Now that the footy hysteria has waned, we can sit back and ask: So, who exactly distinguished themselves over the NBL offseason?
Things change fast, in unpredictable ways, but now the league is entering a phase where each team is carrying genuine championship aspirations. Interpreting the roster moves, coaching hires and new import names while considering the impact on team chemistry is hard.
The sensible move is to fall back on the default answers of New Zealand and Perth. They’ve been the two model franchises that continually create an elegant plan to reshuffle and plunge right back into another championship push. Or you could back the Fearne Bump, take comfort in Adelaide’s firepower, Sydney’s top-end talent or really any ball club you damn well please.
But the story, here, is Melbourne United and the Cedric Jackson fit. They have the talent of a championship favourite, and fair or not, that creates expectations for a club that has teased with a championship identity over the last few seasons.
It’s fair to wonder whether all the shuffling made them any closer to the ultimate goal after last season’s flameout. Continuity leads to success, and bringing new pieces in can just mean a loss of corporate knowledge. They won 18 games and nailed the top seed last season. Nonetheless, Ced’s arrival gives Melbourne a chance to gallop ahead of the league.
With Jackson skipping over the pond, United has acquired an irreplaceable piece, a dynamic, fearless drive-and-dish general.
Last season, United didn’t have enough guys that could dribble and create when Chris Goulding was aggressively clamped down on. Ced’s aggression will help unplug the entirety of United’s offence and be that release valve for Goulding. He drives with a plan straight towards defenders awaiting him in the paint. He’s a helluva passer, always anticipating how the chess pieces are about to shift. It’s why he’s been so effective at both carrying a limited offence and driving one with a volume of gunners.
In theory, Jackson has never had a deadlier cast of shooters than he does this year at United, especially with David Andersen stretching the floor.
If there’s reason for caution, it’s that the former MVP’s arrival also coincides with a potentially interesting transition period in his career.
Jackson found his way to true NBL legendary status as a penetrator. He’s a unique commodity in the league, perhaps even the most lethal guard Australia has seen over the last decade. Lots of NBL guards can only do two of the three things that he does so well: pass and score in the paint, gear shift and defend. And yeah, Jackson is a cold-blooded shot-maker.
In New Zealand as clearly the league’s best player, he was an offensive fulcrum who drew help, created shots and bent defences away from teammates. We’ve seen what he can do with Corey Webster as his running mate. Goulding now lurking in the wings is frightening.
Sure, United would be wise to explore Andersen and Tai Wesley’s post-up games, and script sequences in which they can manipulate the game’s tempo and junk up defences. Another go-to option is nice. Even still, Melbourne will feel obliged to maximise the Jackson-Goulding flaming ball.
Jackson should be a nightmare in a spread pick-and-roll system, even if he can’t repeat his historical level of play. Pair him with a player like Devin Williams diving to the rim, surrounded by three shooters (Goulding, Andersen and Todd Blanchfield), and he will devastate opposing defences.
The Dean Demopoulos-Cedric Jackson partnership is of interest to all of us fascinated by the subject of styles. Demopoulos’ point guards are built in the point god factories, where low turnovers, steady passing and a liquid two-way presence are at a premium. On the other hand, Cedric will inject a little bit of anarchy, unnerve entire defences with zippy passing in traffic and slither to the rim for caffeinated finishes.
He’s led the league in turnovers in each of his four seasons in the NBL, but he’s also one of the league’s greatest winners and individual talents. Watch him live for late-game drama and orchestrate championship offences, and you’ll swiftly disregard the turnovers. There is some cheek to Jackson’s game that is just so magnetic. Let’s hope Demopoulos swallows hard and allows Jackson to live on the line between insanity and genius.
There’s another thing to keep an eye out for though.
Jackson dropped off slightly last season at one big thing: getting to the paint. That could put Melbourne in a tense spot if he isn’t constantly in attack mode. His jumper has improved and he’s regularly shooting threes. He made a bunch over the last two years, but Jackson buries his all-round expertise playing that way.
Simply, his jumpers don’t scare defences to the same extent, and the rest of the league will sleep easier if he settles. He just unlocks so much offence when he collapses the defence. Trade some jumpers for more blow-by plays, and Melbourne will have the deadliest starting five in the league. A nucleus of Jackson, Goulding, Blanchfield, Andersen and Williams is a ridiculous core.
Of course, hovering above all this is the question of whether he still possesses that deathly burst, that relentless pursuit for the paint.
Let me be clear: United’s answers don’t depend entirely on Jackson playing at his Kiwi levels. Far from it. It’s just that if he gets back to peak form, Melbourne has an all-timer running the show, while being surrounded by an Aussie-great big man and a Curry-lite shooter. He simply widens the margin for error in a championship race that offers very little cushion.
Despite potential injury concerns, United were right to bank on the former MVP. He just wins.
United were already a good ball club. Kiwi Jackson connects Melbourne to the championship box seat.