It was another eventful weekend in the NBL with two Sydney Kings stars continuing to make a statement, frustrations building with Cairns Taipans, three teams running out of time to make a big decision, and even an Olympic medal being stolen.
Round 13 in the NBL still has two games to go but already it hasn’t been short on drama. It all started back on Thursday night with the Cairns Taipans recording a drought breaking 73-69 win against the Brisbane Bullets.
The Illawarra Hawks then bounced back with an important win at home on Friday, beating the Adelaide 36ers 87-71 before the Bullets broke their losing run on Saturday by defeating the Tasmania JackJumpers 94-86.
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Next up on Saturday night and the South East Melbourne Phoenix handed the Perth Wildcats a third straight defeat with the 86-80 victory.
It was a thriller in Adelaide first up on Sunday with the Sydney Kings prevailing 93-90 over the 36ers before Melbourne United proved too strong for the Taipans, winning 89-73 despite the absence of MVP candidate Jo Lual-Acuil.
Round 13 continues in Hobart on Monday with the JackJumpers hosting the Wildcats with both teams battling over fourth position on the table. Perth has now lost three straight and will be without Mitch Norton, and possibly Vic Law and Luke Travers for the game.
Here are the five big things coming out of the action:
MOVE OVER BRYCE, JAYLEN IS CURRENTLY THE BEST
Bryce Cotton could still win this season’s MVP, he will go down as one of the NBL’s all-time greats and this isn’t meant to take anything away from the Perth Wildcats superstar, but it’s hard to argue against Jaylen Adams being the best player in the league right now.
Cotton is still leading the league in scoring at 23.6 points a game and is locked in a battle now to keep his Wildcats in the top four before returning home to Perth next month.
However, what Adams is doing right for the Kings deserves to have him in that discussion as the best player in the NBL and as a legitimate MVP threat.
To start with, hitting game winners boosts your worth enormously. To have the ability to deliver with the pressure of the game on the line is invaluable and it’s something Cotton has proven time after time.
Just 12 games into his time in the NBL, Adams has now hit two game-winning plays. The first came a couple of weeks ago with his incredible dunk, offensive rebound and pass for the win against the Brisbane Bullets.
Then on Sunday in Adelaide, he delivered a stunning three-point shot to break the deadlock with the 36ers with 3.5 seconds remaining. From there, the Kings won 93-90 and made it five in-a-row to shoot up into third spot in the standings.
Adams was remarkable all afternoon in Adelaide. He started hot knocking down three triples in the first quarter and went 5/9 for the game, but he continued on by getting inside the arc too either to finish himself or find his teammates.
His ability to use the pick-and-roll to get inside and especially find his open shooters or big men inside for a flush is second to none in the league. There were a host of key moments on Sunday where he either set up a Xavier Cooks dunk or Shaun Bruce three that were crucial plays.
Adams is now producing 20.5 points, 6.0 assists and 5.5 rebounds a game. Those are MVP level numbers and a player who won that award previously, current NBL commentator Corey ‘Homicide’ Williams certainly agrees.
“He is the hottest player in the league right now,” Williams said.
“He’s been instrumental in their win streak. He was playing pretty good, but ever since that dunk against Brisbane his game has gone to new heights.
“Looking at their remaining games, all of those matchups favour Jaylen Adams so he really has a chance to blow this thing open and take out the MVP.”
COOKS, WHITE EMERGING AS BOOMERS WORLD CUP HOPEFULS
Looking ahead to the next World Cup and the Olympics and the Australian Boomers are going to have NBA superstars to take the glory, but in terms of forwards to do all the grunt work, Xavier Cooks and Jack White are putting themselves right in the mix.
Upcoming major tournaments including the FIBA World Cup next year in Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines, along with the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, represent a potential chance for selection.
It could very well be Cooks and White battling for a position they are both proving they deserve, based on what they are producing for their respective teams this NBL season.
White has made a remarkable return for Melbourne United from a ruptured Achilles this season. He is a better athlete and with Jo Lual-Acuil, Caleb Agada and Chris Goulding doing big scoring, he is able to provide a bit of everything else.
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White is the barometer already of the Melbourne team, providing enormous energy and his ability to play strong defence, rebound well, block shots, play above the rim and be there to finish and even push the pace at times with the ball in hand, is remarkable.
Considering he is just 24 and coming off a 12-month injury, his ceiling his huge and there’s no question that includes putting himself in future Boomers consideration for all the intangibles he provides.
Then there is what Cooks is giving the Sydney Kings. Only injuries in recent years have slowed his career progress, but before that tough run with his body he was picked in the final 12 for the Boomers to compete at the 2019 World Cup.
That shows he’s long been in contention for national team honours and right now he is at the peak of his powers.
He could well be both the best defender and rebounder in the NBL, and he’s making quite the case for being the best finisher at the rim now too. He threw down a host of dunks against the Adelaide 36ers thanks to being set up by Jaylen Adams in Sunday’s win over the 36ers.
His coach Chase Buford can’t speak more highly of a man who could very well have not only Boomers honours in his future, but an NBA career before long too.
“It’s his ability in the second half just to find the right spots,” Buford said.
“He obviously competed so hard and made so many plays on the boards rebounding, but just down the stretch there were so many times it was just a shovel pass off to X who was in that dunker’s spot and he played off the rim where he’s terrific.
“He got a number of easy baskets which helped us win and then his defence and rebounding is always terrific, but without those easy dunks and baskets down the stretch we don’t win that game.”
MORE FRUSTRATION FOR STRUGGLING TAIPANS
Stephen Zimmerman appears to be finding his groove in the NBL as a big man who can score in the block and do a job rebounding, but his frustration was clear to see after Sunday’s loss for the Cairns Taipans against Melbourne United.
