MELBOURNE - Mitch Creek has returned to the NBL with vengeance this season, having entered Saturday night's four-point loss to the Kings as the league's leading scorer with an average of 21.78 points per game.
Simon Mitchell's squad has empowered Creek with the keys to the offence, using his ability to rebound the ball and initiate transition opportunities with his much-improved passing ability to find the plethora of Phoenix shooters on the perimeter or body his way to the rack to score.
Saturday night at Melbourne Arena pitted Creek against the man who in all likelihood knows him better than anyone in Australian basketball.
"God, I hope that's not true," Sydney Kings head coach, Will Weaver, jokingly responded when that proposition was put to him post game.
Weaver was Creek's head coach in the G League last season with the Long Island Nets, before also joining the Australia coaching staff at the recent FIBA World Cup.
With that innate knowledge of the Phoenix leader, the Kings were able to consistently keep South East Melbourne from unleashing their deadly full-court offence, restricting his playmaking ability, and holding the MVP candidate to just one assist for the night.
"He's just a selfish player, selfish person, he's got to look himself in the mirror and identify what it is that keeps him from liking him teammates and being such a ball hog," a jovial Weaver remarked in response to the one assist, before finally giving some insight into the respect he has for his former player.
"He's the leading scorer in the league, he's a beast. A lot of jump shooters that they have, they swing, and assists are pretty silly a lot of the times. I don't put a lot of credence into that as a metric for their success; however they thrive off it, they lead the league in assist percentage."
Although he finished with 20 points on an efficient 7-for-14 from the field, Creek was frustrated with the way the game ended, with a drive to the basket and attempted drop off to Dane Pineau resulting in the turnover that ultimately ended the game.
"I feel like I really let the team down in a few ways tonight and it's something that I'm really critical on myself and I'm really critical first and foremost on me and trying to better our team," Creek said.
"At the end of the day I have to be able to make that play, whether it's shoot the ball and live with the loss by getting a field goal attempt, we didn't get a field goal attempt on that last play and that's what is pissing me off right now.
"You miss it, you miss it. And if you make it, you make it; but you throw it out of bounds you don't give yourself a chance to win so I take the blame for that one."
The comments give a fantastic insight into how far Creek has come over the past 18 months.
Always a solid player at NBL level, he has now morphed into a genuine star in this league, and the true heart and soul of the upstart Phoenix franchise.
Creek has been stuffing the box score with regularity through 10 games. But that means little to him, he wants to win.
"I'm more than happy for my teammates to all have ten, twelve points and I have a donut, that's great," Creek said with a shrug.
"I just want great shots every possession no matter who is shooting it, but I've also got to find a way to impact more; whether it be communication, whether it be more intangibles or being able to set guys up, set screens, back picks so guys can offensive rebound; there's a few areas I think I can help when I'm not in transition and playing downhill but I'll go back and watch the film, we all will, and get better from it."
This same selfless approach is one he has continuously communicated from the day his pen hit the paper on the contact with South East Melbourne, and it's not hard to see why he is one of the most respected players in Australian basketball right now.
As for his old coach Weaver, he doesn't expect much time to pass before the 27-year-old is once again lacing up his sneakers across the Pacific.
"I've gone on record that I think he's an NBA player, I think he'll play in the NBA as soon as this season ends, he'll be on ten-day [contracts]," Weaver said with confidence.
You can be rest assured that the NBA will be far from Creek's mind over the next few days though, his focus will instead be locked on helping this Phoenix team out of a slump that has them 5-5 and right back in the middle of the NBL pack.