04/03/2024

New recruits, up and coming stars, and national heroes will have the floor in the pre-season NBL Blitz competition. (Images: @MelbUnited; @PerthWildcats; @BrisbaneBullets)

With new coaches, star recruits, international imports and a heaping of young talent across the board, what should you expect to see from your team in the NBL Blitz?

The NBL’s pre-season competition – the NBL Blitz – tips off tonight in Darwin with a blockbuster clash. The South East Melbourne Phoenix and Adelaide 36ers will do battle at 8:00pm AEST.

In the first competitive NBL matches in nearly five months, fans will finally get the chance to take their first look at new recruits, up-and-coming rookies, and new game plans under new coaches.

The Inner Sanctum answers the question – what should you expect to see from your team in the NBL Blitz?

Adelaide 36ers

The NBL Blitz hasn’t come quick enough for eager 36ers fans after a big overhaul to the team’s roster this off-season. The first full off-season for CJ Bruton was spent scouting and recruiting some of the best talent in the league to bolster his team.

When watching their team at the NBL Blitz, fans will be hoping to see some chemistry and team synergy forming considering the roster shuffle. They will also hope that Sunday Dech and Mitch McCarron continue their form from the last season.

Returning to the team after a few seasons at the Brisbane Bullets is Anthony Drmic. Having played 181 NBL games, he brings leadership and experience which has gone out with Cameron Bairstow retiring as well as Isaac Humphries’ departure to Melbourne United.

With some heavy hitters in Antonius Cleveland, Robert Franks, and Craig Randall II joining the roster, 36ers fans will be treated to what could be a finals team for the first time since the 2017/18 season.

Madeline Irwin 

Brisbane Bullets

The NBL Blitz will give Bullets (and basketball) fans a chance to see the huge signings of Aron Baynes and Tyler Johnson hit the court together for the first time on Australian soil.

With a lacklustre couple of years behind them, the Bullets have made several key personnel changes, but none are bigger than the two aforementioned former NBA players.

It will be interesting to see how much court time Baynes is given during the Blitz, given his long return from injury and lack of competitive basketball over the past 18 months. Johnson should add scoring power to the Bullets’ line-up, and how he works in tandem with Baynes is something to keep an eye on.

Coach James Duncan will no doubt be using the pre-season competition to tinker with line-ups, plays, and game style in preparation for the season proper. With such a big change to the roster from last season, team cohesion and chemistry are going to be critical to work on and sort out as quickly as possible.

Scott Kertes

Cairns Taipans

After a disappointing 2021/22 campaign and the loss of Scott Machado, head coach Adam Forde will be using the NBL Blitz to work on cohesion within his new-look group.

With no household names of note to draw fans to the games, it will have to be teamwork and effort that produce wins early to keep fans engaged. 

Newly signed imports Shannon Scott and D.J. Hogg will need to quickly develop the know-how of playing in the NBL and will be able to use the pre-season comp to quickly become accustomed.

Fans during the Blitz should be excited to see how these imports go, and will look for some positive results to take some hope into the regular season.

Scott Kertes

Illawarra Hawks

Brian Goorjian stepped down as Illawarra Hawks’ head coach after last season, opting out of the optional third year of his contract as he stepped into an advisory role. His replacement is his assistant coach, Jacob Jackomas, who will be looking to lead the Hawks to glory this season.

The Hawks have made several changes in the off-season, including a change of captaincy with Sam Froling and Tyler Harvey named co-captains, replacing the retiring AJ Ogilvy.

The biggest out is Duop Reath – the 211-centimetre centre averaged the second-most points and rebounds in the regular season for the Hawks. They have looked to replace him with the return of Deng Deng from the Brisbane Bullets.

Another big in for the Hawks is the signing of forward Wani Swaka Lo Buluk. The Sudanese-Australian player won the NBL Championship with the Sydney Kings last season and will bring that winning experience to the Hawks.

He will look to team up with another new signing, former NBA player George King.

A host of new signings means fans can expect to see these new players experimented with, as a new coach and a new co-captain pairing look to find that winning formula. Illawarra will hope to excel once again this season and make another push into the NBL Finals.

Dylan Costa

Melbourne United

Melbourne United’s off-season pickups will be something that fans will be eager to see during the NBL Blitz competition.

After making noise during recent practice matches, Rayjon Tucker, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, and Jordan Caroline will hope to fill the void left by big departures.

Questions still remain about how the team’s defence will look with the inclusion of the new arrivals, and will be something to watch out for.

With Jack White (7.1 rebounds per game) and Jo Lual-Acuil (8.8 rebounds per game) both departing the team, questions remain over how significant their loss will impact United moving into the Blitz and beyond.

Makuach Maluach, Isaac Humphries, Joshua Duach, and Malith Machar are the other new inclusions to the team and will most certainly help bolster the side.

United will be wanting to use Blitz as a way to continue to build up cohesion and team chemistry among the group, as well as tie any loose ends that may have been found during their preseason games.

