What a round there is ahead in the NBL with the New Zealand Breakers’ homecoming and the Sydney Kings raising their championship banner but all eyes will be on the Adelaide 36ers in Oklahoma City first and foremost.
The Sixers are yet to start their NBL season due their NBLxNBA tour of the United States. After the history they made on Sunday night in Phoenix in beating the Suns in spectacular fashion, all eyes are on them now on Thursday night in Oklahoma City (Friday morning Australian time).
The 36ers will be playing their own former point guard Josh Giddey in the match-up as they attempt to back up their remarkable win over the Suns where they knocked down 24 three-pointers in the 134-124 victory.
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Adnam rises for Phoenix in season opener | 00:46
Their NBL season officially starts next Thursday night but they are the talk of the basketball world right now while NBL23 is going on without them.
As for Round 2 in the NBL, it begins on Thursday night with the Illawarra Hawks at home to the South East Melbourne Phoenix after both teams had differing fortunes in the opening round.
There’s then three lots of double-headers over the next three nights starting Friday where it’s going to be an emotional and eventful homecoming for the New Zealand Breakers as they host the Tasmania JackJumpers at Spark Arena.
Second up on Friday is the Sydney Kings’ first home game of the season where they will raise their championship banner before playing host to Aron Baynes and the Brisbane Bullets.
Then on Saturday, the South East Melbourne Phoenix have a short turnaround to hosting the Cairns Taipans and then it’s the Perth Wildcats at home to the Illawarra Hawks.
There’s another two matches on Sunday firstly with the Tasmania JackJumpers playing host to the Brisbane Bullets before Melbourne United are at home to the Sydney Kings.
The round will wrap up on Monday evening with the Cairns Taipans playing their first home game of the season against the Perth Wildcats.
HAVE THE 36ERS STARS SHOWN THEMSELVES TOO GOOD?
The Adelaide 36ers rocked the basketball world by beating the Phoenix Suns to become the first NBL team to beat an NBA franchise, but now there are genuine concerns NBA clubs might come calling immediately for some of their stars.
The 36ers didn’t hide their ambitions in going to the United States aiming for wins against the Phoenix Suns and Oklahoma City Thunder who are beginning their NBA pre-season campaigns.
However, given NBL teams were 0-16 so far against NBA opponents, it did appear lofty goals despite the way that CJ Bruton has built his Adelaide team for this upcoming season ready to make a real run for a championship.
Playing a more up-tempo and three-point based shooting game has been a focus on the way Bruton has built his squad unlike the one he inherited for his first season in charge, and that put them in good stead to take on an NBA opponent.
They arrived in Phoenix ready to push the pace and get up as many shots as they could. What they delivered was a remarkable shooting display hitting 24/43 from beyond the arc to win 134-124 on the back of 71 points in the first half, and 63 in the second.
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The 36ers led the game the entire way with Craig Randall hitting nine threes for 35 points, Robert Franks six for 32, Antonius Cleveland three for 22 and captain Mitch McCarron dished out 16 assists to be the ultimate playmaker.
As the 36ers prepare to also face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday morning Australian time, the question is did they play too well against the Suns and could they lose some of their stars to the NBA?
NBA clubs are still finalising their rosters for the upcoming season and it wouldn’t be out of the question that they might be tempted to call up Randall, Franks or Cleveland after what they did.
Adelaide 36ers Hall of Famer and two-time NBL champion Scott Ninnis is concerned about that somewhat, but is more proud to see what his beloved Sixers did on a big stage.
“I’m absolutely petrified. It’s one of those ones where I thought we’d give a good account of ourselves because we’ve got a good team who is going to play an exciting brand of basketball,” Ninnis said on Hoops Heaven’s Basketball Hustle podcast.
“When I saw Phoenix were trotting out Chris Paul, Ayton, Booker and those guys I got a little bit nervous, but they almost played a little bit too well didn’t they. Randall was hitting those threes with the range he showed was quite incredible and Franks has already had a bit of an NBA look-in with his size so I’m definitely a bit nervous too.
