Pre-Season Favourites: Melbourne United
To mark the eve of the new NBL season, here are Downtown’s predictions of what’ll happen over the next five months.
Top four, in no particular order
Liam Santamaria (NBL.com.au feature writer): Melbourne, Perth, Illawarra, Cairns
Tom Hersz: Melbourne, Perth, Cairns, Sydney
Michael Collins: Melbourne, Illawarra, Adelaide, Cairns
Alex Lyle: Perth, New Zealand, Melbourne, Illawarra
Only four teams have made the grand final series across the past six seasons: New Zealand (5), Perth (4), Cairns (2) and Adelaide (1). The bookies think I’m crazy but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Taipans make that three in seven. And this time, they may have enough to hoist the trophy.
I’ve not seen a team as deep as United in a long time. Add to that a sour feeling from last season’s playoffs, plus the championship experience of David Andersen and David Barlow, and I think they’ll have only one focus all season.
I can’t settle on a team that shouldn’t be considered in the championship picture. Sure, United have to figure out the optimal fit for all their offensive weapons without conceding too much on the glass, but the championship potential is there.
The Hawks are a balanced and experienced team that’ll have the proficiency at both ends to win in the playoffs. A backcourt with Rhys Martin, Rotnei Clarke and Mitch Norton is a sound starting point.
Santamaria’s Pick: Casey Prather
Most Valuable Player
Santamaria: Casey Prather
He came within an inch of sticking in the NBA this offseason and is going to be a dominant force for the Wildcats in 2016-17. He’s explosive in the open floor, has improved his slashing and mid-range games and generally knocks down his open perimeter looks. He’s also one of the league’s best defensive players. That’s a pretty good mix.
Hersz: AJ Ogilvy
He had a phenomenal season last year, is the focal point of this Hawks team now and may have a slight chip after being left off the initial Boomers squad in March.
Collins: Jerome Randle
The competition is tighter this season with another former MVP, Rotnei Clarke, returning. But we get a full season of Randle this time, and he could trigger the year’s most exciting offence.
Lyle: Jerome Randle
He’ll have lots of responsibility for the Sixers and therefore lots of opportunity to earn votes.
He played 23 games last season and finished equal-third for MVP.
All-NBL first team
Santamaria: Kevin Lisch, Chris Goulding, Casey Prather, AJ Ogilvy, Nathan Jawai
Hersz: Jerome Randle, Cameron Gliddon, Casey Prather, David Andersen, AJ Ogilvy
Collins: Jerome Randle, Rotnei Clarke, Chris Goulding, Cameron Bairstow, AJ Ogilvy
Lyle: Jerome Randle, Kevin Lisch, Casey Prather, Cameron Bairstow, AJ Ogilvy
Defensive Player of the Year
Santamaria: Damian Martin
As long as everybody leaves his reconstructed face alone, Damian Martin will take home his sixth Damian Martin Trophy.
Hersz: Damian Martin
It’s going to be named after him someday and he showed in Rio that he is still one of the best in the business on that end of the court. I see no reason for that to change.
Collins: Damian Martin
He just defends, wherever he goes.
Lyle: Damian Martin
He’s shown no decline as a defender. In 2015-16—when Lisch won the award—Martin missed 10 regular season games.
Collins’ Sixth Man: Devin Williams
Best Sixth Man
Santamaria: Tai Wesley
This is going to be a fascinating race as there will be so many talented players coming off the bench across the league this season. Wesley is set to carry the offence for Melbourne’s second unit and will benefit greatly from all of the rich talent around him.
Hersz: Jesse Wagstaff
His development is evident, his confidence coming off a title and the NBL China tour has gotta be sky-high, and he’s poised to lead Perth’s second unit again.
Collins: Devin Williams
United needed more rebounding this offseason, and they’ve got it in Williams. He’ll rebound, run the court, bang, defend and throw teams out of whack.
Lyle: Tim Coenraad
Being a forward who produces consistently and is a strong three-point shooter, Coenraad should get sufficient minutes in Illawarra to win this award. A successful regular season for the Hawks would make his performances stand out.
Rookie of the Year
Santamaria: Finn Delany
Delany is yet another impressive player to come out of New Zealand’s remarkable pipeline of home-grown talent. Elevated to the fulltime roster, expect more of this out of Finn Diesel this season…
How about this dunk from Finn Delany! pic.twitter.com/KXgvl1LgYH
— andrewbprice (@andrewbprice) September 23, 2016
Hersz: Finn Delany
Having cut his teeth in the NBL as a development player last year and with three years of experience in the New Zealand NBL, Delany will see an increased role for Paul Henare as a small ball forward, following the departures of Reuben Te Rangi and Everard Bartlett. He is long and aggressive and might earn his minutes on the defensive end, but this kid will make an impact.
