NBL 3x3: Who is the league's best big man? Is it time to panic for Sydney Kings?

With teams shaking the rust off across the NBL in the past week, we were treated to what will likely be one of the games of the season between Melbourne United and the Illawarra Hawks.

Outside of that performance, predicting results is becoming impossible, with the league shaking out to be as even as preseason projections promised. It's far too early to panic, but some real questions are beginning to surface across the league.

Is it panic time for Sydney? What's up with New Zealand's lineups? Who is the best centre in the league?

Kane Pitman, Peter Hooley and Josh Garlepp answer those questions and more in this week's 3x3!

THREE OPINIONS

Kane Pitman - Mitch McCarron is the engine that makes the Adelaide 36ers tick.

The veteran star had a subdued start to NBL22, which unsurprisingly coincided with the 36ers producing some troubling performances including a blowout loss to Cairns on December 18.

"We were disappointed with that, players and coaching staff alike, everyone knew it wasn't good enough. Hopefully, whenever we play next everyone is ready from tip to bring that energy," McCarron recently told ESPN.

With 31 days to think over that performance, McCarron set the tone early, knocking down two triples and bombarding the glass in an opening quarter performance that became a regular occurrence during Melbourne United's championship run last season.

He finished the night with 10 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, with the 36ers getting their season back on track. McCarron set the tone on Tuesday night and after a few rounds to get acclimatised, we were reminded of why he remains one of the most underrated signings of the offseason.

Peter Hooley - It had been a long time between drinks, but the last two South East Melbourne Phoenix performances haven't been great.

Their most recent loss to the Bullets can easily be attributed to their previous COVID battles, yet they're still arguably the deepest and most talented team in the league.

So who is their X-factor? It has to be Ryan Broekhoff.

During the preseason blitz, Broekhoff looked every bit of the player we all expected to see. However, that hasn't translated over to the regular season just yet. He's averaging 9ppg and four rebounds, shooting 19% from the three.

There's no doubt in my mind that he will start hitting shots soon, and a lot of them at that. Yet, if the Phoenix want to be holding up that trophy at the end of the year, they need Rowdy firing.

The most promising part of his start to the season is that he's still been getting up shots, which we didn't see in his late addition in NBL21. Not only that, but he's found other ways to have an impact on the game, in terms of crashing the boards.

The Phoenix have studs everywhere, including Mitch Creek and Zhou Qi, but they need Broekhoff to be that consistent shooting scoring punch on the wing. For a team with that much depth, it can sometimes be a big question for Simon Mitchell to keep Broekhoff out on the floor if he's been in a cold patch.

With the likes of Kyle Adnam and Cam Gliddon to come in and try and hit shots. It's when, not if, Rowdy starts knocking them down at a high rate. And I can't wait for the flood gates to open!

Josh Garlepp - With Adelaide coming off a 31-day break, star centre Isaac Humphries (COVID-19) still building fitness and the 36ers fighting to remain relevant in NBL22, the club needed someone to step up against top-of-the-table Perth and Cameron Bairstow delivered.

The 31-year-old landed in South Australia after falling onto the NBL scrapheap, managing just 14 games with Illawarra and a string of unfortunate injuries since arriving in the league in 2016.

The former Chicago Bull was brought home to dominate in Australia but against the Wildcats looked like the perfect role player 36ers.

Bairstow finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds in his first start with his third NBL club and paired perfectly with Daniel Johnson's offensive prowess. Much of his impact was felt beyond the stat sheet in offensive rebounding, one-percenters and making the right decision on both ends.

The former Olympian may have originally had the ceiling of a franchise player but now looks reinvigorated in a two-way supportive role in Adelaide.


THREE QUESTIONS

Who is the best centre in the league?

Kane Pitman: On a night-to-night basis, the big man department is producing the most enthralling individual battles in NBL22. For mine, Duop Reath still produces the most dynamic skill set in the league.

Averaging 16 points, seven boards and a block per outing, Reath's ability to put the bull on the floor and knock down jump shots facing up or with his back to the basket is rare. He's shooting 51% from the field and 38 percent from three and is in general proving a matchup nightmare for teams across the league.

Illawarra head coach Brian Goorjian admitted Reath was a pleasant surprise in at Boomers training camp prior to the Olympics and it's safe to say his early season play has been similar in the NBL.

Peter Hooley: The rise of Jo Lual-Acuil has been incredible. A late signing for Melbourne United last season, JLA has been a revelation since stepping into the league.

A man who has never seen a shot he didn't like, but with the variety of different ways he can score, can you blame him?

Everyone wanted to see the matchup last round between him and Duop Reath and JLA shone. 11 points to go with 12 rebounds and 5 blocks in a road win against one of the title favourites.

Lual-Acuil's ceiling is incredibly high. One of the best parts of his game is that all his individual workouts are done with the guards. Everything he does is about getting better at handling the ball and scoring in different ways to the traditional centre.

I asked him at halftime of a game last season how it felt in his first NBL start, to which he replied, "it's fun. I know none of these guys can stop me so it's always fun."

Too right, Jo.

Josh Garlepp: Following the departure of Jock Landale, Jo Lual-Acuil has seen a jump in minutes and there have been moments when no one on-court can stop the big man.

