Delly on fire, Next Stars shine: 10 observations from the 2023 NBL Blitz

GOLD COAST -- Just like that, the 2023 NBL Blitz is done and dusted.

Melbourne United walked away as victors, but this event was, as usual, all about what was happening on the periphery.

We got a close look at the good and bad of every NBL team, the NBA scouts in attendance got to see a heap of high-level prospects on show, and some decisions were already made based on all of those things.

We never try to use these games to make sweeping judgments about teams because overall results don't really matter, but we got an idea of some things we may see as the 2023-24 NBL season progresses.

Here are 10 observations from the league's annual preseason showcase.

NBL wants the Blitz here again

The league saw the NBL Blitz as an overwhelming success.

More than 20,000 people filled the stands over the course of the week, the feedback from players and teams regarding the logistics of the event was largely positive, and the NBA scouts and executives in attendance also walked away from the tournament happy.

Because of what's been regarded as a successful event, the NBL is already in discussions for the Gold Coast to host next season's Blitz, sources told ESPN. There's even potential for the Gold Coast to be the home of the Blitz for the next few preseasons, sources said.

The league sees the NBA Summer League as a model, to an extent, and different ideas have been floated to bolster the Blitz. There has been talk about attempting to bring in a Basketball Without Borders or Jr. NBA camp -- a move that would even further incentivise NBA scouts to attend -- and even including non-NBL teams in the event.

Conversations regarding how the Blitz, as an event, may grow, will be ongoing over the course of the next 12 months, but what became clear over the week was that it's overwhelmingly likely that it'll be in the Gold Coast again, and every stakeholder involved appears to be backing that decision.

Some whispers

It's tough to keep secrets on the Gold Coast.

The big one came early in the week, then the Adelaide 36ers began the process of parting ways with Jamaal Franklin. The team was quick to pull the trigger on that decision, and are currently in the process of finding an import to replace him.

At this point, the 36ers are eyeing a point guard to fill that vacant spot, sources said. CJ Bruton is in the process of collecting a list of names, and has a desire to sign a player sooner than later.

The Perth Wildcats are the other team still with an import spot to fill. The team is eyeing a three-four type of player, sources said, with the emergence of Alex Sarr as a widely-regarded top-10 big-man prospect allowing them to be flexible with the recruitment of that import. John Rillie's team finished the Blitz 3-0.

Tyler Cook is a tease

Of course Tyler Cook -- the South East Melbourne Phoenix's injury replacement for Alan Williams -- had to go ahead and win the Ray Borner Trophy as MVP of the Blitz.

Cook was seemingly unstoppable. His size and athleticism was overwhelming, and his ability to finish plays at and around the rim made him one of the most potent weapons on the Gold Coast. The big-man averaged 21 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game, so it's clear he'll be able to help the Phoenix in a big way.

The only issue is that'll only be for a short period of time. Williams will likely comeback from his knee injury is, roughly, six weeks, meaning Cook's time in Melbourne's South East will come to an end.

The expectation is that Cook will then head to Europe to finish his season; something rival general managers around the league have openly expressed their joy about.

Don't be surprised, though, if those same teams make inquiries about Cook next offseason. The price will likely be high, but the evidence suggests that'd be warranted, because his ability to produce at this level has been incredibly impressive.

Lachlan Olbrich may have performed the best out of all the prospects on the Gold Coast

This one isn't hyperbole. If you walked into the NBL Blitz knowing nothing about the NBA prospects on show, you would've walked away thinking Olbrich - the Illawarra Hawks' 6'10 forward - had the best showing of them all, Next Star or otherwise.

Olbrich, 19, showed a ton of versatility for his size, creating from the top of the key and in short rolls, while finishing efficiently through traffic. He averaged 14.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game over the course of the Blitz - shooting 19/22 from the field in total - capped off by an 18-point, 6-rebound, 5-assist outing in a win over the Taipans to cap off the week.

With 25+ NBA teams' worth of scouts in attendance - all of whom were there to see the impressive crop of Next Stars - Olbrich stood out as the prospect who clearly made the most impact for his team. If we're looking at who has the highest ceiling, or who would translate to the NBA game right away, then Alex Sarr continued to show those flashes in a big way, and Bobi Klintman helped himself a lot this week. When it came down to who was the most productive at this level right now, though, Melbourne's Ariel Hukporti was great, but the case for Olbrich is the strongest.

He'll need to show he can knock down the three consistently - like he did during his NBL1 season with the West Adelaide Bearcats, shooting 43.6 percent from downtown, on 4.3 attempts a game - for NBA teams to see the clearest picture of how he translates to the league, but he's already showing to be an impact guy for the Hawks and has barely scratched the surface of his potential.

In fact, this was a great week for all of the Australian prospects

There's a really good argument that the Australians on NBA radars performed at a higher level at this Blitz than the American and international prospects.

Olbrich was the one who emerged toward the top of the pack, but the overall crop was quite impressive.

Our first look at Alex Toohey was as advertised, and some. The 19-year-old, 6'8 wing was one of the bright spots for both the Kings and the Next Stars program. He showed that his guard skills can translate to the pro level -- including his ability to defend perimeter players -- that the size for his position will be one of his strong suits, and that the shot is real.

