The NBL’s China tour ended, with the Chinese national team holding a 2-1 series record against the NBL Select team.
Despite the minimal stakes at hand, these games did give a sneak peek of what the NBL have in store for us in the NBL 2019/20 season.
1. Corey Webster is back
Corey Webster came into the series with a lot of intrigue. Last season, the three-time NBL champion averaged the fewest points (10.3) in his career since 2013, and fatigue was a major reason.
The 6’2 guard had stints in the Israeli and Chinese leagues right before 2019/20 season began. He gave himself little breathing room, and it showed; he played like someone dealing with exhaustion and a body that was crying out for some R&R.
Entering the second year of his three year deal, Webster definitely had something to prove. Despite scoring only 11 points in NBL Select’s Game 1 loss, Webster returned to Game 2 with 22 points. The floodgates remained open in Game 3, as he sizzled with a 19-point first half, and powered NBL Select to their only win from the tour.
Webster played with confidence and aggression, utilising every bit of his offensive repertoire, from inside the paint to beyond the arc. His midrange game looked very crisp, and his unpredictability had China’s defence sweating for much of the series.
Fans around the league will be hoping to see more of this version of Corey Webster when the new season finally tips off later this year.
2. Daniel Johnson is a rock
What can be said about Daniel ‘Dwayne The Rock’ Johnson that hasn’t already been said? The Adelaide big man has been a solid foundation for the tourists in all three games, averaging 16.3 team-steadying points.
Johnson’s terrific play showed us once again why he is widely considered the most skilled big man in the NBL. As well as showing off his silky touch, Johnson paraded his underrated physicality. His battle on the glass against China’s towering Wang Zhelin was compelling viewing.
With star guard Nathan Sobey’s departure from the Adelaide 36ers after signing with the Brisbane Bullets in April, and Jacob Wiley not returning after exercising his European out clause, Johnson will have to carry more of the team’s offensive burden in NBL20, and he appears well able to carry the load.
With Rookie of the Year Harry Froling backing up the centre position, Adelaide looks to have a solid foundation of size and skill to build around.
3. Demetrius Conger and the reasonable case for his next contract
Free agent Demitrius Conger tried to make his case for an NBL contract during this tour. He played well overall, but did not put forth a mind blowing performance that would have had NBL general managers scrambling for the chequebooks.
In Game 1, he had a good all-around game with 9 points and 9 rebounds, but also had some ugly moments where he was careless with the ball. There were flashes of pure brilliance from the American that made one remember why he was once a top tier NBL MVP candidate.
His step back three in Game 3 had people rubbing their eyes to see if James Harden was putting in offseason reps in an NBL Select uniform.
There are many NBL teams –South East Melbourne, Cairns, and New Zealand to name a few– that will want what Conger has to offer. His size and length, combined with skills as a scorer make him a valuable commodity. Although his performance in China wasn’t exceptional, it’s highly likely he will be gobbled up at some point.
4. Majok Majok’s rebounding hustle
Majok Majok was perhaps the most surprising story to emerge from the China tour. The unsigned free agent put his best foot forward in an attempt to get noticed. The 6 foot 6 inch big man flexed his muscles in Game 3, getting a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. He scrapped and clawed under the rim for every rebound and was a real handful for Team China, who were noticeably rattled by his physicality at times.
Majok’s biggest limitation throughout his career has been his defence. It cost him minutes with Melbourne and New Zealand. Against China, Majok has some good defensive moments in the interior, but questions still hang over his defensive ability when he’s forced out to defend a switch or the pick and roll.
Despite some big floating questions, Majok brings both size and physicality. He is a natural rebounder and could play the role of a specialist rebounder on a team, in a similar vein to Alex Pledger. With Shawn Long departing to Melbourne United, the Breakers badly need some extra size and rebounding, so a return to Auckland is quite possible.
For NBL Select, it was never about the final result, but rather the process. Some questions were answered, but even more were posed. It’s no surprise, when we say the NBL offseason still has plenty of twists and turns ahead.