The Sydney Kings will be looking to defend their throne in NBL23. (Photo: Sydney Kings - Twitter)

The Sydney Kings will be out to defend their throne this season, as last season’s NBL Champions look to go back-to-back.

Last season

Ladder position: Third (19 wins, nine losses)

Last season, the Kings started slow, winning just three of their opening nine matches. However, a surge from February to April saw Sydney win 13 matches in a row, as it climbed the ladder.

The Kings faced the Illawarra Hawks in their last game of the regular season in a battle for second spot, which they lost. This confined Chase Buford’s side to a third-place regular season finish.

In the NBL Finals, The Kings faced the Hawks in a best-of-three series. Sydney started with a 10-point win away in game one and wrapped up the series 2-0 with a 12-point victory in game two.

The Kings then progressed to play the Tasmania JackJumpers in the NBL Grand Final series, in what was the JackJumpers’ first season in the competition.

The NBL Most Valuable Player, Jaylen Adams, was the top scorer in both matches against Illawarra, as well as in the first match against Tasmania.

Adams’ scored 18 points and helped the Kings to a 95-78 victory over the JackJumpers in game one. The 26-year-old suffered an injury that ultimately ruled him out for the rest of the Grand Final series.

In game two, the Kings trailed in the first three quarters before Xavier Cooks helped lead them to a comeback victory in the fourth, as they won 90-86 and took a 2-0 series lead.

Game three saw the same trend happen, where the Kings trailed at the end of every quarter. They outscored the JackJumpers 31-19 in the fourth quarter to seal the comeback and take out a 97-88 victory, securing their first NBL Championship since 2005.

Biggest in

The biggest in for the Kings this season is the signing of point guard, Derrick Walton Jr.

Walton Jr will be instrumental for the Kings this upcoming season. Last season playing for Motor City Crusie in the NBA G-League, he averaged 13.8 points, 7.8 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per game.

The 27-year-old also started three matches for the Detroit Pistons in the NBA last season, where he averaged 6.3 points, seven assists, and 3.3 rebounds.

His running game is also crucial, as he likes to quickly get up and down the court, which the Kings prided themselves on last season.

Walton Jr has a winning attitude and a willingness to prove himself, which will make him an important part of this Sydney team this season.

Biggest out

The biggest out for the Kings is Jaylen Adams. The 2021/22 Andrew Gaze MVP was an integral part of turning the Kings into NBL Finals contenders throughout the regular season.

The point guard averaged 20.1 points per game last season with a field goal percentage of 43 per cent. He also averaged 6.1 assists per game, the next best King in that regard was Xavier Cooks with 2.6.

The 26-year-old’s influence was as an integral cog in the Kings’ machine last season and he will be missed this upcoming season.

More NBL Season Previews

NBL23 Season Preview: Tasmania JackJumpers

NBL23 Season Preview: Perth Wildcats

NBL23 Season Preview: Adelaide 36ers

Player to watch

The player to watch for the Kings this season will be shooting guard Dejan Vasiljevic.

The 25-year-old stepped up for the Kings, especially towards the end of last season and in the finals.

Furthermore, he linked up with the Phoenix Suns for the NBA Summer League and he will be looking to build on that form and confidence this upcoming season.

On top of this, he was also recognised in the NBL1 South’s All-Star Five this off-season, after averaging 26 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 4.6 assists in 11 matches for Diamond Valley.

Vasiljevic also represented Australia in the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, scoring 22 and 23 points against Bahrain and Iran, respectively.

He was rewarded for his efforts last season with a new three-year contract this off-season.

The sharpshooter will be looking to further improve his scoring this season, as well as improve his duties on the defensive end as he looks to grow on all levels.

Starting five

The Inner Sanctum’s predicted starting five for the Sydney Kings. (Design: Will Cuckson)

Full squad

Angus Glover, Biwali Bayles, Dejan Vasiljevic, Derrick Walton Jr (import), Iggy Mitchell (development player), Isaac Gattorna (development player), Jackson Makoi (development player), Jaylin Galloway, Jordan Hunter, Justin Simon (import), Kouat Noi, Shaun Bruce, Tim Soares (import), Xavier Cooks

Ins: Tim Soares (Ironi Ness Ziona, Israel), Derrick Walton Jr (Motor City Cruise, NBA G-League), Justin Simon (Riesen Ludwigsburg, Germany), Kouat Noi (Cairns Taipans), Jackson Makoi (KK Vrijednosnice Osijek, Croatia) (KK Vrijednosnice Osijek, Croatia), Isaac Gattorna (Adelaide 36ers)

Outs: Jaylen Adams (Crvena Zvezda, Serbia), Jarell Martin (Maccabi Tel Aviv, Israel), Ian Clark, Makur Maker (Washington Wizards, NBA), Wani Swaka Lo Buluk (Illawarra Hawks), Tom Vodanovich (New Zealand Breakers), Matur Maker

Fixture highlights

The biggest highlight of the season will be the Kings’ Christmas night clash with Melbourne United at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney.

It is the first time in Australian professional sport that a match will be played on Christmas Day.

United beat the Kings in both of their meetings last season, as they finished top of the NBL ladder.

The Kings’ rivalry with the Illawarra Hawks will be renewed again this season.

Despite the Hawks losing a few talented players in the off-season, they will be fired up to take it to their local rivals.

Illawarra will host Sydney in the first match of the season, which is sure to carry a lot of heat given the history of the fixture, particularly last season.

The Kings and Hawks faced off in the 2022 NBL semi-finals, as the Kings won the best-of-three series 2-0 to book their spot in the Grand Final against the Tasmania JackJumpers.

What to expect

The expectations for the Kings this season will be to go again and defend their throne.

They will also be hoping to challenge the likes of Melbourne United to finish on top of the table at the end of the regular season.

The Kings will continue to play with a similar playstyle under Buford – hard, quick, running up and down the court on offence and defence.

Furthermore, Sydney looks to have all bases covered this season, with key signings covering all the positions left vacant by players who have left.

However, with those important players leaving, those coming in will be expected to fill their shoes. Chase Buford and his coaching staff will hope to have them raring to go from the beginning.

The last word

The Sydney Kings will be hoping to finish toward the top of the ladder again this season, while they build on this Championship-winning side.

Expect them to finish near the top, battling it out with Melbourne United for that top spot again this season.

As for the finals, the core of the group has remained the same and will be able to bring previous finals experiences into this campaign.

If the squad can remain largely injury-free, with the returning and new players gelling, Sydney could make a push on all fronts this season.

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