With three rounds to go, the pressure continues to increase in the race to book a spot in the Play-In Tournament.
Melbourne United have remarkably cracked the top six, while South East Melbourne Phoenix and the Adelaide 36ers find themselves on the outside looking in.
Away from the game action, the NBL have scrapped the Rookie of the Year award but was it a good move? Kane Pitman, Olgun Uluc and Peter Hooley are back for this week's 3x3 to discuss all that and more!
Which team missing the Play-In Tournament would be a bigger disappointment: SEM or Adelaide?
Kane Pitman: Adelaide have been a mythical force to this point, but based on what we've actually seen on court, it would be South East Melbourne, who have looked like a genuine contender at times.
After a dreadful loss to the Brisbane Bullets, the Phoenix find themselves on the outside looking in with four difficult games to round out the regular season. Of course, the Phoenix could point to injuries as a built-in excuse on a top-heavy roster, but the inconsistency on the defensive end in particular once again leaves them in the bottom half of the league on that end of the floor. Internally as much as externally, missing the top six would have to be considered a failure.
Olgun Uluc: Adelaide
Considering the money the Adelaide 36ers have spent - and that's before forking out for Ian Clark mid-season - missing the playoffs would only be considered a failure. One would think out-bidding other NBL teams for proven imports would get the job done, but the balance of the roster has rarely looked right, and the defensive inconsistencies can't always overcome talent.
Peter Hooley: It won't be easily forgotten, but this team was built on a 'championship or bust' tagline.
Everything on paper indicated that this Adelaide roster should be more than capable of putting together a very successful year and competing for a title. Yet they find themselves on the outside looking in at the postseason and will need to drastically turn things around in the last couple of games to give them a chance to play finals basketball. The most disappointing part for me about Adelaide is that it's been a defensive problem all year. Antonius Cleveland is the reigning Best Defensive Player, Mitch McCarron is a great defending guard, Sunday Dech has always been a prominent defender as well. The more you think about it, the more it becomes harder to understand just how this team has struggled so much on that end of the floor.
Did the NBL get it right with the introduction of the Next Generation Award?
The NBL has scrapped the old Rookie of the Year award. The Next Generation Award has been introduced and will be handed out this season. Every player in the league under the age of 25 on April 30 is eligible.
Kane Pitman: It's an improvement and the league deserves credit for being willing to change and adapt on the fly.
The NBL wants to be considered a world class league, so I don't see the need for a Rookie of the Year award for local players. The pool of candidates was too small with the old format, with not enough legitimate contributors leading to a mundane race. With the Next Generation Award, the league has opened up the opportunity for a handful of top-level young talent to battle for the honour - including imports - as the league continues to be used as a platform to the NBA. It might not be perfect (age limit too high?), but I think it's pretty cool.
Olgun Uluc: The intent was right; the execution was off.
Yes, there needed to be some way to unambiguously include development players and Next Stars - and young imports, if that's your jam - in an award catered to up-and-coming guys. Making the age limit 24-and-under, though, feels old, considering the differing pathways young players - especially local players - take to the NBL; pro seasons played should've been the qualifier. Scrapping the Rookie of the Year award in the process always feels weird but, if you're absolutely intent on getting rid of it, especially don't do it just as a season is winding down. The execution of this feels rushed and sloppy.
Peter Hooley: Kane and I, among others, were very vocal in wanting the Rookie of the Year award changed, as the criteria of who was eligible became increasingly hard to figure out each season. I think this new award is a great change to what it was and will be extremely competitive each year.
The main reason I think it's so great is because of how many players will be eligible for it. In years gone by, and much like this year, the select pool of rookies is so small that you basically have one player who is assured of winning it after a few rounds of the season. What I think could have been a little different is maybe lowering the age to 23, or still having a ROY award that is simply the first contracted year for a local player as well. Looking back, a guy like Mitch Creek could have been eligible for this award for about eight years if it had been around for the last decade.
Are you concerned about the New Zealand Breakers?
Kane Pitman: Not concerned, but curious to see how they respond in the midst of a hectic January schedule.
After playing just four games in December due to a covid outbreak, New Zealand are slated for 11 games in January (2-3 currently). Missing Barry Brown Jr. for the last couple with injury hurts, but it's the defensive end where the slippage has occurred. The Breakers are conceding 10 more points per 100 possessions than they were prior to this stretch, with opponent's free-throw rate exploding from 31.6% prior to 40.3% over the last five (via sptatialjam.com). With a game every three days on average until the postseason, practice time will be down. New Zealand will have to get back on track on the court.
Olgun Uluc: Not really.
The context of their recent fall is important. Seemingly the entire roster was coming off a big COVID wave that hit the team, and Will McDowell-White missed a bunch of games on top of that. When healthy, the Breakers were a top-two team on both ends of the floor, and there was enough sample size to tell us that's who they are and wasn't just an anomaly. I guess the only concern I'd have is the severity of Barry Brown Jr.'s injury; if he's out for play-in games, then it's reasonable for Breakers fans to panic.
Peter Hooley: The Breakers haven't been playing their best basketball as of late, and that's not surprising considering they're missing their scoring beast in Barry Brown Jr.
Mody Maor is the type of coach who will make sure that they snap back into the Breakers style as soon as possible, and with a lot of games left to go, I think New Zealand will be ok. Where I do have some possible concern is if any player goes down with injury from here on out. All season long, this team has been so successful because of their entire makeup. They became a perfect puzzle, with each piece so vital to the final picture. We are starting to see what that could look like when you remove a piece, and if that happens in the crunch time, I don't know if we will see New Zealand be as tough as they were early on.