NBL 3x3: Which team has been the big disappointments?

Let's get down to business.

With only a handful of games left in the NBL regular season, home court is on the line and a number of contenders are set to square off in matchups that could define the championship race.

On the other end of the scale, preparation is in full swing for NBL23 for a number of teams who have been eliminated from the postseason.

Kane Pitman, Peter Hooley and Josh Garlepp are back for as they are every Wednesday to answer some intriguing questions ahead of Round 20.


THREE OPINIONS

Kane Pitman: Pay attention to the Sydney defence.

Absolutely loaded on the offensive side of the ball, the Kings have quietly become a defensive juggernaut, with only Melbourne United conceding fewer points per 100 possessions.

With Xavier Cooks and Jarell Martin anchoring the smallball frontcourt for much of the season, the Kings are tied with United, giving up just 0.88 points per halfcourt possession, while ranking third in the league by the same metric in transition defence.

Due to the scoring firepower, the other end of the floor has been overlooked, but it's a major reason they have rattled off 12 straight wins to sit alongside Melbourne at the top of the NBL standings.

On an individual level, I expect Xavier Cooks to feature as a Best Defensive Player finalist.

Peter Hooley: A loss will help the Kings win.

It's a weird thing to say, but Sydney Kings might need to lose soon in an effort to help them win it all. They have been on an absolute tear, winning 12 in a row, behind an MVP calibre season from Jaylen Adams. However, it's become even more evident over their last two games, that they've been well below their best.

Coach Chase Buford told me before their game against the Breakers, that he believed they got away with one in their game against Adelaide. If that was the case, then he wouldn't have been too impressed with their overall performance against an inspired New Zealand outfit.

I think that a loss soon could help the team just snap back into laser sharp focus and realise that they need to be at their best every single night. They have all the right pieces to take this all the way, but sometimes feeling invincible and winning every game can catch you sleeping.

Josh Garlepp: Lack of lottery prospects shouldn't hurt momentum of Next Stars program.

Josh Giddey and LaMelo Ball's success in jumping from the NBL to the NBA lottery was an impressive feat for both the players and the program, but NBL22's Next Stars contributions show the sustainability of the program without a once-in-a-lifetime talent.

Melbourne's Ariel Hukporti and New Zealand's Ousmane Dieng are the most notable performers from this season, with both pushing for draft selection but importantly they have significantly improved over the year.

The Ball phenomenon in Illawarra was amazing to watch and kickstarted one of the most exciting young NBA careers, but in reality, the Hawks struggled that year and were at times better served by local guard Emmett Naar at point guard.

NBL22's crop of Next Stars won't create as many headlines as our past two years, but hopefully that doesn't discourage international talent realising how much can be gained down under.


What is the Semi-Final matchup you want to see?

Kane Pitman: Perth vs. Melbourne.

A few short weeks ago I thought this could be the eventual top-two and a potential Grand Final series but now a first-round matchup could be on the cards.

Melbourne have put together the best defence in the league and the Wildcats have held a top-two offence for much of the season. Defence might not be the attraction for all fans, but I really want to see Matthew Dellavedova and Shea Ili chase Bryce Cotton around for three games, while Jack White attempts to slow down Vic Law.

Bryce LOVES playing in Melbourne, which adds intrigue to the continuation of an absorbing rivalry.

Peter Hooley: The freeway series.

Give me three hotly contested matchups between the two New South Wales teams. Both teams have been the hottest in the league of late, and we saw a few fireworks early in the season when they played each other.

Reath vs Martin. Cooks vs Froling. Adams and Harvey. Vasiljevic vs Jessup. Tempers would be sure to boil over, but the quality of basketball would be extremely high. Grab me the popcorn!

Josh Garlepp: Melbourne United & Perth

They've faced off twice in the Grand Final series in recent years and while Melbourne United have maintained their dominance, a new look Perth has had a few stumbles in NBL22.

The familiar foes have bred a rivalry and fearlessness from both sides. Chris Goulding seems to feed off the Red Army's boos, and three-time MVP Bryce Cotton at times breaks from his perfect public persona to reveal what a competitive beast drives Perth's success.

