The NBL’s pre-season competition – the NBL Blitz – tips off tonight with two blockbuster clashes.
Melbourne United and the New Zealand Breakers, and the Sydney Kings and South East Melbourne Phoenix will do battle at 5:30pm and 7:30pm AEDT respectively behind closed doors.
The first competitive NBL matches in nearly six 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?
The NBL Blitz will give us the chance to get our first look at the 36ers’ big off-season signing, Filipino talent Kai Sotto. The 218-centimetre centre comes with high expectations, touted to be picked up in the 2022 NBA Draft and follow in the footsteps of Josh Giddey, LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton.
The pre-season tournament should serve as an opportunity to see how Sotto best fits into the 36ers’ lineup, and if he can co-exist on the floor with big men Daniel Johnson and Isaac Humphries.
Bursting with raw talent, the Blitz will give Sotto his first chance to show Australia and the rest of the world some of the skills he possesses that has many scouts excited about what he can bring to the 36ers in 2021-22 NBL season.
The NBL Blitz will give Brisbane Bullets’ fans the first chance to see their team under new head coach James Duncan. The Bullets have always been able to score the ball but have struggled on the defensive side of the ball, last season conceding the most points against.
Duncan has already set defence as a priority for this team this season, so the Blitz will give the Bullets a chance to familiarise themselves with the coach’s defensive philosophy and schemes for the upcoming season. Brisbane has recruited for this purpose too, signing versatile forward Deng Deng from the Illawarra Hawks, providing them with a highly energetic presence on defence.
The former Sydney Kings lead assistant will also need to integrate six new additions to the Bullets’ roster.
In the off-season, they signed former Orlando Magic forward Robert Franks and American guard Isaiah Moss as imports, while also acquiring French prospect Tom Digbeu as a Next Star and Chuanxing Liu, who is set to become the tallest player to play in the NBL, standing at 7’5″.
The pre-season tournament will provide Duncan with enough opportunities to allow them to get familiar with the roster and see what lineups work ahead of the 2021/22 season.
With a new face at the helm of the team in former Sydney Kings coach Adam Forde, the Cairns Taipans will want to utilise the pre-season to familiarise themselves with the incoming coaches game plans and strategies, after failing to qualify for the finals in NBL21.
Forde took control of the NBL20 champions, but fell away from the top-four late into the season. However, his coaching technique and stance on player relationships and work ethic will do well for a Taipans outfit that’s been up-and-down in recent seasons.
Last season’s lowest-scoring side, the Taipans will want to use the NBL Blitz to search for the ways that the team will find points, and who it’ll come from.
Cairns has recruited for this purpose too, especially after last year’s scoring leader Cameron Oliver departed the club, signing forward Keanu Pinder from the Adelaide 36ers, and American Tahjere McCall, a former Brooklyn Nets shooting guard.
McCall should slot straight into the starting five following Mojave King’s move to Adelaide, as well as his obvious professional, and college-level experience with Pinder unlikely to pip Majok Deng in his position, although the pre-season is used to evaluate rotations and team chemistry and synergy.
The Hawks still have the Boomers’ greatest-ever coach at the helm in Brian Goorjian and will be out to build on their improvements from last season.
Olympic bronze medallist Duop Reath is the big coup of their off-season – the 211-centimetre centre has plied his trade in the Serbian League for the past three seasons and immediately remedies the Hawks’ big-man struggles.
Goorjian believes Reath can have a Jock Landale-esque impact on the league as he tries to make his way to the NBA. He will be an imposing presence in the paint with his length and size, which will allow the Froling brothers to get out in transition.
His three-ball was also a nice surprise with the Boomers, and it could open up the paint offensively for the Hawks. The NBL Blitz will be his first opportunity to make a lasting impression.
Multiple key pillars departing from the United championship team means there are plenty of opportunities for some players to fill holes early.
