30/05/2024

Chris Goulding was superb in NBL24 (Photo: Melbourne United Media)

A five-minute lull was all the difference between Melbourne United winning the championship and falling short. The Melburnians almost tasted ultimate success after a stellar season.

Snapshot

Final ladder position: First (20 wins, eight losses)

Melbourne United was easily the best team throughout the regular season. Three wins clear on top, United sat atop of the standings from round two onwards, taking out the minor premiership.

Dominant from game one, the Victorian outfit boasted a 14-3 record leading into the Christmas break, before holding firm during their seven-game road trip.

Securing the one seed for the playoffs, Melbourne had to get past the Illawarra Hawks to reach its 12th Grand Final series.

For the first time since the 2002 Grand Final, both teams scored 100 points in consecutive playoff matches, making for a high-scoring series. Tied at a game apiece, United survived a huge scare in Game 3 to advance to the Grand Final series.

Needing to get past the Tasmania Jackjumpers, the ladder leaders shortened their championship odds with a Game 1 blowout. However, the JackJumpers’ never-say-die attitude saw United fall agonisingly short in Game 5.  

What worked

John Cain Arena was defended with great success during NBL24. Melbourne went 14-4 on its home court for the season, averaging 96.7 points per game.

In front of sell-out crowds almost every week, United turned its home venue into a fortress. With an average plus/minus differential of 8.2, Dean Vickerman’s men knew how to put teams away. 

Their biggest win at home came against the Brisbane Bullets in December where they won by 35 points. Chris Goulding had another virtuoso performance on that day, shooting 7/9 from beyond the arc. On the defensive end, United limited the Bullets to just 3/26 from deep. 

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What didn’t

In a season where not much went wrong for Melbourne United, they were abysmal from the free-throw line.

With a league-worst percentage of 68.9 from the stripe, their free-throw shooting proved costly in some matches. Of their eight losses during the regular season, United only performed better than their opponent in this stat twice.

A 21-point loss to the JackJumpers in round 16 saw the regular season champions struggle at the line. United went at 61 per cent for the game, missing 11 shots in a concerning display. 

Jo Lual-Acuil Jr, Ariel Hukporti, and Luke Travers all went at under 65 per cent this season. Meanwhile, Ian Clark was the only United player to shoot over 80 per cent.

Club’s MVP

While there were several contributors for Melbourne United in NBL24, Chris Goulding was on another level.

Narrowly missing out on the league MVP, Goulding led United to the top spot with his lethal shooting from three. Breaking records for fun this season, the 35-year-old hit 140 threes, 52 more than the league’s next best.

His ability to knock down highly contested shots made him a threat, attracting the best defenders each week.

CG43 scored 30 points on two occasions throughout the season, which included a 35-point game against the Sydney Kings in November. Goulding came up clutch in the come-from-behind win, scoring 13 points in the final quarter. His three-point shooting was on full display once again as the sharpshooter went 8/15 from long range. 

Looking ahead

Melbourne United already have a huge-sized hole going into NBL25 following their Grand Final berth.

Jo Lual-Acuil Jr will play overseas, while Ariel Hukporti looks all but certain to nominate for the NBA Draft, they could also be without Luke Travers if he leaps to the NBA.

Only using one of their import spots this season, Melbourne United could entertain the idea of selecting an international big to replace the pair.

They will be looking to retain current import, Ian Clark, who is their most notable free agent. Clark added some valuable experience in his first season at the club, creating another scoring threat from deep.

With the hope of contending for the championship once again, United will want to piece together another high-calibre squad for NBL25.

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