Most recently, their outings have somewhat hinged on the presence of Wildcats guard Mitch Norton.

Norton has had a tough run of injuries this season but when the former Boomer is present the balance and control on both ends is obvious for Perth.

He dropped a season-high 26 points against United to claim a win but without Norton, Cats stars Cotton and Vic Law were strangled by United's defence in the fourth at RAC Arena.

United will head in heavy favourites and while an upset for Perth isn't impossible, an entertaining series is nearly guaranteed.


Which team has disappointed the most in NBL22?

Kane Pitman: What are the positives for the Adelaide 36ers?

At a stretch, the development of Kai Sotto has been impressive late in the season but there's not much outside of that.

Isaac Humphries unfortunately never got going due to injury, the imports failed to deliver and too many times first-year head coach C.J. Bruton had to implore his team to show greater effort. Wins against Melbourne and Perth proved the group had potential, but what happened against the rest?

Adelaide are eighth in offensive and defensive rating, highlighting their struggles on both ends.

It will be an interesting offseason ahead for Adelaide.

Peter Hooley: What happened at South East Melbourne?

The Phoenix were a contender when the season began, and for good reason. They were loaded with talent from top to bottom and were one game short of a Grand Final berth last season.

Where did it all go wrong? The Phoenix seemed to be their own worst enemy over the last few weeks. Defensively, they had their issues, but it was more than that. They couldn't get over the line in close games, they couldn't put teams away that they should have.

The Phoenix themselves would no doubt agree that this season has been very disappointing. I am expecting some decent changes in the offseason.

Josh Garlepp: Brisbane

After adding versatile and potent scorer Robert Franks to a trim Lamar Patterson, Boomer Nathan Sobey and a heap of veteran contributors, the Bullets looked to be one of the most potent squads before the NBL season.

Unfortunately, due to inconsistency and injuries the Queensland side is looking at another year outside the top four, currently in seventh place with a 10-16 record.

The three wins they claimed over top-four sides came before January 21st, Sobey's last full game was a week later before a knee injury to the Olympian derailed his season and the Bullets.

A lot has been made of Tasmania and South East Melbourne's success since joining the competition but in six years since returning to the NBL, Brisbane has missed finals five times.


Which player looms as a playoff game changer?

Kane Pitman: Dejan Vasiljevic.

It's easy to overlook the performances of DJ when he plays alongside Jaylen Adams, Xavier Cooks, Jarell Martin and Ian Clark, but the man is a flamethrower who can tear a game open in a matter of minutes.

A fearless pure shooter, Vasiljevic has put up 11.5 points per night, topping 20 points on three occasions and nailing three or more long range attempts in eight games.

Not bad for a return season after rupturing his achilles in NBL21.

Peter Hooley: Todd Blanchfield for me

I said this a few weeks ago and nothing has changed in my mind. Todd Blanchfield needs to be a consistent scoring threat every single night, in order to help Perth get back to their best.

The Wildcats have two of the best players in the league, in Bryce Cotton and Vic Law, but they need Blanchfield knocking down shots to take some pressure off.

Their three-game losing skid at home highlighted how teams are trying to play the Wildcats. Make life as tough as possible for Law and Cotton and tire them out by the fourth quarter, with physicality and toughness. It seemed to work.

As always, I have no doubt that Perth turns it around and make strong push to the end.

Josh Garlepp: Matthew Dellavedova

Dellavedova is averaging 10.4 points, 5.2 assists and almost three rebounds a game but United fans and his NBL opponents would be well aware of his impact beyond the stat sheet.

The former NBA champion controls United on both ends and makes every possession tough for rival guards and can punish a team offensively if required with his seven threes against Illawarra on January 16th a perfect example.

As you look at the three teams most likely to play in the postseason, they all feature dominant guards with prolific scoring potential, Jaylan Adams (SYD), Bryce Cotton (Perth) & Tyler Harvey (ILL).

Dellavedova has plenty of help on the defensive end through Shea Ili and the recent acquisition of Yudai Baba but come finals against the best in the league, expect the Maryborough man to rise to the moment as he has so many other times across his career.

Advanced stats via spatialjam.com and jordanmcnbl.com.au