunt them against the
Wildcats. The Bullets had just four turnovers at quarter-time when the teams were locked
together at 22-all. Midway through the second term, they trailed by 15 with the turnover
count at 12. Sloppy passes, bad decisions and a lack of offensive cohesion cruelled them
after such a bright start. They finished with 24 turnovers. Just not good enough.
With Aron Baynes, Tyler Johnson and Nathan Sobey, Brisbane have one of the best – if not
the best – “Big Three” in the NBL. But their hopes of making just their second playoff
appearance since readmission rest with the supporting cast. DJ Mitchell, Harry Froling,
Devondrick Walker and Tanner Krebs all chimed in against the Wildcats at different times
but Brisbane got too little from too few.
The Perth bench boasted enviable depth with NBA prospect Luke Travers and three-time
NBL title winner Corey Webster riding the pine early. Webster – who tormented the
Wildcats when he was with the Breakers – was a genuine spark off the bench with eight
points by halftime as he ensured Perth lost little when Cotton was rested. Travers provided
some classy touches after halftime.
United survive scare from improved Breakers
– Michael Randall
Talk about a thrill.
Melbourne United has escaped from a topsy-turvy overtime dogfight with a re-energised New Zealand to open their season with a nailbiting 101-97 win.
A devastating one-two offensive punch from captain Chris Goulding and new import guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes kept United in touch with the plucky Breakers, before the Canadian took over in the last, scoring nine of his 33 points to kill it off in the extra period.
United nailed 18 of their 38 three-point attempts, with Rathan-Mayes and Goulding hitting six each.
“Coming into the game today, you were a little bit unsure of what we were going to get from this group,” United coach Dean Vickerman said.
“(We) found a little rhythm with the three ball, which was pretty huge for us over the course of the game,” Vickerman said.
“I’m sure we’ll look at some things at the end of regular time that we could have done better to try close it out but, right now, for this group to get into an overtime game and come through strong in that was really pleasing.
“X had one hell of a game and CG … (they) really wanted the basketball (and) were huge for us.”
After the two teams went back and forth for much of the contest, Goulding sandwiched a pair of threes with three free throws to register the first nine of the last quarter for United to open up a seven-point lead.
Former Phoenix man Izayah Le’Afa scored six straight to make things interesting and as Rathan-Mayes left a pair of freebies at the line, import Barry Brown Jr tied the scores at 88 with 9.1 seconds left, which sent the game to overtime after a Goulding game-winning try was off target.
Marquee import Rayjon Tucker took time to find his feet, but a nifty floater in the lane, plus the harm, put United up two at the start of extra time, and then he fed Rathan-Mayes for a straightaway three. XRM franked that make with another three from the same spot, this time off the dribble.
But Brown converted an and one and then Tom Vodanovich drilled a three of his own to tie it up once again.
Rathan-Mayes hit back — again — with his eighth straight point for United, before he and Tucker iced it at the free throw line — each splitting a pair.
“It felt good, I just wanted to do whatever it took for us to get a win tonight,” Rathan-Mayes said.
“I know after a game like this, there’s going to be different coverages, whether that’s me getting whatever it is tonight, or coming out and having big assist games or being that guy that’s that one extra pass.
“Whatever it is, I think that I’ll be able to step up in that space and help just be one of our leaders of this team.”
Goulding finished with 24 points and Rathan-Mayes laced his game-high with nine assists and five rebounds.
For the Breakers, imports Dererk Pardon and Brown Jr had 23 each, the former adding 12 rebounds for a debut double-double.
United have a week to prepare for a massive clash with arch rival Sydney Sunday, while the Breakers host Tasmania at Spark Arena Friday, their first game in New Zealand for 489 days.
Desperately seeking Shea
With reigning Sixth Man of the Year Shea Ili out with concussion, Rathan-Mayes was forced into big minutes — and he did plenty with them. But United missed the poise and perimeter defence of Ili, coach Vickerman forced to call on inexperienced replacement player Lachie Barker to fill the back up point guard minutes. It started disastrously for the NBL1 jet, with a pair of turnovers, but he quickly hit a three-pointer to make up for it. Good experience for Barker — but they need Shea back, quick.
They don’t call it Dunk City for nothing. Hyper-athletic guard Tucker gave hoops fans a taste for what they’d be in for in NBL23, with a rim-rocking two-handed jam, courtesy of an off-the-backboard alley-oop from Rathan-Mayes that blew the roof off JCA.
Yap it up
When Brown Jr splashed his second three for his eighth first-quarter point in a row, he appeared to run at the United bench and had plenty to say. The Florida native looks a walking bucket — even if he appeared to settle, at times — with super range and isn’t short of a word, yapping after virtually every made bucket. Tucker and Pardon then had words coming together as the buzzer sounded on the first. The New Zealand big man was unhappy with his opponent’s physicality. It might not have been completely necessary from Tucker, but Pardon will need to get used to it in the NBL.
