NBL 3x3: Can the Wildcats win the championship if they can't return to Perth?

From no basketball to an absolute festival of hoops!

The NBL is cooking and so is 3x3 for Round 9. Kane Pitman, Peter Hooley and Josh Garlepp come together as they do every Wednesday to discuss the big topics of the week.

Is the league trending big or small? Can Perth win the championship away from Western Australia? Which imports are feeling the pinch?

Let's get into it!


THREE OPINIONS

Kane Pitman - Melbourne United is only just moving into top gear.

I'm more than happy to own up when a prediction falls short, and my concerns over the United offence are looking completely unnecessary.

While the defending champs experienced major roster turnover, the readiness for Jo Lual-Acuil to snatch a starring role and the return of Jack White's infectious energy are providing the juice Dean Vickerman's squad needs.

In addition, NBA prospect Ariel Hukporti is at times looking like an above the rim physical force and Caleb Agada is the 'Scotty Hopson-esque' microwave scorer who can put up points in bunches.

United have rattled off eight straight wins and an 0-2 start is now well and truly in the rear vision mirror. Of course, we didn't even mention their league-best defence which keeps them in the contest on a nightly basis if the shots aren't falling.

Perhaps I misread this one a little....

Peter Hooley - Can a team have too much talent? Is depth a cause for concern?

With how close this NBL season is shaping up to be, four of the projected top teams are loaded from top to bottom. We have seen in the past that if everyone buys into the goal of winning a championship, having a deep squad is nothing but advantageous. Look no further than United last year with Jock Landale playing only 28 minutes a game and Scotty Hopson coming off the bench.

However, with all the positives that comes with a deep roster, there are always potential negatives. Having defined roles amongst any team is so crucial for success, but when they keep changing due to everyone having a chance to contribute, can you find any real momentum?

Let's also not forget that with a loaded roster, always comes the potential for players to be unhappy with their playing time and opportunity, which we have also seen over the last few years.

The South East Melbourne Phoenix, Perth Wildcats, Illawarra Hawks and Brisbane Bullets are all loaded with talent. Thankfully, that depth has only helped in the early stages of NBL22, with injuries and COVID. However, as the season continues to unfold, how will these teams deal with the above situations? It will be a very interesting watch!

Josh Garlepp - The weekend's double-header between Brisbane and Sydney highlighted just how vital a dominant big man can be to succeeding in NBL22.

Xavier Cooks is the Kings' best player.

The 26-year-old was +17 before being ejected after he was whacked with a tech and an unsportsmanlike foul in Friday's loss to Brisbane.

The Bullets overran Sydney in the fourth and without Cooks' presence, Brisbane big Tyrell Harrison operated unopposed around the rim, deterring shots and amassing eight of his 13 rebounds in the fourth quarter.

Roles reversed on Sunday as Harrison went down with injury after just two minutes and Cooks' returned reinvigorated and ready to make a statement against an undermanned Bullets.

He finished with 13 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks but, like Harrison in the first leg, Cooks' impact went far beyond his stats on the night.


THREE QUESTIONS

Is going big or small the championship trend in NBL22?

Kane Pitman - It's not so much size as it is versatility, particularly on the defensive end.

The recent addition of Brandon Ashley further solidifies South East Melbourne's roster, with opposition teams constantly trying to drag Zhou Qi to the perimeter. The Chinese superstar is handling the challenge, leading the league in blocked shots, but now the Phoenix have a more versatile and flexible option if required.

The days of the lumbering big man are gone, and lineup versatility is key. Zhou Qi is far from an old-school big, but it's going to be interesting to see how he fares against Lual-Acuil, Duop Reath, Jarell Martin, Robert Franks and the like across the course of a playoff series as teams look to their 'small-ball' rotation.

Peter Hooley - Big is better

When you look at some of the top tier teams in the league, they all have a massive presence in the middle. Lual-Acuil, Reath and Zhou Qi to name a few... As productive as playing small can be, it certainly seems as though playing the traditional style with a big centre, is what's going to lead a team to a championship.

The bottom line for me is can the likes of Robert Franks and Vic Law consistently stop the likes of Lual-Acuil on the block, over a three or five game series? We'll have to wait and see.

Josh Garlepp - The global push to small ball has seen a change in the mobility and shooting of today's big men in the NBL but teams don't always have the luxury of following a particular hoops trend.

Of the contenders, South East Melbourne's hopes hinge on paint pairing of Mitch Creek and Zhou Qi's stepping up each night but other title favourites are far more perimeter orientated.

