The next NBL GF star who could be NBA-bound after ‘Giddey-like’ performance — Talking Points

While the rest of the NBL is already looking to next season and putting together their new rosters, the Sydney Kings and New Zealand Breakers are locked in a fascinating Championship Series with the MVP signing in the NBA and one of his rivals producing a ‘Josh Giddey-like performance.’

The opening two games of the NBL23 Championship Series are now in the books and we are no wiser as to who the better team is between the Sydney Kings and New Zealand Breakers.

Watch Game 3 of the NBL23 Championship Series between Sydney Kings v New Zealand Breakers LIVE and FREE on ESPN on Kayo Freebies. Begins Friday 7:30PM AEDT March 10. Join now and start streaming instantly >

Late game blitz sees Kings down Breakers | 02:08

Surprisingly, it was the road team winning both games as well to open the series with the Breakers winning 95-87 at Qudos Bank Arena on Friday night on the back of a spectacular performance from point guard Will McDowell-White.

In the same game, Sydney’s All-First Team members Xavier Cooks and Derrick Walton Jr were banged up and then were non-factors in Game 2. But still, with Justin Simon on top of his game, the Kings hit back at Spark Arena to win 81-74 and tie the series at 1-1.

Game 3 will be at Qudos Bank Arena on Friday night, Game 4 at Auckland’s Spark Arena on Sunday and if needed, Game 5 back in Sydney on Wednesday night.

On top of all that, Cooks has signed with the NBA’s Washington Wizards, an Adelaide 36ers Hall of Famer wouldn’t be surprised to see McDowell-White follow up and there’s a couple of college guns NBL clubs are about to be locked in a fascinating battle over.


The Sydney Kings and New Zealand Breakers appeared remarkably evenly matched coming into the Championship Series and nothing has changed two games in with two huge crowds expected in Sydney on Friday and Auckland on Sunday.

Coming into the series and the Kings were the highest scoring team who played at the fastest pace while in direct contrast, the Breakers played at the second slowest pace but had the best defensive rating throughout NBL23.

With Sydney looking to push the pace as much as possible which would stem usually from their defence that allowed them to get out and run, but New Zealand looking to slow the game down and impress their physicality at both ends, it loomed as a fascinating match up.

It was somewhat a clash in styles and would come down to who could play the game on their terms, and they had one go at it each in the first two games of the Championship Series.

Even more baffling, after their three meetings during the regular season were all won by the road team, that continuing in Games 1 and 2 with the Breakers beating the Kings at Qudos Bank Arena 95-87 on Friday night before Sydney hit back in Auckland on Sunday winning 81-74.

Above everything else, the biggest difference between the two games was the defensive intensity the Kings played at. It just wasn’t at their usual level in Game 1 and as a result, Breakers point guard Will McDowell-White was a dominant figure.

NBL star off to NBA as finals heat up | 04:39

He was allowed to run the show for New Zealand and did so in brilliant fashion in a game that his team was in control of for most of the way with Barry Brown Jr putting on the finishing touches with 13 of his 19 points coming in the fourth quarter.

Jarrell Brantley (16 points, seven rebounds) got the better of his power forward match up with a wounded Xavier Cooks (eight points, four rebounds, two blocks), and all the momentum was with New Zealand as they headed home for Game 2 on Sunday.

Add in the fact that the Kings virtually got nothing out of All-First NBL Team members Derrick Walton Jr (zero points, one turnover in five minutes) and Cooks (two points, four rebounds in nine minutes) and things were pointed even further towards the Breakers.

However, the Kings showed their quality, heart and depth in dazzling fashion with Justin Simon setting the tone. His numbers of 12 points, nine rebounds and six steals only tell part of the story of his match-winning performance.

Add in that Kouat Noi (20 points, 9/13 free-throw shooting) stepped up so significantly to cover for Cooks, Shaun Bruce ran the point for Walton, Jordan Hunter pulled down 10 rebounds and then DJ Vasiljevic and Angus Glover combined for six threes, and it was a masterful performance.

