2016/17 NBL Season in Review: Melbourne United
At the conclusion of the 2016/17 NBL season, The Pick and Roll takes an in-depth look at each NBL franchise to see where they went right and wrong, plus what they should be investing into in the future.
What went right?
In a season filled with frustration and misfortune, it’s difficult to narrow down positives for Melbourne United.
However, the organisation’s mid-season recruiting --an onerous task when you consider the fact that most leagues around the globe have started, leading to a diluted talent pool-- was excellent.
After parting ways with the negative vortex that was Cedric Jackson, United was able to snag fringe NBA guard, Casper Ware. In a move that injected some much-needed enjoyment and explosiveness into Melbourne’s line-up, Ware quickly accumulated himself to the NBL landscape, earning First-Team honours in just 18 games.
The California native averaged 22.1 points, 4.5 assists and 1.3 steals, while single-handily keeping United in plenty of contests.
Along with Ware, the acquisition of Josh Boone to cover a slew of injuries to their frontcourt stocks, paid immediate dividends. The former New Jersey Net played with a manic effort on the glass, both offensively and defensively, while proving himself to be a capable weapon around the rim.
It was another savvy move from Melbourne’s front office, as Boone was much more impactful than your traditional injury replacement.
It would also be remiss not to mention United’s incredible off-court success. In an overpopulated Melbourne sporting market, the NBL club was able to establish themselves as an entertainment spectacle. To see basketball fans turn out week after week, despite the on-court success not coupling it, was an encouraging sign.
An almost-capacity crowd of 9,545 in their last home game, where Melbourne had nothing to play for, is evidence that the club continues to solidify itself in the summer sporting landscape.
Ware’s production was elite, but when you consider the circumstances he found himself in, his performances gain even more credibility.
Joining the club in mid-November, after an NBA preseason stint failed to eventuate into a roster spot, Ware didn’t have the luxury of a training camp to get his head around United’s structures. Additionally, he wasn’t walking into the prettiest of situations, as Melbourne was 3-7 and desperate to salvage a season that was quickly slipping away.
“I’m not God, I can’t come in here and make everything happen,” Ware said, a day after landing in Australia.
No, the 26-year-old didn’t lead his squad into the playoffs, nor did he have a saviour-type impact.
But, boy, did he come close.
In just his second game, Ware nailed a game-winner against Sydney, instantly earning fan-favourite status, and repaying United’s investment in him. He wasn’t shy on the offensive end, which did lead to some poor shot selection on occasion, but the positives Ware provided, far outweighed the negatives.
It is scary to imagine how United’s season would have capitulated, if not for Ware. That fact alone is enough to hand him the mantle of the team’s MVP.
When one of the championship fancies doesn’t qualify for the finals, it’s due to a multitude of issues, not a singular one. This formula is no different for United.
Dean Demopoulos, whose contract was not renewed at season's end, seemingly failed to maximise a roster that was seemingly overflowing with talent.
The much-maligned coach ran an offensive system that often materialised in low-percentage, contested, long-range jumpers. Part of this was due to Ware and Chris Goulding’s pull-up proficiency, but a plan of attack that is predictable becomes all too easy to shut down in big moments. Melbourne was just 2-5 in games decided by five points or less, while they had the second-worst true shooting percentage in the league, evidence of their offensive meltdowns.
Of course, it must be noted that United did have the third best offensive rating, but that shades their inability to implement that scoring power when they truly needed to.
Much of this comes down to Demopoulos. It’s a shame, because when they did run sets that included off-ball screens and cuts, and highlighted the strengths of your Boone’s and David Andersen’s, it gave them a point of difference and an unpredictability factor. Demopoulos just didn’t emphasise this enough, which ultimately led to his downfall.
In Demopoulos’ defence, Melbourne’s constant injury problems and roster turnover didn’t help proceedings. It’s hard to run in-depth offensive sets when you don’t have continuity in your rotation. That point underlays another disappointment this season for United, and that was injuries.
Goulding’s absence was the most notable, as the Olympian missed six games with an ankle that troubled him throughout the campaign. Six games may seem minimal, but when you consider the slim margins that separated the NBL ladder, it’s a significant loss.
Out of a possible 28 games during the season, only role players Majok Majok and Tai Wesley managed to appear in all of them. Todd Blanchfield played 22, Ramone Moore 20, David Barlow 19, with Andersen reaching the same mark.
Another component that worked against Demopoulos’ favour was the disaster signing of Jackson. When the former league MVP left, so did many of Demopoulos’ schemes and philosophies he preached in the preseason. This also could have been a factor in United’s simplistic offense, as it’s far too difficult to build a playbook on the fly.
Even with context applied, though, you simply can’t consider Demopoulos’ tenure a success, as it left far too many unanswered questions.
The aforementioned Ware game winner against the Kings was undoubtedly United’s high water mark.
Ware’s unwavering confidence to take that shot, and the epic crowd reaction, makes it something you can watch over and over, and get chills every time.
In the tightest NBL season in recent memory, the first team to throw in the towel was Brisbane. You can’t circle an exact date when it happened, but January 21 is pretty accurate, as Jermaine Beal was released.
The first team to get a shot at the severely undermanned Bullets was Melbourne, a game they simply had to win, as their remaining five was against teams jostling for playoff positioning amongst them.
However, Melbourne dished up a deplorable effort against Brisbane that night, suffering an 88-71 defeat. It’s surely a match United looks back on as a major squandered opportunity.
Find a coach. It seems so simplistic, but it is vitally important.
Before Melbourne begins manufacturing a roster they feel can compete next season, they must discover who will be leading that construction. The organisation has already indicated it’ll be a long, deliberate coaching search, as it should be.
It would be wise to bring someone in with past NBL experience, with names such as Dean Vickerman and Shawn Dennis being floated. Despite Vince Crivelli’s public denials, United would be crazy not to at least enquiry about Brian Goorjian. The Andrew Gaze cries are nothing more than a pipe dream.
Once Melbourne narrows in a coach, they can then build a team that plays to the strengths of the new head honcho.
Yes, circumstances were tough, but 2016/17 will go down as a mass letdown for United.