Seven games across four days means there’s plenty to talk about in the world of NBL once again, with pressure building at the Brisbane Bullets and some imports around the league and the Tasmania JackJumpers getting on a roll once again.
Some questions are beginning to be asked with the Bullets remaining winless three rounds into the NBL season while some teams might already be considering some personnel moves as others continue to make statements including the JackJumpers and Cairns Taipans.
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Kings bounce back against Bullets | 01:15
Round 3 in the NBL got underway back on Thursday night with the Tasmania JackJumpers dominant as they spoiled the Adelaide 36ers’ entry into the season with the 97-72 win at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre.
There was then three days of double-headers beginning on Friday where the Cairns Taipans handed the Sydney Kings their first loss of the season, winning 83-78 on the road. Melbourne United then hit back from their horror show against Sydney by beating the Perth Wildcats 84-81.
Then on Saturday, the Adelaide 36ers opened their account beating the Illawarra Hawks 90-80 before the New Zealand Breakers snapped their drought in Australia beating the South East Melbourne Phoenix 85-77.
There were two more games on Sunday with the Tasmania JackJumpers making it three straight beating Melbourne United 74-64 before the Sydney Kings bounced back keeping the Brisbane Bullets winless with the102-85 victory.
The round will wrap up now on Monday night with the Illawarra Hawks hosting the New Zealand Breakers at WIN Entertainment Centre.
MAGETTE’S SPARK GETS JACKJUMPERS ON TRACK
The JackJumpers are right back to where they were on the way to the grand final last season and much of that has to do with what import point guard Josh Magette delivered in Round 3.
Tasmania were on shaky ground early this season losing its opening three matches and then staring down the barrel of a fourth against the Brisbane Bullets at home.
Already without key trio Clint Steindl, Sam McDaniel and Will Magnay, coach Scott Roth decided to not go with Magette down the stretch in that game against Brisbane, or in overtime, and the players he did go with got the job done.
So Magette had to dig deep and two games and a week later, he’s right back to being the scoring and playmaking leader and point guard for the JackJumpers who was significant in them reaching a grand final.
Magette’s performance especially in the 25-point win in Adelaide on Thursday night was remarkable, knocking down four three-pointers in the first quarter alone. He ended the game with 23 points, seven assists, four rebounds and four assists.
Even more impressively, Tasmania outscored Adelaide by 32 points with him on the floor. He backed it up with a good showing in Sunday’s win over Melbourne United with 10 points, four rebounds and three assists.
Not only is Magette’s season back on track, so is that of the JackJumpers with them having won three straight and only conceding 136 points across two games in Round 3.
Magette was relieved to find some form after a tough start.
“I don’t think the product I was putting out there was a reflection of who I am. I’ve been doing this for a while now and felt like I wasn’t myself to start the season and kind of let the team down, maybe,” he said.
“They rallied around me this past week with a lot of positive feedback and we’ve continued to grow, and are still scratching the surface of what we can be.
“It will be great if I can build on this now, but I’ll just go out and play that little bit freer now that I’ve seen a few go in. That takes a little bit of pressure off so I can just go out there and be a bit more myself.”
IS MELBOURNE’S NEXT MOVE NOW INEVITABLE?
Melbourne United coach Dean Vickerman hardly gave a glowing endorsement of his import power forward after Sunday’s loss to Tasmania and the move to replace injured Next Star centre Ariel Hukporti might now be becoming clearer by the day.
Despite the losses Melbourne suffered unexpectedly in the off-season with the departures to the NBA of Matthew Dellavedova and Jack White, they did appear to have assembled a well-balanced roster.
They had Shea Ili, Rayjon Tucker, Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Chris Goulding to take care of the backcourt. There were then Mason Peatling, David Barlow, Brad Newley, David Okwera and Jordan Caroline to share the three and four spots, and Hukporti and Isaac Humphries as the centres.
However, everything suddenly became unbalanced when they lost Hukporti to a ruptured Achilles. He was set to be the starting centre with Humphries backing him up, but now with Humphries their only genuine big and fresh off two injury-ravaged seasons, they are thin up front.
Taipans upset Kings for NBL shock! | 01:05
That’s where Melbourne’s decision to go with a power forward import in Caroline now looks to be a luxury they might not be able to afford. He doesn’t look able to play as an effective undersized centre in the NBL, or at least coach Vickerman has already lost faith in him.
He played only 16 minutes for four points and three rebounds in 16 minutes in Friday night’s win in Perth. Then it was 18 minutes in Sunday’s loss to Tasmania for seven points and six rebounds.