The true difference came in the defensive intensity, though, and that all began with the way that Simon pressured McDowell-White into six turnovers including him pulling off three steals in no time early in the third quarter to lead the Kings to eventual win.

That leaves things delicately poised with Game 3 on Friday night at Qudos Bank Arena and Game 4 at Spark Arena on Sunday. Huge crowds are expected too with already more than 13,000 tickets sold for Sydney and then the Breakers are attempting to set a new Auckland record with a capacity of 9740.

With the potential of 25,000 fans attending the two games this weekend, it’s all going to come down to who can get the games on their terms who will determine the NBL23 championship.

Both the Kings and Breakers had a game apiece in the first two where they controlled things so the blueprint to success is there, now it’s a matter of who can do it twice more to become the champions.

Watch Game 3 of the NBL23 Championship Series between Sydney Kings v New Zealand Breakers LIVE and FREE on ESPN on Kayo Freebies. Begins Friday 7:30PM AEDT March 10. Join now and start streaming instantly >


Sydney Kings captain, the league MVP and reigning Grand Final MVP Xavier Cooks has achieved his dream of signing an NBA contract, but his focus remains on the NBL championship up for grabs at least for a few more days.

There has been so much discussion over Cooks all season long about if his game could transition to the NBA with the way he has continued to grow and develop to turn himself into the NBL MVP.

His talents were never questioned and that’s why he was such a hot commodity after playing at Winthrop University before beginning his professional career in Germany and ultimately being named in the initial squad for the Australian Boomers at the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

It was only his body holding him back from reaching his potential but he ended up leading Sydney to the championship last season as captain and being named Grand Final MVP, and he’s gone to a new level in NBL23.

Standing 6’8 and with the ability to battle with the bigs to be a rim protector, terrific rebounder and outstanding finisher around the basket along with being able to defend the perimeter and then carry and distribute the ball, and create off the dribble, he’s a tremendous package.

That’s why he was named MVP after leading the Kings to the regular season championship on the back of averaging 15.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists a game while shooting at 57.5 per cent from the field.

That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been challenges too. His three-point percentage of 32.1 is better than what he’s credited for but he has only attempted 28 of them. Going at 54.0 per cent from the foul line isn’t great while he’s battled a couple of ankle injuries.

Xavier Cooks in action against the Breakers.Source: Getty Images

He also was banged up after Game 1 of the Championship Series and was limited to nine minutes in Game 2, but has realised his dream of signing to an NBA team with the Washington Wizards locking him up for the rest of this season, and all of 2023/24.

That means that as soon as the Championship Series is over for the Kings whether on Sunday after Game 4 in Auckland or Wednesday if a Game 5 is needed, he will be straight over to Washington to get ready to make his NBA debut.

While excited, Cooks’ focus remains on trying to help the Kings go back-to-back right now.

“Everybody stepped up and I talk about every single person. That’s how you win basketball games especially in the playoffs,” Cooks said.

“It gives us a lot of confidence and we’re always a confident bunch anyway. But to have one of our two best players out and it was just a gutsy win. It was dirty, it was grindy and we got it done.

“Now I’m just trying to stay focused on these playoffs. We’ve got two more wins to go and we’ve come this far so there’s no point thinking about what’s next when we fought so hard to be here.”

In the big picture though, Cooks can’t hide his excitement to have now signed an NBA deal and can’t wait to join the Wizards who currently sit 10th in the eastern conference at 31-34 with 17 games remaining.

“There’s not many people that get to really achieve one of their dreams and I’ve had the dream to go to the NBA for so many years. To finally happen is pretty cool,” Cooks added.

“As I’ve got older, I realised they’re not going to bring in a 28-year-old rookie and luckily enough they’re bringing in a 27-year-old rookie so it’s all good.

“It will give me my opportunity to try and earn my place over there. They’re a very talented team as well and I don’t think their record represents how talented they are. They’re missing a couple of little pieces but we’ll be alright.”

MVP fighting to line up for Game 3 | 01:42


With one member of the Championship Series signing in the NBA, an Adelaide 36ers Hall of Famer wouldn’t be surprised to see New Zealand Breakers point guard Will McDowell-White next on the list after his spectacular Game 1 performance.

