After missing the finals entirely last season, South East Melbourne be looking to rectify their disappointing season in NBL23. (Image: @SEMelbPhoenix; Design: Will Cuckson)

The South East Melbourne Phoenix put themselves in a position to contest for the championship last season but fell short. After missing the finals entirely, they’ll be looking to rectify their disappointing season in NBL23.

Last season

Ladder position: Sixth (15 wins, 13 losses) 

Last season, South East Melbourne Phoenix fans were hoping to see their team go one step further after just missing out in NBL21, losing to Melbourne United in the semi-finals.

All was going to plan as the Phoenix started their season off with a bang, winning three of their first four games. However, South East Melbourne was then ravaged by COVID and wouldn’t play for 28 days, with several games having to be postponed.

At the middle point of the season, the Phoenix sat second on the ladder and in a prime position to secure a top-two finish. But due to injury to some key personnel and some mistakes in the late stages of games, South East Melbourne lost eight of its last 14 games and fell two games short of a playoff spot.

Biggest in

In the past, South East Melbourne has looked toward signing scoring-minded point guards, and particularly last season looking after the ball in the dying minutes of games was a problem. So this season the Phoenix signed point guard Gary Browne, a true floor general.

The Puerto Rican native is a very experienced individual, having played all around the globe, including Israel, Turkey, and Italy.

Browne will be trouble for opposing teams on both ends of the floor. The 29-year-old most recently played for the Quebradillas Pirates and averaged 16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, seven assists, and one steal per game.

On many occasions last year, South East Melbourne relinquished several leads late in games. Browne is known for his basketball IQ and decision-making, and the Phoenix will be hoping that the 6’1 guard will help close out matches.

Phoenix fans will have to wait to see their new point guard after Browne came off in the team’s last game at the NBL Blitz and the team announced he will miss Round 1.

Biggest out

Although Zhou Qi didn’t quite reach the expectations that many had when it was announced he’d be joining the South East Melbourne Phoenix, to some extent this wasn’t his fault. The 26-year-old still had a serviceable year despite the challenges he faced.

The 7’1 centre 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 eventually cooled down as teams figured out how to reduce his impact, dragging him out of the paint.

He struggled to adjust to the officiating at the start of the season but still managed to put up respectable numbers. In 24 games, he averaged 11.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and two blocks per game.

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Player to watch

With the departure of Zhou Qi, the Phoenix again searched for an import power forward/centre. That search ended when they signed Alan Williams.

Although Williams is listed at 6’8/203cm, the former Phoenix Suns and Brooklyn Nets big man is known for his touch around the ring and as a tenacious rebounder, grabbing rebounds for fun.

Not only has the 29-year-old played in the NBA, but he has also played all around the globe in China and Russia.

Williams won’t be unfamiliar to all of his teammates, having played with Mitch Creek at the Long Island Nets during his time with the Nets and against Gary Browne – when Browne played for the Italian team Petkim Spor.

The man known as ‘Big Sauce’ is coming off a season in Russia playing for PBC Lokomotiv Kuban. In six games, Williams averaged 10.3 points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes per game. Before that, he averaged 22.1 points, 13.1 rebounds, 1.4  steals, and 1.6 blocks.

Williams has shown he will be a high-energy character for the Phoenix, showing his prowess during the Blitz.

As is the case for new import big men in their first season in the NBL, it will take time for Williams to adjust to the officiating. The power forward/centre found his time difficult during the Blitz, fouling out twice.

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Starting five

The Inner Sanctum’s predicted Round 1 starting five for the South East Melbourne Phoenix. (Design: Will Cuckson)
Browne to start at PG, Kell to start at SG, and Broekhoff to start at SF once they return from injury. Adnam, Madut, and Te Rangi to move to the bench.

Full squad

Alan Williams (import), Anzac Rissetto, Dane Pineau, Gary Browne (import), Grant Anticevich, Junior Madut, Kyle Adnam (captain), Mitch Creek (captain), Owen Foxwell (development player), Reuben Te Rangi, Ryan Broekhoff (captain), Trey Kell (import)

Ins: Alan Williams (Lokomotiv Kuban, VTB United League), Anzac Rissetto (Franklin Bulls, NZNBL), Gary Browne (Piratas de Quebradillas, Baloncesto Superior Nacional), Grant Anticevich (California Golden Bears, College), Junior Madut (Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, College), Trey Kell (Olimpia Milano, LBA and EuroLeague)

Outs: Adam Gibson (retired), Cam Gliddon (New Zealand Breakers), Izayah Le’afa (New Zealand Breakers), Lachlan Barker (Melbourne United), Tristan Forsyth (Tasmania JackJumpers), Xavier Munford (Hapoel Tel Aviv)

Fixture highlights

After missing the finals in NBL22, Simon Mitchell’s men don’t have to wait long to test themselves against the best.

The Phoenix host last year’s grand finalists, the JackJumpers, in the season opener on October 1, before travelling to Wollongong to face the second-placed Hawks on October 6.

And who would want to miss the first Throwdown of NBL23, especially since we know we can expect a fiery encounter, no matter where each team sits on the ladder.

The Phoenix and United will engage in battle with three clashes in the space of a month, with games in rounds six, seven, and nine.

There won’t be an empty seat when it’s South East Melbourne’s turn to host festivities on November 19 and December 3 at John Cain Arena. The Phoenix will be hoping the season series is much closer this season, after going 1-3 against United last year.

South East Melbourne fans will be filling out its spiritual homeland, the State Basketball Centre, for its last three home games in January.

The Phoenix’s game against the Bullets on January 16 will be the first game at the venue since 2021, and fans will pack the stands in the Heartland.

South East Melbourne will also be returning to Gippsland after the success of its home game against Cairns last season. The Phoenix will host the Kings at Gippsland Regional Indoor Sports Stadium on Sunday, December 18 in Round 11.

Phoenix fans will be hoping to get an early Christmas gift as they travel to Adelaide to play the 36ers on Christmas Eve.

What to expect

South East Melbourne was at its best last season when it was able to get out in transition and score easy baskets rather than settling for outside shots.

The Phoenix love to shoot the three, especially with the quality of shooters it has on the roster such as Ryan Broekhoff.

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

Getting the ball through hands more and moving the opposing defence should be Simon Mitchell’s priority in this upcoming season.

An area Mitchell also would to see continued improvement in is the side’s defensive numbers. Although the Phoenix’s points against average have gone down every year, they are among the worst defensive teams in the league.

If the Phoenix want to be among the teams in title contention, their defensive and shooting woes will need to improve.

The last word

South East Melbourne showed in the first half of last season that it can be a championship side, but to take the next step it must keep its winning ways rolling across the course of an entire season.

With new additions added to the roster and Mitch Creek still in the prime of his career, South East Melbourne will be looking to make its maiden Grand Final appearance in NBL23. It will be tough, however, with the teams around them also improving their rosters.

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