NBL 3x3: The important players flying under the radar? Best Defensive Player buzz?

The FIBA break gave most teams a chance to take a deep breath, with the season set to resume on Thursday night with a double-header live on ESPN.

It's only early, but three games in the loss column is all that separates first from ninth in the standings, setting the scene for a wild road to the postseason.

Given the momentary pause, Kane Pitman, Olgun Uluc and Peter Hooley took the opportunity to throw it forward with this week's 3x3.

Who is an under-the-radar key piece for a team hoping to contend in NBL23?

Kane Pitman: Will McDowell-White.

McDowell-White entered the season with plenty of buzz (he was my most improved pick) but as the Breakers have impressed, it's been about the import stars with Dererk Pardon, Jarell Brantley and Barry Brown Jr. playing at a high level. It fits McDowell-White's no fuss persona that he's quietly going about his business, but his value is unquestioned. No Breaker has played more minutes through nine games, with McDowell-White leading the team in assists and sitting second for rebounds. The gap between his best and worst is minimal, with his reliability a required feature of the Breakers consistency.

Olgun Uluc: The difference between Todd Blanchfield's ceiling and floor is immense, and dictates the Wildcats' success.

When the wing is hitting shots and aggressive off the catch, his presence opens up a lot for the likes of Bryce Cotton, Mitch Norton, and Luke Travers to excel as creators. A lot of Perth's offensive struggles come when the floor is narrow, so Blanchfield stepping up can change their fortunes a ton.

Peter Hooley: For a team that isn't short of players willing to shoot the three, Majok Deng off the bench for the Taipans will be a crucial barometer for their success.

Deng is currently averaging just under 10 points per game, but when you consider that he is their primary backup big man, it highlights how much of a key he is for Adam Forde. He is shooting the three at 39% and often has to slide to the centre position when Pinder is in foul trouble. The Taipans are shallow in terms of big men, so there will be a heavy reliance on Deng's production. He has started the season well, but it's imperative that he can stay healthy and continue to improve in his role as NBL23 rolls on.

Should Kai Sotto be moved into the 36ers starting five?

Kane Pitman and Olgun Uluc discuss whether Adelaide should look to make a significant change and bring the talented young big into their starting lineup.

Which player deserves some Best Defensive Player buzz?

Kane Pitman: Tim Soares.

I find it highly unlikely that Soares can win this award with Xavier Cooks on the roster, but he certainly deserves some love for his start on that end of the floor. Sydney opponents are shooting just 51 percent at the rim this season, eight percent below the league average mark. Soares is a legit rim protector, with his 6.4 percent block percentage second in the league among the 64 players to have played at least 150 minutes (Isaac Humphries is No. 1 at 7.4 percent). A legit paint protector on an elite defensive team.

Olgun Uluc: The race is still wide open, but Tim Soares would be toward the top of the conversation.

He's the anchor for one of the best defences in the league - who are also among the NBL's most effective at protecting the rim - and he's second in the league in block percentage. It wasn't really an expectation going into the season, but a huge part of Soares value is his ability to body up defensively and use his mobility on that end; and he's in the Best Defensive Player discussion for that reason.

Peter Hooley: Call it the easy way out, but I'm taking Xavier Cooks once again for his consistent efforts on the defensive end.

As good as his offensive improvement has been, it's his ability to set the tone defensively that has him as the best two-way player in the competition. It's not often someone who isn't amongst the league leaders in terms of steals or blocks can be so highly regarded defensively, but all you have to do is watch him play to understand his true impact. His off-ball positioning, his ability to switch onto anyone on the floor and guard them well are just two reasons as to why he is a nightmare matchup to see in front of you. The Kings entire defensive identity begins with Xavier Cooks.

Which team in the top-6 has the biggest concern?

Kane Pitman: South East Melbourne.

This feels slightly hypocritical because I still have the Phoenix as my number two seed overall. On paper, South East Melbourne are loaded, but with health concerns lingering since preseason, this theoretical contender needs to string some minutes together with its best players on the floor. The five-man lineup of Alan Williams, Gary Browne, Mitch Creek, Ryan Broekhoff and Trey Kell III has been sizzling offensively (129.2 points per 100), while also remaining solid on the defensive end (106.5 points given up per 100). Phoenix fans will hold their breath on the health of the critically important Broekhoff in particular.

Olgun Uluc: The South East Melbourne Phoenix just feel fragile.

The talent is undoubtedly there, to the point where they might have a legitimate mixture of the best top-end talent and depth in the NBL. But there's no reason just yet to trust their team defence, and we all saw how much they struggled without Ryan Broekhoff - their best two-way presence - in the lineup.

Peter Hooley: I may live to regret this, but I still have my concerns about the JackJumpers.

They have locked back into their defensive culture and mindset, but I'm still concerned that they don't have enough consistent offensive contributors outside of Milton Doyle and Jack McVeigh. The way they play, they'll always be in with a chance to win every game, but is that sustainable if they aren't making shots? Their last game against Brisbane highlighted exactly that, and yet they nearly escaped with a win. When I think of the leading contenders in NBL23, I see teams who are offensively deep with many options, which is why I still have some slight concerns about the men in green.