“You wouldn’t blame them either and those guys have NBA out clauses, and if any team is looking to top up with guys who have specific things like shooting then they might get picked up. Let’s hope they didn’t play too well, maybe CJ could give them a DNP against OKC just to ensure they come back home with him.”
SOTTO’S CHANCE TO SEE WHERE HE NEEDS TO GET TO
Another Adelaide 36ers player with a huge chance to set up his future on Friday morning will be Kai Sotto especially if Daniel Johnson doesn’t play and as he goes up against Josh Giddey and Ousmane Dieng from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Craig Randall, Robert Franks, Antonius Cleveland, Mitch McCarron, Sunday Dech and Daniel Johnson might have stolen a lot of the show in the 36ers’ win over the Phoenix Suns, but Sotto showed that he can more than hold his own against NBA opposition.
Especially after Johnson went off injured early in the second half, Sotto stepped up impressively for Adelaide just months after the disappointment of not being selected in the NBA Draft.
Sotto decided to nominate for the 2022 NBA Draft when most felt it was in his best interests to delay that until 2023 and spend an extra year developing in the NBL. That’s now what he will end up doing but now can no longer be drafted.
However, what he showed against Phoenix was that he’s not out of place on an NBA floor. He threw down a couple of nice dunks, dished some clever dimes and finished with 11 points, two rebounds, two steals and an assist in his 18 minutes.
The 20-year-old Filipino sensation will now get a chance to shine further against Oklahoma City on Friday morning and that’s a team featuring two players fresh out of the NBL the past two seasons, Josh Giddey and Ousmane Dieng.
What Sotto can get out of the game is seeing exactly where two players who have been where he is have got themselves to as he continues to chase that NBA dream.
His coach CJ Bruton is continuing to push him to improve all the time as he helps him achieve his goals.
“I’m not going to sugar coat it, I love the kid and I want him to be here. I sent a message to him when he didn’t get drafted that night and I know everyone feels sad for him, but that’s not the only way into the NBA,” Bruton said.
“Jack White is in the NBA right now and he didn’t get drafted. I know people want to see players going through these certain channels and kick in these doors, but there are many ways to get there now.
“Right now it’s about him continuing to grow and put his best foot forward and helping us be successful.”
HOMECOMING TO SAVOUR FOR BREAKERS
The New Zealand Breakers have sacrificed an awful lot the past two NBL seasons to be based in Australia, but they can begin to put that all behind them on Friday night.
The Breakers will play their first home game at Spark Arena since May last year, but even those string of matches at home were crammed in at the back end of the 2020/21 season and were when they were well out of playoff calculations.
So for all intents and purposes, this is their first ‘real’ home match at Spark Arena since the end of the 2019/20 season and it’s going to be quite the occasion for all involved.
There are plenty of Kiwis in this Breakers team of NBL23 as well so for Rob Loe, Sam Timmins, Izayah Le’afa, Tom Vodanovich and Daniel Fotu, it will be a particularly emotional moment to play in front of their home country supporters on Friday night.
More than 9000 fans are expected to pack into Spark Arena to celebrate the homecoming of the Breakers and to say thank you to them for the sacrifices they made the past two seasons.
For someone like Le’afa who is in his first season with the Breakers having started his NBL career at the South East Melbourne Phoenix, it’s even more significant than that.
Baynes makes Brisbane debut in style | 00:49
This will be his first chance to play at home in front of family and friends as a professional basketball player having not only spent the past two years in Melbourne, but the four years prior to that at California State University, Sacramento.
To say he’s excited to play his first ever home game for the Breakers would be a great understatement.
“We were fortunate enough to play against the Breakers in Auckland last year when they got a few games at home at the end of the season and their crowd was like they hadn’t seen games in so long, which they hadn’t,” Le’afa said.