Vickerman has now started the out-of-retirement 38-year-old Barlow in his place and played him a total of 51 minutes over the weekend.
With Caroline not showing he can step up to play as a five man and not really being mobile enough to go with the athletic shooting power forwards, Melbourne might soon need to make a harsh call on him.
Melbourne likely will need a genuine centre to support Humphries for the rest of the season and while Vickerman didn’t confirm that after Sunday’s loss, he didn’t exactly give a glowing endorsement of Caroline either.
“My trust a little bit went with Barlow and we’re starting him and playing him 27 minutes, and he’s +7 when he’s in the game and he leads us in assists,” Vickerman said.
“For him to go and do that is amazing but we can’t expect Barlow to give us that much load and I was hoping that we got a bit more from Jordan.
“We have to try and unlock what we saw when we recruited him and we’ve seen glimpses of him getting downhill and getting to the rim, and we’ve mixed him between the four and the five. We are asking to play small ball five at the moment and try to take his advantages.
“We are trying to get the absolute best out of him and we’ve had honest conversations about his performance, and we had honest conversations when we lost Ariel and talked to Zhou Qi. He understands so we’re just trying to get the absolute best out of him.”
HOW DOES THIS BULLETS TEAM FIND ITS GROOVE?
Questions are now growing quickly over a Brisbane Bullets team that promised so much for NBL23. When it largely is all about effort and players doing what’s best for the team, the solutions for coach James Duncan aren’t easy to come up with.
The Bullets haven’t set the world on fire since returning to the NBL for the 2016/17 season and have reached the finals in just one of those six seasons with a 76-102 record, but there were big expectations on them for this season.
It was easy to see why with the big names they had added around Nathan Sobey, Jason Cadee, Tanner Krebs and Ty Harrison.
However, right now it looks to be a team of individuals. Aron Baynes is still trying to find his groove, his tank and his game on his return, and the same for Sobey after a long layoff. But while they do that, it’s not necessarily the best for the team.
You have former NBA gun Tyler Johnson trying to find his feet but also having a similar skill set and role on the team to Sobey.
36ers grab first win of NBL season | 00:50
You have Harry Froling trying to make his mark in his second stint in Brisbane, Harrison is coming back from a big layoff too and DJ Mitchell, Gorjok Gak and Kody Stattmann are trying to make an impact in their first NBL seasons.
Now it’s nothing unusual for each player to have their own individual intentions, but it just appears too stark on this Brisbane team where the chemistry and bond as a team hasn’t been able to develop just yet.
Even in front of a sold out crowd in their first home game of the season on Sunday, after a 13-2 start, they capitulated against the defending champion Sydney Kings and had no answers to remain winless after four games.
Time is quickly running out in what is shaping as an even season to not fall to far from the race even for a fifth or sixth position to earn a play in spot.
The question then also has to be raised whether or not the Bullets ownership and management who have put together a team consisting of two successful former NBA players, a bronze medal winning Boomer and plenty of established and emerging other talented players, keep faith with Duncan.
As for Duncan himself, when asked after the game on Sunday how to pull this group together to play as a team and to show the required effort to win in the NBL, he admitted there are no easy answers.
“This was the first game where the issue of potentially the effort or physicality has come up. They (Sydney) are coming in and trying to offensive rebound, and we were just watching them,” Duncan said.
“You have a choice to make, either go hit somebody and go get that fricken’ ball. Or if you don’t hit anybody they continually come and crash the boards.
“We did a better job in the second half but the snowball has already started and now you’re giving the champs an opportunity and you are up against it, and fighting an uphill battle.
“I don’t have an answer right now, this has been talked about and highlighted and we need to find guys who are about that life, which going into the regular season a lot of guys were doing that and caring about those small details. I think that for sure in this game it dropped off.”
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WHITE RETURNS HOME A 300-GAMER
One of the great warriors in the modern NBL and a man who has captained two teams he’s been at now is a 300-game player as he returns with his Illawarra Hawks team for Monday night’s home clash with the New Zealand Breakers.
In a sport full of huge athletes with incredible skills and athleticism, it’s a great credit that a kid from Sydney who would admit to being of average size and ability has now become a 300-game NBL player all through sheer heart and determination.
White has had to prove people wrong his whole career too and overcome great adversity. He began by getting to live his dream of playing at the Kings but then was told he was surplus to requirements.
