21/04/2024

Bryce Cotton is one of the many stars to look out for in NBL24. (Image: @PerthWildcats/Twitter)

A brand new NBL season is on the horizon as 10 teams battle to become the ultimate winner.

Some teams, such as the Brisbane Bullets, Adelaide 36ers, and the Illawarra Hawks are looking for redemption after enduring disappointing NBL23 campaigns.

Can the Sydney Kings make it a three-peat?

Can South East Melbourne Phoenix take the next leap under new coach Mike Kelly?

Will Grand Final heartbreak spur the New Zealand Breakers to go one better?

And what about everyone’s second favourite team: the Tasmania JackJumpers, who are tough under coach Scott Roth.

This season looms as one of the most compelling in recent memory. To fully understand each team’s prospects, it’s time to dissect each team’s superstar and how important they are.

Perth Wildcats

Bryce Cotton

He is the ultimate ball wizard, shaking his opponent with nasty crossovers, pulling up from all parts of the floor, driving to the rim in a blur, and going up and under amongst the trees in the paint.

Bryce Cotton has become one of the Perth Wildcats’ all-time greats, joining the likes of Ricky Grace, Shawn Redhage, Tony Roaldson, Andrew Vlahov, Mike Ellis, and Scott Fisher.

When Cotton joined the team in January 2017, he instantly turned the team around from the mire into champions, capped off with a 45-point game three Grand Final performance against the Illawarra Hawks.

In his seven seasons with the Wildcats, the dynamic guard has averaged 20 or more, barring his second season. Cotton enjoyed a career-best campaign in NBL23, averaging 23.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists, and 1.6 steals, shooting 91 per cent from the charity stripe in a whopping 35.1 minutes.

Cotton saved his best for last in the knockout end-of-season play-in tournament against the South East Melbourne Phoenix, scoring 41 points, including 20 in the final period, draining clutch bucket after another.

Although, being 182 cm, he plays with unwavering desire, reminiscent of Philadelphia 76ers legend Allen Iverson. Having already won three League MVPs, it won’t be a surprise if he wins a fourth.

Melbourne United

Chris Goulding

Possessing lethal range to shoot threes from the CBD, Chris Goulding holds the key to United’s aspirations for a third title under Dean Vickerman. The veteran put together a consistent campaign, averaging 17.1 points whilst shooting 38.5 per cent from three-point territory on a league-high 9.1 attempts per outing.

His ability to work off-ball around teammates’ screens to bury wide-open triples is a dangerous ploy that teams haven’t been able to conquer. Even the most absurdly hand-in-the-face threes still swish through the net.

Throughout his glorious career, the seasoned veteran always delivers in the clutch. He won’t have to carry the scoring bulk, with NBA champion Ian Clark, the heart and soul Matthew Dellavedova, the nimble Jo Lual-Acuil Jr., and former Perth Wildcat Luke Travers to supply plenty of offensive punch.

But when it comes to crunch time, call upon CG43 to take over and deliver.

Tasmania JackJumpers

Milton Doyle

Milton Doyle impressed in his first season in the Apple Isle as the Tasmania JackJumpers fell short, losing in the semifinal series to the New Zealand Breakers. The stellar shooting guard finished the campaign averaging 17.2 points, five rebounds, and 3.7 assists on 44 per cent shooting and 88 per cent from the foul line.

As the season progressed, the veteran became the go-to guy in crunchtime situations and he didn’t disappoint. In game two of the Breakers’ semifinal series, Doyle’s 23 points and five assists had a lead hand in the JackJumpers’ securing an all-important victory to force a third and deciding game.

What will be intriguing this season is whether Doyle assumes more ball-handling responsibilities. With former Melbourne United guard Lachlan Barker, the improving Sean McDonald, and import Jordon Crawford filling the guard spots, it creates plenty of conundrums on who facilitates the offence.

Whatever eventuates, Doyle is the team’s number one offensive option, though Scott Roth preaches even team scoring balance.

South East Melbourne Phoenix

Mitch Creek

Mitch Creek has been a staple since signing as the Phoenix’s inaugural piece in 2019. The crafty combo forward is a menace on the offensive end especially when he prefers to play at the power forward spot.

His greatest strength is his ability to overpower his opponent on the low block and glide to the basket. It will be interesting to see whether Mike Kelly keeps Creek at the four spots, depending on whether the Phoenix goes small or big.

Why wouldn’t he, with the evolution of teams’ downsizing to small ball over recent seasons?

Creek’s number in his first four seasons with the Phoenix stands out. He has consistently shot the ball well from the floor, resulting in a career-best year in NBL23, averaging 23.4 points and seven rebounds, shooting 50 per cent overall and 77 per cent from the charity stripe.

His impeccable numbers translated in epic matches, including scoring 46 points in a blockbuster duel with the electrifying Derrick Walton Jr. (45 points) in the side’s double-overtime win over the Sydney Kings.

