Every week, ESPN's Olgun Uluc runs through what's catching his eye across the NBL, and takes you inside the conversations trickling around the Australian basketball ecosystem. This week, there's a focus on a Melbourne United team that looks untouchable, the Sydney Kings' fascinating tip-off strategy, and the Boomers head coach making the rounds.
Melbourne United: in a league of their own
If you ask players around the league about what it's like to match up against Melbourne United, the answers aren't really surprising.
"They don't let you get into your s--- offensively," one veteran player told ESPN.
It's true. We've seen time and time again teams that have shown to be effective offensive teams look completely lost against United. It's a mixture of the combination of Shea Ili, Matthew Dellavedova, and Ian Clark getting up and in you on the perimeter, making it wildly difficult to get the ball through hands. Then, if you do get through the first part of your action and maybe get a look at the rim, you have one of Ariel Hukporti or Jo Lual Acuil Jr., or even Luke Travers, waiting for you inside the paint.
This looks like a Dean Vickerman team defensively. They have the point of attack defenders to stop you from getting into your sets, two of the top-10 block percentage bigs in Hukporti and Acuil Jr., an extremely versatile piece in Travers, and are unbelievably well-drilled. They've led the NBL in defensive rating all season, and currently sit at 104.4 points allowed per 100 possessions; the second-least amount of points allowed per 100 possessions in the last nine years, only bested by their own 2021-22 regular season.
History suggests that the best defensive teams are the ones who have the highest chance of progressing deep into a postseason, and United is showing they're built to do that.
Perhaps what's even scarier, is that, after a slow start to the season offensively, United has had the second best offence since the middle of October. That's mostly without Dellavedova, but with the addition of Lual Acuil Jr. They also still haven't put a full team on the court yet. They're currently on a six-game winning streak, sweeping a tough back-to-back-to-back stretch of two-game rounds, including games in Tasmania and Perth; the Wildcats are currently bad, but a win in RAC Arena is still impressive.
Right now, the South East Melbourne Phoenix are the only team close to playing at United's level, but consistency is key. The Phoenix will need to perform at that rate for a bit longer - and get higher quality wins on their belt - before they can be put into United's tier.
United is the benchmark, and we know things in the NBL can change on a dime, but based on current form, November 12's Throwdown is looking increasingly like a potential Grand Final preview.
Sydney's tip-off strategy
The Sydney Kings play fast. We know this. They did under Chase Buford, and there was always an expectation they'd continue that style of play under Mahmoud Abdelfattah.
However, the lengths they're going to put heat on the rim, as soon as possible, is very intriguing.
Jordan Hunter has clearly been told to tip - smack? - the ball forward on the opening tip, with the Kings' wing players leaking out in anticipation of catching an opponent sleeping.
For the most-part, the Kings haven't gotten a score from it. It's worked a few times, though.
The Sydney Kings' tip-off strategy is fascinating. pic.twitter.com/I8jrBbwVXD— Olg's Notebook (@OlgsNotebook) November 1, 2023
Goorj is lurking
If you've been at an NBL game in the past few weeks, there's a decent chance you've seen Australian Boomers head coach Brian Goorjian somewhere in the building, keeping an eye on the action while wearing his signature bumbag. It's usually in Melbourne; sometimes in Wollongong or Sydney.
Goorjian has made it clear that he doesn't have a desire to take a pro job this season; instead, he wants a full-throated focus on the Boomers' upcoming Paris Olympics campaign. Watching the NBL is two-fold for Goorjian: he gets to take note of players who could potentially be part of the 2024 Olympic campaign and beyond, and also stay engaged with different styles of play across the league as he refines what he wants to achieve with the Boomers.
He's made no secret about how much he's enjoying watching Abdelfattah's Kings, and has an eye toward emulating that fast-paced, switch heavy style of play for his athletic Boomers roster.
Then, there's the task of picking which players could be part of the upcoming campaign. Goorjian has a trip to the U.S. planned for December, where he'll touch base with all of the NBA-based Australians, but there's a lot of intrigue in the talent currently in the NBL.
The fascination with the Kings has Goorjian and Australia's coaching staff interested in the prospect of Jaylin Galloway being involved in the Boomers' upcoming Olympic campaign in some capacity. The 20-year-old's size, athleticism, and two-way skillset lends itself to how the Boomers want to play moving forward, so one could theoretically see how he could plug and play into that system. Jordan Hunter, who's also in the midst of a career year, is another player who's helped himself thus far with regard to national team considerations. There are a host of names Goorjian and co. are interested in evaluating further, but keep an eye on that Kings duo.
Goorjian made it clear after the Boomers' somewhat lacklustre finish at the 2023 FIBA World Cup that he wouldn't be afraid to make tough calls going into Paris, so expect the 70-year-old's decision-making over the next eight months to be bold.
My favourite plays of the week
It looks like Scott Roth got his team an extra possession to end the half of this week's Melbourne-Tasmania game. Roth sees Lual Acuil Jr. behind the play - he should be lateral to his man - so calls for the double on Ian Clark. The JackJumpers forced the backcourt.
Scott Roth calls for the double on Ian Clark, presumably seeing JLA not lateral with his man. Forces the backcourt violation. pic.twitter.com/ulLdLTU0h5— Olg's Notebook (@OlgsNotebook) November 1, 2023
You don't see defensive breakdowns from United very often, but the Hawks' offence has shown flashes of being relatively organised; you can see it on this opening set from Jacob Jackomas. One of Ili and Travers seemingly doesn't know whether they're switching this action, leading to an open three for Tyler Harvey. Good play to open the game.
A rare defensive breakdown from Melbourne United leads to Tyler Harvey getting a clean look to start this one. Nice opening set from the Hawks, though not sure if Harvey got another clean look the rest of the evening. pic.twitter.com/WQoJMzpkZt— Olg's Notebook (@OlgsNotebook) November 1, 2023
When defending an inbounds, there really should be a rule that someone's got to be parked inside the paint. If you don't, this is the outcome. The Brisbane Bullets stretched the hell out of the floor by having Chris Smith and Mitch Norton 30 feet from the basket, so any basic action and cut to the rim was more than likely going to lead to a good look at a layup. Tyrell Harrison gets the wide open dunk to seal the game.
Good ATO from Justin Schueller to put a dagger through the Wildcats. Chris Smith and Mitch Norton are basically at the 4-point line; allows Bannan-Sobey-Harrison to play three-side with a wide open floor. pic.twitter.com/C0ZE1gIyR5— Olg's Notebook (@OlgsNotebook) November 1, 2023