NBL Storyline or Headline: United, Kings only teams who can win title

It's Tuesday, the FIBA break is (thankfully) in the rear vision mirror 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?

Melbourne United and the Sydney Kings are the only teams that can win the title

Peter Hooley: Headline

Both Melbourne and Sydney with what we have seen so far in the season, should both feature in the business end and contend for a title. Sydney may not be consistent with their style just yet, but with the key injuries and new system they've had to learn, many people had the new year as the time when it all clicks and they become a tough beat. Right now, I'm still on the Tasmania train, though and think they need to be in this category for two reasons. Firstly, they just got Will Magnay back and he's shown glimpses of what Tasmania has lacked up to this point. Once Scott Roth has this team firing up on the defensive end to even 70% of what they have been last two years, they'll be right up there. Secondly, Tasmania isn't afraid of Mebourne or Sydney, they've been there and done that and would be ready for any matchup in a finals series. You can't underestimate how big that kind of mental confidence is when it comes to the important games.

Kane Pitman: Headline

There's no question this is Tasmania disrespect. They have held the league's best offence throughout the entirety of the season and while you can point to their defence as a concern, they are currently just 0.9 points per 100 possessions worse on that end of the floor than the Sydney Kings. The Jackies still play at the slowest pace in the league by a comfortable margin (75.2 possessions up against the league average of 79.2) which we know can and likely will translate to playoff hoops. I absolutely believe Tasmania is a big title threat.

Olgun Uluc: Storyline

Here's the way I see this. United is far and away the best team in the league right now, and I'm not sure any other team outside of the Sydney Kings have the talent or infrastructure to get to their level. The Kings' ceiling in incredibly high, and there's continuity there that indicates they could excel in postseason basketball; whether they reach that potential is a different story. Simply put, there are some solid teams out there - Tasmania, Perth, and South East Melbourne should all hover somewhere in the Play-In zone - but, outside of injuries derailing things, it's tough to see any team truly rising to United's level.

The current top six is the final six who will enter the Play-In Tournament

Peter Hooley: Headline

If this was top five, I would probably call it a storyline, as those five look like they'll be there at the end of February. Currently Brisbane is sitting in sixth and whilst they certainly look like they've turned things around this season, the margin between teams is so small that I just can't lock them away yet. The one team that still has me interested in what happens over the next few weeks is the Cairns Taipans. Cairns has been riddled with sickness and injury all season long and it's shown with some disjointed lineups and games. With everyone healthy and buying into Adam Forde's style, they could go on a little run soon and string some wins together. They're one of those teams that you know will play hard defensively, (they're the second best rated team thus far) and when their offensive starts to fire, they'll be knocking off some big teams.

Kane Pitman: Storyline

Brisbane looks in the most perilous position at two games under .500 and sixth in the standings. So far, the Bullets have won two games, lost four, won three and now lost three on the trot which makes them wildly challenging to get a read on if you purely turn to wins and losses.

Brisbane is currently 3-6 against teams above them and 2-1 against teams below them in an indicator of how difficult their schedule has been. The good news is that 10 of their last 16 games are against the current bottom four. Take care of business and they will be in good shape even down the stretch of the season.

Olgun Uluc: Headline

I'm ready for a twist. Whether it's the case of one of the current top-6 absolutely flailing and falling out, or a miraculous surge from one of the bottom four teams, something unforeseen could totally happen. I still like the talent on the New Zealand Breakers enough to put together some sort of run; then, when Zylan Cheatham and Will McDowell-White return, their ceiling is as high as some of those top teams. I could also see a team like the Phoenix falling; they have a tough schedule between now and February - they play Melbourne, Sydney, and Tasmania twice - so there's the potential to drop a heap of games.

The MVP should come from one of the top two teams

Peter Hooley: Headline

Top two is probably too little of a pool to choose from, especially with how close the season is shaping up to be. If Bryce Cotton continues at this level that he's played at the last five games, but Perth drop a couple of games and end up finishing fifth or six because of their slow start, you'd have to still be considering him for the MVP. What inevitably happens is that the higher a team finishes, the stronger the argument is when it comes time for those to vote on the MVP and I think that sits ok with me. You want to reward those elite players who have also been part of the best teams throughout the whole season. When looking at all the major awards, the only two that should be somewhat acceptable to come from a bottom team is Most Improved Player and Best Sixth Man. Those are the only two awards that look at the individual's performance and don't take into account how the team has played.

Kane Pitman: Headline

If I were to put some kind of arbitrary number on how many wins a team needs to have an MVP, it would be around 16 (61.5 winning percentage). Across the last two seasons (28 games), there have been four squads each season that have reached that mark, with Jaylen Adams (2022) winning the award from third. As it currently stands, Melbourne and Sydney are the only two teams winning at a rate that eclipses my random number, but the Tasmania JackJumpers and Perth Wildcats are right there. Milton Doyle and amazingly even Bryce Cotton would be in the conversation come the end of the regular season at this rate, as would Mitch Creek or Alan Williams if the Phoenix continue to build. Perhaps United and the Kings might be victims of their extraordinary depth?

Olgun Uluc: Headline

If there's an obvious 'best player on the best team' - like Xavier Cooks last season - then that person should be a league's Most Valuable Player. Outside of that, as long as the player is demonstrably extremely effective and on a team that's clearly won the bulk of its games and has separated itself from the 0.500 middle-of-the-pack types, then an MVP can be warranted. For example, if the JackJumpers finish the season 17-11 and finish in third place, and Milton Doyle is putting up career numbers on good splits, then him being in the conversation would undoubtedly be warranted. Being very effective on a team that consistently wins games - one would assume that effectiveness is playing a significant role in the winning - feels like the most reasonable way to determine value in a player.

*Advanced stats via SpatialJam.com and realgm.com