“That atmosphere made it good to be back on home soil even though I was on the opposition team and it’s now a big factor in me coming on board to give these fans the chance to get back to watching basketball again.
“Without having games for two years, I’m sure they are going to be pretty excited now. To be fortunate enough to be back in New Zealand and be able to get my family back to games is a big thing.
“They weren’t able to get over to Australia to watch our games so that’s definitely an exciting part of having these home games too. It’s definitely an exciting part to now have them there to watch.”
HARDLY IDEAL FOR THE JACKJUMPERS
While it’s going to quite the event for the New Zealand Breakers on Friday night, the timing couldn’t be worse for their opponents the Tasmania JackJumpers.
After being the story of the season in many ways last year to get all the way to the grand final upon entering the NBL, the JackJumpers have had a rough start already to their second season with Round 1 losses to the South East Melbourne Phoenix and Cairns Taipans.
Across those two games the JackJumpers conceded an uncharacteristic 190 points while sending both teams to the foul line a combined 61 times across the two games.
Scoring was never Tasmania’s strong suit last year, so scoring 79 and 84 points wasn’t of great concern because they could have been winning totals for them. But what they were so good at was playing disciplined defence and playing a smart brand of basketball that made them mighty tough to beat.
That wasn’t the case last weekend although being without three of their key players, Will Magnay, Clint Steindl and Sam McDaniel, certainly played its part along with new imports Rashard Kelly and Milton Doyle finding their groove still.
To be the unfortunate team to be on the receiving end of the emotion that will be in the building on Friday night for the Breakers isn’t ideal timing for the JackJumpers as they look to avoid starting the season 0-3.
They will be hoping some of that anxiety of the occasion gets to the Breakers, but ultimately what they need to do is get back to the defensive principles of last year although coach Scott Roth is excited for the trip.
“I’ve never been to New Zealand so I am looking forward to going there, and travelling over there. I hear great things just about being over there and I missed a trip there when I was with Perth, and we haven’t been able to get over there with Covid,” Roth said.
“I’m excited to get over there and having Mika Vukona on our staff and knowing what they did when he was there, and the tradition they created means I’ve heard a lot about that environment in New Zealand so it’s going to be great. It should be fun to play in.”
BAYNES, BULLETS TO EMBRACE CHALLENGE
The Brisbane Bullets are still chasing their first win of the NBL season with former NBA star Aron Baynes in the line-up, and he is pumped up for the challenge awaiting in Round 2 against the grand final teams from a season ago.
The Bullets had put together a strong pre-season campaign winning four of their five matches and big things were expected of them coming into NBL23, and there still is, but they were left with plenty to work on after Sunday’s loss in Perth.
While Brisbane did do some things right including winning the rebound count by 12 and shooting the three ball at a solid 36 per cent, giving up 24 turnovers was the biggest factor in the eventual 14-point result.
Coach James Duncan also didn’t play anybody more than the 29 minutes that Tyler Johnson played with 10 players all playing at least nine minutes.
That rotation might need to be shortened moving forward but more than anything, all eyes remain on how Australian Boomers and NBA stalwart Baynes continues to progress in his first season in the NBL coming off a career-threatening injury.
He showed encouraging signs with 11 points and seven rebounds on Sunday, but more than anything he is thankful to be back playing and now will be doing all he can to ensure he delivers more, his teammates do the same and the Bullets start winning.
“Good luck wiping the smile off my face no matter what’s happening out there. I’m going to push our guys and I’m pretty demanding of all of them, but I’m even more demanding of myself,” Baynes said.
“I keep telling them I’m their biggest cheerleader and I want more from them, and I want to give more myself. Now we’ve got a fun week coming up.
“We’re going into the defending champs’ house and then we’re going to the other grand final team on the same weekend.
“I’m excited for that and I know that it’s going to make us better, and get us to where we want to be. We have all these goals that we want to attain when we are out there in every single game, and we aren’t so far off. We were pretty far off in turnovers, but not so far in the way we are going about it so it’s exciting for me.”