Dean Vickerman's squad is disciplined within their roles and Lual-Acuil, in his third season at Melbourne, chooses his spots depending on whether United need him to feast or facilitate.

Against an undersized New Zealand, JLA dominated inside but facing Illawarra, the big man reverted to a defence-first rim-running role, moving the ball well and trying to limit Hawks bigs like Duop Reath.

United's depth means Lual-Acuil doesn't always have eye-popping statistical outings, but he's been arguably the side's most reliable player this season and a big part of their top-of-the-table standing.

What's next for the Sydney Kings?

Kane Pitman: Leave me in the cautiously optimistic camp with the Sydney Kings. It might sound crazy, but I don't think it's time for panic.

Looking at the big picture, no team in the league has been decimated by injuries like Sydney. The Kings have now lost RJ and Jordan Hunter for the season, in addition to Jaylen Adams, Makur Maker, Angus Glover and Biwali Bayles seeing time on the sidelines.

The loss of RJ Hunter is a particularly large blow, with Sydney needing to plug a gap in the guard/wing rotation. As Pete will argue below, there is sentiment that the Kings should go big with their import replacement, but I still feel they need another player who can score and facilitate alongside Adams.

The defensive performance of Xavier Cooks on Duop Reath last week was enough for me to believe the Kings have the versatility to match it with the elite big men in the league, but they need consistent back court punch to accompany DJ Vasiljevic and Angus Glover as they continue to find their consistency on the floor. Either way, the Kings are well aware the decision is preferably needing to come sooner rather than later.

Peter Hooley: With the unfortunate loss of RJ Hunter, the Kings replacement import search begins. There's been whispers of a couple elite scoring guards floating around, but I think the Kings should try and find an impactful starting centre. With Jordan Hunter sidelined with injury, I'd love to see them go after someone who would make Jarell Martin slide to the four spot, and Xavier Cooks to the three.

Make no mistake, Jaylen Adams needs to take over this team. He was signed as that kind of player and has had to deal with injuries, but it's time for him to show the Kings and the NBL what he's made of.

If he does that, I feel that they have a great core of guards rotation and could really benefit from having an extra scoring big man. It would give Chase Buford the option to player Cooks and Martin in different positions each game and would be a tough task to stop.

Josh Garlepp: Kings Chief Executive Chris Pongrass and owner Paul Smith face their biggest test since arriving at Sydney three years ago.

A near championship in their debut year for NBL20 was followed by the excusable circumstance of the first COVID-19 season.

In NBL22 a much-hyped roster sits eighth at 3-5 after an inconsistent start that has been hampered by a string of high-profile injuries - most recently RJ Hunter (knee).

On court, the reality of four coaches in four seasons, injuries, and the absence of three-time all-NBL first teamer Casper Ware brings a lack of cohesion in important moments.

In the last 5.25 minutes of play against cellar-dwellers New Zealand, the Kings managed a single point and continuously ignored mismatches against the undersized Breakers while rushing contested shots as the game hung in the balance.

A guard like Ware will be hard to obtain but for now the Kings need build chemistry with the roster they have available.

Is a lineup change in order for the New Zealand Breakers?

Kane Pitman: The Breakers were unlucky to be 0-6 with a series of narrow losses to team's many perceive to be contenders in NBL22.

Winning two of three since the league resumed, the Breakers have leaned heavily on import duo Peyton Siva and Jeremiah Martin, both of whom suffered ill-timed injuries early in the season. On Sunday, head coach Dan Shamir explained the decision to start Dieng and Hugo Besson in his halftime interview by saying, "it's a good time to give them minutes and see how the game develops."

Coming off the bench hardly impacted the minutes played by the veteran duo, with Martin checking into the game at the 7:02 mark of the first quarter and never heading to the bench for the rest of the night, while Siva also topped 30 minutes.

If the minute load is that high and neither mind coming off the bench, why does it matter?

Peter Hooley: He's been injured to start NBL22, but the last few games, we have started to see what Peyton Siva can bring.

He's doing a bit of everything and at a high level. I think it's only a matter of time before he gets put back in the starting unit. The same can't be said for Jeremiah Martin, who arguably has been putting up better numbers for Siva over the same period.

Martin is a stud, but he seems to play his best basketball when he comes off the bench. He gets to run with the bench unit and have everything revolve around him. I also think it's when New Zealand are at their strongest, to have his impact and energy come into the game. It may mean some reshuffling for Will McDowell-White and Ousmane Dieng.

Josh Garlepp: 18-year-old Ousmane Dieng may end up heading to the NBA, but the Frenchman has hurt New Zealand at times this NBL season.

Like teammate and fellow Next Star Hugo Besson, Dieng can be exploited defensively, most recently against the Kings, the difference is Besson (15.1 PPG) can lift the team offensively off his own bat.

In nine games, Dieng has averaged 16 minutes and 3.1 points per game at just 20% from the floor, while imports Peyton Siva and Jeremiah Martin have built momentum recently combining for 78 points in the last two games.

The Breakers' depth has been an issue all season so coach Dan Shamir may keep Dieng in the starting line-up with the hope of building the youngster's confidence and potentially rolling with Next Star if he's hot in games early.

A more likely option will be a shift to the bench, as the Breakers turn look to a veteran presence as NBL22 rolls on.