NBL Season Preview - What's going on in the NBL this Season?
It is showtime for Australia's National Basketball League, which tips off tonight with almost 450 NBA games of experience to take to the floor in 2017/18.
It has been a dramatic resurgence for the NBL in recent years, with the return of the Sydney Kings and Brisbane Bullets, the recruitment of several big name former NBA players and a television deal that will see all games shown on pay tv and most on free-to-air.
The stripped down league also means competition will be fierce, with every team stacked with talent and no certainties to take out the title. Last year Melbourne was favourite, but missed the final four. Adelaide and Cairns were expected to duke it out for the wooden spoon, but both made the post-season.
So what is the equation likely to be this year? We run the rule over the contenders.
Victoria demands success in the NBL and 2016/17's sixth placed finish made it a year fans and players alike regard as a failure.
A star-studded roster left their run late and didn't live up to the hype. So what do they do? They make a strong roster even stronger.
Former NBA veteran Josh Boone returns after joining the club mid-season in 2016/17 and will be better for having a full pre-season under his belt, while Perth livewire Casey Prather has been added to replace productive swingman Todd Blanchfield (Sydney). Casper Ware will run the point again and devastating results are expected after he failed to strike up an effective combination with sacked former MVP Cedric Jackson last time around.
With new coach Dean Vickerman (former assistant at the NZ Breakers) at the helm and with captain David Andersen (another NBA veteran) hoping to remain fit, Melbourne should live up to the favourites tag this time around.
Roster: David Andersen, David Barlow, Chris Goulding, Kyle Adnam, Tai Wesley, Majok Majok, Casey Prather, Craig Moller, Casper Ware, Josh Boone, Peter Hooley
For half of season 2016/17, the Kings were perched at the top of the NBL ladder and looking like the team to beat. But then a horror run of injury and form saw the club plummet to seventh on the ladder.
Australian basketball legend Andrew Gaze was put in charge late in the season and will be looking to dramatically improve things this time around. Australian Boomers stalwart Brad Newley and the sharp-shooting Kevin Lisch return and Todd Blanchfield has been added from Melbourne, adding depth in the front and back courts with his versatility and productivity.
Gaze has scoured the domestic and international scenes to build a new roster, with the most exciting addition being Travis Leslie, a former guard for the LA Clippers in the NBA who has all the tools to dominate in the NBL. US College star Perry Ellis is likely to add some mongrel as well, with his strength and leadership.
Roster: Todd Blanchfield, Kevin Lisch, Brad Newley, Tom Garlepp, Jason Cadee, Dane Pineau, Isaac Humphries, Travis Leslie, Perry Ellis, Adam Thoseby, Amritpal Singh
It was a valiant effort from the Bullets in their return to the league last season, sitting in or near the top four until round 11.
The Queenslanders will be putting a lot of faith in their Australian talent this time around, after the club sacked under-achieving import Jermaine Beal last season and lost Torrey Craig in the off-season when he was signed by the Denver Nuggets in the NBA. To make matters worse, Australian Boomers star Cameron Bairstow is unlikely to be sighted until late January - at the earliest - after smashing his knee badly in the late stages of last season.
There has been little movement in the ranks of the Australian players, with veterans like Adam Gibson, Anthony Petrie and Daniel Kickert again charged with leading the side. Three new imports are likely to decide the Bullets fate, with former United star Stephen Holt, sharp-shooting guard Travis Trice (Taipans) and big-bodied forward Perrin Buford the men charged to ignite Brisbane.
Roster: Adam Gibson, Anthony Petrie, Shaun Bruce, Rueben Te Rangi, Mitchell Young, Tom Jervis, Daniel Kickert, Stephen Holt, Matt Kenyon, Travis Trice, Perrin Buford
Tipped to take the wooden spoon last season, the 36ers shocked all by claiming top spot before falling in the semi-final series to Illawarra.
The two burning questions are; can they go one better and can they do it without star Jerome 'Handle' Randle? The Australian brigade was also superb last year and the likes of Mitch Creek, Nathan Sobey, Brendan Teys and Matthew Hodgson still have plenty of space for further development.
But a new rotation of imports will the making or breaking of the 36ers. Shannon Shorter is the unknown quantity at the point, while Ramone Moore and Ronald Roberts have been recruited largely because of their athletic ability.