Next Star Ariel Hukporti is likely to get his first minutes in a United jersey to fill the centre spot vacated by recent San Antonio addition and Finals MVP Jock Landale, although Jo Lual-Acuil will be pushing for the starting centre as well.
Then there was Delly. Matthew Dellavedova is back home after departing the NBA (for now, at least) and will lineup for United, a welcome replacement with existing guards in Mitch McCarron and Sam McDaniel moving to rival clubs the Adelaide 36ers and Tasmania JackJumpers respectively.
With such big changes in the starting lineup, all eyes will be on United and whether they look capable of defending their title in the 2021-22 NBL season.
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New Zealand Breakers
A plethora of off season moves from the Breakers camp means that Dan Shamir’s men should keep things simple, and use the NBL Blitz as a foundation for the first half of the season.
Losing talent such as the Webster brothers and Colton Iverson seemed like a tough mess to mop up, however, the Breakers recruiting team has been able to turn the tables around and pick up players who seemingly slot in perfectly to those roles.
Jeremiah Martin, Peyton Siva, Yannick Wetzell, Ousmane Dieng and Hugo Beeson bring plenty of talent and promise from across the globe, which will no doubt bolster the team from Aotearoa over the next couple of weeks.
Luke Travers had a breakout NBL21, and he’s now heading into the new season as one of the Wildcats’ go-to players on the offensive end.
Having just turned 20 years of age, Travers has shown off incredible athleticism and an ability to get to the rim and create for himself. He averaged 11.7 points in his breakout season but will be looking to add to that and could be given the usage to push into the high teens this season.
With a new coach at the helm in Scott Morrison, there will be lingering questions about the Wildcats’ ability to win without Trevor Gleeson. The NBL Blitz is the perfect opportunity for Travers to show he’s ready to become the second option of this Bryce Cotton led team.
South East Melbourne Phoenix
The loss of Keifer Sykes to the Indiana Pacers and then G-League affiliate the Fort Wayne Mad Ants left the Phoenix on the hunt for a new point guard.
With the signing of import guard Xavier Munford, fans will be watching to see how the former NBA talent runs the floor. The Phoenix struggled outside the paint at times in NBL21, so whether he can find another option from range will be crucial to discover.
Similarly, how the team works on defence with the new recruits in tow will be a key part of the game plan to watch. Losing Yannick Wetzell (six rebounds per game) to the New Zealand Breakers could have an impact on a team that struggled to put up boards, and couldn’t retain or win back possession after missed shots.
The addition of big men Zhou Qi and Tohi Smith-Milner will be key, and coach Simon Mitchell should be giving them plenty of minutes to see how they influence the Phoenix’s structure.
The Sydney Kings will look to debut the promising Biwali Bayles in their NBL Blitz campaign.
Bayles starred for the NSW state Team at the Australian U20’s tournament before moving abroad to attend the University of Hawai’i. Since returning home he has made his Kings move official, and looks to be one of the best up and coming talents in the country. Bayles has displayed a phenomenal three-point game, averaging 43 per cent from beyond the arc in his freshman season.
Along with Bayles, the Kings will look to introduce new signings RJ Hunter, Makur Maker and Jarrell Martin.
All three men bring a massive amount of experience and talent to the Kings roster, and will be sure to boost their odds of taking out the Blitz. However, it’ll be interesting to see how the new boys fit together in Chase Buford’s side and if they can fill the hole left by Brad Newley and Casper Ware Jr.
The new kids on the block will be looking to see where they stand against established sides of the NBL in these preseason clashes. It’ll also be about building chemistry ahead of the first ever season down on the Apple Isle.
Whilst the JackJumpers put in some pre-season work despite all of the COVID restrictions around, these games will give ex-Wildcats assistant coach Scott Roth an idea on what type of game plan they need and the chemistry these players have on the court and during the game.
They’ve bought in plenty of talented players who can help support the younger players and improve their chances, including ex-Orlando and Atlanta guard Josh Magette, as well as Italian League champion Josh Adams and ex-NBL Most Improved Player Will Magnay.
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