Collins: Finn Delany
As a wing player who will mostly come off the pine, Delany might not be on everyone’s ballot. But he’ll bring lineup flexibility, physicality and rock a mean hammer. The Breakers are going through a roster reconstruction, and the youngster is sure to be part of its new foundations.
Lyle: Anthony Drmic
He’s 24 and played 131 games across five seasons for Boise State, setting him up to be comfortable by rookie standards. He could get a lot of court time in Adelaide, where he’ll have Randle to make things easier.
Most Improved Player
Santamaria: Mitch Creek
This is year seven for Creek in the NBL and yet he’s still only 24. Adelaide’s new captain has improved his stroke and will play some really productive minutes at the four (and even the five!) as part of Joey Wright’s small-ball lineups. Next stop: NBA Summer League.
Hersz: Matt Hodgson
He’s been doing the work with a healthy offseason for the first time in years and has a clear path to minutes with Anthony Petrie gone. Time to put it all together.
Collins: Shaun Bruce
For purposes of this prediction, Bruce is my pick. But I’ll go a step further: he will be Brisbane’s most reliable, premier guard by season’s end.
Lyle: Angus Brandt
The improvement Brandt showed in ’15-16 could be accelerated by his move to the Wildcats, who’ll be a stronger defensive team than those he played on in his two years in Sydney. It’ll be fun to see what he does from the three-point line after going 8-of-19 last season.
Coach of the Year
Santamaria: Aaron Fearne
I’ve got Fearne narrowly over Rob Beveridge here. Illawarra and Cairns have been widely picked to finish 7th and 8th this season and I’ve got both of them in my top four. Two of the very best coaches in the land.
Hersz: Aaron Fearne
He has the experience, group leadership and determination to get this team back to title contention and they’re all buying in. The Taipans have been written off already, but I think they’ll surprise and Fearney will deserve a lot of the credit for that.
Collins: Aaron Fearne
Look up and down the league: there isn’t a lot separating teams three through eight. This should work well for Fearne, who has a knack for moulding a steady cast into a deadly one. The Fearne Bump is real.
Lyle: Paul Henare
The Breakers will be settled under Henare, but there’s also the chance the rookie NBL head coach will extract some previously unseen potency out of the team. A New Zealand playoff appearance this season would make him look Coach of the Year-worthy.
First import released
Santamaria: Michael Bryson
I wouldn’t be surprised if nobody is sent home early this season but, gun to my head, I’m going with Bryson. Dude underwhelmed at the preseason tourney and may struggle to find a productive role alongside Lisch, Jason Cadee and Brad Newley.
Hersz: Michael Bryson
Barring an injury to another import, Bryson will face a lot of pressure with all eyes on Sydney’s rejuvenated roster this year. With Lisch, Newley and Greg Whittington all ahead of him for shooting guard and wing minutes, Bryson may find it tough to make an impact. And if you’re not performing in Sydney, you could be gone faster than a Gaze to Copeland alley-oop!
Collins: Jameel McKay
Gather all the intel you’d like, this will still be a difficult call. I’m worried about Perth dealing with roster change this year. They’re probably still going to be bulldozers at home, but drop off by five percent in this league and you’re toast. I love Martin and co., but a rough first month could see someone like McKay on his way out.
Lyle: Eric Jacobsen
Early struggles for the Sixers would encourage a roster change, and Jacobsen is more likely to be released than Adelaide’s other two imports, Randle and Ferguson. He’s a rookie in a league with plenty of capable big men.
Terrance “2K” Ferguson
Player you’re most excited to watch
Santamaria: Terrance Ferguson
It takes something special to knock Chris Goulding off this mantle for me, and that’s exactly what 2K is. His presence makes every 36ers game must-watch TV.
Hersz: Casey Prather
Most will say Terrance Ferguson and for good reason, but it’s another high-flying import who is poised for a great season that I’ll be watching. Prather impressed last year, had a great showing at NBA Summer League and will take on a bigger role with Dolla Beal gone. It’s Casey time.
Collins: Terrance Ferguson
He’ll bring NBA scouts, mad rolls to the rim, a sweet one-two game with Randle… and yeah, the Locker Room’s feed is sure to break at some point.
Lyle: Rotnei Clarke
He was entertaining and influential as a rookie with the Hawks in 2013-14. He now has more experience and Ogilvy as a teammate.