After all, it was a masterful performance from McDowell-White in Game 1 on Friday night with the Breakers beating the Sydney Kings 95-87 at Qudos Bank Arena to take the lead in the Championship Series away from home.

McDowell-White dominated the contest running the Breakers expertly not only with his 19 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and two steals, but the way he controlled the tempo, set up his teammates and made everything run smoothly was a true pleasure to watch.

It was the type of performance that has had McDowell-White earmarked as an Australian talent who could very well get an NBA opportunity one day even if it’s been a rollercoaster career journey so far.

That’s included being a Kings development player and spending time growing in Germany, and playing in the G-League at the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, but nobody has ever doubted his ability.

Now McDowell-White has had the type of season with the Breakers as their point guard that many have been waiting for. He took his game to another level in Game 1 as a 6’5 point guard who can run his team’s offence, create for his teammates, find his own shot and be a solid defender.

Will McDowell-White of the Breakers (L) during game two of the NBL Grand Final series between New Zealand Breakers and Sydney Kings.Source: Getty Images

While he didn’t quite have it his own way in a tough Game 2 and his focus is on trying to win the championship for the Breakers, it does open up a fascinating discussion on his future.

He will became an NBL free agent at the end of this season so will attract significant offers but there’s also a genuine chance that he gets an NBA opportunity.

That’s the view of Adelaide 36ers Hall of Famer and three-time NBL champion Scott Ninnis who likens McDowell-White’s talents to a man he saw closely in Adelaide, Josh Giddey who is in his own remarkable run of NBA form at the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“To me, that performance in Game 1 from McDowell-White was like watching Josh Giddey,” Ninnis said on latest Hoops Heaven’s Basketball Hustle podcast.

“Just the control that he had over that game and he just had all the time in the world as that big point guard who looks like he has so much time. He looked like he was playing himself into an NBA contract as well and obviously there would have been a lot of NBA people watching that game.

“I think he potentially could be the next guy who takes that step so it’s an exciting time for Australian basketball that’s for sure.”


While Will McDowell-White was the star of Game 1 for the New Zealand Breakers, it was Justin Simon equally as brilliant for the Sydney Kings in Game 2 and it was all on the back of his spectacular defence on the star of Friday night.

McDowell-White was able to control Game 1 of the Championship Series for the Breakers in Sydney on Friday night and the Kings had to do something about that for Game 2 in Auckland on Sunday, and they certainly did.

While Kings coach Chase Buford noted with amusement the social media critics telling him what he did wrong in the defensive schemes on the Breakers and McDowell-White in particular on Friday, ultimately the changes they made were more simple.

Buford challenged Simon to lift his defensive intensity first and foremost and to get up in the grill of McDowell-White for a lot of the 40 minutes and make his life hell, and that’s exactly what happened.

It might have been a surprise that Simon wasn’t even a final three nominee in the Best Defensive Player Award, but he continues to prove himself the standout defender in the league and did that again on Sunday.

On the back of likely the best individual defensive performance of the season in Game 3 of the semi finals where he locked in on Cairns superstar DJ Hogg, Simon didn’t need Buford to tell him that he had to lift after a limited influence on Game 1 of the Championship Series.

To say he responded would be one of the great understatements. What Simon did for Sydney to win Game 2 despite being virtually without Derrick Walton Jr and Xavier Cooks is much more significant than his numbers of 12 points, nine rebounds and six steals suggest.

Justin Simon.Source: Getty Images

Simon got so far in the head of McDowell-White that he not only limited him to seven points and six turnovers on 2/8 shooting, that he got the ball out of his hands and that limited the creativity on offence for the Breakers and took them out of their structure.

It was a spectacular start to the third quarter from Simon with three virtually consecutive steals that led directly to two breakaway dunks and then he was fouled on his third trip to the open basket.

It was a performance defensively only reminiscent of the way that Perth Wildcats legend Damian Martin used to terrorise opposition point guards, including a demoralising nine-steal performance against the Sydney Kings in 2014 on a hapless new import point guard Kendrick Perry.

