It’s been a dominant season for Melbourne United, who have shot straight back up to the NBL Grand Final.
Buoyed by the recruit of star centre Jock Landale, and a well-rounded bench roster that has contributed in clutch moments down the stretch, Dean Vickerman’s men are poised to challenge the reigning champions in the mighty Perth Wildcats.
But if they are to come away with the chip this season, they’ll have to win some key battles in the five-game series.
Get Goulding going early
It’s well known that United captain Chris Goulding is one of the more talented shooters in the NBL.
Throughout the 2020/21 season, Goulding’s three-point shooting abilities has been pivotal to United’s high-scoring game plan – he sits second to only Illawarra’s Tyler Harvey in the league for most three-pointers made per game with 3.3, at a solid 38 per cent.
But Goulding has been off recently, resulting in him being benched in key passages down the stretch in Melbourne’s tight game three comeback win against the Phoenix. Visibly frustrated at missing game time due to some inconsistent shooting, Vickerman needs his skipper to make big shots early to fire United up early.
The key to the blueprint has been done before – in a dazzling regular season win against a Perth side that featured Bryce Cotton, Goulding’s consistent shooting from range got United off to a fast start that set up a crucial away win.
Specifically in the first two games at Perth’s RAC Arena, Goulding’s shooting is so important to silencing the home crowd and getting Melbourne off to a confident start.
Snatch the boards off Mooney
Without Bryce Cotton gaining the most opposition attention from the point, United must focus entirely on the devastating impact John Mooney can have on their hopes.
Easily leading the league with 11.4 rebounds per game, Mooney’s presence in snatching rebounds at will off the glass, particularly offensive boards, is fundamental to Perth’s chances of getting enough shots on goal to win a game.
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Naturally, Jock Landale will be one United big man who must take the onus to block him out at the rim and clean up the rebounds. Landale is high up in the league averages for boards per game too (with 7.5) and can combine with the younger Mason Peatling to nullify Mooney’s rebounding abilities.
But Mooney isn’t just a one-dimensional threat – as well as cleaning up the glass strongly, Peatling and Landale must also combine to prevent Mooney from getting clear shots at goal. The Wildcats forward is 11th in the league for field goal averages (54.7 per cent) and can also carry his side down the stretch if given the chance.
United may be relieved to not have to focus on Cotton, but Mooney is just as daunting a proposition for Melbourne if they are to leave Perth with some wins on the board.
Get the bench depth they need to post a winning score
Melbourne United might have a wonderful starting line up – without Cotton for Perth, Mitch McCarron’s terrific season can reach even better heights if he can instrument big Grand Final wins from the point guard position. But where United thrive compared to other sides is their wonderful depth throughout their roster.
When the going gets tough, particularly in hostile environments in Perth, Vickerman will be relying on the likes of Scotty Hopson (who dropped over 20 in two of the three games against the Phoenix), Yudai Baba and Jo Lual-Acuil to put in decent bags of points in certain periods to keep the offence ticking over.
If they can do this, their star power in Landale, Goulding and McCarron can get key rests on the bench, and not burn out too early during an arduous five-game series.
This depth has been so important all season long in ensuring United averaged just over 88 points per game, the third highest in the league, and they’ll be needing these types of numbers again to blow past an offensively solid Wildcats line up.
Throw in the experience of David Barlow, who can hit powerful threes at will, and there is plenty of scoring talent at Vickerman’s disposal.
For United to break Perth’s title dynasty, they’ll need everyone to pour in the points throughout the full five games of the NBL Grand Final.
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