Melbourne United's bumbling, inconsistent offense an issue for Dean Vickerman

Trailing 40-37 with 8:20 to play in the third quarter, Melbourne United star Chris Goulding appeared to be heating up.

Scoring five straight points to begin the half, Goulding generated a 3-point make off a designed dribble hand off and a lay-up on a straight-line drive from the top after shaking his defender by curling around a screen from the corner. The Melbourne offence appeared to be in sync.

Over the course of the next 3:34 of play and six offensive possessions for Melbourne, Goulding touched the ball once (he brought the ball up the floor to half court after a made basket), failing to take a single shot, as United's offence disintegrated into his four teammates taking turns at playing one-on-one against their South East Melbourne Phoenix opponent.

By the time a timeout was called at the 4:46 mark, the Phoenix had scored 17 straight points to effectively end the game while holding a 57-37 lead.

"I'm not going to have a lot for you today," Melbourne head coach Dean Vickerman lamented, appearing to be at a loss, before giving quite a detailed synopsis of where Melbourne's issues began.

"Credit to the Phoenix, they disrupted tonight, part of our biggest offensive problems tonight was just getting started with people in spots and our point guard being able to organise. There were so many possessions that we thought we started out of position and then when the pressure came, they thought they had to attack and short cut our offence and we had no rhythm or flow to what we did tonight."

"It's been us. We can play for periods of time with good energy and commitment to sharing the basketball and then we can go through periods where we can't. I don't have a great answer for you on that one."

If United fans felt they were reliving a recurring nightmare, they were justified, with game breaking runs a nightly feature for opponents this season. In nine out of twelve games this season, United have conceded double-digit scoring runs, with Sunday's throwdown the fith time they have conceded at least 14 straight.

Not for the first time, the loss of point guard Shea Ili was a topic conversation, with concussion symptoms once again sidelining the Melbourne floor general.

"It's been a constant theme without Shea Ili," Vickerman said. "I think our offence looks so much better when he's in the game for us. He's our point guard, he's our leader, he knows our stuff and I just don't think we've got that from other people at the moment.

"(Rathan-Mayes) has done a good job of putting points on the board at different times to win us some games but right now, the ability for our point guards to bring everyone else into the game and get us organised is not good enough."

On the season, the percentage of Melbourne's offensive possessions resulting in an isolation scoring attempt is 11.0% (via spatialjam.com), the third highest mark in the league, with Rathan-Mayes (20.0 isolation percentage) sitting third in the league behind Sam Froling and Barry Brown Jr.

To Vickerman's point, Rathan-Mayes has been excellent and vital as a scorer, averaging 16.9 points on an efficient 47% from the floor and 39% from long range, with his shot making ability critical at times, though overall the Melbourne offence has failed to execute.

"We've seen it at different times, but we haven't seen it with consistency," Vickerman said. "We just have to continue to teach as best we can. We've really simplified, we hardly ran any of our package that we went through this morning. When things aren't going right, and you go from simple to even more simple there's a bit of a problem. We just have to look at four or five things that everyone knows. If it's disrupted, we can still get into it and make sure the basketball moves and screen the right way."

Aside from Rathan-Mayes, Melbourne has played Rayjon Tucker out of position as a lead ball handler at times, with injury replacement Lachie Barker the other viable available option. As was the case during that 17-0 run on Sunday, the lack of ability to work through offensive sets has significantly impacted Goulding's ability to shake free, with countless possessions leaving him standing in the corner while a teammate goes to work.

Goulding is averaging 19.2 points on 12.4 shots in five Melbourne wins, while that number drops to 11.3 points on 10.8 shots across seven losses. He remains a barometer for the club's success.

The continued concussion symptom concerns for Ili are first and foremost a concern for the 30-year-old, who managed just three games back in the lineup before being sidelined once again by the team's medical staff.

"I like the progress he's made in this last week," Vickerman said. "It wouldn't be a great thing if he got another concussion for the rest of the year, but we believe he will be back in the near future, in the next couple of weeks so I don't think we can plan for anything other than getting him right and getting him back in the lineup as soon as possible."

The timing of the latest setback coincided with the inclusion of import big man Marcus Lee, who will provide support for Isaac Humphries at the five, in a role that was originally earmarked for German Next Star Ariel Hukporti.

"We can keep talking about the fact that we lost our point guard, we lost our centre at the start of the season. If you're recruiting a team, they are pretty crucial positions to lose, but we've had people step into those roles, but we haven't seen a consistency. It's tough right now."

Holding a 5-7 record, United rank eighth (105.4 points per 100 possessions) in offence and seventh in defence (109.8 points per 100 possessions), with Vickerman conceding the struggles are unfamiliar territory for the club.

"Tough. It's tough. We've been a successful club and we just haven't been able to commit defensively or share the basketball like we have in the past.

"I'm not even worried about ladder position right now, it's just playing the right way. We saw so many possessions today where we over dribbled and didn't move it. If we get back to playing the right way, other things will take care of itself. If you don't put yourself in position by sharing the basketball and playing the right way, we'll be struggling."

With problems on both sides of the floor and apparent frustration with a lack of ability to fulfill roles, United will continue to be one of the more fascinating watches in NBL23 as they attempt to turn the tide and re-join the postseason mix.