05/03/2024

Chris Goulding has Melbourne United humming. (Image: @MelbUnited)

The FIBA break came at a good time for teams to refresh and work on their deficiencies as they reload for the second half of the season.

These Power Rankings are based on current form and short-term expectations. They aren’t a prediction of where teams will finish the season on the ladder, but rather an expectation on how they will perform in their upcoming games with consideration given to injuries and form.

Here are The Inner Sanctum’s NBL Power Rankings ahead of Round 9 of the 2023/24 season.

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1. Melbourne United

Record: 10-2, Previous Ranking: 1st

Melbourne United proved again why they’re the benchmark this season after a spectacular comeback win against the Sydney Kings.

After a poor first half by their standards, United clawed themselves back from a 19-point deficit off the back of another amazing performance from Chris Goulding (35 points, 8/15 from three).

The 35-year-old is having a great season and recent performances have seen him rise to MVP candidacy. Goulding is averaging 18.7 points per game in NBL24 – his highest scoring output since the 2013/14 season.

The FIBA break came at a good time for Melbourne, giving Ian Clark and Matthew Dellavedova more time to recover from injury.

Delly looks set to return against the Taipans while Clark must prove his fitness ahead of Sunday’s clash which means we’ll hopefully see United at full strength for the second time all season.

Games this week: Vs Cairns

2. Sydney Kings

Record: 7-4, Previous Ranking: 2nd

Sydney put on a show in the first half against Melbourne but couldn’t finish off its good work in the second half.

The momentum shifted United’s way in the second half, and the Kings couldn’t get going offensively like they did in the first half. Coach Mahmoud Abdelfattah also rolled out some weird rotations and refused to call a timeout (a trend he’s done throughout the season so far) when United were on a roll.

Denzel Valentine played his best game for the season and is beginning to look more comfortable playing in the league. The former Chicago Bull finished with 19 points, six rebounds, and seven assists, including a smooth pass to Makuach Maluach.

Despite the loss to the ladder leaders, Sydney’s is still one of the top-tier teams in the league and will have its focus on a resurgent Perth this week.

Games this week: At Perth

3. Tasmania JackJumpers

Record: 7-5, Previous Ranking: 3rd

The JackJumpers’ defence again was the talk of the round as their defensive struggles continued.

Tasmania conceded 97 points against New Zealand, the fifth time this season it has conceded 90 points or more and Scott Roth said post-game that he wants them to rediscover their defensive identity.

Despite the loss against the Breakers, Will Magnay’s performance on both ends was a positive. The 25-year-old finished with 20 points, 13 rebounds, and four blocks in 16 minutes before finishing the game against the Taipans as a +20 (team-best) in his 22 minutes.

As Magnay continues to get back into the groove of things after his layoff with injury, he could be the catalyst for Tasmania’s improvement defensively.

Games this week: Vs Adelaide

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4. Perth Wildcats

Record: 7-5, Previous Ranking: 7th

Perth’s resurgence continued as it won its fifth game in a row, defeating Cairns and Brisbane.

The rejuvenated Wildcats have managed to turn it around offensively and defensively. During its five-game win streak, Perth has the third-best offensive rating (114.3 points per 100 possessions) and the best defensive rating (102.7 points per 100 possessions).

Kristian Doolittle’s efforts during that span have played a big part in Perth’s change in fortune. Coach John Rillie’s change of rotation has seen Doolittle slide to the small forward position and has been used to great effect.

Across Perth’s winning streak, Doolittle’s averaged just under 13ppg, 6.6 rebounds, three assists, and a steal.

The Wildcats’ first game after the break is against the Sydney Kings, who would be stewing over the clash against Melbourne United that they let slip away. Friday night’s encounter will be a good test for Perth to see how it fairs against one of the highly fancied teams in the league.

Games this week: Vs Sydney

5. South East Melbourne Phoenix

Record: 6-6, Previous Ranking: 4th

The Phoenix had another calamitous fade-out, falling to the 36ers despite holding an 18-point lead at halftime.

It feels like a bit of deja vu with South East Melbourne as it finds itself in another midtable battle and has been unable to prove itself to be a genuine title contender this season despite the talent on the roster.

The Phoenix’s struggles on the defensive end have held them back again this season.

South East Melbourne has the league’s third-worst defence, conceding 113 points per 100 possessions, it needs to improve this area considerably to get where it aspires.

Games this week: Vs New Zealand

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6. Brisbane Bullets

Record: 5-7, Previous Ranking: 5th

For the third week, Brisbane’s fourth-quarter fade-out issues were again one of the main talking points of the round.

The Bullets had a six-point lead with three minutes to play but let that slip. Sometimes teams have to learn to win, and the Bullets are learning this lesson the hard way.

Chris Smith played his best game for the season, finishing with 23 points. Justin Schueller would love to see his import sharpshooter impact more often offensively to help ease the pressure on Nathan Sobey.

Shannon Scott is set to return this week for Brisbane’s double this round so should help set up his teammates and settle the Bullets’ offence in crunch time.

Games this week: At Cairns, Vs Illawarra

7. Cairns Taipans

Record: 4-6, Previous Ranking: 6th

The Taipans were at full strength for the first time this season against the Wildcats before being without Bobi Klintman against the JackJumpers.

Cairns are the second-best defensively rated team in the league but allowed 88 and 90 points across its two games. The Snakes also didn’t help themselves on the other end, averaging 83.5 points across the round.

One thing to monitor this week is what Adam Forde does with the trio of Patrick Miller, Tahjere McCall, and Taran Armstrong. Forde started all three guards alongside each other last round and in the small sample size, it didn’t look great due to the limited spacing on the floor.

Games this week: Vs Brisbane, At Melbourne

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8. Adelaide 36ers

Record: 4-7, Previous Ranking: 9th

It was a classic tale of two halves for Adelaide.

It was a first half to forget after the 36ers allowed the Phoenix to score 53 points before putting up 61 of their own to comeback and snatch victory.

Adelaide’s turnaround was off the back of DJ Vasiljevic, who scored 20 points in the second half, including three threes and Next Star Trentyn Flowers (13 points, nine rebounds), who continues to be an x-factor off the bench.

Adelaide is among many teams fighting for a potential play-in spot, sitting one win away from Brisbane who currently sit in sixth.

Games this week: At New Zealand, At Tasmania

9. New Zealand Breakers

Record: 3-7, Previous Ranking: 8th

The Breakers opened their two-game round with a terrific win against the JackJumpers before undoing all their good work by dropping a game to the Hawks at home.

To make matters worse, already hit with the injury bug, New Zealand will be without Will McDowell-White for six weeks after he sustained a fractured fibula against Tasmania.

Things are starting to look bleak for last year’s grand finalists who will rely heavily on Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Anthony Lamb to try and keep afloat until the calvary arrives.

Games this week: Vs Adelaide, At South East Melbourne

10. Illawarra Hawks

Record: 3-7, Previous Ranking: 10th

It wasn’t the Hawks’ best performance, but they started interim head coach Justin Tatum’s tenure with a win.

Despite the victory, Illawarra’s issues with lapses in intensity and up-and-down performances from their import trio (Tyler Harvey, Gary Clark, and Justin Robinson) still reared their head against New Zealand.

The mid-season break hopefully gave the Hawks’ roster time to practice and understand what Justin Tatum expects from them on both sides of the floor.

Games this week: At Brisbane

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