Ashleigh Matosevic

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New Zealand Breakers

It will be a different New Zealand outfit under newly appointed head coach Mody Maor, with nine new inclusions added to the roster.

Although fans should be keen on seeing what imports Jarrell Brantley and Dererk Pardon can do, the player to keep a close eye on during the Blitz and this season is Will McDowell-White.

Since joining the Breakers in the 2020/21 season, McDowell-White has been surrounded by other guards and has never been used to his fullest potential. But under Moar, the 24-year-old point guard will be given the keys to New Zealand’s offence, an image that should leave its fan’s mouths salivating.

McDowell-White is coming into NBL23 off the back of a brilliant campaign with the Australian Boomers in the FIBA Asia Cup, which has seen his confidence skyrocket.

He is at his best when can get out in transition and set his teammates up. Due to New Zealand’s previously guard-heavy roster and low focus on scoring in transition, he hasn’t been able to.

Despite loving to get others involved, the 6’4 guard has shown he is still capable of creating scoring opportunities for himself. With the ball most likely to be in his hands for the majority of a game, there is no way McDowell-White can’t average more points than he did last season (6.6 points).

The NBL Blitz is the perfect opportunity for McDowell-White to show he is ready to lead the New Zealand Breakers as they hope to rise up the ladder.

Jordan Janssen

Perth Wildcats

The NBL Blitz will give fans the opportunity to see the fresh new look of the Perth Wildcats, who will be under the reins of new head coach John Rillie.

If the Wildcats’ signing spree is anything to go by, they’ll no doubt be looking for vengeance; out to send a warning to the rest of the competition, especially after missing the playoffs for the first time in 35 years.

Among a roster stacked with talent is American Brady Manek. Manek starred for his college side, University of North Carolina, and helped in their run in the NCAA tournament recently.

In 39 games for UNC, Manek averaged 15.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, and shot 40 per cent from behind the arc per game. The 24-year-old looks to be a thrilling addition to Perth’s squad, having shown his shooting capabilities and ability to think quickly under pressure.

Alongside Manek, the Wildcats will also unveil their new signings of Corey Webster, TaShawn Thomas, Michael Harris, and Jack Andrew. The five new additions to the team sees plenty of talent on the roster.

Then there’s Luke Travers, who returns to the side following a whirlwind past several months. NBL22 saw him reach new heights, ultimately being drafted to the Cleveland Cavaliers, so it would be safe to say that the 21-year-old will cause headaches for his opponents.

Ashleigh Matosevic

South East Melbourne Phoenix

The off-season saw the departure of last year’s point guard Xavier Munford and saw the Phoenix sign Puerto Rican guard Gary Browne.

Browne will be trouble for opposing teams on both ends of the floor. The 29-year-old most recently played for the Quebradillas Pirates and averaged 16.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, and seven assists.

On many occasions last year, South East Melbourne relinquished several leads late in games. It will be hoping to work on closing out matches, and the new guard mix will be key to this.

Browne is known for his basketball IQ and decision making, and fans will get a glimpse during the Blitz of how Browne will run the floor for South East Melbourne.

Alongside Browne, the Phoenix will look to introduce new signings Trey Kell, Alan Williams, Grant Anticevich, and Junior Madut.

Jordan Janssen

Sydney Kings

After winning the championship, the Sydney Kings should be expected to keep playing high-quality basketball.

New signing Kouat Noi should be an interesting watch after three seasons with Cairns where he statistically declined in almost every major category.

The Kings pride themselves on defence and team chemistry. With a mixed ratio of letting important pieces walk and keeping some of the group that were of contract, this squad are aiming to show why they are one of the favourites to win the title this upcoming season in a very competitive league.

Their structured play leaves less room for players to get a feel for the game, and if the Kings can balance between half-court run plays and players being able to play instinctively and free, their offence will be one of the most free-flowing styles in the current NBL era.

The signing of Derrick Walton Jr is an exciting one for the Kings, who is expected to contribute with his passing and playmaking capabilities in a similar way Jaylen Adams did last season.

Jaylen Adams led the league in assists, and Walton Jr’s combo guard style should allow the Kings to function on a multitude of levels with his passing game and being able to score in a variety of ways, as well as pick up the difficult matchups.

Kye Ferreira

Tasmania JackJumpers

JackJumpers fans will hope their hometown team proves that last year’s incredible debut was no fluke.

Imports Rashard Kelly and Milton Doyle, both former college basketball stars, have made impressive starts during two pre-season hit outs against South East Melbourne. They have the potential to form a lethal partnership this NBL season, with the pair combining for 63 points across the two matches.

Importantly, the injury replacement for captain Clint Steindl, Isaac White has done his chances of getting a full contract no harm, with two solid outings. He’ll be a critical factor to Tasmania’s early season form with Steindl set to miss the Blitz with his shin injury.

Fans will also hope the injury replacement for Will Magnay, Tristan Forsyth, who saw minutes alongside White, Kelly, and Doyle in pre-season will also step up in a big way to cover Magnay’s loss.

Thomas Grattan

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