Zimmerman is a bit of a throwback big. His strengths are his ability to play back to the basket, to finish at the rim or in the block and to make his mark on the boards both with creating extra possessions on the offensive end and defensively.
He had a bit of a slow start to his first NBL season, but he now appears to have figured out what to do to be successful in the league. Although he does admit he needs to improve on going at 40 per cent with his free-throws.
Zimmerman has some nice moves down on the block and a genuine post target who can back down a defender and score which is a rare thing in the NBL right now.
There are not too many players with those strengths so it gives the Taipans a chance to take advantage, but they are not doing it. Good things generally happen when Zimmerman can catch the ball in the block, but it’s not happening too often.
In the two games for Cairns in Round 13, Zimmerman had nine points and 12 rebounds in the win over Brisbane but only took seven shots. Then on Sunday in the loss to a Melbourne team where he could have taken advantage of them missing Jo Lual-Acuil, he had 11 points and five boards again only on nine shots.
He was frustrated after the game both in terms of the Taipans losing to slip to 4-9 and in the lack of looks he got.
“We were saying that we wanted to go into the post early in this game and use me, and help spread out the court,” Zimmerman said.
“We kind of got away from that but I’m trying to be an option for everybody and to help everybody out. Trying to keep the floor spaced is a big thing for us.
“I feel like the feeling on the court for this game was a little different than against Brisbane. United came out and put some pressure on us to take us out of things, but it’s time to really lock in again.
“I feel like that’s a slight problem of ours is that we get away from things we talk about, and have worked on and get away from it whenever we get pressured.”
NOW OR NEVER FOR 36ERS, BULLETS, WILDCATS
The Adelaide 36ers have an import spot to fill and if the Perth Wildcats and Brisbane Bullets want to enhance their title hopes, a change potentially could help them but time is running out.
All clubs in the NBL now have at least reached the halfway marks of their season aside from the Cairns Taipans so time is running out to make any personnel moves, but the 36ers, Wildcats and Bullets need to act quick if they are going to.
The situation at the Wildcats is a fascinating one. They would have to let current import guard Michael Frazier go in order to make a move, but many believe that they need reinforcements in the big men department including triple NBL champion Matty Knight as discussed previously on Fox Sports.
Frazier’s output has dropped over the past three games with him only delivering a combined 17 points. He looks a player devoid of confidence and of a defined role on a team based around Vic Law and Bryce Cotton.
He appears a luxury the Wildcats can’t afford right now as they fight to extend their playoff streak to 36 years. An import big might be the piece they need to ensure that happens and that they can especially compete with the size of Melbourne United and South East Melbourne Phoenix.
However, finding a quality big right now who can arrive in time to play enough games to qualify for finals might be easier said than done. If that’s the case, keeping Frazier would be the safe bet and hope he can find his role to contribute.
The Bullets are in a similar situation with Isaiah Moss. He had a serious hamstring injury to delay his start to the season and he’s never found a consistent role since coming into the team.
He’s playing behind stars Robert Franks, Lamar Patterson and Nathan Sobey, and hasn’t found a way to play regular minutes or to really help the team in a meaningful way.
The Bullets’ season is on life support at 6-10 with just 12 games remaining. It’s unlikely they are looking to replace Moss to try and find something to make more of an impact. But if they are going to, this is the week to do it.
It’s the same with the 36ers. They have a third import slot up their sleeve so don’t need to let anyone go and have lost centre Isaac Humphries for the season with a knee injury.
The Sixers appear more likely to be going for a playmaking and scoring wing than a big or a point guard. Former NBL players Scotty Hopson and Levi Randolph appear the likely candidates, but again if it doesn’t happen this week there’s no real point of it happening at all.
The 36ers are 5-9 with 14 games to go but have two games this coming weekend at home to the South East Melbourne Phoenix and Perth Wildcats. A new player won’t be here in time for those so if things go wrong and they are 5-11, there might be no point making a move.
Complicating matters is that rookie head coach CJ Bruton is going to have to be making the move with the 36ers having parted ways with GM of basketball Jeff Van Groningen.
He is fully aware it’s now or never to bring in someone.
“I’m hoping to do that this week. Clearly if I can get it sorted for where it’s best for us, but if it’s not best for us and this doesn’t work out right now then I’ll run with where we’re at,” Bruton said.
“We’re still looking and clearly I know that my deadline is coming up pretty quick, and I’m up through the night working on that and getting the team ready. Hopefully we’ll have a player in the mix sometime really soon.”
GIVE ME MY MEDAL BACK
An Olympic bronze medal is worth nothing at all to anybody but the person that won it. That’s why whoever stole it from the home of Nathan Sobey on Saturday night needs to return it, even if finding a way to do it anonymously.
It was a historic occasion in Tokyo last year for Australian basketball when the Boomers went ever so close to reaching the gold medal game, but then ended up winning the playoff for bronze to claim the first ever medal for the men’s team.
Brisbane Bullets superstar Nathan Sobey was one of the 12 members of that Australian team and while he is now a father of two and a husband, his next most cherished thing in his home undoubtedly would be his bronze medal.
However, his home was broken into on Saturday night to spoil him being able to celebrate a breakthrough win for the Bullets against the Tasmania JackJumpers especially when he realised his Olympic medal had been taken.
There’s absolutely no point for the thief to keep it either. They can’t sell it, it’s worth nothing in terms of a monetary value and there’s nobody who would give them any money for it.
It also doesn’t exactly mean anything to them sentimentally given they didn’t earn it. But for Sobey it’s everything and he would do anything to have it back.
He revealed the terrible news on Sunday morning with a plea for its return.
“Unfortunately last night, our house was broken into and my bronze medal was stolen along with some other small things,” Sobey posted.
“If anyone out there has any information please let us know!!”