This article was originally published by the NBL as 20 Questions for #NBL20.
It all tips off this Thursday when the league’s newest team, South East Melbourne Phoenix, take on cross-town rivals, Melbourne United, in the NBL’s inaugural Throwdown, live via SBS On Demand, 7.30pm AEST.
From there the 42nd NBL season and the race to claim the 2019-20 championship trophy will be on.
Before it begins, let’s delve into some of the talking points currently swirling around the start of the season.
1. Can South East Melbourne make the finals in their first season?
None of the league’s current clubs saw postseason action in their first year (including Perth!) and very few expansion clubs across NBL history made the finals in year one. A Phoenix finish inside the top four right out of the gates would be a major achievement!
2. Will Kouat Noi (Cairns) be the best rookie since Joe Ingles?
Noi will be really, really good but his teammate, Nathan Jawai, was an absolute beast in his first year (the season after Joe’s rookie year).
The better question probably is: will Noi be the best rookie this season? With an exciting batch of Next Stars on deck, that’s going to be a fun race to watch.
3. Can we snag an NBLxNBA win?
Will we? Probably not. Can we? Absolutely!
A few big losses since the NBLxNBA games began two years ago, sure, but three games – one in 2017 and two last year – were decided by single-digit margins. Two others were single-digit games inside the fourth quarter.
All that leads me to think that at some point we’re going to get over the line. Will it be this year?
Man, I hope so.
4. Will the Wildcats make their 34th consecutive trip to the finals?
Of course they will.
5. Will Chris Goulding start?
The face of the Melbourne United franchise played as a reserve throughout the second half of last season as United made a run at defending their title.
Today is a new day, however, and you have to think Goulding has regained a starting spot given his full bill of health and terrific play at the World Cup.
So… does Mitch McCarron come off the bench? Does Casey Prather play at the four?
How Dean Vickerman manages Melbourne’s rotations will once again be fascinating to watch.
6. Will a Next Star make an All-NBL team?
LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton are going to put up numbers but, given they’re only teenagers, they’re also likely to be pretty inconsistent.
Didi Louzada, on the other hand, has a couple of years of pro ball under his belt and looks ready to have a major impact on a nightly basis. He’ll be well and truly in the mix.
7. Are Brisbane too small?
The Bullets deliberately downsized this year as they look to extend their defence, lift their tempo in transition and spread the floor in the half-court. The idea is to open the lane for slashers like Nathan Sobey and Lamar Patterson to get into the paint and for bigs like Matt Hodgson and Will Magnay to roll to the rim.
Brisbane are going to be really tough to guard but the question will be: how well do they handle the likes of Nick Kay, Tai Wesley and Eric Griffin down the other end?
8. Are Adelaide underrated?
Hmmm… I previously thought they were but now I’m not so sure. Most pundits see the 36ers being super competitive this season but ultimately missing the playoffs. I think that makes them properly rated.
9. Can Dan Shamir bring it all together in NZ?
It was an eventful off-season at Breakers HQ with a whole bunch of personnel changes taking place right across the organisation. Now, with the season about to start, the task falls on new head coach Dan Shamir to pull it all together and lead the team to wins.
Officially titled Director of Basketball, Shamir has a seriously talented and deep roster to work with, including brand new recruit Brandon Ashley. That being said, it’s also a squad that lacks continuity and is led by a teenage point guard (PG) bound to be pretty up and down.
Sit back and enjoy the show.
10. Will a new head coach win the title?
Only five coaches in history have won a championship in their first full season as an NBL head coach; Brian Kerle (1979), Jim Ericksen (1981), Murray Arnold (1991), Phil Smyth (1998) and Al Westover (2006). This year four teams will be led by men making their NBL head coaching debuts with Sydney’s Will Weaver having arguably the best chance to join that exclusive club.
11. Will John Roberson (South East Melbourne) break CG43’s three-point record?
In 2017, Melbourne’s Chris Goulding hit 3.4 triples per game to set the single-season record for the most threes made per game in the 40-minute era. I think Roberson breaks that record this season.
12. Will Eric Griffin (Adelaide) be better than Jacob Wiley?
Wiley was an excitement machine but Griffin has the tools to be more impactful at both ends of the floor. The Sixers will need him to be if they’re to improve on last year’s result and claim a playoff spot.
13. Is it time for Mitch Norton (Perth) to start?
Five-time champion Damian Martin is still a vitally important piece to Perth’s puzzle but the NBL’s best-ever defender turned 35 recently and the Wildcats will be wise to manage his load. Starting Norton could be an option but, as long as Martin’s healthy, I don’t expect Gleeson to go that way.
Either way, those two should split the minutes at PG for the ‘Cats.
14. Do Sydney need a third import?
Uh oh, not this again. With Didi on board as a Next Star the Kings are good to go for the start of the season. But… like the Wildcats in NBL19, a potential third import is a very handy ace up their sleeve.
15. Will Shawn Long (Melbourne) stay on the floor?
This is the key to unlocking Mr Double Double’s enormous value and it’s very much a work in progress at United.
Long dealt with foul trouble in both of Melbourne’s pre-season hit-outs since the Blitz, putting up 8 points and 5 rebounds against Perth and then fouling out in Adelaide with just 9 and 1. If Vickerman and his staff can teach their talented big man how to defend effectively without fouling, that team will become almost unstoppable.
16. Will Scott Machado (Cairns) break the assists record?
NBL great Cedric Jackson owns the record for most assists per game in a single-season (during the 40-minute era), having dropped 7.1 dimes a night back in 2013. Machado will come close to that mark.
17. Are Perth deep enough?
The ‘Cats have an elite back-up PG and Clint Steindl gives them a terrific reserve on the wings but there are question marks across the rest of their bench. Head coach Trevor Gleeson needs Rhys Vague to step up and both Jesse Wagstaff and Majok Majok to deliver bounce-back campaigns.
18. Will the Kings rebound?
Sydney ranked last in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage last season. It goes without saying but that has to improve if they’re to take the next step.
19. Will Aaron Brooks (Illawarra) lead the league in scoring?
There are plenty of elite bucket-getters in the league this season including, of course, the reigning scoring champ Bryce Cotton. When all is said and done, though, Brooks will be right near the top of that list.
20. Can Cairns make ‘The Snakepit’ a fortress once more?
The Taipans won just three games at home last season, losing 11. Over the preceding four years they’d gone 41-15 at home – nobody wanted to play there. If the Snakes are to make any noise at all this season, they must have a winning record at home.