Taran Armstrong should be given the keys to a lot of what the Taipans do and showed some impressive creation out there. He's added size to his frame and can really, really pass it. NBA scouts in the building question the jump-shot and whether he can guard effectively, but the ceiling is high for the 6'6 point guard.

Of course, the Brisbane Bullets' Rocco Zikarsky is still a year away from being draft eligible, but the 7'3 centre was able to show off his immense size and length over two games at the Blitz. Ben Henshall also continued to look impressive for the Perth Wildcats, making winning plays on the offensive end with his really dynamic guard skillset.

There's a lot to like about the Breakers

The New Zealand Breakers went 1-2 at the Blitz, but it's very tough to see them not being one of the NBL's elite teams again.

Will McDowell-White -- the team's marquee point guard -- didn't play with a hand injury, so we got a really good look at some of the new pieces on the roster. Zylan Cheatham is the one that stands out because of his athletic prowess, but his ability to play multiple roles offensively while also being able to guard one-through-five is what really makes him so valuable for these Breakers.

Parker Jackson-Cartwright is also looking like one of the league's elite imports, as expected. He's a pest defensively and manages to get two feet in the paint at least 20 times on any given night. He probably doesn't shoot the ball in the same way and capacity as Barry Brown Jr., but his ability to create advantages is arguably more effective.

Throw in the prospect of having Finn Delany -- a marquee-level local player -- coming off the bench, the Breakers' overall depth, the shooting glimpses we've seen from Justinian Jessup, and the stretches of suffocating defence that reminded us that this is Mody Maor's team, and they look to be in a good position to succeed again.

Expect parity

If you spoke to NBL and NBA decision-makers on the Gold Coast this week, there was a consistent thread: there are no bad teams.

Most mentioned the 36ers as perhaps the only exception here, but one import move could completely shift the balance of the roster in a positive way and make them competitive, so there's a world where they're not just the easy pick to walk away with the wooden spoon.

Still, the overall sentiment is clear. Every team looks capable of competing this season.

There shouldn't be the inevitable prediction of smaller market teams as the ones who'll fall to the bottom of the ladder.

You think Brisbane doesn't have the top-end talent to compete? Well, they have the potential to be a top-4 defensive team and have the depth to come at you in waves. The Taipans look too young, right? Their free-flowing offence is tough to figure out, especially with the versatile pieces they can throw at you, and they have size up and down the roster. Can the Hawks really rebound from a three-win season? They've added a potentially elite import in Gary Clark, and good luck guarding the big, rangy lineup they can throw at you.

A top tier of teams may emerge from the pack, but it feels like we should always expect competitive matchups every single game.

Delly went supernova

In Matthew Dellavedova's first game at the Blitz, he unleashed for 28 points in 19 minutes to help lift Melbourne United over the Bullets, hitting four three-pointers and looking as aggressive offensively as we've ever seen him.

Hey, he's excited to be back, so that's a cool anomaly to see, right?


He came off the bench with the hot hand in United's next game against the Hawks, hitting four more threes, en route to 20 points in 22 minutes.

He wasn't as potent in United's final game against Sydney, but the message was clear. Dellavedova is entering this NBL season with a chip on his shoulder. He's stepping into threes in a way we haven't seen before, and playing with the level of aggression of someone who feels like they've got something to prove.

The former NBA veteran is clearly in really good shape, but it's the growing offensive skillset he's showing that could give Dean Vickerman's team a higher level of scoring and creation options than even they were expecting.

Let's talk about Sydney

We're always reminded not to make sweeping statements from results at the Blitz and that some indicators are often all that matter, so that's the way we'll attack what we saw from the Sydney Kings this week.

Yes, they looked small; Jordan Hunter is seemingly the only playable true centre on that roster. And, sure, things looked stagnant in the half-court at times, and there was a lot of one-on-one basketball that's not conducive to sustainable winning at the NBL level. Can Denzel Valentine defend in this league and can the Kings make sure they don't have to rely on him to do any sort of bulk ball-carrying? There's no ignoring those sorts of things, so they're good to note and track going forward, because they could be the root of some problems down the line.

For now, though, it's probably important not to overreact. Jaylen Adams played very limited minutes, D.J. Hogg didn't play at all -- he's likely to miss a few games to start the regular season with a shoulder injury, sources said -- and Mahmoud Abdelfattah was clearly experimenting with a heap of different lineups.

Even the Kings would probably admit that they're not in the most ideal place to start a season, but there's no room for panic just yet; these pieces have to fall into place and operate for a period of time before we make any firm judgments.

The Taipans should be fun

The word 'fun' sounds patronising, and it's sincerely not meant to be. The Taipans have depth and such interesting, big, versatile pieces across the board. They can run you out of the gym, or kill you with their size; those bigs aren't traditional either, because they'll all stretch the floor and seemingly every one of them has the green light to come off hand-offs and on-balls.

Armstrong is unbelievably creative, and he's surrounded by a smattering of skilled, plug-and-play pieces. Bobi Klintman showed flashes as a Next Star who'll actually be able to impact winning on both ends, while Sam Mennenga already looks like a shrewd pick-up from Adam Forde; "he's a poor man's Sabonis," one NBA scout told ESPN on the Kiwi big-man, with that description completely meant as a compliment.

Could the youth create some hurdles? Maybe. Probably. But, there's a trust in the IQ of the guys on that roster, no matter their age; and, stylistically, they have the potential to be extremely dynamic out there.