15/04/2024

Melbourne United will look to chase championship glory in 2023 after a shakeup to their playing list during the offseason. (Image: @MelbUnited - Twitter; Design: Will Cuckson)

After being knocked out from the finals against newcomers – the Tasmania JackJumpers last season, Melbourne United will be looking to move forward from their disappointing exit in NBL23.

Last season

Ladder position: First (20 wins, eight losses)

Fresh off the back of their championship title, Melbourne United went into the 2021/22 season with a promising campaign. Frequent wins on the board helped the side climb to the top of the ladder at the end of the regular season.

United’s dominance on the court was helped by Jo Lual-Acuil, who was the highest scorer across the majority of games. The centre led the charge for his side averaging 16.6 points per game.

However, it was a bitter end to their season, which many would have predicted to be capped off with a second consecutive championship.

The then reigning champions could not mirror their performance seen in the regular season, as the JackJumpers handed them a stunning defeat in the semi-finals.

With a new season right around the corner, Melbourne United will be aiming for vengeance as they put their sorrows of last season behind them.

Biggest in

Questions still remain over how the new-look roster will go in the upcoming season. It’s also unclear what impact the departures of key players will have on the team.

However, United wasted no time in looking to fill the void left in their roster following the exodus of key players.

Isaac Humphries will be in a Melbourne United uniform for the first time after he put pen to paper to join the club in the off-season.

He looked to be a force to be reckoned with last season, averaging 7.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game before an injury cut him short.

Humphries brings with him a wealth of experience from previous stints with the Sydney Kings and most recently, the Adelaide 36ers. The former NBL Rookie of the Year has also played in both the NBA and the G-League.

Much like Humphries, Canadian Xavier Rathan-Mayes also looks to be a great pick-up for United.

The 28-year-old has a wide range of basketball experience under his belt, playing in the NBA, the G-League, and Europe.

Season 2022/23 won’t be Rathan-Mayes’ first season in the NBL, having played for the Illawarra Hawks previously.

He caused a stir last season with the Hawks, with his performance seeing him place second in the league’s Best Sixth Man voting (just behind Shea Ili).

During his time with Illawarra, he averaged 10.2 points per game during the 2021/22 season.

Biggest out

The departure of Jo Lual-Acuil will certainly hurt United in the upcoming season, given that he contributed significantly to the team last season.

Lual-Acuil played a big part in United’s offence. In particular, a standout moment for the centre was in United’s seven-point win against the Phoenix, where he dropped a career-high 30 points.

Over time his development during the season saw him named to the NBL First Team for the first time, and claim the club’s MVP award for his impressive season.

Whilst the team may have bases covered through securing Isaac Humphries, the 28-year-old’s influence will be missed.

More NBL Season Previews

NBL23 Season Preview: Illawarra Hawks

NBL23 Season Preview: Sydney Kings

NBL23 Season Preview: Tasmania JackJumpers

Player to watch

Glancing at all the new additions over at Melbourne United, one name that could be one to watch is Makuach Maluach.

Maluach spent four years playing in the collegial system for New Mexico University. Limited court time saw him average 10.8 points per game across his four-year stint.

However, his move to professional basketball fresh out of college saw him start to make his mark. In his first and only year in Finland, Maluach averaged 13.6 points and five rebounds per game during the season.

Prior to signing with Melbourne United, he also played for the Darwin Salties in the NBL1 North. Maluach averaged 24.8 points per game and was named in the Men’s All-Star Five.

With his on-court performances already gaining intrigue, he signs to the team already having achieved some impressive feats.

As he gains more time on the court and exposure playing among the other strong scorers, there’s a big chance for Maluach to be a threat on the court for his opponents.

Starting Five

The Inner Sanctum’s predicted starting five for Melbourne United. (Design: Will Cuckson)

Full Squad

Ariel Hukporti (next star), Brad Newley, Callum Dalton (development player), Chris Goulding, David Barlow, David Okwera, Isaac Humphries, Jordan Caroline (import), Joshua Duach (development player), Lachlan Barker (injury replacement player), Makuach Maluach, Malith Machar (development player), Mason Peatling, Rayjon Tucker, Shea Ili, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Zac Triplett (development player)

In: Isaac Humphries (Adelaide 36ers), Jordan Caroline (Aquila Basket Trento, Italy), Joshua Duach (University of Iona), Lachlan Barker (South East Melbourne Phoenix), Makuach Maluach (Kouvot, Finland/Darwin Salties, NBL1), Malith Machar(Forestville, NBL1 Central), Rayjon Tucker (Wisconsin Herd, NBA G League), Xavier Rathan-Mayes (Illawarra Hawks)

Outs: Caleb Agada (Prometey, Ukraine), Dion Prewster, Jack White (Denver Nuggets, NBA), Jo Lual Acuil, William Hickey (Illawarra Hawks), Yudai Baba

Fixture highlights

Melbourne United will open their campaign at home when they take on the New Zealand Breakers at John Cain Arena. Not long after, they face rivals Sydney Kings in Round 2 which will also be played at home.

Round three will see a thriller hosted where United will be aiming for redemption as they take on the JackJumpers.

Meanwhile, the cross-town rivalry continues in round six and round nine when Melbourne clashes with South East Melbourne.

A historic first will take place, with the league announcing that an inaugural Christmas Day match will take place at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney. United will once again take on the Sydney Kings, which will no doubt be a treat for fans.

Melbourne United will also headline the action on New Year’s Day over at Nissan Arena where they will battle it out against the Brisbane Bullets.

They will round out their 2023 season with a final game against the Adelaide 36ers. A clash that could potentially have playoff implications depending on how each team has performed to this point in the season.

What to expect

There is no doubt that Melbourne United will head into the new season with strong expectations. After falling short of a spot in the grand final last season, the side will be looking to put their roster stacked with strong talent to good use.

The team will need to adjust to the departures suffered in the off-season, and build cohesion if they are to add another championship to their collection.

Perhaps a cause for concern is their roster is equipped with only one healthy centre in Isaac Humphries with Ariel Hukporti going down with an Achilles injury during the NBL Blitz.

The last word

Whilst Melbourne United have made bold moves in securing big names, it’s uncertain at this stage whether there’s enough time for the playing group to build cohesion as quite a few players are new to the side.

The current roster in place also highlights a stronger presence of youth in comparison to recent years.

Though it would be unfair to write off United just yet considering that the list is made up of those with NBA and international experience.

On paper, the talent is there, but the roster isn’t as strong as it has been in previous years.

Melbourne United will be hoping for a strong season, despite the shakeup to their roster.

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