There aren’t many pundits rating New Zealand, but the Breakers look to have nailed their imports, particularly Brown and Pardon, while Will McDowell-White franked his Boomers form with 13 rebounds and seven assists and Phoenix recruits Le’Afa and Cam Gliddon played handy roles. Brown possesses a gaggle of offensive weapons, while Pardon is an impressive package with his length and will to get after it on the offensive glass. They might surprise a few.
Kings deny Hawks in seesawing encounter
– David Gavin
Entering a new era the Illawarra Hawks have taken it right up to their arch rivals and the defending champion Sydney Kings on the NBL’s opening night, but fell just short in front of a crowd a little larger than 4,000.
The Hawks had a 92-91 lead with three minutes remaining before the Kings’ star of last season Xavier Cooks (24 points) and standout new recruit Derick Walton Jr (32 points) put their foot down to take Sydney to 106-97 win in Wollongong.
Jacob Jackomas brought the same energy and passion that kept his team in the contest in the 42-year-old’s first game in charge after Brian Goorjian departed, opting not to take up the third year option of his contract after leading Illawarra to finals in his first two years.
After suffering two double-figure losses to exit last season’s playoffs in straight sets, the Hawks never let the fast starting Kings out of their sight on Saturday, largely thanks to a man who was part of Sydney’s Championship success last season.
Having made the switch from Sydney to Illawarra, Wani Swaka Lo Buluk shot 14 points and kept the deficit to three at quarter time and one by the half, until he dried up.
Cue Tyler Harvey as the Californian found some of the form that had him second in the 2020/21 MVP voting behind Bryce Cotton with 18 points for the match, and with Lachlan Dent sinking 19 points, Sydney were never comfortable.
The Kings, in response had Derrick Walton Jr, Cooks and former Hawk Justin Simon pool close to 80 points between them. Simon was also dynamic off the screen with nine rebounds to go with his 19 points.
The Hawks led by three heading into the final term where they streaked away by nine, until the defending champions bit back.
Player movement was a feature of the shortened off-season across all 10 NBL teams, and both the Kings and Hawks were no exception. But the new look line-ups did not change the trend of classic contests between the foes.
The Kings were without MVP Jaylen Adams, Jarell Martin and now dual NBL-NBA champion Ian Clark of the Golden State Warriors, who all departed the Kings. In stepped Walton Jr. and Simon.
While the Hawks surprisingly let go of Antonius Cleveland and Xavier Rathan-Mayes to NBL rivals, as well as losing Boomer Duop Reath and American Justinian Jessup. In their place, Swaka lo Buluk, NBA experienced Justin Robinson (10 points, five rebounds) and former Phoenix Suns draftee George King (14 points, five rebounds).
In a huge blow to the competition it was confirmed in July, last season’s breakout MVP Adams would not be returning to the Kings. And that became an on court reality for the Kings on Saturday night in Wollongong.
Adams signed for Red Star Belgrade and in his place came Walton Jr ably assisted by former Hawk Justin Simon. The American duo had hit double figures in the points department by halftime with Walton in particular putting his stamp on the contest with five assists in the first half.
“I love his herky, jerky game,” former King and Boomer Shane Heal on ESPN.
Corey “Homicide” Williams agreed. “That’s the biggest thing, finding an import that can score but he also has the balance and the ability to find and create for his teammates.”
They were the pair keeping the Kings in it, especially Simon in the third quarter as the Hawks gained ascendancy. Former Detroit Piston Walton adding eight assists to his points haul.
HAWKS’ COACH DEBUTS
Three games in the NBL Blitz had prefaced this, but the first match of this season’s Freeway series was a welcome to the big time for Jackomas, in front of a packed home crowd, against Illawarra’s arch rivals and defending champions.
“He cleaned aeroplanes, he worked in pizza shops, he has worked his way from the very bottom to sit in that chair tonight,” ESPN’s Jack Heverin remarked on the call.
The immaculately dressed Chase Buford complete in a tartan suit jacket juxtaposed Jackomas in the short-sleeved polo, barking instructions as good as his predecessor, emulated the mood and trend of the night.
The hunted dominating early, but Illawarra keeping close enough to eventually rein in their arch rivals to hit the lead.
COOKS’ NEXT LEVEL?
After an injury-plagued first two seasons with the Kings, the hugely talented Xavier Cooks announced himself in the championship campaign.
Average statistics like 15 points and 10 rebounds confirmed the 27-year-old can rebound, he can score in the paint, and can even set up his teammates when required with more than a couple a game.
But from range, he was 30 per cent last season. Early doors on Saturday, he showed the ability he has from that range.
