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A sellout crowd, an appearance by Chicago Bulls superstar Scottie Pippen and a Victorian derby between Melbourne United and the South East Melbourne Phoenix will kickstart the new NBL season at John Cain Arena on Thursday night.
Off the court, it’s been a fascinating off-season that has produced plenty of intriguing plot lines to follow. Here are six of them:
Matthew Dellavedova returns in great shape as he seeks an NBL title with Melbourne United and tries to resurrect his NBA and Olympics prospects.Credit: Getty
Delly’s on a mission
Matthew Dellavedova might have been left out of the Boomers side for the FIBA World Cup, but he’s put the lay-off to good use, with a relentless off-season regime that has him looking muscular and in great shape.
While some others are slowing down by the age of 33, the Melbourne United point guard has never been more motivated to prove himself to Boomers coach Brian Goorjian as he seeks a return to the national line-up for next year’s Olympics in Paris. He is also chasing a championship with Melbourne and a return to the NBA playoffs when the NBL is done.
“The level he played at [at the NBL Blitz] was unreal,” United coach Dean Vickerman said. “He did that in short bursts too, he didn’t play more than 24 minutes. He thinks he can score a bit more than he did last time. He’s got himself in great shape, turned back the clock and little bit, and we are seeing a different version of Delly this time.”
Melbourne United guard Matthew Dellavedova.Credit: Getty Images
The NBA scouts are watching
There will be eight NBA Next Star players on court this season in the Australian comp, which is becoming a key recruiting ground for American scouts. Forty NBA recruiters travelled to the Gold Coast for the recent NBL Blitz, and more are planning visits Down Under throughout the year.
ALexandre Sarr will give the Perth Wildcast some size and grunt.Credit: Getty
The Perth Wildcat’s Alexandre Sarr, a French international, has already moved into the top echelon for the 2024 NBA Draft following a breakout preseason campaign. Sarr, whose brother Olivier Sarr plays in the NBA, is 216 centimetres tall and has a 226-centimetre wingspan. He has the agility and smarts to make a difference defensively, while Cairns power-forward Bobi Klintman, from Sweden, has already shown he could be a match-winner for the Taipans.
Melbourne United centre Ariel Hukporti, from Germany, has returned from an Achilles injury and will be pushing to be drafted. Those three look strong chances of being picked up if they play well, while Alex Toohey (Sydney), Trentyn Flowers (Adelaide) and AJ Johnson (Illawarra) are all young and have the talent and time to prove themselves to NBA scouts. Brisbane’s Rocco Zikarsky will turn heads despite being too young to be drafted.
Phoenix have something good cooking
The Phoenix have Mitch Creek back, but they have made some changes, introducing Mike Kelly as coach and point guard Will Cummings. But a knee injury to NBA big man Alan Williams late in the preseason was a blow.
They found a gem, signing Tyler Cook as his replacement. Cook plays above the rim, and also isn’t afraid to shoot from outside. As a replacement import, Cook is only meant to stay for 10 weeks. But he might have secured himself a longer stay by winning the Ray Borner Medal at the NBL Blitz.
If the Phoenix decide they want Cook to stay, they would have to cut one of their three longer-term imports. But whether that is possible remains to be seen.
Tyler Cook (left) tries to thwart a drive to the basket by Cairns’ Sam Waardenburg.Credit: Getty
“Tyler’s very dynamic, very intelligent. He’s selfless and has fit into the group seamlessly,” Creek said.
“It’s going to be interesting how he goes during the season and what we do in that space. There are decisions to be made.”
The Kings have a new master
American Mahmoud Abdelfattah will become the league’s first Muslim head coach, and takes charge of the back-to-back champs with a big job ahead of him.
New Sydney Kings coach Mahmoud Abdelfatta.Credit: James Brickwood
His warmth, passion and love for his players have already won the praises of part-owner Luc Longley, but he has a big job to do without championship skipper Xavier Cooks, who has gone to the NBA, along with shooter DJ Vasiljevic.
Jaylen Adams, the 2021 MVP point guard, has returned after leading the Kings to a title in 2021-2022, while DJ Hogg starred with Cairns last year.
Former Chicago Bull Denzel Valentine has done plenty at NBA level. He should be a difference-maker for the Kings.
Abdelfattah hopes his stint in Sydney will lead him back to the NBA. Whether it does or not, he shapes as one of the league’s most watchable figures this season.
Illawarra big man Lachlan Olbrich in action during the NBA Blitz.Credit: Getty
Illawarra’s big man has risen from obscurity to potential NBA player
Few people had Hawks big man Lachlan Olbrich high on their list of NBA prospects before the NBL Blitz, but his campaign was so impressive he is now among the league’s top prospects. Olbrich played US college basketball and has come home ready to show he can play at the highest level.
NBA skills trainer Jordan Lawley praised Olbrich: “His game is really special and translates really well to the NBA four [power forward position]. He put his best foot forward at the Blitz, no one was keying in on him, and he surprised some people in the process.”
Wildcats have their claws back
The Wildcats have fallen back in the standings the past two seasons, but John Rillie’s side has brought in some serious talent.
Import defensive ace Jordan Usher will fire them up, Next Star Alexandre Sarr will make a difference at the basket and Boomers squad member Keanu Pinder is a dangerous scoring threat. Add in superstar Bryce Cotton and New Zealand guards Tai and Corey Webster and you have a powerful nucleus. Local product Ben Henshall quietly signed, too. He shapes as a future Boomers player and will play minutes this season.
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