• Kevin Lisch of the Kings shoots against Shawn Redhage of the Wildcats during the round 19 NBL match last February. (Getty)
Our predictions and tips for all eight teams.
By
Nathan Jolly

2 Oct 2017 - 11:54 AM  UPDATED 3 Oct 2017 - 2:29 PM

After a few years of games suffering from wild margins and mismatched lineups, the last season of the NBL finally got the balance right, with eight tight teams resulting in the closest season in the history of the league. 

This made for some mighty nail-biters, a number of huge upsets and a ladder that shifted from week to week, making each game in each round a vital one. At the end of the season, three of the four top teams were tied.

Not surprisingly, this makes this season, which kicks off on 5 October, one of the most highly anticipated in history. Literally any team could win and every game is a must-watch – which is why SBS has doubled its coverage this season. You’re welcome!

Let’s take a look at how the teams are shaping up a few days out from the beginning of the season.

 

Sydney Kings

The Kings made some dramatic changes before the 2016-17 season, hiring the legendary Andrew Gaze as their coach, moving stadiums, shifting management and nabbing the previous-season's MVP, Kevin Lisch. For a while it looked as if the shake-up had worked, with the 2015-16 wooden-spooners suddenly leading the league for the first half of last season.

The wheels soon fell off, however, and the Kings stalled to second last place – an improvement of one position and, due to the tight competition, a mere two losses from second place, but still not the season the Kings had hoped for.

Keeping this in mind, together with a handful of impressive-looking new imports like Indian national captain Amritpal Singh, the Kings will be looking to end their horror streak and make the most of their latest acquisitions. Gaze will be hoping to nab the Coach of the Year trophy, too, given it's named after his old man.

Key for the season:

Not losing steam halfway through the season or halfway through games – both recent issues for the team.

 

Perth Wildcats

Everyone will be gunning for last year's premiers, especially considering how close the ladder was last season. Fortune favoured the bold, with the Wildcats being able to dodge minor premiers 36ers in the semis, before comfortably sweeping a notably weaker Hawks in the grand finals, at no point looking in danger of losing any of the games, let alone the series.

Still, they are far from guaranteed a place in this year's finals with troubling injuries plaguing a number of the team's star players at the moment. Angus Brandt was forced to sit out most of the pre-season with Achilles issues (always a worry), while Matt Young is suffering a thumb injury. Meanwhile, their recent big-name signee, Derek Cooke Jr, has ran into red tape, with what the club is referring to as "clearance issues beyond the club’s control" threatening his eligibility for the season.

Key for the season:

Getting healthy, staying healthy, cutting through the red tape.

 

Illawarra Hawks

The Hawks continued their solid 2015-16 season run in 2016-17, hovering in second place for most of the second half of the season before dropping to fourth in the final tally (due to the NBL tie-breaker system, which deems that when teams share the same win/loss records, their games against each other determine semi-finals seeding). They surprisingly torched the top-of-the-ladder 36ers in the semis, before being swept in three grand final games by the far-superior Perth Wildcats.

Despite this run, and a third-place regular season run in 2015-16, pre-season talk suggests the Hawks are struggling against roster changes made by other teams which, considering how closely-fought last season was, may find Illawarra left in the dust. Then again, they have played well the past few weeks and have certainly been known to surprise before.

Key for the season:

To keep on keeping on and avoid any injury struggles. A big mid-season signing would be nice, too.

 

Cairns Taipans

At the start of last season, second place probably seemed beyond the wildest dreams of the Taipans – or at the very least, beyond those of their fair-weather fans, who watched on in shock in 2015-16 as the 2014-15 minor premiers limped to sixth place. Yet they recoiled and bit back last year – major competitors in the most competitive season in NBL history, leaning heavily on impenetrable defence while managing to deal with what many deemed a weak offensive line-up.

As with the Hawks, the Taipans haven't improved their much-maligned offensive during the off-season, losing both veteran Mark Worthington and young gun Travis Trice, who heads to the Brisbane Bullets. With scant few exciting roster acquisitions and a league which appears to be gearing up for its deeper roster season in years, merely relying on the Taipans' scrappy defence might not be enough this year.

Key for the season:

Improving their offense. A lot.

 

Adelaide 36ers

The 36ers will be hoping for revenge this season after spending the second half of last season sitting at the top of the ladder and winning game one of their semi-final by a comfortable 15 points, only to lose the next two to the Illawarra Hawks and bow out in dramatic fashion.

They just took out the Merlion Cup in Singapore as a pre-season warning shot to the others, and if Boomers Mitch Creek and Matt Hodgson can continue the fine form they showed recently with the national team, the 36ers could (again) be favourites to take the title. Their recent form in the aforementioned Merilion Cup also showcases a deep roster, with six players scoring double figures during their last two games.

Key for the season:

Carrying over their regular season success into the finals. Sounds simple, but last year showed it's anything but.

 

New Zealand Breakers

The Breakers were perhaps the most unlucky side last season, missing out on the playlists due to a last round that relied (rather hopelessly) upon last-place Bullets beating the Hawks – something which simply wasn't going to happen for them. Their pre-season record has been encouraging so far, with more wins than losses, but a 39-point battering against Melbourne will have them shaken.

Imports Edgar Sosa and DJ Newbill have slotted into the team well, and mainstays James Hunter, Finn Delany and Shea Ili showed fine form playing for their country in the recent Asia Cup.

Key for the season:

Making sure they balance their (many) veterans with the young players showing promise at the moment.

 

Melbourne United

Last season was terrible for Melbourne, who fell from minor premiers the year before to sixth on the ladder, perhaps never quite recovering from being knocked out of the 2015-16 semis after dominating the entire season.

Despite this hiccup, United are still one of the strongest teams in the league, their lineup substantially bolstered this season with the addition of Sydney King Craig Muller, who is already impressing in pre-season games. You'd be silly to write Melbourne United off due to one bad season.

Key for the season:

Integrating Muller early and successfully – and winning games!

 

Brisbane Bullets

The Brisbane Bullets will be hoping for an upset victory against the Phoenix Suns in mid-October, which will be the perfect way to start this season: filled with confidence. They are going to need it, with the worst record in the league last season killing any good will the team was hoping for upon re-entering the NBL after an eight-year hiatus.

The Bullets have signed up forward Perrin Buford, who was impressive with the Boston Celtics in the recent NBA Summer League. They'll be hoping for big things from Buford, especially after losing Torrey Craig – last season's NBL Best Defensive Player winner and the one bright spot to their return season in the league.

Key for the season:

Making up for the huge gap left in the squad by Craig's absence.

 

Who will make the finals? And who will win?

The Wildcats just looked so strong in the grand final series last season that it'd be a huge upset if they didn't at least get a chance to defend the trophy this year. However, I'm going to go out on a limb and say the Kings have a chance of competing in the grand final series, as do the 36ers – both teams will be aching to make up for huge mistakes made last year and revenge is a strong driving force. Let's not discount how much luck factors into both the Kings' poor season and Perth's eventual victory.

I'm going to call it 36ers vs Kings, with the Wildcats being unlucky this season. As for who will win the grand final series – well, a Kings win would be amazing for the NBL and Andrew Gaze is a beast in finals mode, whether coaching or playing, so I'm going to predict big things from Sydney.

 

Watch the National Basketball League on Saturdays at 5.30pm (AEDT) on SBS VICELAND and Sundays at 3pm (AEDT) on SBS, from October 7, with live streaming and catch up via SBS On Demand

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