Another Sunday, another comfortable loss at home for Melbourne United.
Slipping to 2-4 after the latest setback to the Sydney Kings, United head coach Dean Vickerman confirmed that the club are continuing to assess the open market for an import replacement, with a roster change a certainty in the near future.
“Yeah. I’ve been open. We’re searching for a guy, we haven’t found the right guy yet,” Vickerman said.
While there are holes throughout the roster due to untimely injuries and questionable depth, the immediate urgency centres around finding a big man to fill the major hole left by injured Next Star, Ariel Hukporti, who is out for the entire season after suffering a ruptured achilles in preseason action.
American big, Jordan Caroline had another tough night at the office, finishing 3-for-11 from the field in his 26 minutes. Caroline is now 14-for-51 from the field (27.4 percent) and 2-for-13 (15.4 percent) from long range through five games.
“We haven’t been able to compete in that area or have another threat,” Vickerman said. “I thought the shots JC had tonight, we were talking in the locker room. If Jack White had every one of those catches where he caught it, they were eleven good shots. He just hasn’t been able to finish those over the length of people in this league.”
The direct comparison to Jack White was a curious and brutally honest call from Vickerman, with United coming to terms with the idea that two of their starting five from a season ago are now in the NBA and not about to walk back in the door.
Exacerbating the problem was another night of foul trouble for star big man Isaac Humphries, while veteran David Barlow continues to be hampered by a nasty elbow injury. Humphries managed just 18 minutes, after a hot start was curtailed by attracting the attention of the whistle.
“We were hoping to get 28 minutes out of (Isaac), which is a huge load for him as well. Dave Barlow the last two games has had an absolutely inflamed elbow and probably shouldn’t have tried to play today but that’s the kind of guy that he is. He’s been on everything to try and get the swelling down just to play, we were pleased to get ten minutes out of him tonight.
“I was sitting there before the game, thinking we’ve lost two point guards, our back up four man, we’re missing our centre and we haven’t grown our bench to compete with these teams.”
The club confirmed to ESPN that Barlow had spent time in hospital prior to the game to manage an infection in his elbow, with the veteran leader playing through significant discomfort to log 11 minutes of court time.
Lamenting his squad’s ability to function offensively for much of NBL23, Vickerman pointed to fatigue in the latest loss, with Chris Goulding, Rayjon Tucker and Xavier Rathan-Mayes continuing to log north of 30 minutes each night.
“You can just see we run out of juice,” he said. “It’s partly on me, I haven’t trusted the bench enough, I haven’t got enough production off the bench to keep moving people and keep people fresh enough. I’m asking people to play 32-33 minutes and I can see the drop off.
“I wanted to use timeouts strategically tonight, we backed off who we are defensively and try and take some load out of people. But once we got to that point where multiple people are tired on the floor all our execution goes out the window. Our brains stop functioning, even messages in timeouts or free-throws, it couldn’t happen. It’s disappointing when we get that tired, we don’t have the ability to still execute.”
Facilitating from the point guard position has also been problematic, with Rathan-Mayes’ score first mentality occasionally running against Vickerman’s desire to increase ball movement and run structured offence to shift the defence.
“There were still some mismatches he didn’t quite see,” he said. “Moments at the end, he was tired, he didn’t push the ball where we wanted him to. I thought he needed to get extra spacing to let the basketball move. He kicked it ahead and wanted it to come back to him to get to a ball screen and at that time of the game it wasn’t what we wanted. We wanted to see more ball movement and plays evolved.
“We brought him here with the purpose of really having an impact on the game. With Shea Ili as our point guard and (Rathan-Mayes) having a real impact on obviously shorter minutes, I think he’s got the absolute ability to do that. He’s shown throughout the year that he can have a great impact at both ends of the floor.”
United is hopeful Ili will take part in contact activities this week, with Vickerman opening the door for a Round 5 return, stating there is a “possible opportunity to play the next game.”
Melbourne are battling to keep their head above water during a home heavy schedule to start the season. With four games to play until the FIBA World Cup qualification break, Vickerman says he is hopeful they can be close to .500 at that time. By that point, all signs point to the United roster looking a little different to the one that took the floor on Sunday afternoon.