The Perth Wildcats often run a near small ball line-up with Jesse Wagstaff, Luke Travers and Todd Blanchfield allowing coach Scott Morrison the flexibility to exploit immobile opponents.

Illawarra coach Brian Goorjian recruited Boomer Duop Reath for his flexibility to move around the floor with brothers Sam and Harry Froling allowing similar versatility. Big or small, we're seeing a range of styles in this NBL and the biggest winner is the fan.

Can the Wildcats win the championship if they can't return to Perth?

Kane Pitman - Over the course of the last three seasons Perth has a 36-10 regular season winning record at home. On the road, they are 26-20.

The numbers don't lie, and the grind of playing on the road will eventually start to take a toll. I have no question Perth can win a series against any given team with Bryce Cotton and Vic Law in the lineup, but can they maintain the motivation during the regular season while living out of a hotel room?

Making the postseason might just be their greater task.

It's a monumental challenge and one the New Zealand Breakers have understandably struggled with. The cards are stacked against the Wildcats but isn't that when they usually thrive?

Peter Hooley - Time stamp this piece, as I can't wait to be proven wrong. No, they can't.

Winning one game away from home is tough in the NBL. Winning an entire finals series away from home is even tougher. But do you know what makes all that even harder? When your home court is RAC Arena with 13,000 crazy Red Army fans cheering you across the line. There's just no replacing that kind of support. It's the best in the league and has been a strong reason as to the sustained success for the Wildcats over the years.

Hold the phone, though. They have this guy named Bryce Cotton. So, you can never really rule out anything crazy with that man on the team.

Josh Garlepp - After WA premier Mark McGowan's border announcement last week, the best home-court advantage in the competition was reduced to a distant dream for the Red Army.

One of the Wildcats' biggest weapons nullified as their return to Perth remains unknown, despite the circumstance the side have continued to win, and you don't have to look too far for examples of teams that have succeeded after being locked out in the COVID crisis.

The Perth Scorchers have played 90 per cent of their season outside of WA but on Friday the T20 franchise heads to the Big Bash Grand Final at Marvel Stadium.

The Melbourne Demons claimed 2021's AFL premiership despite having all of their finals, en route to the Grand Final at Optus Stadium, relocated interstate and away from the safety of the MCG.

Fans like to believe home-court has a major impact on a game's result, but the biggest indicator remains talent.

Perth have shown enough to be considered a legitimate title contender regardless of where they call home and blowing away the Hawks in Illawarra in the fourth recently was a timely reminder.

Which import is feeling the pressure?

Kane Pitman - Keeping in mind it's the JackJumpers' first season in the league, there is going to be a theme in this section of 3x3. I'm throwing in Josh Adams and Josh Magette together here.

Tasmania battle hard, but some brutal second half offence continues to be an issue in the hunt of wins, with the shot selection of Adams and Magette baffling to be kind.

Adams is averaging 14.5 points on 33.9 percent from the floor and 18.2 percent from three, while Magette is posting 13.5 points on 29.5 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from long range.

Nobody on the roster has the ball in their hands more than the import duo and it's hard to see the JackJumpers winning too many games if there isn't an uptick in those shooting splits.

Peter Hooley - There's a few around the league that would have been called in for a chat from the coach. But Scott Roth came out and said he put MiKyle McIntosh on notice after a slow production to start NBL22.

McIntosh looked better in their loss last weekend, but still has to take it another step further. What doesn't help his cause, is that the JackJumpers leading import duo of Josh Magette and Josh Adams have also been struggling. Which just adds further pressure on McIntosh to produce big numbers for Tasmania to have a chance at winning.

With the continuing COVID crisis, it's a tough spot for all teams when it comes to potentially replacing imports. And we have seen glimpses of what McIntosh can do at this level, that could really help his team. The tap on the shoulder from the coach is never nice, but sometimes it's exactly what's needed.

Josh Garlepp - MiKyle McIntosh.

Normally the NBL is cutthroat for imports as the club's international ring-ins aren't afforded the same contractual protections their local equivalents receive, but for NBL22 the scarcity of top tier international talent and the pandemic's lingering impact makes import spots safer than ever.

As one coach told ESPN: "There's just no one decent available, with all the European leagues in full swing."

That said, the Jack Jumpers' MiKyle McIntosh sticks out as someone that has struggled to make an impact this season on a team that could really use scoring and depth in his position.

Part of the issue is McIntosh's role under coach Scott Roth, playing just 16 minutes per game but he's averaged just 5.9 points and is shooting 29 per cent from the floor, 10 per cent from deep.

This compared with his most recent posting in the French Pro A with Le Portal where the forward averaged 12.1 points and 4.1 rebounds.