“If he can knock down that three, even mid-range, respect from the perimeter (he can) take his game to an even higher level,” Williams remarked on ESPN.
Cooks was quiet early, and his rebounding remained non-existent, and he started to find the basket as the Kings were playing catch up in the third quarter and then exploded on the points front.
FIRST COACH’S CHALLENGE
Late in the second quarter, Chase Buford launched the first coach’s challenge of the new season, which commentators were certain would be overturned and replays appeared unlikely to favour the Kings.
Buford questioned the foul call on Brazilian centre Tim Soares under the rim, which was described by recently retired Phoenix player Adam Gibson as “arms dropping down” on Hawks’ NBA recruit Justin Robinson as he strode to the paint.
“That’s an automatic call by the referee,” Gibson said. He was soon to be in shock.
“Has to be definitive to overturn the call … Chase Buford is one and 0,” Jack Heverin summarised.
Capturing most of the ball on contact appeared to secure the challenge.
Phoenix edge JackJumpers in nervy NBL season opener
– Michael Randall
White-hot South East Melbourne captain Kyle Adnam has led the depleted Phoenix to a nervy five-point defeat of last season’s grand final runner-up Tasmania, 84-79.
The story of South East Melbourne’s NBL22 was its inability to hold onto a lead and it looked like old habits were about to die hard as Tasmania tied the scores up in the last quarter, after the Phoenix had led by as many as 18.
But a horror moment for Josh Magette, who was pinged for taking too long to get the ball over the half way line, undid the JackJumpers’ good work.
They’d expended so much energy to get back into the game and, with the JackJumpers now deflated, Junior Madut made a lay-up off a Mitch Creek feed, then Adnam produced a wonderful moment, putting Tassie star Jack McVeigh on skates before draining a step back three.
Add a contested floater in the lane and then a little pull up jumper off the glass and you have your matchwinner, right there.
It was the 28-year-old’s first 30-point game in the NBL and he said when the JackJumpers evened it up, it was go time.
“Looking up at the scoreboard, with the clock winding down, we often have had conversations about closing games and how important it is and I grabbed Creeky in the huddle and I said, ‘we’ve got to get into some action, we’ve got to try and get us home’,” Adnam said.
“We just wanted to get back to something (on offence) that was solid for us and, fortunately, I was able to make a few plays out of it.”
Coach Simon Mitchell said he was proud of the group’s resolve, praising the youngsters he called upon to play heavy minutes.
“Different group, mate,” Mitchell said when asked if he was nervous as the JackJumpers came hard.
“We were a little bit out on our feet. We didn’t execute as well as we possibly could have but it was great to see Kyle and Creeky make big plays down the stretch.
“Good to see guys defend and the last two minutes, I thought were pretty good.
“We got some kids out there. It’s a great learning experience for them.”
The Phoenix largely maintained a double-digit buffer until the last minute of the third quarter, when Tassie import Rashard Kelly came alive scoring the next 13 JackJumpers’ points to make a game of it.
McVeigh and Magette hit huge buckets down the stretch, but the Phoenix banished the demons of NBL22 in gritty fashion, with new boy Madut also a key.
Creek missed a free throw up two with 12.1 seconds left, but made the second to make it a three-point game. He then intercepted the pass and was fouled again, taking the long walk to the other end, making both free throws to extend the lead to five, before Tassie made a late bucket and then fouled Adnam. He got a standing ovation as he potted both free throws to end the game.
Adnam’s game-high 30 points featured six three-pointers, while Creek had 23.
Outside of McVeigh (20) and Kelly’s (18) brilliance for the Jackies, development player Sean McDonald showed his impressive chops with 11 points.
Still missing Gary Browne, Trey Kell and Ryan Broekhoff through injury, the Phoenix next play Thursday against Illawarra, while the JackJumpers are on a short turnaround against Cairns Monday.
South East Melbourne did not win a game during the pre-season and it had plenty of alarm bells ringing among the Phoenix faithful. But Creek didn’t play in any of those. His all-round game is vital to everything the Phoenix do and the JackJumpers were overly Creek conscious, leading to open looks for Adnam from deep and opening up the lane for Williams to do his best work. His battle with fellow star Aussie forward McVeigh was a feature.
The JackJumpers were smacked on the glass at both ends of the floor, with a differential of 43-33. Williams, Creek, Grant Anticevich and Dane Pineau were relentless on the glass against the undersized JackJumpers frontline. They’ll hope Aussie big man Will Magnay can help remedy that deficiency, but he won’t be in a Jackies uniform until at least the beginning of November, as he continues to recover from a knee injury. Conversely, when Chinese seven-footer Zhou Qi joins the Phoenix they will have three of the best rebounders in the league in he, Williams and Pineau.