They should provide the highlights, but the Aussies will have to provide the platform if the 36ers are to impress again.
Roster: Brendan Teys, Daniel Johnson, Adam Doyle, Mitch Creek, Nathan Sobey, Matthew Hodgson, Majok Deng, Anthony Drmic, Ramone Moore, Shannon Shorter, Ronald Roberts
This is a franchise that defecates excellence.
For 31 years the Wildcats have contested consecutive finals campaigns and in that time have reaped eight titles, including the 2016/17 championship. So what can we expect from Trevor Gleeson's men this time around? For a start, fans will be saddened by the absence of veteran Shawn Redhage who has finally retired after 144 seasons in the NBL (probably).
The other significant out is Casey Prather, who has linked with Melbourne. But anyone thinking they will get a reprieve from the Wildcats should think again.
Mid-season recruit Bryce Cotton was the finals MVP last season and is ready to tear this league to shreds again. Perth actually tried to lure former NBA journeyman Reggie Williams to Australia, but failed.
They will have to settled for Jean-Pierre Tokoto, an impressive defender whose hops have also earned him the nickname 'Air Pierre'. Their finals streak looks certain to continue this season.
Roster: Greg Hire, Jarrod Kenny, Matt Knight, Dexter Kernich-Drew, Angus Brandt, Jesse Wagstaff, Damian Martin, Lucas Walker, Devondrick Walker, Bryce Cotton, Jean-Pierre Tokoto
Cairns coach Aaron Fearne must be getting pretty sick of developing players only for the Bullets to pinch them.
First, it was Torrey Craig (who is now in the NBA), now Travis Trice has been snatched from Queensland's far north to play in the state's capital.
After sitting outside of the top four for much of last season, the Taipans surged home with a wet sail to steal second place on the ladder before being belted in straight sets by eventual champions Perth. This is a side that built its success on gritty defence, which frustrated many teams on the way to the finals. Is it enough to win a championship, though?
Trice has been replaced by the colourfully named Dayshon 'Scoochie' Smith, fresh out of college and ready to ball in his first professional season. He may be the key to unlocking the attack the Taipans will need to go further this year. Import Michael Carrera will miss the first six weeks of the season through injury.
Roster: Nathan Jawai, Alex Loughton, Stephen Weigh, Jarrad Weeks, Cameron Gliddon, Damon Heuir, Mitch McCarron, Nnanna Egwu, Kuany Kuany, Dayshon 'Scoochie' Smith, Michael Carerra
The Hawks perhaps typify how close this league is, rising from mediocrity mid-way through last season all the way to the grand final series against Perth. Given that success, it comes as little surprise that the roster remains largely intact this time around.
There are notable weaknesses in this roster, though, that were perhaps papered over by superior coaching last year. This side conceded the second highest volume of points in 2016/17 and Oscar Forman was re-signed very late in the piece, suggesting the club didn't get the players they were after.
Import Delvon Johnson is the new face expected to do big things, but arrives without pedigree. It could be a crash back to earth for the Hawks this time around.
Roster: Mitch Norton, Kevin White, Rhys Martin, Rotnei Clarke, Angus Glover, Demitrius Conger, Tim Coenraad, Delvon Johnson, Oscar Forman, Cody Ellis, AJ Ogilvy, Nick Kay
New Zealand Breakers
Will form carry on from last season to this year?
The Breakers will certainly be hoping so, after putting together a string of breathtaking performances late in the piece to bring themselves back into finals calculations.
Championships from 2011-13 and in 2015 have not been forgotten in this league and New Zealand will be desperate to return to the winners list in 2017/18.
The problem for the Breakers is that the gulf between their veterans and youngblood is wide, with veterans Kirk Penney and Mika Vukona very much on the wrong side of 30.
The bench will struggle to compete and some of the young players are going to have to turn out career-best performances to lift the Breakers into the finals. But, Penney has shot the lights out to single-handedly lift New Zealand before, who is to say he cannot do it again?
Roster: Thomas Abercrombie, Finn Delany, Daniel Fotu, James Hunter, Shea Ili, Robert Loe, D.J. Newbill, Jordan Ngatai, Kirk Penney, Alex Pledger, Edgar Sosa, Mika Vukona