After tasting championship success in the 2020-21 NBL season, Melbourne will be United to return to the top again.
It was a memorable season for the club – winning its second championship under the United name, and sixth overall in the NBL.
But that championship team has since lost several key pillars, with Grand Final MVP Jock Landale moving on to the NBA. Scotty Hopson and Yudai Baba have both also returned to the US, playing in the NBA G League for Oklahoma City Blue and the Texas Legends respectively.
Mitch McCarron, co-captain of the championship team, has moved to rivals the Adelaide 36ers, and Sam McDaniel has headed to the Tasmanian JackJumpers, leaving United with big shoes to fill.
One signing will go a long way towards that. Past NBA champion Matthew Dellavedova has returned home to line up for United, and potentially lead them to another title.
But with such a large turnover, will it be able to do it all again? The Inner Sanctum previews Melbourne United’s NBL22 campaign.
Led by co-captains McCarron and Chris Goulding, Hopson, and eventual finals MVP Landale, Melbourne United defeated reigning champions the Wildcats in the grand final series, after finishing three games ahead of Perth on the ladder.
United started the season with six straight wins, and apart from a three-game stretch in March, it was never off the top for more than a week.
From March to May they recorded 11 straight wins, in one of the hottest form runs of the year.
Not even wide-ranging injuries could stop the play-off push, with Dillion Stith, C. J. Asuncion-Byrd and David Andersen all having successful cameos as injury replacement players.
Andersen would finish his 23 season career as a championship player, after joining United with a month to go in the season.
In a hometown return for the NBA champion, Matthew Dellavedova has signed a three-year deal to join Melbourne United.
Dellavedova played nine seasons in the NBA for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks and took part in Cleveland’s championship-winning season of 2015-16.
Known for his competitiveness and toughness on defence, alongside his strong three-point shot, passing ability, and floater, Dellavedova is one of the biggest coups in recent memory for United and the NBL as a whole.
Having played in Australia’s bronze medal-winning tournament at the Tokyo Olympics, Dellavedova will be hoping to continue starring on the court and help United in its title defence.
As one player returns home from the NBA, another is over in the US getting their NBA career underway.
Finals MVP Jock Landale signed with the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA shortly after leading Melbourne to its second title under the United name and left as reigning club MVP.
Averaging 16.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 blocks per game, Landale is a big loss for United in centre. His departure leaves big shoes to fill by new signings Ariel Hukporti and Callum Dalton, as well as existing centre Jo Lual-Acuil Jr.
Player to watch:
United, or perhaps the NBA’s future young gun may be here, with the seven-foot-tall Ariel Hukporti joining Melbourne United as its Next Star.
The German-Togolese import has previously spent two years at German club Riesen Ludwigsburg followed by a year in Lithuania at Nevėžis Kėdainiai, where he averaged 10.4 points and 7.4 rebounds a game during the season.
Perhaps his biggest claim to fame to date is his MVP victory at the NBA All-Star Weekend’s Basketball Without Borders in 2020, where he beat out Josh Giddey, Kai Sotto and Tamuri Wigness among others for the honour.
Having chosen to join the NBL to prepare to nominate for the 2022 NBA Draft, fans will be hoping his stay, however long it is, is a good one.
PG: Matthew Dellavedova
SG: Chris Goulding
SF: David Barlow
PF: Mason Peatling
C: Jo-Lual Acuil
More NBL Season Previews
Guards: Chris Goulding, Matthew Dellavedova, Caleb Agada, Shea Ili, Dion Prewster.
Forwards: David Barlow, Mason Peatling, Jack White, Brad Newley.
Centres: Ariel Hukporti, Jo Lual-Acuil Jr, Callum Dalton.
Development Players: Zac Triplett, David Okwera, Will Hickey.
Perth Wildcats (Round 12, February 18)
With Melbourne United not scheduled to play the Wildcats until Round 12 in February, there will likely be more on the line than just revenge in the grand final rematch.
United and the Wildcats have had a strong rivalry in recent years, with the pair sharing the last six titles (four Perth, two Melbourne) and having defeated each other for a title in that time.
Expect plenty of fireworks and more than just pride on the line in this one.
South East Melbourne Phoenix (Round 2, 12 December)
This Throwdown will be the biggest one yet, with South East Melbourne Phoenix getting an early opportunity to attempt to score bragging rights over their nearest neighbour.
It will be the first time the pair face off since United ended the Phoenix’s first playoff push last season, winning the semi-final playoff series two games to one.
With Phoenix looking to grow even further in their third season, United will want to bank this early win, both to claim the derby win and to set themselves up for the season to follow.
Adelaide 36ers (Round 9, January 30)
The 36ers may have missed out on the playoffs last season, but with one of the strongest teams on paper going into the new season, they have the potential to be a new challenger to Melbourne United’s crown.
The off-season move of Mitch McCarron to join the 36ers in Adelaide adds extra spice to this matchup.
McCarron, the new captain of the 36ers, will be expected to line up against his old side at his new home in the Adelaide Entertainment Centre.
The season will be well underway at this point, and this is a match that could have plenty on the line for both sides.
What to expect:
It will be interesting to see how Melbourne United matches up with the rest of the competition, being the hunted in 2021-22.
United will be pushing to hold onto their crown, but whether they will be able to do so remains to be seen.
They have one of the biggest NBL recruits in recent memory in Matthew Dellavedova and several depth players who saw plenty of minutes during the championship year that are still on the list and are now available to start for the side.
Last year’s Best Sixth Man Jo-Lual Acail Jr, and Mason Peatling, now a full member of the roster after a season as a development player, are some of these depth players, ready to take on starting positions in the lineup.
However, with United having a bad run with injury last season, their depth may be tested once again should the injury bug strike once more.
If the existing and new depth is not able to fill the holes left behind, their title defence may grind to a halt.
The last word:
Melbourne United have the talent and the depth on paper to go again in 2021-22. Whether that is still the case if that depth is tested as it was the season before will be determined as the season goes on.
With the rest of the competition coming for their crown, United will be determined to see off all challengers on their way back to the final.
With the competition getting tighter, and more contenders emerging, all eyes will be on United, and if they can back it up in 2021-22.
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