“It does feel amazing, there’s nothing more embarrassing if you’re a point guard and you get the ball stolen just as you cross halfway because you know you’re giving away a layup,” Martin said on SEN.

“ So when you get that steal, I didn’t have the athleticism of Justin Simon so all I was worrying about as not smoking the layup, but there’s no better feeling in the world when you’re a guard knowing you’re all over the top of your opposition player.”

While knowing how Simon would be feeling when on top of his defensive game, Martin himself has said that he feels the Kings three man is the best defender in the league even if he didn’t win the Damian Martin Trophy, and his thoughts only continue to be reinforced.

“The Kings threw the first punch in that Game 2 and it was led by Justin Simon, and it was more like a Mike Tyson knockout punch,” Martin added.

“It put New Zealand Breakers on the back foot and for the next 30 minutes the Breakers did not look like the New Zealand Breakers we’ve seen all season, and Will McDowell-White when he had Justin Simon crawl into him and take away his space, and his time and vision, they just had no consistency to their offensive structure whatsoever.

“It was almost like he was so focused just on trying to get the ball past Justin Simon either off the dribble or via a pass that he wasn’t paying attention to which plays he should be calling or who is the open man at the right time. He was just worried about not turning the ball over.”


While the eyes are on the NBL Championship Series, two emerging Australian stars are shining in their senior year at Saint Mary’s and are about to become two of the hottest commodities this off-season by the majority of clubs across the league.

There might no longer be a Rookie of the Year award in the NBL with it replaced by the Next Generation Award, but there already would be two strong candidates for NBL24 in the form of Saint Mary’s pair Kyle Bowen and Alex Ducas.

The West Australian duo are currently finishing up their careers at St Mary’s with both instrumental in the Gaels reaching the final of the West Coast Tournament before losing to the stacked Gonzaga Bulldogs.

However, both continue to shine and look ready to immediately make the jump to the NBL next season having already proved themselves against men before even beginning their college life.

Bowen won an SBL (now NBL1 West) championship at the Perth Redbacks back in 2017 as a young and exciting big man on a team featuring NBL legend Shawn Redhage along with Michael Vigor, Lee Roberts, Marshall Nelson and Joel Wagner.

Then in 2019, Ducas was a genuine star in the Geraldton Buccaneers winning the last ever SBL championship just hours before heading to California to begin his college life.

Both have only continued to grow and develop physically, and improve their basketball games in the years since to now be about to finish up as seniors with St Mary’s and then begin their professional basketball lives.

Bowen has turned himself into a skilled, strong and athletic 6’8 power forward who is averaging 5.3 points and 7.2 rebounds a game this season with Saint Mary’s.

There’s no question that will have him on the radar of a host of NBL clubs to add to their front court.

Then there is Ducas who is a combo guard equally capable of playing the role as playmaker and point guard along with being a pure scorer and standout shooter.

Ducas is averaging 12.5 points and 4.2 rebounds a game while shooting 43.1 per cent from the field, 41.8 per cent from three-point range and 86.9 at the foul line so would be a welcome addition to any backcourt across the NBL.

Former Sydney Kings and Illawarra Hawks power forward, and current Warwick Senators NBL1 West captain Cody Ellis knows both young men well, has played against them and has been through a similar experience when he finished up a standout college career at Saint Louis.

He has no doubt both Ducas and Bowen will receive plenty of NBL interest for next season.

“I do think that they will be on NBL team radars for sure. They’ve both had really good college careers and are both really good players,” Ellis said on Hoops Heaven’s Basketball Hustle podcast.

“Ducas is one of those big guards that’s really found his own at St Mary’s and he was still dominant back when he played at Geraldton before college. He was such a big part of that championship team so to see his game evolve has been awesome.

“Then you have Bowen and he is just a big dog, he’s a monster. I think any team could use a guy like that and the ‘Cats could be one of them who could use a guy like that. Having local talent in the league is always good so I’m sure they both will be reached out to by multiple NBL teams.”

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