NBL Headline or Storyline? The Phoenix are legit title contenders

It's Monday, the weekend's action is in the books and it's time to react with fire or cool the jets on some NBL takes.

Kane Pitman, Olgun Uluc and Peter Hooley are here to decide... is this just a headline, or is it a genuine storyline?

Are the South East Melbourne Phoenix title contenders?

Peter Hooley: Storyline

If you look back at the last few seasons, one of the major factors in the Phoenix's demise has been injuries to key guys multiple times. Very rarely did we see a team stay healthy long enough to figure it all out and make a strong run at a championship.

South East currently have a clean bill of health and things are flowing nicely, behind Alan Williams and Gary Browne. Their winning streak has looked even more impressive when you realize Mitch Creek hasn't had to do as much as he usually does for this team to get it done. Mike Kelly must like what he's seeing and with every other team dropping games around the middle portion of the ladder, maybe we are heading for a Throwdown Championship Series.

Kane Pitman: Headline

The Phoenix are so difficult to make comparisons year on year because they have simply never been healthy. Once again, the offensive firepower is there, with Alan Williams, Mitch Creek, Gary Browne and Will Cummings all averaging over 15 points per game. Defensively, they currently rank sixth as a team, giving up 111.6 points per 100 possessions.

As a club, they have never ranked in the top four on that end of the floor, which ultimately is the measuring stick for winning a title in this league historically. They are in a wide second tier for me...as of today.

Olgun Uluc: Headline

At least, not yet. The Phoenix are finally healthy, and are rolling right now, but I feel comfortable saying there's only one title contender right now, and that's Melbourne United. United has the defence and depth to win it all, and those are the two things the Phoenix have to show more of to really be in that top tier.

Alan Williams has been incredible during this four-game winning streak -- he's announced himself as part of the MVP conversation -- and the top-end talent is still as advertised, but these were all games the Phoenix were supposed to win. They need to show a bit more, against better teams, before they can be elevated into title contending status.

Tasmania need Will Magnay back to win the title

Peter Hooley: Storyline

This just doesn't look like the defensive powerhouse we have seen in the last two seasons from Tasmania. I'm not jumping off them being title contenders, as I have a lot of trust in how Scott Roth operates and addresses particular issues, but they need to figure it out on that end. Without Magnay, the pressure falls on Marcus Lee to be the rim protecting big for the Jackjumpers. Unfortunately, he either gets early fouls like he did against United, which allows teams to get hot or he fouls out late in the clutch and teams dominate late.

This team's defensive identity has been built on each player helping and trusting one another. Guys like Crawford and Drmic feel much more confident to get up and into players defensively when they know Lee is there to help protect the rim if they get beat. Add a Magnay and Lee combo and they will be near their best.

Kane Pitman: Headline

If you really believe Will Magnay is the difference for the JackJumpers, it doesn't seem like you have much faith in them in the first place. Unfortunately, the talented big man has managed just 33 appearances with Tasmania, who are now in their third season. Last year, in 22 appearances and 684 possessions, Magnay averaged 5.9 points and 4.1 rebounds and was a -1 on the box score over those minutes.

Rather than tagging him with being the difference, let's just cross our fingers we can see him on the floor. Marcus Lee, a genuine impact player, reducing his Per 36 average of 7.2 fouls seems more pressing right now.

Olgun Uluc: Storyline

The reality is, the JackJumpers effectively swapped defensive depth for an offensive punch and it's the thing that probably caps their playoff ceiling. A healthy Magnay -- who would ostensibly join Marcus Lee as the ultimate insurance for one another -- should bolster what Scott Roth's team does on the defensive end of the floor, which would make them a true contender. The JackJumpers struggle mightily when Lee isn't on the floor -- usually due to foul trouble -- so Magnay's rim protection and paint deterrence would be a welcome addition.

On the back of the Dejan Vasiljevic addition, the 36ers will make the play-in

Peter Hooley: Storyline

They say losing is contagious, well winning can be as well. It's not just the fact that Adelaide has won back-to-back games, it's more the way they have looked in each of their wins that gives me confidence that they can make a run at it. After Melbourne United, teams are beginning to really bunch up on the ladder, which will help Adelaide if they continue to play this well.

They look rejuvenated right now and the smiles are flowing both on and off the floor. DJ Vasiljevic is doing his thing but for me, it's the way they've made Isaac Humphries a focus on offense. He's been unstoppable when he's got the ball enough.

Kane Pitman: Storyline.

Two weeks ago, I wrote 'headline' for a similar question. My basis for this was looking at prior history and the winning percentage needed for an Adelaide squad well behind the eight ball. At that point, the 36ers were 1-4 and based on last season, would need to finish the regular season 14-9. Since then, they are 2-1, with Vasiljevic putting up 18.7 points a night.

Across their next five, they play Tasmania twice, have a trip to New Zealand and also host the South East Melbourne Phoenix in a difficult stretch. We could have our answer by the middle of December but stay tuned, the 36ers are showing signs of life.

Olgun Uluc: Storyline

This answer is a cop out, but I'll lean into it. That's because, right now, every team outside of the Perth Wildcats is looking like a play-in team. The 36ers are an above average defensive team, and now have an offensive threat like Dejan Vasiljevic who's opening up the floor enough to lift what was -- and still is -- a league-worst offence. Isaac Humphries has been one of the NBL's most effective two-way players this season -- the advanced metrics are off the charts; he's been one of the 36ers' lone bright spots -- and they're finally finding ways to throw it in to him, which has led to a lot of success.

It looks like they'll probably hover around the 4-9 range from here on out, so, while there are more talented and organised teams out there who you'd bet on making it over them, the play-in isn't out of the realm of possibility.