He landed at arch-rivals Illawarra and went on to be captain of a team that made a grand final. Not only was he a great leader, but turned himself into one of the best defensive guards in the league, a more than serviceable playmaker and a solid outside shooter.
However, the Hawks ownership then started asserting their authority forcing White out and after a heated rivalry built with the Adelaide 36ers, that’s where he landed and again would become captain.
It turned tumultuous again, though, when White stood up for what he thought was right with trouble brewing between members of the playing group and then coach Joey Wright.
Upon reflection years later, White would one day like to make amends with Wright, but again he landed with arch-rivals the Perth Wildcats for the past two seasons before the departure of coach Scott Morrison meant he was again without a home.
United take down Wildcats in thriller | 01:02
White, along with his wife and their two sons, returned ‘home’ to Wollongong unsure of their future, but when the Hawks needed someone, it was him who they called upon signing him as an injury replacement player for the NBL23 season.
That allowed him to reach his 300th game in the league this past Saturday night back in Adelaide and now game 301 will be at home on Monday night for the Hawks against the New Zealand Breakers.
It’s one of the league’s great success stories that he’s now a 300-game player and he is delighted to be back in the ‘Gong.
“I had to make a decision for my family and for me that wasn’t what I wanted to do but at the time it’s what I needed to do because it just felt like I wasn’t going to go anywhere, and might have had a very early retirement four years ago or been very unhappy,” White told Hoops Heaven’s Basketball Hustle podcast.
“It’s not like I walked into an ideal situation in Adelaide and we know how that played out, but here I am three years later down the track and I’m back home, and I’m loving what the club started to build around Goorj (Brian Goorjian) and is now continuing with Jacob (Jackomas), and having Mat Campbell involved and giving local kids like Lachie Dent and Harry Morris a chance.
“It’s cool to be back and Ossie (Oscar Forman) is running the IBA so I get to see him every day, I see Tyson Demos most days and familiar faces make it a very welcoming environment. I’ve got my boys at home without being on the other side of the country so I couldn’t be happier with the way it’s all worked out.”
VETERAN FIRES, YOUNG GUN SHINES FOR BREAKERS
The New Zealand Breakers continue to have plenty thrown in their path, but they never complain and an impressive Saturday night win was largely set up by veteran big man Rob Loe coming up huge and Next Star Rayan Rupert showing his all-round talents.
When you talk of adversity and the NBL, you can’t look beyond the Breakers and after two seasons virtually fully away from home, even their start to this season hasn’t been easy.
Now three rounds in, they are about to play their third road game already having played at home just once and on Saturday night, they were missing key trio Cam Gliddon, Barry Brown and Tom Abercrombie.
They were on the road to a South East Melbourne Phoenix team welcoming back Zhou Qi, Trey Kell and Ryan Broekhoff, but the Breakers sucked it up and produced an impressive 85-77 win.
That was the first win for New Zealand in Australia since March 12 last season breaking an 11-game losing run and coach Mody Maor was creative in getting done.
He gave a debut to Alex McNaught which worked a treat, Izayah Le’afa had a career-high 10 assists against his old team and then there was Loe.
Having been used sparingly the last two seasons, the impressive shooting centre has come into NBL23 ready to fire and he showed that on Saturday night.
He scored nine straight points in the fourth quarter to break the game open on the way to 18 points and six rebounds for the night. His coach was delighted for him.
“I’m very, very happy for him. Rob has gone through a tough stretch the last two years and he has been the absolutely partner,” Maor said.
“Since this pre-season started he came in ready to work, buying into his role and what we want to do, and I think the biggest compliment he got was being voted into our leadership group. That meant that his peers always see his work and a big game like this was just waiting to happen.”
Then there was the teenager the eyes of the basketball world are on in New Zealand this season. Rupert is the Breakers’ latest Next Star and is looming as being a first round NBA draft pick in 2023.
He made his first NBL start on Saturday night and played as a guard, and despite being 6’7 with a 7’3 wingspan. showed great quickness and fast hands.
He was impressive with the ball in hands as he was defensively to finish with 10 points, six rebounds and three assists.
“Rayan is an incredible talent, everybody knows this, but he fits our system very, very well. He can do a little bit more but the things that we ask him to do within our structure fit him perfectly,” Maor said.
“When he does that aggressively, good things happen. I’m sure he’s going to get better and better, 18 year olds tend to, and nobody outworks this kid. I’m sure he’s going to get better and better as long as the season progresses.”
The Breakers look to make it three straight wins now on Monday night in Wollongong against the Illawarra Hawks.