Xavier Crooks and Jordan Hunter pose in the new Sydney Kings jerseys. (Photo: Sydney Kings/Twitter)

The Sydney Kings come into the NBL22 season as a rejuvenated and fresh looking side, eager to avenge their narrow miss of the NBL21 finals.

The Sydney Kings come into the new NBL season as a rejuvenated and fresh looking side, eager to avenge their narrow finals miss in 2020-21.

The Kings started their off-season by hiring Chase Buford on a multi-year deal. Buford was previously the head coach of NBA G-League outfit Wisconsin Herd – the Milwaukee Bucks’ G-League affiliate.

They continued their upgrades by replacing key guard Casper Ware Jr. (Russia) with former first-round pick and college star R.J. Hunter.

Along with Hunter, the Kings picked up cousins Makur and Matur Maker, Biwali Bayles, and Jaylen Adams, amongst a long list of new signings.

The much needed retooling of players should put the Kings into a prime position to regain a finals spot and make a push at the NBL Finals.


Last season

Fifth (19 wins, 17 losses)

Last season was an agonising one for the Sydney Kings, narrowly missing out on a finals spot after being beaten out by South East Melbourne on percentage.

The Kings were a fairly consistent side last year and were led by star guard Casper Ware Jr., who led the team offensively with 17.7 points per game.

A relatively strong season was fizzled out by a horrid run of form that saw them lose five of their last seven to bow out of the finals race in the last round of the regular season.

Considering the circumstances of losing key players like Andrew Bogut, Kevin Lisch, Jae’Sean Tate and Didi Louzada, whilst also losing head coach Will Weaver, it wasn’t a bad result to finish in fifth.

The Kings are firmly set to leave the bitter ending of last season behind them as they go all in on their new look side.

Biggest in:

The biggest gain for the Kings comes from a couple of new players, and importantly new head coach Chase Buford.

Buford was at the helm of the Wisconsin Herd for two years before most recently finishing up a championship run on the staff of the Milwaukee Bucks.

He brings with him a wealth of knowledge and most importantly, championship ‘DNA’ at the highest level. 

Working alongside the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and experienced head coach Mike Budenholzer is sure to give the Kings a much needed advantage heading into the new season. 

Aside from the coach, R.J. Hunter is arguably the Kings’ most notable off-season acquisition.

Hunter came into the NBA in 2015 after being selected 28th overall by the Boston Celtics. After a standout college career, the top level stint wasn’t to last as he bounced around the G-:eague until 2019.

He has spent the last two seasons in Europe, most recently representing Galatasaray where he averaged 11.6 points per game.

Although Hunter’s points seem below average, he possesses an almighty three-point ability and can get hot at any given moment.

Hunter made this name for himself in college where he exploded in a game against UTSA in 2014,  with 12 made three-pointers in one game to go along with 41 points.

He has the ability to single-handedly change the momentum of the game if he’s firing, making him the Kings most important off-season acquisition.

Biggest out:

The biggest out for the Sydney Kings is undoubtedly their star guard Casper Ware Jr.

Ware was the driving force in the Kings offence for the last two seasons, before departing for BC Enisey in Russia this off-season.

The American native continued his dominant displays last season, posting 17.7 points along with 4.3 assists per game.

Ware has made the NBL his home since 2017. and his battles with fellow star Bryce Cotton highlighted the recent success of the competition.

The NBL and the Sydney Kings alike will miss one of their marquee attractions and will have to pick up the pieces and continue to build on the ever-growing league.

The Kings have done well to surround the team with more shooting to compliment incoming point guard Jaylen Adams, however Ware’s impact on the team will be missed.

Ware’s best years still seemed to be ahead of him, posting a career high 40 points last season dragging his side to a 89-84 victory over the Cairns Taipans.

The 31-year-old’s presence will be missed in those tight game scenarios where a clutch shot is needed to swing the momentum of a game, and the Kings will hope the likes of Adams and Hunter can fill this role.

However, replacing someone of Ware’s ability is never easy, and the new Kings signings have massive shoes to fill.

Player to watch:

With all the new additions to the Kings roster for NBL22, the player that could stand out amongst the rest is Jaylen Adams.

Adams spent most of last year alongside Buford in the G-League with Wisconsin, while also becoming a two-way player with the NBA champions Milwaukee.

The 25-year-old was another collegiate standout, averaging 19.1 points, 5.2 assists and 3.1 rebounds in his final year at St. Bonaventure University.

Adams brings a much needed two-way ability and will look to be the core of the Kings offence and defence.

Much like his predecessor, Casper Ware Jr, Adams controls the flow of the offence with ease, with the ability to get his own shot and facilitate for others.

With a much improved roster full of scorers, Adams could make a name for himself as one of the elite playmakers and scorers in the NBL from the get go.

Adams’ defensive versatility could prove to be the difference for the rejuvenated Kings as they look set for a massive season with the American running the show.

Starting five:

PG: Jaylen Adams

SG: R.J. Hunter

SF: Xavier Crooks

PF: Jarell Martin

C: Jordan Hunter 

Full squad:

Jaylen Adams, R.J. Hunter, Xavier Crooks, Jarell Martin, Jordan Hunter, Shaun Bruce, Biwali Bayles, Angus Glover, Wani Swaka Lo Buluk, Jaylin Galloway (development), Matur Maker, Makur Maker, Tom Vodanovich

Fixture highlights:

The Kings open their 2021-22 NBL season by hosting old foes Melbourne United on December 5. Brad Newley makes his awaited return to his old club in the process.

They then focus their attention on their closest rivals, hosting the Illawarra Hawks on the 11th before heading back down further south to do battle with Melbourne on the 16th.

Sydney then host new boys the JackJumpers and former King, Jarrad Weeks, in their first look at the NBL’s newest side.

A New Years Eve date with the Hawks in Wollongong promises to be a marquee fixture, before a 2020 NBL Finals rematch awaits them in Perth against the Wildcats on the January 30.

The Kings then return home to rematch the Wildcats on February 5, rounding out the NBL regular season in Cairns with a matchup against the Taipans.

What to expect:

No one will have higher expectations of the Kings then themselves. After going all in on this new look squad, Buford will have set the bar high and will accept nothing less than a top four finish.

Sydney should assert itself as one of the elite sides in the league, and will look to avenge a bitter end to last season.

With Adams running the point, the Kings should be in the top tier of offensive pace and rating. They would also expect to be near the top of points and three-pointers scored per game.

The Kings’ depth is something that seems to still be missing, especially in the centre position. With only Jordan Hunter and Makur Maker the only listed centres, the Kings may run into some problems if an injury or poor run of form was to hit the big men.

21-year-old Maker may have a tough time adjusting to the physicality and could take a while to get going. This would see Tom Vodanovich or Maker’s cousin Matur called up to the backup centre position.

This lack of depth is the largest source of concern and could cause the Kings a massive headache in what is expected to be a title contending year.

The last word:

The Sydney Kings on paper look like one of the stronger sides in the NBL, with the question that remains to be answered how all the new signings will gel.

If it all clicks, the Kings will comfortably finish second and may even push for top spot.

The Kings should have championship aspirations, and their off-season moves have made this statement. It could prove to be another historical year for one of Australia’s most famed basketball clubs.

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