The South East Melbourne Phoenix will want put NBL22 in the past after a disappointing season, as they missed the finals. (@SEMelbPhoenix - Twitter; Design: Will Cuckson)

After making its maiden Finals appearance, the South East Melbourne Phoenix looked to go one step further in NBL22. However, a mid-season slump resulted in the Phoenix missing the finals altogether.

After making their maiden Finals appearance last year, the South East Melbourne Phoenix looked to go one step further in NBL22. However, a mid-season slump resulted in the Phoenix missing the finals altogether.


Final ladder position: 6th (15 wins, 13 losses)

After making their maiden Finals appearance last year, the Phoenix reloaded in NBL22 to go one step further and make their first-ever Grand Final series.

South East Melbourne was able to bring back most of its local core in the off-season, re-signing Kyle Adnam, Izayah Le’Afa, Ryan Broekhoff, and Mitch Creek accepted his player option.

Both Keifer Sykes and Yanni Wetzell left the Phoenix, signing with the Indiana Pacers and New Zealand Breakers respectively. To fill those holes, South East Melbourne looked to replace the pair with imports, signing American combo guard Xavier Munford and Chinese superstar Zhou Qi.

South East Melbourne started the season on fire, winning three of its first four games. with Qi showing how damaging he could be on both ends of the floor, while Munford demonstrated he could fill the role left by Sykes.

The Phoenix was then ravaged by COVID with several of their games having to be postponed. After a 28-day hiatus due to COVID interruptions, South East Melbourne was able to play its next game, however, you could see the break left them rusty as it was blown out by Brisbane.

The Phoenix was able to get their season back on track winning six of their next nine games, leaving them at the halfway point of the season with a record of nine wins and five losses, sitting second on the ladder in a prime position to secure a top-two finish.

South East Melbourne won its next two games but after that its season flipped on its head. The Phoenix went on a four-game losing streak, losing to the Hawks twice, the Kings and United.

The downfall of South East Melbourne coincided with the injury of Ryan Broekhoff, the sharpshooter went down with a shoulder injury against Melbourne United which ended up being season-ending.

Broekhoff’s absence threw off what the Phoenix wanted to do on both ends of the floor. Despite all the adversity the Phoenix was facing, they were still in the finals race, sitting fifth.

With a favourable seven games in the last month of the season, a spot in the finals was in the Phoenix’s hands. However, losses to Adelaide, Cairns, and Melbourne meant South East Melbourne’s finals hopes were out of its hands and were reliant on other results.

It was a disappointing second half of the season for the Phoenix, as they only won six out of their last 14 games and fell short of a spot in the top four.

Despite the disappointing season, South East Melbourne ended its season on a small high, ending Perth’s 35-year playoff streak.

What worked

South East Melbourne had no problems scoring again this year, finishing in the top three highest-scoring teams, averaging 87.7 points per game. The Phoenix never relied on one person to score with Mitch Creek (20.4 points per game), Xavier Munford (16.6 points per game), Zhou Qi (11.6 points per game), and Ryan Broekhoff (11.1 points per game) averaging double-digit points this season.

Last year, South East Melbourne ranked second last for blocks and total rebounds, so in the off-season, it recruited Zhou Qi to give it some genuine size in the frontcourt to grab rebounds and protect the rim.

In his first season playing in the NBL, the 26-year-old was a dominant force for the Phoenix defensively early in the season. In the first month of NBL22, Qi was averaging nearly eight rebounds and an eye-catching four blocks per game.

Qi would eventually cool down as teams figured out how to reduce the 7’1 centre’s impact, dragging him out of the paint. He ended the season averaging 6.8 rebounds and two blocks per game.

His recruitment definitely helped South East Melbourne’s rebounding and blocking numbers, as it ranked fifth and fourth respectively for total rebounds and blocks this season.

What didn’t

It seems to be the same thing holding South East Melbourne back, its defence. In NBL22, the Phoenix was again one of the worst defensive teams in the league, conceding 86.6 points per game.

Other than their defensive woes, many of the Phoenix’s losses were caused by poor shooting, particularly from the three-point line.

Although South East Melbourne attempted the second least amount of threes per game (25.2), it ranked seventh for three-point percentage, shooting 32.2 per cent which was just below league average (32.4 per cent).

Coming into the season, the Phoenix wouldn’t have imagined that their shooters would have shot as poorly as they did. Highly regarded three-point shooter Ryan Broekhoff shot an unexpected 25.8 per cent from beyond the arc this season in the 18 games he played.

South East Melbourne also had trouble competing against the other top contending teams in the league (e.g. Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, Illawarra, and Tasmania). Its record against the other top teams was six wins and 10 losses.

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Club’s MVP

Mitch Creek was unarguably South East Melbourne’s best player this season, and to cap off his brilliant season, he was deservedly named All-NBL second team.

When the Phoenix were up and firing early in the season, hovering around the top two on the ladder, Creek was playing like an MVP candidate.

The 30-year-old played in all 28 games this season, and finished NBL22 as the second-highest scorer, averaging a career-high 20.4 points per game on 46.9 per cent shooting. Creek also averaged 5.7 rebounds and three assists per game.

Despite South East Melbourne’s disappointing year, Mitch Creek did everything in his power to get them over the line. (Picture: @SEMelbPhoenix – Twitter)

Creek is the heart and soul of South East Melbourne and often tried to get his teammates going, sacrificing his own game. He averaged the most minutes for the Phoenix, playing 34.6 minutes per game, highlighting his importance to the side.

The forward scored 20 or more points on 14 occasions throughout NBL22, including a career-high 36 points in Round 2 against the New Zealand Breakers.

Creek ended up winning the Phoenix’s club MVP ahead of Xavier Munford and Zhou Qi who also had spectacular seasons. If Ryan Broekhoff didn’t get injured, he could have potentially been considered behind Creek.

Looking ahead

South East Melbourne will be looking to put season 2021/22 in the past and put all of its focus on making the finals in NBL23, especially having already re-signed most of its core during last year’s off-season.

With Mitch Creek coming out of contract, there were fears that he may leave for another team or an opportunity overseas. But the Phoenix’s marquee man allayed fears, signing a new three-year deal to stay in the Heartland.

South East Melbourne also re-signed head coach Simon Mitchell on a one year deal, it will also welcome back guard Izayah Le’Afa, who accepted his player option. The Phoenix will need to look for a new assistant coach after Luke Kendall departed the team.

Additions to the roster will be key, specifically targeting stronger defensive players, especially on the perimeter to strengthen that area of the Phoenix’s game.

With Mitch Creek still in the prime of his career and a great supporting cast, South East Melbourne will be looking to make a maiden Grand Final appearance in NBL23.

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