Having finished third in the League MVP voting behind Bryce Cotton and winner Xavier Cooks, Creek is prime to conjure a scintillating campaign that might result in a maiden MVP.

New Zealand Breakers

Will McDowell-White

A couple of seasons ago, Will McDowell-White slowly put his name in light with glimpses of his potential. Fast forward to last season, and he became one of the League’s most captivating players.

In a breakout NBL23 that saw him finish second narrowly behind former Taipan, now Wildcat Keanu Pinder, the 25-year-old is ready to enhance his production and take the Breakers to its first championship since 2015.

Interest during the off-season for his services came in spades, with the Wildcats and the JackJumpers putting in enticing offers.

With a plethora of shooters spacing the floor, including sharpshooter Cameron Gliddon, Justinian Jessup, Finn Delany, and veteran Tom Abercrombie, McDowell-White’s task is significantly easier in facilitating his teammates for wide-open looks.

Teams have had the off-season to plan for him, with the Sydney Kings having the most time because of the Grand Final series over six and a half months ago.

The fascination that lies ahead is how teams will approach McDowell-White when he’s handling the ball.

Will teams opt to double-team early to force the ball from him?

Or will teams play him straight up with a particular matchup?

So much of the Breakers’ success is associated with his production and ability to rebound and push tempo offensively.

Sydney Kings

D. J. Hogg

D. J. Hogg lit up the stage for Cairns Taipans in NBL23. Not only did he become the main scoring threat, but he transcended into one of the League’s walking buckets.

For a Taipans side that exceeded all expectations, the versatile 207cm forward had a season to remember, averaging 18.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.2 blocks, and 1.1 steals on 44 per cent shooting.

Hogg’s first season down under saw him register 13 20-point performances, including a season-high 32 points, hitting five triples in the final play-in tournament win over the Perth Wildcats.

As the Kings first import in NBL24, he will fit in seamlessly, with the team averaging the most points last regular season (95.7 points).

Kings fans will have to wait a while to see him in action, with a shoulder injury sidelining him for several weeks.

Most intriguing when he does return is whether to play him at the three or the four spot – as he did with the Taipans.

Brisbane Bullets

Nathan Sobey

Always playing with flare and creativity, Nathan Sobey holds the mantle in whether the Bullets bounce back from a sub-par NBL23 campaign. His tenacity has never been doubted, scrapping for every loose ball and hitting clutch shots when the game is on the line.

Whilst he has shot only 38 per cent from the floor in the last two seasons, he is one of those guards when he gets hot, he stays hot.

This season should be different for the Bullets after appointing Justin Schueller for the next two seasons, with last season marred by the influx, with the sacking of James Duncan in late November last year.

Bringing consummate veteran Mitch Norton from the Wildcats and the steady head of former Taipan Shannon Scott should help Sobey play more off-ball, where he is most lethal.

After enduring injuries in the last two seasons, the 33-year-old is raring to recapture the form that saw him make the All-NBL first team in 2021.

Adelaide 36ers

Trey Kell III

One of the 36ers’ key additions ahead of NBL24, Trey Kell III will have an integral role in whether the team makes finals for the first time since 2018.

The shooting guard averaged 12.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.8 assists on only 38 per cent shooting with South East Melbourne Phoenix last season. What Kell III brings is a level of athleticism and the ability to create his shot – an area that may be the 36ers weakness.

Whilst the 36ers still figure out their lineup, Kell III will likely take the team’s main offensive option on board.

Illawarra Hawks

Tyler Harvey

Tyler Harvey is one of the League’s most devastating scoring threats. With a knack for heating up, the left-handed sniper hopes to lead the Hawks back into the playoffs after a disastrous campaign in NBL23, marred by a raft of injuries to the team.

The 193cm guard has been a fan favourite of the Hawks since crossing to the NBL ahead of the 2019/2020 season.

At times, his erratic jump shot can allude him. He won’t have to carry the scoring bulk, with Justin Robinson returning from a meniscus tear in his right knee, the rapid improvement of big man Sam Froling, and the additions of sharpshooter Todd Blanchfield, next stars prospect Alex Johnson, former NBA player Gary Clark, and Mason Peatling from Melbourne United.

After enduring its worst season since 1983 (in terms of wins), expect the Hawks to bounce back strongly.

Cairns Taipans

Tahjere McCall

The man with a bundle of energy on both ends of the floor, Tahjere McCall was instrumental in the Taipans’ rise from second-last in NBL22 to the semifinals in NBL23.

His style of play fitted seamlessly in coach Adam Forde’s run-and-gun offence.

Known for his uncanny knack for reading the passing lanes, the versatile forward assumed the responsibility of ball-handling duties alongside former teammate Shannon Scott.

His jump shot can go missing, but his quick first two steps into the paint towards the hoop put tremendous pressure on the opposition’s interior defence.

McCall demonstrated his toughness playing through a shoulder injury in the riveting semifinal series defeat to eventual Champions Sydney Kings.

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